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What place is there for religion in a democracy?

May 15, 2024

TOKYO – Young Japanese people’s interest in thinking and religion is said to have been declining in recent years.

One reason could be the criminal offenses committed by certain religious organizations that have threatened the peace of society. Young people have consequently become aware of the danger described by 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, who cited the maxim: “the corruption of the best of things produces the worst.”

Moreover, hectic modern life generally tends to give people no choice but to prioritize the pursuit of convenience resulting from technological progress and economic affluence. People have no time to think about death and the deceased.

Looking at comparable trends overseas regarding people’s interest in religion, it becomes clear many industrialized countries have something in common — a change in their populations’ interest in traditional religions. One such example may be “religious disaffiliation,” a phenomenon that U.S. and European news media report as increasingly conspicuous among Christians.

Statistics exist about the followers of religions and denominations. How should individuals’ religious affiliation be verified? It is not an easy process. Religious organizations’ self-reports are weak evidence. In one country, for example, the aggregate of people listed by various denominations as their believers even sometimes surpasses the nation’s actual population.

Germany, Austria, Switzerland and some other countries provide reliable statistics based on a so-called church tax — also known as a religious tax — that is traditionally levied on registered members of officially recognized religious communities.

Germany’s constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees freedom of