Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ozawa Ichiro's Trashing of Christianity


Oh my! According to Kyodo News:

Ozawa lashes out with scathing remarks on Christianity
The Japan Times

Ichiro Ozawa, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan criticized Christianity on Tuesday, saying the religion is "exclusive and self-righteous" and that Western society is "stuck in a dead end."

Ozawa also said "Islamism is also exclusive, although it's somewhat better than Christianity" regarding exclusiveness.
The comments will no doubt cause a stir as he is the most influential figure in the ruling party.

He made the comments to reporters after meeting with Yukei Matsunaga, chairman of the Japan Buddhist Federation, a body of 102 Buddhist sects and groups, in Koyacho, Wakayama Prefecture.

Christianity "is an exclusive, self-righteous religion. Western society, whose background is Christianity, has been stuck in a dead end," Ozawa said.
Where to begin? Not with "Islamism" for sure, whatever that might be.

I doubt that Ozawa is expressing anything resembling his views of Christianity. Ozawa's nonsense jawing is about votes -- lots of them -- and a personal vendetta.

Yesterday Ozawa was paying his first visit ever to Koyasan. His host was Koyasan's lead abbot and thus the symbolic head of the Shingon tradition in Japan. In addition, the gentleman in question is the chairman of the Japan Buddhist Federation (Zen Nihon Bukkyokai).

How likely is it that Ozawa, having arranged this unprecendented meeting, would not try to butter up his host with a passel of pro-Buddhist rigamarole?

For the more political psychology minded, Koyasan is located in Wakayama District #3 - the electoral district of Nikai Toshihiro, once Ozawa's most trusted lieutenant. Nikai parted ways with Ozawa and rejoined the Liberal Democratic Party after Ozawa forced the break up the LDP-Liberal-New Komeito coalition in 2000.

Nikai is the only remaining LDP House of Representatives member from Wakayama. He won reelection with the open support of the New Komeito -- a very interesting choice on Nikai's part. Acceptance of New Komeito support means a willingness to be seen as being beholden to the apostate lay Buddhist Soka Gakkai -- the public enemy #1 of most mainstream Buddhist sects.

From Ozawa's point of view, a short jaunt to Koyasan offers the opportunity to lure Shingon tradition voters disappointed with Nikai to the pull the lever for the DPJ in the 2010 House of Councillors election. Both of the current members of the House of Councillors for Wakayama are from the LDP and the DPJ would certainly love to walk away with one of those seats next July.

Of course, these political considerations were the furthest thing from Ozawa's mind yesterday. As he told gathered reporters, "I did not come here in an elections effort. I paid reverence and now my heart is cleansed."

Duplicity -- is it in his very nature or did he learn it from past masters?

Now as for whether or not Ozawa's remarks on Christianity were "scathing" might depend a lot on what he actually said - and what one believes "scathing" means.

Ozawa referred to both Christianity and Islam as being haitateki ( 排他的 ) meaning "rejectionist of other beliefs" -- which Kyodo News has rendered as "exclusive" -- as opposed to Buddhism, which he posits as exhibiting a greater inclusiveness.

Is this, in fact, wrong? Also, is it such a peculiar thought to express, coming out of a meeting with the chairman of an organization linking 102 different different Buddhist congregations?

As for Ozawa's accusation of Christianity's being dokuzenteki ( 独善的 ) I am not confident that it has same resonances as "self-righteous." In literal terms, dokuzenteki means "the sense that one's own way alone is good." Is "good" the same as "right" in this instance?

Now as for the "dead-end" quote, the Asahi Shimbun quotes Ozawa as saying:

「排他的なキリスト教を背景とした文明は今、欧米社会の行き詰まっている姿そのものだ。」
This Kyodo translates as saying, "Western society, whose background is Christianity, has been stuck in a dead end."

When I translate all of what Ozawa said, however, including the vital sugata sono mono da ending, I find Ozawa delivering a somewhat different message:

"As for the civilization that has as its background this exclusionist religion of Christianity, right now its manifestation is this Euro-American society that is hitting a wall."
Ozawa is still being dismissive of Christian civilization but on the grounds that its (purported) triumphalism is not backed up by proofs of its excellence.

Now as to the question whether Euro-American society is a manifestation of Christian civilization - that is beyond the boundaries of my bailiwick.

I would have to chalk up the somewhat overwrought article as an attempt drum up international interest in the never-out-of-style "Ozawa is evil" line when the real story -- Ozawa Ichiro will say anything when pandering in the hopes of winning votes -- is not news at all.

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Note on sourcing: I do not normally quote articles at length out of respect for copyright. The Japan Times, however, scrubs its archives so quickly one cannot follow normal linking protocols to material presented on their site.

Image: Head of the Amida Nyorai statue in the Kotokuin, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. November 8, 2009. Photo credit: MTC.

16 comments:

Younghusband said...

独善的 can also be translated as "dogmatic". So Ozawa said Christianity is exclusive and dogmatic. Sounds like every religion to me.

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

There is also the fact that the current head of the LDP and the former Prime Minister are both Christians.

Fairly gonzo statements overall. In my understanding, the whole point of Christianity is that, as a religion, it *is* exclusive.

Janne Morén said...

"exclusive and self-righteous" sounds right on the money, actually. And as previous comments point out, it would fit pretty much every religion out there. Could also add "flat out wrong" to the list, for Christianity and for every religion. But maybe that would have been somewhat inopportune, given the audience.

BTW, isn't Japan Times itself part owned by a religious organization? They'd not be exactly impartial in such things.

Katie Muffett said...

I for one am glad for the de-simplification of the actual terms Ozawa used. It's an age old problem, but cases like these highlight how very wrong a simple "straight up" translation can be. The piece in the JT sounded far more inflammatory than his comments seem when explained more thoroughly.

James Martin said...

Christianity is a method of social control used by feudal lords, kings, emperors, capitalists, etc.
Suffice it, Religion serves this function of controlling the masses.
Has Christianity shaped Capitalism? Without a doubt. But it may be more worth asking what has shaped Japanese Capitalism. I don't think the answer is to be found in Buddism or Nihonjinron.
The answer is that the US has shaped Japanese Capitalism.
What Ozawa means to say is that the Western form of Capitalism itself is at a dead end.

Zach Baran said...

Janne,

There is speculation that The Japan Times is connected to SGI, but I have yet to really see that link explained.

Of course, after reading the statements you started your comment with, I'm disinclined to listen to you talk about impartiality.

Anonymous said...

Religion always gets tangled up with politics, but to openly criticize a religion may not be the smartest move made by a politician. The Japanese government has been trying to make some changes in the last few months. But have any efforts been successful? Asia Chronicle has some in-depth analyses on the progress - or lack thereof - in Japan. www.asiachroniclenews.com

Janne Morén said...

"Of course, after reading the statements you started your comment with, I'm disinclined to listen to you talk about impartiality."

Zach, I make no claim whatsoever to impartiality. If I've given that impression I apologize. In matters of religion, as in many others, I already have a full set of preconceptions and firmly held beliefs. You don't live into middle age and stay impartial on matters you care about.

Expecting impartiality is generally a fool's dream. People are only really impartial when they're disinterested - which makes their opinion and reporting completely uninteresting.

What we _can_ expect is for people to wear their preconceptions on their sleeve. If you know my overall standpoint and where I come from then you can interpret my views in that light. If you don't, then you have no basis for evaluating my statements. It's like a good movie reviewer: their taste may be very different from yours, but it's very _reliably_ different, so you can figure out what you'd think about the movie from their writing anyway.

PaxAmericana said...

How do Western politicians refer to Islam? Is "dogmatic" the worst they say?

The other question is where the Japan Times is coming from. They certainly have their peculiarities.

Zach Baran said...

preconception
n.
An opinion or conception formed in advance of adequate knowledge or experience, especially a prejudice or bias.

I wish you (and Ozawa) nothing but the best in your acquisition of adequate knowledge and experience.

Janne Morén said...

"preconception
n.
An opinion or conception formed in advance of adequate knowledge or experience, especially a prejudice or bias."

Bad choice of word. English is my third language so I lapse from time to time. Call it "Opinion already formed ahead of the present discussion by previously gained knowledge and experience"

I do not berate anybody for being religious. A majority of the world is, at least to some extent. But were I to pretend that I believed in the fundamentals of religion even a little, I would be dishonest with you. I prefer not to be.

And, well, religions are exclusive. Do you really think most Christian religious leaders would agree that people converting to, say, Islam or or Hinduism is "just fine, just as good as being a Christian, nothing to discourage"?

And religion is dogmatic. They all have dogmas. Books full of them, in fact, and they're proud of them too and often even encourage each other to read and memorize them, and follow them as best they can.

He was factually completely correct. If those statements sit uncomfortably for some people they should ask themselves about how they really feel about religion itself.

Zach Baran said...

I agree with most everything you have written, especially the parts about (what I assume to be the Abrahamic) religions being "exclusive" and "dogmatic".

I don't disagree with Ozawa making those statements. I just don't understand why, in order to appreciate Buddhism in front of the Buddhists, he feels it necessary to depreciate other religions (and at that only a fraction of the major world religions).

I also don't understand why he makes blanket statements about how Buddhism is good for Japanese (as their 原点, etc.) and Christianity is bad for the West. Ignoring whether or not this religious polemic was really just referring to Western Capitalism, his point is somewhat lost in some muddled attempt to encourage Japanese to rediscover their Buddhist roots.

Janne Morén said...

You're reading too much into it. He's just engaging in a basic oratorial skill: tell the audience a bit of what it wants to hear.

If you meet with a farmer's association you rail a bit against globalization and cheap imports; if you meet with a business group you decry the rise of tariffs and trade barriers. Car enthusiasts will hear about the right to freedom while the environmental group next door hears about the need to curb needless private driving. Tigers fans will get a snide comment about those Giants - and vice versa.

As for why Christianity and Islam - well, those are about the only ones that represent competition for Buddhism in Japan and generally. While Hinduism is big, it's pretty well confined to the Indian society. Shinto is long co-opted with Buddhism. Other religions are too small to constitute any threat, and most aren't proselytizing in any case. There's little point in railing against, say, Zoroastrianism or Asatru; Japanese society is quite safe from a wave of conversions to Odin worship...

samuel welsh said...

His view is abusive and incorect.
the military is not christian .
the idot should read the bible not judge it ,christ is peaceful.

samuel welsh said...

One day this idot may bash buddism,
lets see japans responce then,
he is the japanese verson of winston peters two great idots in power, give him the jack ass award.