Monday, March 29, 2010

Motorcycles and Religion

mexican hat utahI never thought of myself as being religious, but in fact I do have my beliefs about the Universe and the afterlife.

Growing up in the United States, I've been subjected to the notion that God watches everything I do, and knows everything I do, and even knows my intentions. And this is always on my mind, mostly because I'm so used to hearing this I can't escape from it.

But I've also grown up listening to my mother talk about Shinto, the predominant religion of Japan. It's actually not a religion, but more of a philosophy on life and an understanding about the Earth. In Shinto everything contains a spirit whether living or inanimate, whether natural or man-made. These spirits interact with each other to create a harmony.

There are some geographical places in Japan where certain powerful spirits combine to create such profound harmonies that people have erected shrines to act as an interface. Through these shrines, people cleanse themselves of impurities.

Motorcycle riders often describe achieving a certain peace while cruising down a country road. The sound of the engine, the wind blowing against you, the grandeur of the mountains, trees, and skies, all combining together to into some harmonious form that somehow seems to cleanse ourselves of the rat race of civilization and resets our mind, body and soul for another week of work.

I've never come across a Shinto shrine here in the United States, but if we have anything that comes close, it might be a viewpoint along the highway, perhaps at 9,000 feet up, where you can see how the world comes together. We may not see it as interfacing with the spirits, but we might feel inspired to say a few words or snap a few photos. It's all the same thing I think.

But I don't think I'm a better human being for riding a motorcycle. I haven't achieved any kind of spiritual closeness to God, and I don't think I've cleansed myself of any impurities. I still don't even believe in God, at least not what the western world suggests I should believe.

With me it's like East versus West pitting one dominant philosophy over another. I'm just standing in between the two, observing people as they defend their faiths.

Where will we go when we die? Perhaps we're better off asking where we will go for a ride. Maybe somewhere along the way, if you keep your eyes open, you'll find the answer.


  1. Very thought provoking. Yes, as a minister (and biker) I have confidence in the answers my faith brings me, but regardless of your views, there is value in seeking out answers ... answers that come by keeping our eyes open.

    Enjoying the posts!

  2. Very well put. I studied Eastern religions in college and the differences between them and Christianity are fascinating. I don't believe in God least in terms of the one we were all brought up to believe in. There's an old saying, "History is written by the Victors," as in those victorious in battles and wars. Study enough history, and you see that Western Christianity was no more than a way to control people through fear (ex-communication and so-called eternal damnation) and of course, a very much for-profit institution.

    James Clavell's novel "Shogun," and the early 1980's mini-series based on it, gave me my first glimpses into just how the Catholic church got so rich and powerful. It was also an outstanding example of East meets West culture-clash. The reason Christianity never took hold in Japan, is because the Japanese were never conquered by the English, Spanish, or the Portuguese. In fact, until the end of the second World War, Japan was never conquered by any other nation.

    So when you see where Western influence was NOT, and how different things are there in terms of religion, the answer should be pretty clear. Of course, since we're all so different, my answer is not necessarily yours or someone else's. All I can say is that I agree with you. I don't need God, or Allah, or any other non-tangible deity to keep my focus in life.

    Like you said, who cares where we go when we die? I'm more interested in where I go when I'm alive, and I enjoy getting there more when I'm on my motorcycle.

  3. I just stumbled upon this site. I decided to do a search of Jinja in Houston Texas, and motorcycling with Shinto. The wife and I were discussing the differences of New Year's celebration in Japan and America. I lived in Japan almost 12 years, met my wife there, learned to ride a motorcycle, and fell in love with Japanese culture. A perfect country for riding. I felt an energy from the land, culture and its people. It filled me with a certain level of peace that I have found no where else. Many people misinterpret Kami as only gods vs spirits. I see them as spirits and gods depending on their relation to the spirit word. I still have an omamori from Enoshima on my bike. I have always been open to different beliefs and found that motorcycles have opened a whole new viewpoint. Definitely a connection between spirituality and motorcycles, and I found that connection in Japan.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)