Are there spiritual questions as Japan’s nightmare unfolds?

I haven’t heard or seen much coverage of the devastation in Japan that has raised religious or spiritual questions.

Maybe because so many of those questions were asked after relatively recent disasters — the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the quake in Haiti. Maybe there isn’t much left to say or ask.


My friend Cathy Lynn Grossman at USATODAY wrote about how the Japanese will turn to their Buddhist and Shinto traditions for solace. She writes, in part:


Seven days after the quake and tsunami, waves of memorials will begin in whatever temples remain near the disaster zone. In Buddhist traditions, the seventh day ritual begins 33 years of formal mourning ceremonies ahead, Williams said.

Just as Christians and Jews in the West may offer prayers for those who have died and those who mourn, so these rituals and prayers will come from throughout Japan, as well as from Thailand and Taiwan, where many share the Japanese form of Buddhism, said Williams, a native of Japan.


Williams is Duncan Williams, a survivor of the Friday quake and a scholar of Japanese Buddhism at the University of California-Berkeley.

I also came across a note about Glenn Beck saying — sort of — that the disaster was a message from God:


I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes — well I’m not not saying that either! What God does is God’s business, I have no idea. But I’ll tell you this — whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’



I also found that someone asked Yahoo! Answers this question: “Did japan tsunami start the end of the world?”

But Yahoo! deleted the question based on their community guidelines.

ADD: Apparently, the governor of Tokyo said Monday that the earthquake and tsunami were “divine retribution” for Japanese egoism. He apologized today.

Gov. Shintaro Ishihara had used the Japanese term “tembatsu,” which means something along the lines of “heavenly punishment.”

“The way [Ishihara] used it was a prewar understanding of the will of heaven or the gods to discipline the Japanese people,” John Nelson, the chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, told CNN.

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The (Buddhist) Dude abides

So I was cleaning off my desk — a rare event — and came across a couple of interesting things.

First, the fall issue of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle features a cover story on the actor Jeff Bridges.

Somehow it strikes me as amusing that the actor who played The Dude in The Big Lebowski is a practicing Buddist. I have one of those talking keychains, a gift from my wife, that features some of the Dude’s most memorable lines, like “This agression will not stand, man.”

Very Buddhist.

In the magazine’s interview, Bridges is asked whether it irritates him “when people confuse you with the Dude?”

He answers: “Oh God no. There’s a lot of stuff where we don’t match up and a lot where we do. I admire the Dude. He’s very true to himself, whereas I can get my hair shirt on and beat myself with my whips and say, Why can’t you take more interest in others?

Got that?

Also, I got a new paperback version of a book called “What is GOD?” by the philosopher Jacob Needleman. The back cover says: “A leading American philosopher’s personal journey from Godlessness to the experience of God.”

I realized that I have a growing pile of books on my desks about non-belief. But they’re not written from the Angry Atheist point of view.

I have “Between a Church and a Hard Place: One Faith-Free Dad’s Struggle to Understand What It Means to Be Religious (or Not)” by Andrew Park, “Spiritual Atheism” by Steve Antinoff, and others.

Is there some kind of new movement afoot? At least in publishing.