Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Concept of Separation of Religion and State Often Misinterpreted
UENO Kagefumi / Civilizational Thinker

October 21, 2022
Since it was revealed that the assassin who killed Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in early July, was motivated by indignation against the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (previously known as the Unification Church), with whom, he thought, Abe was in close ties, Japanese society paid higher attention to the said Family Federation. Then it became known that many Japanese politicians, notably those of the LDP, had contacts with the Federation. Accordingly, Japanese media came to be filled with enlivened discussions on such topics as “the relationship between politicians and religious bodies” or “the state-religion relationship”, where I perceived some misinterpretation and confusion.

First, I had an impression that some discussants here misinterpret “the state-religion separation” as meaning “the separation between
politician and religion”. Obviously, the concept of “the state-religion separation”, stemming from “the separation of church and state”, is
aimed at power structures, be they central or local, who should never, in simpler words, meddle in religious people or bodies, but not at political parties or politicians in general.

Possibly due to such misinterpretations, I have heard views expressed to the effect that religious people shouldn’t exert influence over the policy-shaping of political parties, or that religious people or bodies should not support the activities of political parties, notably election campaigns. The principle of the state-religion separation, I repeat, is not aimed at blocking the interchange or interinfluence between politicians and religious people. On the contrary, political parties and religious bodies keep unimpeded and close contacts in many Western countries.

For instance, it is not seldom that politicians and religious people closely work together on such issues as abortion and LGBT. It is also well-known that during the US presidential election campaign in 2020, many conservative Catholic clergies supported the Trump team whereas liberal ones assisted the Biden team.

Second, I also realized that some discussants misunderstand state-religion separation as a universal principle. The fact is that world-widely the plurality of nations, let alone many Islamic ones, keep a close state-religion relationship (i.e. “non-separatist”), and, hence, “the separatist” like Japan and Western Europe are the minority. Even in Europe, the eastern Orthodox countries, such as Russia, are by and large “non-separatist”. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church supported Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Third, I witnessed the remarks of a well-known scholar on a TV program where he more than once emphasized that the freedom of faith is in principle concerned solely about the internal sphere of the human person. Ironically China is a case in point, keen to contain faith within a person’s mind, whereas most of the Free World doesn’t take such a position. After all, religious activities gain meanings only after they have an interface with politicians and other external people.

All in all, here, it should be made aware that in the West at large, the interchange between politicians and religious people takes place without hinderance.

UENO Kagefumi is former Ambassador to the Holy See. This essay is the revised version of an essay which first appeared at Nikkei on September 26th 2022.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

上野 景文 / 文明論考家

2022年 10月 21日

第1に、「政教分離」は「政治と宗教の分離」を意味するとの誤解があるようであるが、「政教分離」は、「統治機構(state)と宗教」の分離をうたったもの(西欧では“separation of church and state”)あり、「統治機構」、すなわち、「政府(中央・地方)」を視野に置いた概念である。平たく言えば、政府は宗教者・団体に手を出すなと言うことであり、政党、議員などの政治家をターゲットとしたものではない。






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Concept of Separation of Religion and State Often Misinterpreted