Misinterpretations of ‘separation of state and religion’ – OpEd – Eurasia Review

By Kagefumi Ueno*

(UCA News) — Since it was revealed that the killer who killed former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in early July was motivated by outrage against the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly known as the Unification Church), with whom he believed Abe was close. had ties, Japanese society has paid more attention to the said family federation.

Then it became known that many Japanese politicians, especially those of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), had contacts with the federation. Accordingly, the Japanese media was filled with animated discussions on topics such as “the relationship between politicians and religious authorities” or “the relationship between state and religion”, with some misinterpretation and confusion I noted.

First, I had the impression that some discussants here misinterpret “the separation between state and religion” as “the separation between politician and religion”.

It is clear that the concept of “separation of state and religion” arising out of the “separation of church and state” focuses on power structures, whether central or local, which should never, in simpler terms, interfere with religious people or bodies, but not political parties or politicians in general.

Possibly as a result of such misinterpretations, I have heard views that religious people should not influence the policy-making of political parties, or that religious people or agencies should not support the activities of political parties, especially election campaigns. .

The principle of the separation of state and religion is, I repeat, not intended to block the exchange or mutual influence between politicians and religious people. On the contrary, in many Western countries, political parties and religious institutions maintain unimpeded and close contact.

For example, politicians and religious often work closely together on themes such as abortion and LGBT rights (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). It is also known that during the 2020 US presidential election campaign, many conservative Catholic clerics supported the Trump team, while liberals helped the Biden team.

Second, I also realized that some discussants misunderstand the separation of state and religion as a universal principle.

The fact is that worldwide the multitude of countries, let alone many Islamic countries, maintain a close state-religion relationship (i.e. “non-separatist”) and therefore “the separatists” such as Japan and Western Europe are the minority.

Even in Europe, Eastern Orthodox countries, such as Russia, are generally “non-separatist.” Against this background, 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 in a TV program in which he emphasized more than once that the freedom of belief refers in principle only to the inner sphere of the human person.

Ironically, China is a prime example of this and would like to keep the faith in a person’s mind, while most of the Free World does not take such a stance. After all, religious activities only become meaningful if they have an interface with politicians and other external parties.

All in all, it must be made known here that in the West in general; the exchange between politicians and religious is unimpeded.

*Kagefumi Ueno is a former Japanese ambassador to the Holy See. This is a revised version of an essay first published in Nikkei and then on the JITOW (Japan in Their Own Words) digital site. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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