This Japanese folk religion has seen many changes since its inception in the 8th century BCE and it still thrives in Japan and beyond.
Shinto shrines can be seen dotting Japanese hillsides and groves as pilgrims make their way to pay their respects or ask a favor from a venerated ancestor.
Shinto ancestor veneration may be directed towards imperial dignitaries or, on a smaller scale, deceased family members. Although internal beliefs vary, as with most religions, there is external conformity.¹
All objects of devotion are believed to share varying degrees of spiritual power called kami. But Kami is not only present in the spirits of the dead. It may exist in a mountainside or any natural object that evokes wonder and awe.
Some say Shinto is not a religion, per se, because it is based more on ancestor worship than devotion to a deity (or deities). It does, however, adhere to the idea of transcendence, which most agree is crucial to the definition of religion.
As with Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese thought, the line between revering a deceased culture hero and a full-fledged god is a very fine one.
Today, small Shinto shrines are found in many private homes, not unlike the private Hindu puja.
¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto We find a similar thing in Catholicism but differences are far more downplayed. A first time visitor to the Catholic Mass might suppose that the external conformity of parishioners mirrors their internal conformity. But from my direct experience, talking with Catholics, there are many points of debate and real differences in practice. For example, some
- skip confession and other obligations
- don’t give any monetary offering
- believe women should be priests
- believe in universal salvation
- use birth control
- cohabitate instead of marrying
- the list goes on…
And all this difference is just from talking to a relative handful in the North Toronto area. Some of the more traditional priests may not like to hear this. Some may even try to clamp down on the rules and regulations as a kind of authoritarian reaction to it. But it’s reality. And as long as the Catholic Church ignores the reality of what’s going on around and within it (which I haven’t touched on here), less people will be open to experiencing all that is good in Christ.