If you donate to a movement that the society views with hostility, it is assumed you were a victim of “mind control.”
by Massimo Introvigne
Did you feel “confused” when you decided to donate to an unpopular religious organization? This is evidence that “mind control” was at work, and you can get your money back. But what if you honestly cannot remember that you felt “confused”? This is evidence that in your case “mind control” was particularly effective, and you can still ask to be reimbursed.
Scholars of new religious movements believed they had debunked the pseudo-scientific theory of brainwashing (or “mind control”) in the 20th century, comforted by the fact that in 1990 the “Fishman” decision had prohibited its use as a weapon against the so-called “cults” in American courts. But the dead horse of brainwashing is now being resurrected in Japan, after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated on July 8, 2022, by one Tetsuya Yamagami, whose mother is a member of the Unification Church (now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification).
Yamagami’s mother went bankrupt in 2002, allegedly because of her excessive donations to the Unification Church. Twenty years later, Yamagami killed Abe claiming he wanted to punish him for having appeared in two events of an organization connected with the Family Federation.
Rather than blaming the assassin—and the sensational media campaigns against the Unification Church that had turned his head—most Japanese media found fault with the religious group, with the strange argument that if his mother had not donated to the church Yamagami would not have killed Abe. A number of moves by the government followed. A procedure was started that may lead to de-registering the Family Federation as a religious organization, and Japanese laws regulating donations were amended, including through the “Act on Prevention of Inappropriate Solicitation of Donations and Similar by Corporations and Similar Organizations” (Act no. 105 of 2022).
The courts and agencies enforcing this Act are now supposed to use guidelines in the forms of questions and answers released by the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) on December 28, 2022, which clarify the scope of the law.
The guidelines explain that the Act’s purpose is threefold. First, it extends pre-existing statutes protecting consumers against corporations to entities that are not corporations but not-for-profit associations or foundations, and their employees or legal representatives. It does not extend to donations made to individuals.
However, it is specified that “if a member of a religious group is not a representative or an employee of the group, but solicit donations to that group, obviously there is an implied contract between the religious corporation or similar organization and the individual. Accordingly, the act of such an individual is regarded as an act of a corporation and similar organization, and is subject to the provisions of the Act.”
Second, it prohibits certain forms of solicitation of donations. It introduces the notion of “duty of consideration,” meaning in the case of donations that “the solicitation should not make it difficult or excessively burdensome for an individual to make an appropriate decision as to whether or not to donate.” Since this is somewhat abstract, the law and the guidelines specify which contents and means of solicitation are prohibited.
As for the contents, they prohibit to take advantage of a “state of anxiety” induced in the donors about “misfortunes” that may fall upon them or their relatives in this life or in the afterlife. The world “anxiety” is ambiguous. In 1843, Danish Lutheran philosopher Søren Kierkegaard gave to one of his most famous books the title “Fear and Trembling.” The words of the title came from Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians 7:15 in the Bible.
Kierkegaard argued that “fear and trembling” is an appropriate Christian attitude before God, since we can never be sure whether we will be saved or not. Were Kierkegard, and the author of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, inducing a “state of anxiety” in their readers? The answer is yes, and this is typical of many religions, which also teach that such “anxiety” can be relieved by good deeds—including donations.
Note that in the case of members of religious organizations, it is possible that the “state of anxiety” had been induced at the time of joining the group and reinforced through the continuous teaching of the movement’s theology. As a consequence, it can be recognized that devotees of certain religions are in a permanent “state of anxiety,” and it would not be needed to connect the “anxiety” with the specific moment of the donation.
As for the manipulative techniques used for taking advantage of the “state of anxiety,” they are defined as those used to induce a situation of “confusion” where the donor “is mentally incapable of making judgments under free will, such as when the person is puzzled and perplexed and does not know what to do. It is a broad concept that also includes awe (fear and dread).” This is, as one question in the guidelines note, what is commonly called “mind control.”
But what if donors cannot honestly remember that they were “confused” when they donated? Is this evidence that they were not victims of “mind control” and donated freely? Not at all, the guidelines answer.
“Even if the donors, when they made a donation, were unable to determine whether or not they were confused, it may still be possible to exercise the right of revocation after they got out of that condition… if at the time of the donation the donors were unable to determine whether they were confused, and even if they believed that they were donating based on a sense of duty or mission, but later they considered what happened more calmly and realized that they had donated out of confusion because somebody had solicited them and took advantage of their anxiety, it would be possible for them to exercise the right of revocation.”
The third aim of the Act is to allow those who donated because they were manipulated through unlawful solicitations or mind control to be reimbursed. Several provisions allow their relatives to exert a right of subrogation and ask for reimbursement, even if the donors are still “confused” (and are still members of the religious movement) and would not ask to be reimbursed themselves.
Knowing that in some cases Japanese courts of law have recognized the validity of undertakings by donors not to seek reimbursements in the future, the guidelines declare such undertakings as uniformly invalid.
“Does the Act interfere with freedom of religion or belief?” the guidelines ask. They answer that it does not, because it only targets organizations and practices “that are generally regarded by our society as socially inappropriate.” They can also be publicly denounced through reports and other acts informing the population that a certain group solicits donations unlawfully.
Here, as in other measures introduced or proposed after Abe’s assassination, Japanese authorities refer to a standard of what society in general regard as appropriate and acceptable or otherwise. This is a recipe for discrimination. Japan is a signatory of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In 1993, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted General Comment No. 22 to art. 18 ICCPR, which deals with freedom of religion or belief. Section 2 of General Comment no. 22 states that Article 18 prohibits any form of discrimination “against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility.”
Japan makes the fact that certain new religious movements are “the subject of hostility”—and of the pseudo-scientific accusation of using brainwashing or “mind control”—a justification for treating them differently. This is an obvious violation of Article 18 ICCPR.