MacArthur encouraged religion in postwar Japan

June 3, 2011

A new book on postwar Japan says Gen. Douglas MacArthur sought to
fill the country's "spiritual vacuum" with religious and quasi-religious
beliefs, from Christianity to Free­masonry, as an antidote to
communism.

In 1945 Under the Shadow of the Occupation: The Ashlar and the Cross,
Japanese investigative journalist Eiichiro Tokumoto documents
MacArthur's ef­forts to persuade missionaries to intensify their
efforts, even encouraging mass conversions to Catholicism.

"There
was a complete collapse of faith in Japan in 1945—in our invincible
military, in the emperor, in the religion that had become known as
'state Shinto,'" Tokumoto writes. His book so far has been published
only in Japanese.

A number of documents that Toku­moto used for
research were declassified only recently, including accounts of a 1946
meeting between MacArthur and two U.S. Catholic bishops.

"General
MacArthur asked us to urge the sending of thousands of Catholic
missionaries—at once," bishops John F. O'Hara and Michael J. Ready later
reported to the Vatican. MacArthur told them that they had a year to
help fill the spiritual vacuum created by the defeat.

On the basis
of his experience in the Philippines, MacArthur believed that the
Catholic Church could find particular appeal because the tradition of
seeking absolution for one's mistakes or misdeeds "appeals to the
Oriental," they reported.

In the wake of the missionaries'
efforts, the Bible became a best seller in Japan, while the number of
Catholics increased by about 19 percent between 1948 and 1950, Tokumoto
said.

The missionaries' success, however, was short-lived.
Relatively few of the 2,000 or so who flooded into Japan could speak
Japanese. The 1960s saw a student backlash against perceived "elite"
Christians who ran several major universities, including International
Christian University, founded in Tokyo in 1955 with the then-retired
general chairing the school's fund-raising efforts.  —ENInews/RNS