Japan’s reckoning with religious threats, real and imagined

A place on Santa’s naughty list. Kidnapped and Worse by Black Annis, El Cuco, and other folk vampires. An eternal torture in hellfire.

Childhood misbehavior is common, and so is a parent’s urge to elicit a consequence that is frightening enough to stop the behavior. But how far should that go and how far should all of that be protected by religious freedom?

The sudden questioning of the legal limits of invisible terrorism has thrust Japan into a debate about trust, imagination, and coercion that is deeper than expected.

The issue was among the political and legislative ramifications of last July’s assassination. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Under any circumstances, Abe’s murder – the shooting down of the country’s longest-serving leader in front of TV cameras, campaign crowds and bodyguards – would resonate strongly.

But accusations later that the killer was motivated by a need for revenge against Unification Church, or “Moonies” and its connections with Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which guarantees even greater consequences and a hasty response. The killer claimed that his mother had been bankrupted by her overwhelming contributions to the church, and that the family was condemned to suffer the consequences for generations.

As public shock over the murder quickly turned into disgust at the excesses of coercive fundraising and the extent of revelations about the Unification Church’s links to senior LDP leadership Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acted quickly. Within a few months, as more and more victims were reporting stories of financial collapse, the new law was passed by parliament.

The new law, passed after a heated debate in mid-December, went into effect last Thursday and is aimed at allowing victims to get money back from religious organizations and restricting their behavior. as varied as asking believers to take out a loan or sell property in order to donate. In particular, the law seeks to codify whether donors are subject to “mind control” at the time of donation and to control excessive “semi-spiritual” – religious items considered illegal. indispensable and sold for exorbitant amounts.

But there are other spearheads to the government attack. The recent deadline for the Unification Church to respond to a second round of government questions about how the organization conducts its finances, based on a large number of civil court rulings, shows it has illegal actions in fundraising activities. Ultimately, the investigation could see the Unification Church stripped of its status as a tax-efficient religious corporation.

A more intriguing consequence of the case arose late last month when the welfare ministry sent out a new set of guidelines to local governments around the country to clarify where religious doctrine might be justified. for child abuse. It urges them not to use religious freedom arguments to look the other way.

Using religious threats to ban a child from reading manga or playing video games could, according to new guidelines, be considered psychological abuse. Crucially now that can also include parents warning their children that they will go to hell (or similar) if they don’t follow instructions. Various faiths will argue that parents have the right to warn their children of any unprovable threat – from the painful torments of Naraka, to the Buddhist version of hell, to goblins eating umbilical cord theft – which they themselves believe in. And even if they don’t.

Apparently, the new law, investigation and guidance have put the Unification Church in their sights. The tone throughout is that it demonstrates a specific focus of alleged coercion, brainwashing, and sharp financial practices, and there are simple ways to circumvent it.

No matter how well-intentioned the project, the risk is always that in its haste to enact something, Japan has overlooked certain nuanced theological questions and created potential trouble for a group of people. much larger organization and operation than they had bargained for.

If these troubles include, however indirectly, Japan’s main religions Shinto and Buddhism, and even a significant Christian presence here, then the political backlash is may be more severe than the response it is intended to face. For example, the concept of fair value in buying and selling any spiritual goods — from lucky wooden arrows sold on New Year’s Day to Omamori charms used to ward off car accidents — is meaningless. if their value to the buyer lies in favor. put on them. No one thinks the sale of names and charms is forced, but no one wants to start questioning how the priests at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo calculate the difference.


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