Exploring the Boundary between Morality and Religion: The Shin-Shinshukyo (New New Religions) Phenomenon and the Aum Anti-Utopia

Article excerpt

Abstract. The study attempts to complete the conclusions of social-religious research undertaken up till now, and therefore analyzes the new religious phenomenon" (Shin-shinshukyo/ New New Religions), especially the Aum Shinrikyo cult of the contemporary Japanese society, from an interdisciplinary perspective. Focusing upon the terrorist attack with sarin gas caused by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, our analysis uses the method of Chinese boxes (the small box is in a bigger box which, in its turn, is placed in an even bigger box and so on), to deal with the complex issues beyond the criminal dimension. The study presents in this sense the victims' confessions (higaisha) as well as the aggressors' confessions (kagaisha) as published by the famous contemporary writer Haruki Murakami in the journalistic novel Underground (1997). The Aum Shinrikyo cult and the religious terrorist attack from the Tokyo subway eventually become important "confession-evidence" in the process of knowing the Japanese spirituality and the way in which its religious feeling, permanently in search of a way of manifestation, reflects the "normality" of a free modern society. By its aspects of antiutopian "religious affair", the Aum story urges mankind on an exercice of autoreflection.

Key Words: Shin-shinshukyo (New New Religions), Aum Shinrikyo, religious feeling, apocalypse, antiutopia

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People all over the world see religion as salvation. But, when religion hurts and leaves victims, where is salvation?

Haruki Murakami, Underground

Argument

After all, they'd also joined Aum because the world outside seemed without value.

Kanda Miyuki, Aum member

Great attention has been lately given in many specialty papers to the birth of "urban myths" of religious nature and the phenomenon of religious terrorism contemporary society faces, as the aggressiveness and social effects they generate grow more and more serious. However, studies of that kind are generally biased, focusing on either religious or moral and social perspective, since they only assume as object of study the mentality or attitude of the aggressors. Nevertheless, the "religiousness" of a faith cannot be quantified by one single unit of measure, as long as the search of a religious feeling represents the very manner of survival of a community, regardless the traumas or contradictions it might be historically related to. We thus propose an interdisciplinary approach of a terrorist attack that took place in Japan, making use of data provided by both religious and social interpretation, as well as the literary-documentary view and that of philosophy of religions.

The process of understanding a society is complex and categorical delimitations most frequently become uncertain, because the balance is never one directional. It definitely takes temerity to interpret the aggressors' deeds from the perspective of their own testimonies, but it is also important, we believe, to avoid any preconceived ideas about the analysis of facts and to wipe out borders that might isolate psychologically the ones involved in a religious "affair", in order to properly comprehend a society.

20th March 1995 is a date that marked the history of post-war Japan: bags with sarin gas (mortal gas, invented by the Nazis) were released on the Tokyo subway by followers of the religious sect Aum Shinrikyo. According to official statements, the attack made over 5000 victims, 12 of whom died.

Was the subway attack eventually just a criminal senseless act, committed by a religious group of "madmen"? On trying to grasp the interior motivations that generated such a gesture of religious violence, Haruki Murakami, the contemporary Japanese writer translated in over 30 languages, interviews, over the year following the attack, the victims involved and also their aggressors. The conclusions of the investigation, published as journalistic novel entitled Underground (1997), are unexpected: victims are further victimized by the society that ends up by isolating the one who passed through that experience, apart from the others, the normal world, left outside the incident; on the other hand, aggressors themselves appear in the hyposthasis of . …