Media-savvy author interviewed about Family Federation’s media relationship
Tokyo, 6th January 2024 – Published as an article in the Japanese newspaper Sekai Nippo. Republished with permission. Translated from Japanese. Original article
The religious organization needs dialogue with the outside world
Part 7 (final part) of an interview with Masaki Kubota (窪田順生), author of “Infiltrating the Former Unification Church”
by Seisaku Morita (森田 清策)
– Your book also addresses the causes of issues such as spiritual sales methods and large donations that have appeared within the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly known as the Unification Church)
In the book, I also wrote about a devout believer who said he was “aiming for one-third” of his income [to donate one third]. He was called “Grandpa Noah” by his family (Noah is the biblical figure who, guided by divine revelation, built an ark on a mountaintop despite ridicule from those around him.)
Despite being ridiculed by his family, the person’s eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. This believer experienced abduction and confinement (forced de-conversion) in the past and hid in Thailand at one point. However, he is now reconciled with his former captor – his father. Even after the shooting incident involving former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, this believer continues to go around in his neighborhood, steadfastly carrying out his religious outreach. He shows no signs of being discouraged at all.
Per se, it is a very precious and beautiful image of someone who lives by faith, and the person himself is likely happy. However, there may be instances where he is treated as a “mad person” by those around him, and even his own family may not like that. That is the challenging part.
When I discussed this with Chairman Tomohiro Tanaka, he mentioned that if there are no values that differ from societal norms, then there is no meaning to religion. Upon hearing that, I truly thought it makes sense.
Even though the Family Federation issued its compliance declaration [in 2009, aimed at reform and addressing concerns over fundraising], since it is not a “Family Federation Inc.”, it does not need to excessively restrict or put brakes on the members’ attitude towards their faith.
But there is still a need to navigate a challenging course. Apart from individual issues, being perceived as “believers through and through” by society adds an extra layer of complexity. I haven’t found a definitive answer yet, but finding a balance between faith and societal life is something each believer needs to contemplate individually.
– The challenge then will be to break out of the closed nature of the religious organisation.
There is a word called “feedback”. Peter Drucker, well-known for his management theories, advised to obtain information from the outside world and learn from it. He researched the Nazis, studying why organizations became fascist. The conclusion he reached was that without feedback, management becomes ineffective and can lead to authoritarianism.
Conversely, to avoid falling into authoritarianism and to foster innovation, it is essential to have feedback. It is good for believers within the former Unification Church to engage in internal discussions. But in addition to that, if they connect with the outside world and continue the dialogue, that can make a significant difference. Unfortunately, I think that has been lacking until now.
This time, I, a non-religious media person, was allowed to enter the inner circle, and through the book, I convey what I noticed and felt. Using this as material, believers may also engage in discussions, and continue dialogues with outsiders other than myself. This would be the best form of feedback.
– If the leaders of the religious organization regularly engaged in discussions with individuals from the media, perhaps the situation surrounding the Abe shooting incident would have been different.
In any organization, putting effort into media relations is crucial. By doing so, individuals from the media can become supporters or fans, helping with information dissemination. In the case of the former Unification Church, it remains shrouded in mystery and is feared and criticized by persons in the media who do not cover it. If there had been more feedback before the incident, there might have been more journalists raising their voices about the current abnormal situation.
– Did your “undercover interviews” make you think that the former Unification Church was a religious organisation that ought to be dissolved?
I believe that a dissolution order should definitely not be issued. One reason is, as already mentioned, the broader impact on Japan. It could set a harmful precedent and become the first step towards fascism.
Another reason is that I don’t believe they have done anything warranting dissolution. It is said that there are problems and victims, but in order to address those problems and support those victims, the continued existence of the religious organisation is necessary. There are lawyers and journalists going after it, so it’s a matter of carrying out reforms as a religious organization under their rigorous scrutiny.
What merit is there in dismantling the religious organisation when there are believers who sincerely believe in its doctrines? The lawyers’ logic is that all believers are victims, and if you destroy the vessel called a religious organisation, they will be freed from “mind control”. This logic seems flawed. From a rational standpoint, it is implausible that believers who have faith, would find salvation through the dissolution of the religious organisation.
There are plenty of ways to bring about improvement, and society should closely monitor the progress with a critical eye. Still, if you do something that shocks society, it’s wise to think twice about it. (Interviewer: Seisaku Morita) (End)
Featured image above: The front cover page of Newsweek 14th June 1976. Photo: Knut Holdhus
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Masaki Kubota (窪田順生) is a non-fiction writer who has contributed to weekly and monthly magazines. He has also worked first as a producer, then as an advisor for TV-documentaries. He is journalist for a weekly magazine and a newspaper, and editor of a monthly magazine. In addition, he works as a media consultant, having conducted over 200 public relations consultations and media training sessions (training on how to handle interviews).
His books include
- “Spin Doctor – Techniques of Information Manipulation Used by Professionals Who ‘Hush up Bad Information’” (Kodansha Alpha Bunko – 2009), which deals with Japan’s political and corporate public relations strategies, and
- “14 Stairs – Reportage on the Niigata Girl’s 9 Years and 2 Months Confinement Case” (Shogakukan – 2006), which won the 12th Shogakukan Non-fiction Award for Excellence.
- His new book, “Infiltrating the Former Unification Church – the Complete Story of the Request for a Dissolution Order and the Deepest Secrets of the ‘No Good Coverage’”, is currently on sale.