In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers. Today’s question/comes courtesy of Hannah, who dives into anime, animation, and writing on her site, Lady Hannah Beth:
I take the martial art aikido in California at a Christian dojo, however, I am moving to Hawaii very soon and I would like to keep doing my aikido. I’ve looked at pictures of the new dojo in Hawaii on Facebook and my current Sensi says that the have a shinto shrine in the room where they practice. I heard Japes on the last podcast as he passed many shrines and buddhist graveyards on his walk while in Japan. My question is, as Christians, what should our reaction be when we come face to face with a shrine or we feel we are in a situation that seams spiritually off?
Japes seems to be the appropriate person to respond to this query – here’s what he had to say:
This is a very common problem for many Christians who either have an interest in Japan, or end up going there for some other reason. I may, perhaps, be a bit on the liberal end of the spectrum in my answer, so take it with a grain of salt, but I can offer a bit of what my experiences have led me to believe.
When I visit these places, shrines (Shinto) and temples (Buddhist) in particular, I narrow down my response to two main influences:
- Am I compromising my beliefs?
- Am I compromising my community?
In answering the first question, everyone is a bit different. I’ve met Christians who believe that they feel a demonic presence at, for instance, Shinto shrines, and refuse to walk through the torii (the iconic Japanese gates) for fear of demonic influence. It is beyond the scope of this post and beyond my personal ability to judge whether or not these feelings are “accurate,” but I know that I feel differently. I personally LOVE visiting Shinto shrines for much the same reason I like visiting parks or gardens: they are purposefully placed in beautiful locations and kept to maintain some sense of that natural beauty. When I visit, I feel that I can thank God for the beautiful nature that He has created.
Similarly, I did some field work investigating tourist locations with a class at the Japanese university where I am working, and we stopped at a Buddhist temple. After a small tour by the priest, we were led to the garden outside and instructed in the proper method of Buddhist prayer for this temple (circle three times, locate and stop by the statue that represents the animal of your birth year, and then stop by the Buddhist statue at the entrance to pray for a wish for the coming year). I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little uncomfortable, but I went through the majority of the rites, however praying not to the statue but to God. I did not breach my own conscience, though I know others might be different.
The tricky part with the aforementioned situation is answering question two. Would someone think you were compromising your beliefs if they saw you going through that rite and would that harm others in your Christian community? That is something that you must absolutely consider. I surveyed the professor and the other students in my group and decided that it was not a compromise for me, and I also made it obvious by my demeanor that I did not truly believe in the Buddhist prayer.
I think if you can answer the two of these questions satisfactorily in such a way that you do not believe that you are compromising your Christian beliefs, practicing at that new dojo should be no problem. However, that is my personal response and I am not you.