THE BLOG

Japan's Shadow Leader Should Remember History Before Offering Comparative Religious Analyses

11/13/2009 12:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As President Obama arrives in Tokyo, he finds himself, strangely enough, at the epicenter of the latest in the war of words between Christianity and Islam as a result of one of Japan's most powerful and influential politicians having just denounced Christianity as being "self-righteous" and praising Islam as "better."

Before boycotts against Japanese products are called by angry American Christians, it's important to remind the devout among us that if Christians are right and God of the Bible is the Creator of the Universe (including of Mr. Ozawa) then He's probably big enough to endure the taunts of mere humans.

But my problem isn't so much with Ozawa's taunting of other faiths-I think a more rigorous exchange of religious ideas including the occasional good-natured taunt is fine. What I'm more concerned about is his seeming ignorance of history-including his own nation's very recent history.

If Clarence, the lovable angel from It's A Wonderful Life could take Mr. Ozawa back in time and give him a view of his country had it been conquered by a country guided by a religion other than Christianity, if history were a guide, he might see a country completely different from the one he has the pleasure of living in freely today.

Shortly after the U.S. defeated Japan in World War II and the occupation by U.S. forces began, General Douglas MacArthur reported back to U.S. authorities that the Emperor had offered to make Christianity the official religion of Japan, and perhaps himself convert. This would not have been an unusual scenario of course, and may have even been expected by the Japanese, since for thousands of years invading armies have required that the conquered convert to the religion of the conquerer.

But MacArthur made no such demand, insisting only that the Japanese constitution guarantee the freedom to practice religion as each individual saw fit. Though he admitted a bias toward Christianity as the best foundation upon which democracy should and could be built, and called for American missionaries and Bibles be allowed into Japan, he resisted every impulse to force the Japanese to convert to Christianity en masse. Today the Christian population of Japan is reported by Gallup to remain very low, somewhere between 4-6%, but the Japanese people remain free-able to convert from one religion to another, or as is the case with many, adhere to no religion at all.

While many Christians will, without prompting from a Japanese politician, readily admit that self-righteousness is a sin which they are particularly prone to falling into, Mr. Ozawa may want to think carefully about his own nation's recent history before engaging in comparative religious analyses and thank whichever god he worships that he was invaded by a nation inspired by a a God who prefers voluntary conversions to forced ones and a wise old General who ensured that freedom of religion was granted to all Japanese citizens before he took his conquering force home.