Friday, September 6, 2013

Through the eyes to the listening heart


Less theology, ideology, and doctrine?

I ran across this book while reading the introduction to a book on Shinto. It's from Joseph Campbell's book Myths to Live By regarding a Western man asking about Shinto. It would seem to have something to say about how people in the Western cultural traditions treat religion (including the more recently imported, the exotic, and the popular varieties):
"You know," he said, "I've now been to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a number of shrines, but I don't get the ideology; I don't get the theology."

The Japanese (you may know) do not like to disappoint visitors, and this gentleman, polite, apparently respecting the foreign scholar's profound question, paused as though in deep thought, and then, biting his lips, slowly shook his head. "I don't think we have ideology," he said. "We don't have theology. We dance."

That, for me, was the lesson of the congress. What it told me was that in Japan, in the native Shinto religion of the land, where the rites are extremely stately, musical, and imposing, no attempt had been made to reduce their "affect images" to words. They have been left to speak for themselves -- as rites, as works of art -- through the eyes to the listening heart. And that, I would say, is what we, in our own religious rites, had best be doing too. Ask an artist what his picture "means", and you will not soon ask such questions again. Significant images render insights beyond speech, beyond the kinds of meaning speech defines.

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