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Watch out for groups with 'a hidden religious agenda,' warns education ministry

19 Comments
By Michael Hoffman
Photo: Pixta/cba

Slowly, life returns to normal. It’s been nearly four years. COVID-19 has cost us dearly. There’s the death toll (7 million worldwide), the economic toll ($12.5 trillion, the International Monetary Fund estimates), and the psychological toll, incalculable and immeasurable – faces masked, social life stifled, opportunities lost, enterprise aborted. A phenomenon like this does not end when it ends. Consequences endure, memory lingers, breeding pain, inhibition, emotional trauma. So much can be guessed. As to the nature of the trauma, its breadth and depth, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Slowly, faces emerge from masks, life resurfaces. People can meet, talk, breathe on each other. Risk remains but is deemed manageable.  On college campuses, clubs – known as “circles” in Japan – are stirring after long dormancy. The response is eager. It’s like spring after a long winter. Be careful, warns Spa (May 2-9). The fresh air may be tainted. There are viruses and viruses – organic viruses and metaphorical viruses.

We’re dealing with the latter kind here. The education ministry has sounded its own warning. Watch out, it says, for circles with “a hidden religious agenda.”

It knows whereof it speaks. The  murder last July of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exposed government ties to a religious group whose benign name, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, allegedly masked gross extortion from innocent and trusting seekers of religious salvation. Abe’s accused assassin blamed the Federation, familiarly known as the Unification Church, for his family’s descent into poverty. He struck, it is alleged, as an avenger.

Infection is rampant, from government down, university circles not excepted. It’s hard to be forever on guard, dangerous not to be. “Kosuke Uemura,” whom Spa introduces pseudonymously, learned the hard way.

 The 20-year-old chairman of a cultural and literary circle saw his membership dwindling as the virus spread. He felt his responsibilities keenly, felt he must do something, didn’t know what; when two old high school friends came forward with a proposal to merge their club with his, it seemed like just the thing; he seized the chance. His friends proposed the Bible as a subject of discussion. Why not?

The Unification Church teaching is a modified Christianity that casts Church founder Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012) as the second Jesus, his mission to found a new human family free of the taint of original sin. Couples united in mass weddings called “blessings”  number in the thousands.

The Federation’s website glows with smiling faces and shining testimony. “One of the best things about growing up in the Unification movement,” reads one testimonial, “has been the community. No matter where you go, you can always find people who feel like family, even if you’ve never met them before.”

Clearly it works for some. So did Aum Shinrikyo, whose pseudo-Indian mysticism culminated in 1995 in a sarin gas attack on a Tokyo subway, killing 14 and sickening many more. Its membership at its peak numbered 50,000 worldwide. Spa warns against its successor group, Aleph, still active on campus and still attractive, apparently, to some young people who have no suspicion of the cult’s sinister background.

 Religion, broadly speaking, is the pursuit of happiness beyond this world. To the worldly and rational, it can seem silly or insane or anything in between. The very early Christians, a tiny minority within the vast Roman empire, were persecuted mercilessly as a corrupting and infectious influence. They refused to sacrifice to the emperor and the state gods. Their “kingdom” was heaven, their God incarnated in a man born of a virgin and crucified so his blood could wash humanity free of sin. It was absurd, fantastic. It might have remained so, had the accidents of history unfolded differently.                             

“Kaori Niita,” 25, had seen enough of her campus life blighted by the pandemic. Now the circles were coming back to life; good; eagerly she scanned the social networks for suitable contacts. She found one, she tells Spa: “a beautiful, smart career-woman type.” “We meet at my house,” she said, “for cooking and Bible discussion.” Niita had attended a Christian high school; Bible discussion was fine with her.

It was fun, lively, friendly – for a year or so. Then it got “weird.” True, one person’s “weird” is another person’s common sense and a third person’s transcendental reality. Still, when senior members began urging her to give up her friends outside the group, or insisting her boyfriend was an agent of Satan, or maintaining that the Savior was now on Earth and in prison as Jesus had been and that her soul could ascend to heaven via sexual union with a certain “teacher,” she got the message at last. This circle was not for her.

Michael Hoffman is the author of “Arimasen.” 

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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Like the Japanese government? Ok then, I'll be careful.

-6 ( +14 / -20 )

Like the Japanese government? Ok then, I'll be careful.

well said!

-7 ( +10 / -17 )

The Unification 'Church' has nothing really to do with Christianity. If they claim some Korean bloke is a second Jesus, that is about as anti-Christian as you can get. It's a ridiculous half-baked mishmash of various religions.

I totally agree that people in Japan should be wary of cultish groups, but sadly, as Japanese history shows, the government has been more than willing over the centuries to crush or defang religions that proclaim a higher allegiance. The Japanese establishment would always, for example, support Henry VIII over St Thomas More ('I die the king's faithful servant, but God's first.').

Look at the way they turned Buddhism into a organ of the state and the way they smashed Catholicism with a brutality unknown even in the time of Diocletian. Be wary of cults, and be very wary of the Japanese establishment.

-3 ( +10 / -13 )

On Syokuan dori near the Yamanote tracks between Shinjuku station and Shin-Okubo is Scientology Tokyo. It is right next to Japan Electronics College. They seem to focusing on recruiting new young people who are essential for any cult/religion trying to get a major foothold in a population. I have seem them approaching young people near Shin-Okubo, Shinjuku, and Shibuya stations. Typically, it is young to middle-aged well-looking modest dressed female members in modest attire approaching young women during the day.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

My attention and respect are done the moment someone hints asking for money.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

My attention and respect are done the moment someone hints asking for money.

For cases like the one at the end of the article this is already too late, fanatic groups can be dangerous long before any money changes hands, people can be manipulated into isolation, providing sexual favors or performing dangerous extremist actions without being asked ever for money.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Like Soka Gakkai and Komeito?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The best definition of a cult is "the church down the road that you do not attend".

They can provide comfort for their members but ALL religions are cults ALL can be dangerous.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Most if not all religious claims all fall apart when you say 2 words. "Prove it"

Religions just try to control people through fear.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Komeito is not a cult nor is Soka Gakkai.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I should perhaps have posted this in the "Fond memories of your mum" article. But whatever. I have a fond memory of my mum's first trip to Japan shortly after our daughter was born. We were walking in the neighborhood, and my wife and I popped in to the post office while my mum waited outside with our daughter. When we came out, a group of women were talking to my mum. They moved away as we approached, and my mum said, with a mixture of anger and laughter, , "I travel half way round the world, and the first people that speak to me are bloody Jehovah's Witnesses". She was quite tolerant of religions - brought up as a protestant but she attended a catholic primary school. But she was uncomfortable with people who had converted - to whatever religion. While she never directly said why, but the implication was that such people actually believe this stuff.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

My attention and respect are done the moment someone hints asking for money

Mine usually evaporates before that although some don’t immediately smack you in the face with crackpot stuff about gods and an afterlife.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

2 words "Prove it"

There are a great number of unproven matters in this life. For instance, the foundations for mathematics are unproven.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Still, when senior members began urging her to give up her friends outside the group, or insisting her boyfriend was an agent of Satan, or maintaining that the Savior was now on Earth and in prison as Jesus had been and that her soul could ascend to heaven via sexual union with a certain “teacher,” she got the message at last. 

So, they were talking a little metaphorically, Credit them for their creativity.

There are a great number of unproven matters in this life. For instance, the foundations for mathematics are unproven.

Give it time and maybe you'll put it together.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Wallace says: Komeito is not a cult nor is Soka Gakkai.

Well, how about the LDP and Nippon Kaigai?

To be honest, I think both Soka Gakkai and Nippon Kaigi are cults.

Neither Komeito nor the LDP are cults. They just happen to be controlled by religious cults which have moved into politics.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Komeito is not a cult nor is Soka Gakkai.

I generally don't get into any debates on this point with folks who might not have experienced things for themselves and just go by others or their own shallow viewpoints which are devoid of full understanding.

But, for outsiders, the way SGI propagates Nichiren Buddhism it does seem like it's a cult. For example, their emphasis on 'mentor and disciple' and their focus on Ikeda.

Ikeda is not perfect, he has made mistakes while spreading Nichiren Buddhism, but instead of encouraging a democratic discussion about it the SGI brushes things under the carpet.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I generally don't get into any debates on this point with folks who might not have experienced things for themselves and just go by others or their own shallow viewpoints which are devoid of full understanding.

??

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@wallace

Meant to say that I don't go about challenging those who think SGI is a cult, even if I myself don't think it is.

But it does behave like a cult in many ways. There's a lack of democracy in how they go about things for one.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

EvilBuddha

SG does not claim to be a democracy.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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