The Ashlar and The Cross
A new book says that in the post-war era, Gen. Douglas MacArthur perceived a “spiritual vacuum” in Japan and tried to fill it with spiritual beliefs, including Christianity and Freemasonry.
In the book, 1945 Under the Shadow of the Occupation: The Ashlar and The Cross, authored by Eiichiro Tokumoto, the Japanese investigative journalist said that MacArthur, who then held absolute authority over Japan, believed that faith would help to offset communism, which in the early days of the cold war was gaining popularity, ENI News said.
Tokumoto based his contention on documents that were recently released to the public, that indicate that MacArthur tried to convince missionaries to intensify efforts in Japan, and even suggested mass conversions of the Japanese people to the Roman Catholic faith, according to ENI News.
General loss of faith
At that period, MacArthur observed that the Japanese people were experiencing a general lack of faith in many things. The Japanese military lost its nationalistic image of invincibility, the emperor had surrendered, and the state Shinto belief, which had been adhered to for several millennia, was being blamed for their defeat in 1945, ENI News said.
“MacArthur was very interested in the relationship between politics and religion in Japan, and he wanted both to reform the ideas and the ideology of the Japanese people as well as [make] sure that communism did not fill the gap in people’s minds and hearts,” Tokumoto wrote, according to ENI News.
Among the documents that Tokumoto referred to in his book is the report of a meeting that MacArthur held in 1946 with American Catholic bishops John F. O’Hara and Michael J. Ready.
The bishops toured Japan for three weeks and met with political, religious leaders and members of the imperial family. Afterwards, the bishops said in a report to the Vatican that MacArthur was suggesting that the Catholic Church try to convert the Japanese people en masse.
MacArthur wanted Catholic missionaries to work on this immediately and told the bishops that he estimated that they had one year window to accomplish this.
MacArthur felt that Catholicism would appeal to the Japanese. He based this belief on his experience when he was working in the Philippines. He also believed that the Catholic tradition of absolution would appeal to Japanese culture, which has a tradition of accepting responsibility for one’s misdeeds and seeking to make amends (the samurai warriors did this through ritual suicide).
MacArthur also spoke to Cardinal Norman Gilroy of Australia the following year in December 1946. A report to the Vatican from Gilroy stated that MacArthur believed it was imperative that the church act immediately, or “Communist agents will obtain the converts who should be gained by the church,” according to ENI News.
MacArthur’s interest in bringing Christianity to Japan lasted even up to 1955 when the International Christian University was established in Tokyo. MacArthur served as chairman of fundraising. Garett Washington of Oberlin College in Ohio said, “It was another place that could legally teach and protect Christianity,” ENI News reported.
MacArthur’s efforts did reap results. The number of Catholics in Japan went up by 19 percent from 1948 to 1950, and in some bookstores the bible was a bestseller. However, the success did not last because most of the missionaries who came to Japan couldn’t speak the language.
In the 1960s, students in Japan came to consider Christians as “elitist,” as they were leading a number of universities and businesses. Overall the Japanese felt disillusioned with all faiths. Shintoism, they believed, led to their defeat in 1945. Christians were viewed as “hypocritical.”
However, Freemasonry met with more success, attracting members from the Japanese Diet or parliament, journals and members of the royal family.