First of all, I apologize for the long silence on this blog. I was, well, moving back to America! But I still have plenty more thoughts about Japan, so I hope to continue writing here. Now, on to the topic at hand!
Some Protestants accuse Catholics of being too pagan. Actually, as a Catholic who’s lived with both Protestants and pagans, I have to say I think they’re on to something with that. Catholics do have something in common with pagans. Only, it might not be what the Protestants think.
Let me explain the pagan culture I know best: Japan.
The Japanese are good listeners. They don’t interrupt; they don’t form hasty judgments; they ask questions rather than turning the topic back to themselves. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I learned how to hold a conversation in Japan.
In fact, the Japanese are even good at listening to inanimate objects. Remember how the Iron Chefs always talked about eschewing heavy sauces and letting the natural flavor of the ingredients shine through? I find there’s a willingness in Japan to be very quiet and look and listen and see what something is, to appreciate its nature.
This disposition even extends to the perception of reality. For all their meekness, the Japanese are surprisingly resistant to spin and rhetoric. They are very adept at seeing past the surface to the substance of the thing. Everything is tested against the bedrock of experience; what doesn’t resonate, doesn’t stick.
I think this idea of listening–of being in touch with what is, rather than trying to superimpose our own thoughts on it–is both profoundly Japanese and profoundly Catholic, perhaps for different reasons. The Japanese worship nature, while Catholics read in it a message from its Creator.
What they have in common is that neither side is afraid of what it might hear. The Japanese, because it is the basis of their religion; Catholics, because they know it can never contradict their religion–creation will never contradict the truth, since both were created by God.
So if what some Protestants mean by calling Catholics “too pagan” is that we’re uncommonly comfortable with reality, all I can say is, “Why, thank you–I think so too!”