@On December 10, 2008 we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United
Nations at its third general session. It was precisely at that
time that I received from the Oriens Institute the invitation to
write something on greligious freedom in Shinto,h an invitation
which I felt to have a special meaning. The notion of gfreedom
of religionh is indeed a basic one among the rights and liberties
that were acquired through the 18th century citizensf revolutions
in the West.
@When taking up the problem of religious freedom, we unconsciously
think of it as something established by the modern nation-state.
There are still many states where freedom of religion is not yet
sufficiently secured. Even in developed countries where one claims
that this institutional guarantee does exist, we cannot quickly
conclude that this freedom is sufficient if we take the gsilent
pressureh of society on individuals into account. Therefore, the
premise about religious freedom in modern nation-states is in a
certain sense correct, yet also in a certain sense insufficient.
Consequently, we have to widen our thinking to embrace ancient
and medieval times. In all cases, however, it is possible to affirm
that this problem has as a fundamental premise the existence of
the State as an institution.
Advances and Reversals of Religious Freedom in History
The first written law with regard to freedom of religion is
probably the so-called Edict of Milan, concluded in the year 313
Emperor Constantine I of the Western Roman Empire and Emperor Licinius
of the Eastern Roman Empire. Through the Edict of Milan religious
freedom was guaranteed for all citizens of the Empire. It was an
epoch-making law recognizing freedom of religion not only for believers
in ancient Roman religions but also for believers in religions
of foreign origin, including Christians. Eventually, in 380, under
Theodosius I, the last emperor of the united Roman Empire, Christianity
was declared the official State religion and as a result, for hundreds
of years, institutional freedom of religion became non-existent.
far as religious freedom in the Muslim world is concerned, we should
not forget the Ottoman Empirefs Hatt-i Sharif Edict of
Gulhane of 1839, in the reign of Abd-ul-Mejid. In countries under
Islamic rule during the Middle Ages (nations whose legislation
was based upon Islamic Sharifah law), the so-called gPeople of
the Bookh (Christians and Jews) were given religious freedom. By
entering into an agreement with the Muslim rulers they were considered
gdhimmih (protected people) as long as they paid the Jizya poll
tax. Later on during the Mogul Empire also Hindu, Buddhist, and
Zoroastrian believers received similar protection. Even the Jizya
tax was abolished and freedom of religion as such became more or
less accepted. When modern times arrived, because of the intervention
of the Great Western Powers in the Ottoman Empire, justified as
for the protection of the Christians in the countries concerned,
the Gulhane Edict which guaranteed complete religious freedom was
@In the seventeenth century many who were persecuted
by the English State Church and who longed for freedom of religion
New England. Paradoxically, they themselves established a sort
of State religion in their colonies, discriminating against those
who did not share the religion. In 1776, when thirteen of those
colonies declared independence as the gUnited States,h they abolished
their respective State religions. The Bill of Rights, i.e. the
first ten amendments to the United Statesf Constitution promulgated
in 1791 conferred not only freedom of religion on citizens but
excluded the possibility of any particular religion become the
State religion. It was under the influence of the USA that also
in the Japanese Constitution, promulgated in 1947, Article 20 emphasizes
the principle of separation of Church and State, a principle that
controls the activities of the administration more even than it
protects the rights of the people.
@When in a given nation the majority of the people belong to
one specific religion, it often happens that this religion is treated
favorably and that religious minorities are discriminated against.
In order to do away with this, it is necessary to endorse the supremacy
of the secular power over religion. The reason is that, when we
look at some Muslim countries also nowadays, we can hardly deny
that freedom of religion is infringed upon as long as institutionally
Sharifah law is given preference over a secular legal system. Or
on the contrary, it even happens that State power becomes linked
to a particular religion and that, in some cases, a gnew religionh
is created which is used as an efficient ruling system. A good
example of this is that of so-called State Shinto in the Meiji
@When with the Meiji Restoration a modern nation-state was established
in Japan, the public officials of the Meiji Government created
State Shinto, a new state religion with the Emperor as its supreme
ruler. They did so in order to have an ideology for integrating
the whole country, taking the State religion system of Europe as
@This State religionfs rituals and attire closely resembled
those of traditional Shrine Shinto, but its doctrine and administrative
structures were totally different. Or better, we should say that
originally in Shrine Shinto there was no doctrine or church-like
organization as such. As we can conclude from this, this State
religion was nothing more than a newly constructed device serving
as an administrative structure that had merely put a Shrine Shinto
dress on the State religion system of Europe. Because the essence
of religion was lacking in it, before the end of the Pacific War
it gained the enthusiastic support of the populace. Yet when after
the war this institution was disestablished as a result of the
so-called Shinto directive, promulgated by the GHQ on December
15, 1945, it quickly collapsed.
Non-Recognition of Religious Freedom from the Side of Religions
@Above I have dealt with freedom of religion mainly seen from
the side of State power. Yet what about the view of religions themselves?
Here we see a total change of perspective as many religions contain
in their doctrines beliefs such as gour teaching is number one,h
gbelief in the one unique God,h and the like, These beliefs appear
to contradict freedom of religion; recognizing religious freedom
means relativizing onefs own religion, and this can easily become
an obstacle to missionary activity. (If Toyota salesmen insisted
that Honda and Nissan cars were also excellent, it would hardly
be good for business.) A missionary religion that claims religious
freedom from the State but at the same time adopts the stance of
not wanting to recognize religious freedom in dealing with the
believers it already has itself, falls into contradiction.
strictly monotheistic, Islam is relatively tolerant of other religions.
Yet Muslims are very rigorous when it comes
to abandoning onefs faith. The Sharifah decrees that on principle
renegades deserve the death sentence. One can still forgive non-Muslims
who do not know the gright teaching.h But once somebody apostasizes
from it in spite of knowing, then there cannot be greater sin.
Whether in fact capital punishment is implemented or not depends
upon the level of gIslamismh of given countries. But also in very
strict Muslim countries there exists what is called the gtaquiya
system,h which is somehow similar to the Hidden Christians in Japan
and allows people to hide their faith in order to avoid peril of
life. This method also happens to be used as a means to hide loss
@Religions, it appears, do not like too much to stress
religious freedom when dealing with their own believers. Can we
that gin religion freedom of religion does not hold goodh? This
need not be the case; the key to the solution can be found in the
above mentioned gobstacle to missionary activity.h If a religion
were to relinquish positive missionary activity, then the fact
that onefs own religion becomes relativized need not at all be
regarded as threatening.
Why is Shinto tolerant towards other religions compared to Buddhism?
@Shrine Shinto in Japan is originally the religion of the local
community and of the clan. Moreover it has for more than a thousand
years coexisted with Buddhism. It is no exaggeration to say that
between Shinto and Buddhism there has been almost no strife. It
has rather been the case that between the various schools or sects
of Buddhism and also within each of them there were doctrinal disputes.
One of the reasons is that, on the side of Shinto, there did not
exist a systematized doctrine or outstanding scriptures which could
be used as premises for doctrinal disputes like those within Buddhism.
Moreover, as many Shrines were not to leave the locality where
the tutelary deities were worshiped, there were no elements in
Shinto which could be in opposition to the different Buddhist sects
carrying out missionary activities on the level of the whole country.
Consequently, even the True Pure Land sect (Jodo Shin -shu), which
can be considered to be a sort of monotheism rare in Japan, did
not deny the existence of the myriads of gods. Its followers only
did not worship them.
@In Shinto freedom of religion never became
a conscious proposition, as Shinto faith was not a fixed given.
In each of the many Shinto
shrines there were numerous gods worshiped and when, for reasons
of marriage, change of residence and the like, people left their
community, they became without any resistance worshipers in their
new local community. Also nowadays the roughly 20,000 Shinto priests
who belong to the Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honcho)
change frequently to other shrines. Many of those priests, who
until then have served the gods wholeheartedly, will continue serving
totally different gods without any problem. Thus in Shinto faith
is thought to be essentially a very flexible matter. A person who
is a Shinto believer can at the same time have faith in other religions
such as Buddhism, Christianity, New Religions and the like. In
this Shinto is very broad-minded.
@However, for quite a long time
Japanfs traditional local community has been breaking down. Decline
in natality and the ageing of society
have increasingly put the shrines which used to be the existential
basis of the traditional local communities and the maintenance
of the traditional rituals into jeopardy. When we take into consideration
that there are only 20,000 Shinto priests for about 80,000 shrines,
we have to conclude that the future of Shrine Shinto is not at
all that bright.
Freedom of Religion for Sectarian Shinto
@Finally, I should refer to the various organizations in the
Shinto tradition called Sectarian Shinto. As some of them, like
Konkokyo, and others which were founded at the closing days of
the Tokugawa Shogunate, had their greatest expansion at the time
that the Meiji Restoration Government started to promote its State
Shinto policy, many of them came into conflict with the Meiji Government
and, even more than the traditional Buddhist sects they were subject
to persecution, being considered to obstruct the authority of the
Emperor and the establishment of State Shinto.
they had their own specific doctrinal systems and scriptures, these
religions in the Shinto tradition were often
full of zeal with regard to the problem of freedom of religion.
However, ironically enough, these religions knew their greatest
expansion not after the end of the Pacific War when religious freedom
became completely recognized, but rather in the most rigid prewar
period when they were persecuted by the State power and by social
|Miyake Yoshinobu, Director General
of the Konko Church of Izuo (Osaka), was born in 1958 in a well-known family of Shinto priests.
He studied at Doshisha University in Kyoto and Harvard University.
Having been active worldwide in the field of interfaith dialogue for the
past thirty years, he established RELNET Corporation in 1997 and served
as General Secretary of the recent G8 Religious Leaders Summit.