Friday, June 3, 2011

Don’t pray for Japan !

I want one of these
I’m an atheist and have always been. It’s really no big deal for me and since I grew up in Sweden where you would be considered more or less odd if you were strongly religious, it’s quite natural. I do still remember with shivers the horrible boredom I suffered when my old childhood pal Martin made me come to church with him on a Sunday since his mom is Christian and forced their kids to go and I joined in to keep him company… I did it once, but after that I preferred to stay at home and fight with my brother over who could use the C64 to play games (discounting the rare occasions when we actually played together…).

Other than that, the only time the family went to church was mostly on Christmas to keep grandma happy when she was visiting and more out of tradition than actual religious reasons. Apart from a relatively recent Christian wedding I felt obliged to attend here in Japan (mercifully short though) I haven’t attended any form of religious service for almost 20 years and feel good about that.

Then moving to Japan where religion seems to be replaced with a more general institutionalized superstition, it’s really nothing that particularly sets me apart. So being an atheist is not any particular dramatic statement or carries with it any form of controversy for me. On rare occasions some Japanese person might ask me if I’m Christian because I’m from Europe , but a “No, not really” is usually enough to end that topic. I’m generally not particularly outspoken about it either, as long as religious beliefs can be put aside I don’t particularly mind if anyone has (moderate) religious faith in any direction (hey, no one likes the extremists anyway).

...however, sometimes it can hit a nerve… After the big earthquake and the resulting disaster (I refuse to write “311”) Japan received a lot of support and sympathy from all over the world. That is something that was/is both needed and appreciated, as the disaster will leave a mark for many many years to come; personal for those who lost family and friends, economically for Japan as a nation (already before the disaster in quite dire straits…) and environmentally for the Fukushima area. But I also started to see a lot of messages saying “Pray for Japan ” and this really rubs me the wrong way… To me, as an atheist, “praying” is about as productive and helpful as picking your nose and borderline offensive to me. Probably something like telling a person of Christian, Muslim or Jewish faith “may Odin watch over you”.

Ok, I know that the people who said/wrote “pray for Japan ” did it out of the goodness of their hearts with nothing but good intentions and I waited to post this until the dust had settled a bit. I also realize that some people in the US use “pray” as a more general well-wish without any deep rooted religious intent, but still I much would have preferred a message like “I give cash for Japan” which is actually really helpful, or hey, if that fails why not just a simple "support Japan"…?

Whew! That felt good, I rant way too little, don't I? 


Sarahf said...

You make a good point, cold hard cash is perhaps more helpful than prayer. And what's the point in having a blog if you can't rant a little ;P

Contamination said...

I pray to Joe Pesci.

Works just as well.

BTW, what happened to Intense Debate?

Eva said...

Yeah, I felt the same when our Singapore tv station kept on playing our local artistes giving encouragement like ganbare Japan, you can do it, etc etc... I was like duh... why are they saying these to Singaporeans watching local TV? Are they going to send this clip to Japan and play there? It was very frustrating, I rather they urge us to donate than encourage the wrong audiences.

Chris said...

"Probably something like telling a person of Christian, Muslim or Jewish faith “may Odin watch over you”."

Oh shit...I started choking I was laughing so hard!! I'm undecided on the religious front but the pray bullshit is just a catchy phrase continued and supported by a buncha closet assholes who have no common sense and probably no real deep beliefs anyway.

Buncha superficial bullshit.

aimlesswanderer said...

I find praying to The Force is more helpful. Next time the census come around I will be putting down my religion as Jedi again.

Fernando said...

May the whole Valhalla watch over you :D

I agree with Chris...lolz for Odin watching over them ;)

Also I am with would have been wayyy cooler to say "May the Force be with you all"

D. said...

Your post just illuminated me a bit!
Like Italian and Christian I was wondering why this enormous religious support (which obviously I consider a good thing ^_^) arouse. It was a little odd for me, we don't have nothing like that in Italy; we obviously had reactions about the disaster, but they were "pray for Japan" bits were in religious environment while they were "support Japan" (Red Cross etc...) for the secular parts. Sometimes this "sides" of society even help each other out, giving indications and recognizing the other part.
The strong united "pray for Japan" message from the English speaking world surprised me. Your "I also realize that some people in the US use “pray” as a more general well-wish without any deep rooted religious intent" cleared it.
Odd, for me, but simple! :)

We have a saying in Italy: help yourself that God help you.
I really hope that material help were handed as much as spiritual help!

D. said...

In my previous comment, I think a jumbled a little in my English, sorry.
Hope that the point will came across anyway. :)

P.S: creepier light switch that I ever see. 0_o

Blue Shoe said...

Each to his own. Some of us think prayers actually do some good.

And as far as "give cash to Japan," the good of that is debatable given recent reports about how little of the Red Cross money has actually been dispersed.

For the record, everyone I personally know who was passing on that "pray for Japan" stuff was also giving money.

BiggerInJapan said...

haha, love it.

I get this "are you Christian" Q a lot here in Japan (wtf, it must be my pagan looks!), which I find rather annoying, if not slightly offensive. I put on a serious look, say "no, I am a Jew", and then stare them in the eye in a real intense, disturbed way. With all the conspiracy theories abounding here, this always puts an end to the discussion very quickly ;-)

Corinne said...

Woah, who is this and where did our timid salaryman and his lovely Captain Awkward stories go!? ;)

I totally agree with you, prayer may be good for some people's peace of mind but it does fuck all for rebuilding devasted areas.

Maybe the slogan should be "Pray for Japan (if you must but the cash would be much appreciated)"
Not quite as catchy I guess...

Mr. Salaryman said...

Saraf - Yep, and one way to support Japan is also to buy Japanese goods etc. etc. and I really should rant more about topics that no one but me is annoyed about ;)

Contamination - Hope it makes you feel better, for ID see my previous post

Eva - Sounds like a gig that was more focused on getting viewers and goodwill for the channel than actually making any difference for Japan, but hey, at least they were raising some awareness without calling on Gods that doesn't exist...

Chris - Yep, that's exactly my impression as well. "pray for..." is just used as a generic phrase and without the religious context it makes even less sense...

Aimless&Fernando - Well for sure, saying "may the force be with Japan" does as much good as "pray for Japan" and is a bit funny as well, so between those two I'd go with the force!

D. - No worries, I understand what you meant fine and I agree, I think this use of "pray" is quite an american one. The actual benefit of "Spiritual help" can also be debated, particularly if the recepients happen to be of another faith than the persons dealing out the help... I think that the saying "God helps the one that helps themselves" was a natural consequence of people empirically eventually figuring out that prayer actually had no real effect whatsoever...

Blue Shoe - I'm not going to attack your faith, you're welcome to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Satan, Christ, Vishnu, Allah, Marduk, Odin, Buddah, Heaven's Gate and whatever lesser deties I might have forgotten.

But saying that "prayer does good" is completely untrue - the only level it might help is a small level of emotional support on the same level as someone saying "thinking of you". If you can factually prove that "prayer" has any real concrete effect on events then you will completely change how we view the universe.

Within a religion/cult/sect/whatever I have no issues with members using whatever phrases and words to each other that are accepted in the group but extending those to people not into those beliefs I find both ignorant and offensive. That those who sent their "prayers" also sent money just shows that they at least had some common sense and realization within that prayers don't really achieve anything.

To "give cash" can take many forms, the JRC isn't the only support organization out in the field and another way is also to deliberately support the region by buying products manufactured there.

But I don't think we're in any disagreement on that money actually is helpful - how it is used is of course another story.
(I should add that I in no way mean to insult or offend you with this reply, you seem to be a really nice guy)

BiJ - Oh yeah, Japan and the jews... It's kinda funny how basically all old wild conspiracy stories seem to be taken as truth by quite a few otherwise normal Japanese people...

Corinne - Yeah, I usually try to avoid sensitive topics to keep an "all are welcome" atmoshpere around here and most of the time I'm quite happy not being on the soapbox, but this really has been bugging me quite a bit... I'm notoriously hard to offend, but hit me with religion and you risk setting me off... I was thinking of a very similar slogan, just removing a letter, maybe "Pay for Japan"?

Martin said...

Your an evil person. Leaving me in the clutches of that church making me suffer all by myself,

Mr. S. said...

I lived among Catholics for 18y, and have been exposed to the facile moralism of American Baptists and Mormons through TV, so I could not more differ with your good will: "people who said/wrote “pray for Japan ” did it out of the goodness of their hearts with nothing but good intentions." Hypocrites do not have good hearts or intentions, as they should know if they actually read the New Testament.

blukats said...

Oh my, yes very much.

I was really surprised that when I was there and everything that was happening and the first thing I saw coming out of the US and other places was "Pray for Japan". All I could think is what the heck good is that going to do for people who are freezing, have no place to sleep, no food or water."

While intentions may have been good, it kind of felt like a way more to make some people who said that feel better that they had done something and didn't have to do anything more. I am sure not all were like that but it's how it felt.

It's sad that things are still bad for a lot of people in the north. I think it's important for bloggers and others to keep mentioning people still need help so they aren't forgotten.

Akira and Taiga said...

Hi Mr.Salaryman,

I am a Japanese who lives overseas for years, and have been following you for sometime. I cannot agree with you more about this Pray for Japan thingy. I have been so annoyed with those 'Pray for Japan' badges on Facebook. Especially many of my Japanese friends put it on their profile pic. I've been wondering what good that would do. At first I thought only people who donated could get the badge or something, but it was just a site without any donation involved! So I have no idea why so many people are doing. Fad? Or are they saying 'I'm supporting Japan'?
Anyway I think people should stop wasting breath praying, and actually convey what is happening and raise money. At least that is what I'm still doing.

Thanks for the interesting blog. :-)


Mr. Salaryman said...

Martin - I remember how many times you tried and tried to get me to join, sometimes supported by both your mom and my mom, but I stood my ground! I did weep for you, but better you than me!

Mr. S - Well, I know quite a few reasonable people who also went along with the "pray for Japan" thingy so it wasn't only the worst kind of religious hypocrites... But generally, you're, uh... preaching to the choir, so to speak...

Blukats - Yep, I agree, it turned into an empty thing using a word that doesn't really carry any weight to begin with

A&T - First of all, always happy to see a Japanese person posting, nice to have that spectrum included in my readership :) Otherwise I can only agree with what you're saying!

Blue Shoe said...

Mr. S,

No offense taken.

I think faith is a personal matter and neither of us is going to convince the other. I will just say that there are things I can't factually or empirically prove that I believe in. Think me foolish or ignorant or crazy if you want, but there are people much smarter (and maybe saner) than me who also believe in such things.

And I won't tell you not to get offended by such things; can't control how something makes you feel. At the same time, you can choose to be offended by something. Though I'm Catholic, I wouldn't be offended by someone wishing me Odin's blessing if they sincerely meant it. What should be important is the sentiment, if you don't happen to share their beliefs.

Anyhow, I'll leave you to your own beliefs. Peace!

Blue Shoe said...

P.S. Having a Mr. Salaryman and a Mr. S on the same website is a little confusing. Guess I need to start calling you something else. =P

Mr. Salaryman said...

Ok, you probably don't want to get into a big debate on religion, but there is a huge distinction between an atheist and a person of faith. By it's very nature, "faith" is something that is not supported by evidence, logic, reason or science. It's belief without reason behind it and I think that you are aware of it.

You can find extremely intelligent people supporting the wildest beliefts in any direction so that's hardly an argument for anything - it doesn't really count unless there is anything behind it,

I should add though that Catholicism is my favorite Christian faith - I love the demons and stuff that's in there. Much richer and more interesting mythology at work there than regular bland boring protestantism.

You should also realize that you are in no position to judge any other faith as "stupid", "unreasonable" or "strange" as there objectively is no difference in terms of evidence or support between catholicism and say, the faith the good 'ol Rev. Jim Jones, David Koresh or Fred Phelps preaches. Or even Aum or Heaven's Gate for that matter.

But hey, on the positive side, I won't pray for you ;)

Related Posts with Thumbnails