What Japan's rent-a-priest service says about us

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What Japan’s rent-a-priest service says about us

September 23, 2016 -

Credit: Drobot Dean via AP

We often bemoan the commercialization of religion around Christmas time, but that’s nothing compared to Japan’s new rent-a-priest service. Buddhists looking for a priest to officiate funerals or deliver other rites can now turn to Amazon.com, rather than their local temple, to find the help they need.

While it may seem strange to us, and troublesome to many religious figures in Japan, it makes sense. Why should religion be any different than other industries if all we really need is someone to perform a service we can’t do ourselves? We call a plumber when a drain is clogged and a roofer when we have a leak. For many in Japan’s increasingly secularized culture, lighting incense and chanting sutras for the deceased is no different.

And, as Jonathan Soble of the New York Times points out, “The priests and their backers say they are addressing real needs. They assert that obosan-bin [priest delivery] is helping to preserve Buddhist traditions by making them accessible to the millions in Japan who have become estranged from the religion.” They may have left the temple, but they still want to keep their heritage. Is our culture much different?

Many people today still want a pastor to officiate their wedding or preside over the funeral of a loved one, even if that individual had little interest in God or the church prior to that point. For a growing number of people, the idea of God isn’t offensive, it’s just irrelevant until the time comes when it would be nice to have some link to him at their event.

I’ve recently been reading up on the First Great Awakening, and the state of American religion at the time was, in many ways, similar to what was just described. In the years leading up to that period, there was no rampant moral decay, severe antagonism towards the church, or a general spiritual malaise among the people. While there was some of that, most people had simply stopped caring about God. They didn’t hate him, but they also didn’t really care if he was part of their lives. God was irrelevant and so was his church.

In some ways, those conditions make it more difficult for people to come to God than if they had strong feelings one way or the other. Yet, the fact that awakening occurred is a reminder that no matter how much people try to distance themselves from the Lord, he’s not going away. Some spark of recognition remains in all people, whether they’re aware of it or not. That gives us hope and a reason to continue sharing God’s message of forgiveness and salvation through Christ regardless of how people respond.

We often hear about the need for another awakening in our culture, and rightfully so. Our ministry has written extensively about how revival is going on around the globe, but not here. The thing is, though, that First Great Awakening didn’t start out as some massive, sweeping, nation-wide religious experience. It happened because individual communities of faith started listening to the Father’s call to get more serious about their relationship with him, and then it grew from there. There’s no reason the same thing can’t happen today so long as our commitment to it matches his.

God hasn’t given up on our culture and he’s not going to. Have we?

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