There was an argument I had with my parents when I was a child which I never forgot. I was in the car, I think I was about 13 or 14, and I was talking about evolution and how there is no God, and so on and so forth. My parents were by no means religious. They were not educated in mission schools (most believers in Singapore during their time emerged from Christian mission schools), they were not members of any religion and have received no religious education whatsoever, not from any temples or associations or whatever.
However, they got quite cross with me and scolded me saying that I may not go to church or join any religion, but I must believe in God and that what I’m saying is disrespectful and improper, or I’ll get retribution, etc, (Retribution and Fate are probably the two main concepts in East Asian religiosity). Of course at that time I was not satisfied but merely kept quiet.
Now looking back, I think Western Civilisation has been under the dominion of Christendom for so long, and the Church, as a distinct civic organisation, has so long had a monopoly over the religious life of the West, that religious belief outside of a self-conscious communal organisation or confessional faction is practically inconceivable to the Western mind.
But this is not the case in East Asia. Religious life and belief is not the business of communal organisation or confessional/creedal factions, but is something which permeates the everyday life of people, it has its source in nature, not in self-conscious human organisation. Respecting God is as natural as respecting your parents or honouring your rulers. You are aware that you are at the mercy of forces beyond you and one must retain a fear, if not fear, at least a respect for those forces which are beyond you.
This is why incidentally it is difficult for most of in the West or who are “Westernised” to really understand Japanese religious life. God does not only live in some self-consciously religious community or organisation, it divinity permeates through the whole world… there are river gods, road gods, etc, etc.
I guess lately I’ve been re-evaluating the place of Christendom in the Christian faith which leads me to wonder if Christendom may not have crippled our ability to spread the Gospel due to the fact that it has more or less cut off and obliterated natural religion. If Christendom has succeeded so far, it has only done so by perpetuating itself, by spreading Christendom through imperial expansion. But now without the guns of the West, it might be high time to re-evaluate the previous modes of Christian expansion, and ponder once more the necessary place of natural religion…
Anyway, I guess God did get the last laugh as now I do acknowledge him. Heh.