Edwar McDougall in iai:
Shinto shrine gates (torii) are ubiquitous in western representations of natural Japan. Have we ever wondered why we are fascinated by these images – because of the beauty of this ancient architecture? The natural scenery where they are located? Or are we indeed fascinated by a sense of mystery, the harmony that forms between these human constructions with nature?
Western philosophy has broadly taken up a Hegelian view, which conceives religion as progression away from nature worship and polytheism towards monotheism and ultimately secularism as a society develops. Central to this is an assumption that nature worship and modernisation are in opposite positions and the former must be abandoned to achieve the latter. Modern technological society indeed seems to have distanced us from nature with its apparent control over natural forces. Nature, according to Martin Heidegger in “The Question Concerning Technology”, is taken as resources and evaluated in terms of human utility. However, environmental issues in recent years have made us realise that nature is not backward or merely to be utilised – it is crucial to the sustainable development of a modern society. This calls for us to review the way we live, how we should see nature and our responsibility to it.
Shinto (as Folk-Shinto in this article) is the very religion these torii embody. With its ancient origin, its belief in the myriads of gods and practices in relation to nature, it fits well in the western preconception to be dismissed as primitive.