“Non-religious society” as a hypothesis

From the latter half of the nineteenth century, under the name of “Wealth and National Strength,” the Japanese Empire went to war with countries that are roughly equivalent to today’s China and Russia, colonizing what is now Taiwan, Korea, and North Korea, and expanding its territory by establishing Manchukuo in the northeastern region of China. In the 1930s, it expanded its war areas into inland China and Southeast Asia, and in the 1940s, it went to war with the United States. In the process, soldiers from both sides killed each other, and the Imperial Japanese Army deprived the people of these regions of their customs and culture, violated their human rights, and slaughtered them.

On the other hand, the Imperial Japanese Army advocated “harmony among the five races” and claimed the liberation of Asia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and its propaganda are reminiscent of the invasion by the Empire of Japan and its control of the press. Although Japan surrendered unconditionally in August 1945 and the Empire of Japan seemed to have collapsed, I believe that the remnants of the Imperial Japanese Empire still exist in some parts of Japanese society.

After the war, new religions sprang up like bamboo shoots after the rain. Many of them were non-religious as well, as a reaction against the false religions of the prewar period, but people blindly followed them without being able to distinguish between religion and non-religion, or decided to have no religion. In such an era, the Soka Gakkai spread its proselytizing activities, known as shakubuku, throughout the country. Its Buddhist movement kicked out existing Buddhist sects, Shintoism, Christianity, and other religions as paganism and pagan religions. People called the Soka Gakkai “Gakkai” for short and abhorred its members, calling them Gakkai members, but few people understood the true nature of the movement. People who were surprised and perplexed by the mass movement called the Gakkai an abominable organization and scorned and ostracized it, calling it “a group of poor and sick people.” Fearing the momentum of this group, some people even described it as totalitarianism based only on the superficial observations of its well-organized members.

In 2023, the view of “religion” of many people in Japanese society had hardly changed from the late 20th century. Rather, irreligiousness has deepened further, and smartphone addiction and its extension, brain-exposure disorder, are widespread.

In postwar Japanese society, where “irreligion” is considered acceptable and normal, perhaps as a reaction against the emperor-centered state Shinto of the prewar era, praying at shrines is considered different from “faith,” and everyone pays homage to shrines on New Year’s Day. In addition, at funerals and Buddhist memorial services, people are asked to recite sutras and chant the Buddhist prayer to the dead, which is considered a mourning and rite of passage for the deceased. As in the prewar period, these are treated as something different from “faith.” The author calls contemporary Japanese society a “non-religious society” as a hypothesis. This work is also based on that hypothesis.

In a “non-religious society,” those who “believe” in something are considered unscientific, and those who have “faith” are marginalized as weak. Those who preach “faith” and invite people to join religious organizations are regarded as shady. People who have been under the control of ideas and information for a long time and who do not have the habit of thinking have lost the ability to think for themselves, as they always had been. This situation has not changed much in the 80 years since the end of World War II. The Gakkai appeared in the vacuum of people’s thoughts and beliefs as described above.

Becoming a Gakkai member is not only a declaration of one’s “faith.” It is a denial of the existing gods and Buddha that people have taken in as a matter of custom. Knowing this, Gyungho’s mother became a Gakkai member. She made the choice to become a Gakkai member even though people around her belittled her, talked about her behind her back, and her husband disliked her. Why, I wonder, did she choose to become a member of the Buddhist movement? Through this essay, I would like to think about it.

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Shaws and Goolees

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