During our most recent trip to Japan, in 2019, we visited the Kanda shrine — it was on our way to the sake association’s tasting center 😉
Next to the shrine was a building with a ‘cultural space’: a cafe, a shop and an event space, clearly associated with the shrine. It was quite new — apparently the Kanda shrine featured in the anime Love Live!, and being relatively close to Akihabara, I’m guessing it gets its fair amount of ‘pilgrims’ which must have put quite a chunk of cash in the shrine’s coffers. If this is the result, then that’s not bad at all!
We browsed through the shop for a bit, and I bought the book ‘Shinto from an international perspective’ by Satoshi Yamaguchi. It’s a dual-language book: pages to the left are in English, pages to the right are in Japanese. The writer is an ordained Shinto priest and worked in Geneva — so his perspective is indeed more international than many other shinto priests.
It’s an interesting read, but shallow. It does not really spend a lot of time on the foundational shinto myths, but it does do a good job of explaining the history and the various changes it underwent as a result of various social and political changes in Japan. Some things in the history of shrines we visited, puzzled me — and with this increased understanding, I’m more able to get the nuances.

If you’re interested in the subject, then it’s a very good starting point.

Post-rationalism

We have crossed over into the era of post-rationalism. An era where critical thought is no longer valued or even appreciated, but an era where dogma reigns supreme. An era where open discourse is no longer looked upon as an opportunity to further knowledge, but as an arena to impose your dogma onto others. An era where scientific progress is stifled, not only because we no longer have the capability of independent, logical thought, but also because using the scientific method might show that the core dogma is false.

Religion is a belief. You can’t rationalise a belief — that’s why being religious is a personal experience (though one you can experience when in the company of others, certainly). If you want to have a religion — by all means, go ahead.
But when you maintain that your religion is always right, and therefore that anything which criticizes your beliefs must be wrong, then things start to go astray. That is the post-rationalist mindset, and it is rampant these days — verily, a throwback to the Dark Ages.

The freethinkers are right: religion is used to assert control over the general population. In the name of religion, you can get people to do all sorts of crazy things. I hear people maintain that islam is a religion of peace — and it might very well be, but what about the crazy fuckers who blow themselves up in a bus in the name of the islam?
The thing is, that most religious activism does not serve a religious purpose. Blowing yourself up at a wedding does not convert people to your religion, nor will it make people lead Good Lives (as defined by your religion). Campaigning against same-sex marriages will not suddenly make devout zealots out of people who were not under your banner already. Your personal religious experience will not improve if you undertake these things.

Instead, these actions serve a political agenda. An agenda that is set by clerics who crave power. Clerics who abuse the trust other people placed in them, who abuse the words of their chosen holy texts to manipulate others to do their bidding, who maintain that this is all the will of their chosen deity.

I know some pretty strong words, but I have no words that can describe how much I despise ‘people’ like that — nor what manner of misery and painful death I wish upon them.

Of course, if your religious sect is the base of your power, you can not allow anything to challenge the beliefs of your flock. If they start to doubt you, your influence wanes. Obviously, you need to manipulate the thoughts of your flock so that they will instinctly reject anything that contradicts your ideas. In fact, such things might even serve to energise your flock: whip them up in a frenzy over a real or imagined sleight against your religion! This will serve to make them bond much stronger to your clique, so that it is even easier to get them to do all sorts of crazy stuff to further your own political agenda!

Think of this when you see muslims burning Danish flags. Think of this when you see pro-life protesters. Think of this when you see bans on stem cell research. Think of this when you see school boards being pressured into teaching intelligent design.

I agree with Daniel Dennett: using religion as a reason for anything in the public space instantly disqualifies your opinion.

Afterlife

I find the idea of an afterlife depressing.

Either you ‘live’ on in eternal bliss — which means that your growth as a person stops completely. That can’t be a good thing, and it would get boring very soon. Humans need to be challenged and grow.
Or you spend all eternity being tormented. Isn’t it way out of proportion to be tortured for all eternity for the deeds you did in a life that’s not even a century long?