Christian Missionaries in Asia, and Christianity in Japan
In examining the religious culture of a country, one can learn much from the manner in which the country has interacted with religious belief systems not indigenous to their country. In essence, if a country had been open to the introduction of a new teaching, it may be the case that the intellectual culture within the country was vibrant and forward looking, actively engaged in the cultivation of knowledge and wisdom. In more modern parlance, we could characterize such a society as an open society, or at least one which had aspects that parallel the current societal norms relating to the freedom of conscience, the freedom of speech, the freedom of association, all of which serve to underpin what we refer to as “civil society”.
In the case of Japan, there was a syncretic religious system in place for over a thousand years before Western intervention upset the social equilibrium. And monotheistic dogma and orthodoxy is easy to counterpose to syncretism and pluralism. In particular, the doctrine of Accommodation prevalent in Mahayana Buddhism, which fostered the development of the syncretic system of Japan, is woefully understudied and practically unheard of in Western academia.
One of the reasons that I am writing about Leibniz and the Jesuits is to preempt the sentimentalist drivel that a pseudo-intellectual, most likely Freemason, almost certainly an officer of the British MI6, aka John Dougill, is going to have disseminated about the “Hidden Christians” through the gray media propaganda machine operated by front companies of the MI6.
There is interesting material about the Hidden Christians, but it is not as important, in my estimation, as the question as to why the Christian missionaries were banished and Christianity banned in the first place.
In considering the characteristics of the Judeo-Christian tradition, one would likely cite the most obvious feature of a one-and-only God (i.e., monotheism) as the defining common trait of the Jewish and Christian religions. I have recently come to view another characteristic of the two religions, which are commonly referred to as forming a single tradition, that may take precedence in some respects: the shared notion of victimhood.
In other words, both Judaism and Christianity share a common feature that can be characterized as a persecution complex. In the case of the Jews, the Old Testament recounts a tale of enslavement of Jews by the Egyptians, and that a prophet named Moses, guided by their one and only god, led them out of slavery and toward the Promised Land. Slavery is indeed a most extreme form of persecution. In the case of Christianity, the New Testament can be seen to portray Jesus, a Jew, as being persecuted by religious figures among his own people, such as the Pharisees priest class and the fundamentalist zealots, as well as the Romans, yielding more targets upon which to seek to lay blame.
Although the missionaries seeking to propagate Christianity would appear to have developed a highly sophisticated methodology for inculcating and exploiting a persecution complex in one form or another, it should be noted that there are very few Christians in Japan, especially in comparison to the neighboring country, South Korea. There could be a little social psychology involved there, especially in relation to the contradiction of a work ethic versus a persecution complex/entitlement mentality.
In any case, what needs to be examined first, albeit in a somewhat speculative fashion, is why the Christian missionaries were banished from Japan in the first place. How is it, you may ask, that Christian missionaries on a good will mission could represent a subversive force? I will sketch a cursory background here to be revisited and filled out later…
The schema looks something like this. The missionaries enter a country on the pretext of spreading a moral/ethical teaching, hoping to do nothing more than to thereby benefit mankind. However, in the case of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this involves telling stories of epic proportions that seek to cultivate certain dispositions in those receiving the teaching. Those dispositions include sympathy and empathy toward victims. In the case of the Old Testament, the victims are the entirety of the homeless Jews, and in the New Testament, the persecuted figure of Jesus. Eventually, if the missionaries are successful, some of the people to whom they have been proselytizing will come to identify the plight of the persecuted as covalent with their own existence. And that can lead them to finding a plight in their life where in fact there isn’t one.
As mentioned above, the plight of Jesus was two-fold: against the religious authority of a would-be Jewish priest class and fundamentalists with revanchist aims of restoring a theocratic rule and monopolizing political power; and against the state, that is to say Rome.
That in turn can be turned into a politically subversive movement—as opposed to a religious movement—if the people being proselytized come to view the political authority of their country as oppressing them. That in turn could lead a scenario in which the missionaries come to be viewed as personages revered for having brought a teaching that might liberate the people from a hitherto unforeseen insidious form of persecution. The missionaries may thereby ascend to positions of worldly authority, assuming that they lead the people to overthrow their leaders.
The only Christian missionary movement in East Asia that wasn’t undertaken on the premise of converting the entire population of a country to Christianity occurred in China, by the Jesuits. The Jesuits recognized an ethical teaching in the form of Confucianism that was a peer of that of the Judeo-Christian tradition. They therefore sought to accommodate that teaching in terms of “natural theology”, adopting a dualistic approach to traditions that was unitary in terms of content, so to speak. That approach shares a good deal with the Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of “Hoben” (“Expedient Means”, “Accommodation”, etc.).
Leibniz was engaged with the Jesuits, and supported their efforts at Accommodation. He was also seeking to learn as much as possible about the culture and history of China, which he then correlated, in a sense, with his extensive learning with respect to the Ancient Greeks. He was the first Western intellectual to engage with the intellectual, political, and religious tradition of China, and the results were somewhat astounding.
At any rate, the point here is simply to focus on the fact that there was one brief gleaming moment in the history of Christian missionary work in East Asia that evinces values of openness and mutual respect, not bigoted exclusionism.
The commonality between the Accommodationist position of the Jesuits and the long running Accommodationist approach found in Buddhism can be seen to lie in the trait that both share a characteristic openness toward the truth value of their respective teachings. That is to say, they felt that the truth would shine through, even if the teaching was presented in a manner that might not be deemed to be in accord with some doctrinal issue. This value also holds that the truth is basically accessible to anyone who pursues it with dedication, and the mode of presentation would not detract from the truth at which one has arrived after such a sustained effort. The truth would become self-evident, so to speak, and capable of being represented in another mode, if necessary.
Although Mr. Dougill has changed the tone and tried to shift directions in his blog posts of late, in his past writings for that nebulous (i.e., “gray media”) publication the Kansai Time Out, and the guide book he had published by a publishing company called Signal Books that releases titles with the status of a subcontractor under the American division of Oxford University Press. It was a rather convoluted process to figure out all of that, but that is the purpose of using such gray media outlets, of which Kansai Time Out most definitely was.
As to Signal books, I received no response from the person in charge of fact-checking and editing Dougill’s book, though I did receive a fair amount of cooperation from the person in charge at UOP America. It could very well be that Signal Books is a front company, one which publishes only books in specialized niche—primarily travel related literature targeting an educated audience—and that in this case, is a company that appropriates the reputation of a famed academic publisher, Oxford University Press, using some sort of insider connections. Mr. Dougill has told me that he has a PhD in Slavic Studies, which makes it curious that he is here in the first place. At any rate, publishing under the umbrella of an Academic name with the stature of Oxford University gives credibility to the deceptive and propagandistic content being written by intelligence operatives like Dougill, which contains a good deal of religion-themed subterfuge, and has obviously been crafted with an ulterior motive and subversive agenda—in this case, to cultivate certain types of dispositions among the educated travelling public.
Note that I have complained to the US Consulate about Dougill and other gray media propagandists here in Japan, but have been forced to escalate the complaint due to inadequate remedial measures.
It has therefore also become necessary to take this issue public, with the aim of providing a little enlightened intellectual guidance to those responsible for conducting the foreign policy of the United States, as well as having the so-called Intelligence Identities Protection Act amended by the United States Congress. Those are a couple of the objectives that I will be returning to here in the near future.
I would imagine that some of the people at the State Department and the like might regard me as a pretentious upstart, but the United States of America has lost touch with the role played in open society by the intellectual.