I’m going to admit it right from the start: I’ve watched a few of the “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” episodes on Netflix, and I like it. I like the idea of decluttering and even “sparking joy.” I even fold my clothes her way now, and wow! I can fit so many clothes in my drawer now!! Here’s the thing though, I find it troublesome how many people on the show so readily bow to thank their houses or thank their clothes or pots and pans. Like Paul wrote so long ago: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” (Romans 1:21-23). One may say, “Chris, they aren’t worshiping man and birds and animals and creeping things. They are thanking their clothes and homes and stuff. What’s the big deal?”
The big deal is what lies behind the thanksgiving. Marie Kondo is Shinto as are 83% of Japanese.* Most tend to think that the Japanese are Buddhists, and they are, but more are Shinto. Only 72% of those in Japan are Buddhists.* Being Shinto means by its definition that one is an animist. Animism comes from the Latin word for breath or life or soul. Thus the Shinto believe that everything has a soul or a spirit, and those spirits, known as Kami, are interconnected. “Kami are associated with various supernatural and sacred forms of life, including human ancestors, spirit figures, and the natural forces of mountains, rivers, trees, and rocks,”* and apparently houses and household objects. Thus to “thank” a house is not necessarily to thank an object in life, but to thank an object that is living. It is easy to dismiss this and say that it is nothing, but I would not be so fast. I believe that Paul’s message to the Corinthians can be applied here. The Corinthians didn’t think that a syncretistic life harmed anyone. They thought that could believe in Jesus and still enjoy the food offered to idols. Paul told them to rethink, to think about the people of Israel. They ate the peace offering after part of it was offered to the Lord. In other words, they were, as Paul wrote, “participants in the altar,” (1 Corinthians 9:18). Such were the Corinthians, participants in the altar with the pagans if they sought to synchronize their religion with them. While Shinto allows for that sort of thing, Christianity is exclusive. We cannot synchronize our beliefs. “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols (or thanksgiving offered to a house) is anything, or that an idol (or clothing) is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice (offer thanks to) they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons,” (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).
While the Shinto do not have sacred scriptures, no known founder, and no doctrine, the Shinto are devout in their beliefs and practices. There are about 80,000 shrines that serve as community centers as well as purification sites and religious activities. In fact, the Shinto are typically nationalistic and often militaristic.* As stated, they are fine with synchronizing their religion with others, but not so much with those that have fixed doctrines, like Christianity, which is only about 2% of the Japanese population* (and much of that from outsiders). Even the Shinto understand that Christianity is exclusive and that Christianity, as a religion does, not fit with Shinto ideology. It is something we Christians should consider.
That being said. . .what do we do with Marie Kondo and her thoughts on “tidying up” with things that “spark joy”? I think we can accept the principles without the pagan Shinto influences. However, we need to be careful with the idea of sparking joy. What may spark joy for one moment may not spark joy for long. We are after all materialistic beings. We want more and more, always looking for the next thing that will spark joy. “When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven,” (Proverbs 23:5). At the same time, everything that does not spark joy at the moment of cleaning is not guaranteed to never again spark joy. Christians do not simply live in the moment, but live for eternity. Thus we need to meter out our joy-sparkers with eternity in mind.
If there is an article of clothing that you no longer like, get rid of it. I don’t mind. But rather than thanking that piece of cloth, thank God for the grace of letting it clothe you and keep you warm. If you have 5 too man spatulas and they don’t spark joy, toss them. But don’t thank them. Thank God for the tools and the food that they flipped. After all, we are called to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, italics mine).
As always, I would love your input. Thoughts, questions, and comments are welcome here. If this blessed you, I am grateful for the opportunity. If not, I’m grateful you gave me a shot. If you think this would bless others, feel free to share it.
*All info about Shintoism came from:
Terry C. Muck, Harold A. Netland, and Gerald R. McDermott, eds., Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), pp. 269-272.
All Scripture is taken from the ESV, published by Crossway.