I would like to revive the Roman word “Religio”, as a word for the shared rituals and solemn pronunciations on virtue that bind a nation together, and symbolize people’s trust in each other to do the expected thing, and a word for the suitably solemn and respectful observance of these rituals and pieties.
What we need is not religion, of which we have oversupply, some of them good but walking dead, some of them alive but disturbingly evil. What we need is Religio.
Thanksgiving, the fourth of July, and memorial day are good examples of American Religio: Japanese Shinto is the best example of Religio in the modern world.
Theoretically every Japanese believes that the emperor is a direct descendent of the Sun God. Of course they have not believed that for several hundred years, and yet at the same time, all of them believe it even today.
In Japanese movies, cartoons, comic strips, and video games, Shinto priests shoot down demons with lightning from their fingerprints. All other religions are depicted as corrupt, hypocritical, fraudulent, and rather silly. Buddhist monks are depicted as perverts, hypocrites, lechers and frauds. Christians are perverts and apt to ruthlessly engage in the most terrifying and shocking violence untroubled by the supposed pacifism of their religion. If Muslims are depicted at all, they are homicidally insane. If someone reads the Koran, he immediately concludes he is commanded to murder the main character. Christianity, as depicted in Japan, is pacifist, but Christians don’t much care. Islam, to the extent that it is depicted at all, is insanely aggressive.
Japanese are solemnly respectful of Shinto shrines and Shinto priests. They have lots of festivals, in which young people solemnly participate in all sorts of activities as if they believed in all sorts of ancient, and rather silly, superstitions.
If we had a nominally Christian Religio, all our movies, television shows, comic strips and video games would cheerfully depict Rabbis in the scorching and inciendary manner that Jesus depicted them in Mathew 23:3-7, while they would depict Christians as noble doers of good in the manner that World of Warcraft got away with depicting “The Religion of Light” before the Social Justice Warriors hacked the testicles off the World of Warcraft developers and forced them to demonize “The Religion of Light” because of its suspicious resemblance to the Christianity of Charles the Hammer and the Song of Roland..
And we would do this even if Christianity was a dead religion, without any need to restore it to real life and vitality. Indeed, if today’s Christianity is almost dead, the robotically animated corpse of a real religion, all the more convenient to celebrate the Christianity of Charles the Hammer. Children and teenagers would pretend to believe, in order to participate with their friends in the festivals, and their parents would pretend to believe, for their children.
But what of the risk of seemingly dead Christianity showing signs of life and mutating to greater virulence? Anglicanism around 1800 mutated from a state religion into a weapon to attack King George, the head of the Anglican Religion, and to undermine the aristocracy. Those advocating religious and sexual purity, which standards of purity were applied selectively against political enemies, should have been excommunicated for the heresy of phariseeism, but were not. I think this reflects the lack of private property rights in superior holiness. Shrines in Shinto tend to be family businesses, while Anglican Churches were captured by the most holy.
Shinto is nominally a private religion, and is showing tendencies to mutate to greater virulence as a result of competition between priests, but this is somewhat held in check by the fact that the valuable shrines are generally public/private, inherited in the family line, rather than being captured by the most holy. To operate a profitable Shinto operation, you need to inherit or purchase a suitably holy shrine, and to be suitably holy, needs to be suitably ancient, whereas in Christianity you can stick a cross on your barn, and claim it is as holy as any other Church. If you whip up your own Shinto Shrine, the authorities will ignore you, and you will have a hard row to hoe. It is working so far. Shinto is alive enough to give Japan cohesion, but we don’t see too many Shinto priests denouncing the Japanese establishment for being insufficiently Shinto and condemning large numbers of Japanese to eternal damnation for being the wrong kind of Shinto. And when a Shinto priest does do that, he finds that despite Shinto theoretically no longer being the state religion, the state nonetheless finds ways to make life hard for him. Alas, the Emperor can no longer cast him out, but the Association of Shinto Shrines, which is scarcely distinguishable from the state, can de-recognize his shrine. It would be a lot more effective, however, if the emperor did it.
The Association of Shinto Shrines in practice protects the establishment from being attacked for insufficient holiness by weaponized religion, and also protects the property rights of existing priestly families to own their existing holiness, protecting them from competition from ambitious outsiders claiming superior holiness for their newly minted shrines.
To prevent Religio from becoming an empty dead husk, need a certain amount of religious competition to maintain religious vitality. But to prevent dangerously vital religion from seeking secular power and secular status, need an Archbishop and Grand Inquisitor to do what the Association of Shinto Shrines does. We need sufficient pious hypocrisy that the established religion cannot be used to attack the establishment, nor used to cast out some large part of the population as insufficiently holy.
Spandrel argues that a semi hereditary priesthood, or an official priesthood, a state manufactured religio, is likely to be insufficiently sincere, and will therefore be defeated by dangerously sincere outsiders.
It is only going to be defeated by dangerously sincere outsiders if you give the competition a fair go and a level playing field. Don’t do that! Bribe the indolence of the clergy with ample privilege over the competition.
Japan shows how to do this right. Christianity in Japan is insignificant and probably shrinking in the same way as it is shrinking in the west, while Christianity in China is expanding in a way that terrifies the party and should terrify the party.
Communism is dead. In China a startlingly lively Christianity expands into the vacuum. China needs a state backed Confucian religio, and they have not got one. Christians in the west are for the most part merely progressives who are not quite up with the latest fashions. Christians in China are dangerously Christian. China is attempting to create a less threatening form of Christianity. In principle, this should be possible, since Christianity is quietist and other worldly, but they are doing it rather clumsily. Maybe they should try for a Christianity as infused with Confucianism, as Anglo Saxon Christianity was infused with paganism.
Japanese religio is today progressive and feminist, because MacArthur commanded it to be. Should international political conditions change, it could rather rapidly cease to be progressive and feminist.
Japan is sinking into crisis because of population collapse. It currently attempts to fix the problem with ever more extreme applications of Keynesianism. To really fix it, need to restore the pre MacArthur status of women. Japan’s strong and cohesive religio is a tool that could do such a thing, though the will to apply this entirely functional and dangerously potent tool is absent, being discredited by the things the tool was applied for in the events leading up to World War II. I don’t think Japan has the will to save itself, but it has the tools to do so, and these tools could be copied.