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Religious History and its Implications on Current Day Society

Throughout history, a major factor on the political developments of countries was mediated by religion. Religion can create a common value system shared by a community, allowing that community to trust and cooperate with each other. But religion has also been tied to many wars in history. In the 11- 13th centuries, Europe was a Christendom – a kingdom run by the Christian church. This Christendom directly contributed to the Crusades against the expanding Islamic empire. The French Wars of Religion was a prolonged period of war in the late 16th century and is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history, and taking 3 million lives. (French Wars of Religion) Being in such close proximity to Rome, and having relatively flat terrain, France has long been under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and this religion still runs deeply through its society today. Contrast to the country of Japan. Japan’s original religion is Shintoism, which is the worship of nature, one’s ancestors, and of the island of Japan. (Roskin) In the 6th century, Buddhism began to heavily influence japan. (Hammer) Buddhism with remnants of Shintoism and Roman Catholicism have various value systems as they are fundamentally different. Although Japan and France are very similar countries – both being developed democracies with overly strong bureaucracies and a societal emphasis on education – a differing religious history between them has led to several societal, political, and economic differences in each respective country. Societally these differing religions have contributed to an individualistic value system in France and a collectivistic value system in Japan. Politically these differences have led to differences in how democracy arrived in each country. Also, interestingly, Japan features no significant left-wing party. Economically, these differences have led to different fiscal spending and personal financial responsibility, as well as different issues facing the youth in each country. The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast the countries of France and Japan and explore how religion has affected their current state of affairs.

Initially, it is important to give some basic information regarding each country and acknowledge their similarities. France is a county in western Europe that arrived at democracy through revolution. France was ruled by an absolute monarch until the revolution broke out in 1789. Following the revolution, France was led by emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who some would argue was the best military commander of all history. Interestingly, Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the only people to have war declared specifically on him personally – not France. Eventually, however, all leaders fall. And then France went through several republics that had weak executive branches and was closely involved in both World Wars. Through all this, France evolved into the country it is today, a stable developed democracy. (Roskin)

Nearly 10,000 kilometers away and across 2 continents is Japan. (Google) Japan for centuries – until world war 2 – was ruled by feudalism or heavily feudal empires. Japan’s feudal history has contributed to the strong sense of the Japanese as superior warriors, which undertones still pervade Japanese society today. Some feudal remnants still exist in Japanese society today, like bowing. In the 16th century, expansionist western countries started to force Japan out of its isolationist shell. In the mid-19th century, the United States forced Japan to open, and rapidly Japan modernized in its own unique way. Resentful of being forced open and running on its feudal tendency, Japan became militarized and expansionary, eventually leading to World War 2. For World War 2, Japan experienced serious punishment, and the United States imposed democracy. (Roskin) Constant throughout each of their histories are their proclivities to each of their own religions.

Current day France and Japan have varying similarities despite having such different histories. One perspective is that their histories are actually similar, just occurring in different time frames. Starting from a strong centralized government, – like absolutism or empire – followed by something that disrupts that system – like revolution or foreign pressure. Then followed by militant nationalistic expansion, which is then finally crushed. Followed by the adoption of democracy, into what both have today. Today France and Japan both have unitary governments whose legislatures are both unnecessarily bicameral. Unitary governments have no benefit from 2 legislatures, both serve the same role. Both have political party systems that are not very strong, at least not relatively. Both societies are Statist – that is that they like large, centralized government rule, and an emphasis on governmental control of society and economy. Both have grind-heavy primary and secondary schools. High school graduates in Japan typically know more math than most American college bachelors degree graduates. The workload for the students is heavy and thorough. But post secondarily, the emphasis changes from content and grades to the name of the university one attends. Elite schools exist in both countries and the college you attended is more important than your grades there. This emphasis on education has led to a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in both countries. People are educated to fit salary jobs in Japan. This educational structure also leads to classism in both countries. Both countries are argued to be ruled by the bureaucracy – government run by state officials not elected representatives. In Japan, the bureaucracy even holds most of the decision-making power, not the legislature. They both have highly regulated and government- controlled economies. In France, for example, the state controls a robust nuclear power industry. They control many more industries too. Japan is considered one of the most state-regulated economies in the world and is far more mercantile than free market. And lastly, both feature racial tensions. France has had minor difficulty in integrating Muslims into French society. And japan is so anti-immigration that its economy is hindered by it. And of course, Japan has a racist past from World War 2 and before. The textbook describes “Asia for Asians” but for the Japanese, this ended up being more racist than perhaps even Germany in World War 2, because really the saying should have been Asia for Japanese. The Japanese saw other Asians as inferior for a long time. (Roskin)

Now for how these countries differ, and how historical religious tendencies have shaped the current state of affairs in each country. As was briefly discussed in the introduction, the primary religions of these countries differ greatly. Roman Catholicism being a denomination of Christianity derives a lot of its value structure from mosaic law. And the Enlightenment triggered the birth of new philosophy in France, like from philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This has the effect that France is inherently individualistic. The effects of this run deep. Individualism focuses on the separateness of the individual within a society. The individual has rights, freedoms, and personal responsibility. (Roskin)

In the case of Japan, their original religion is Shintoism, which established early in Japanese society the importance of obedience to one’s elders and ancestors. The essence of this is an obedience to an external authority. This is a big source of Japanese statism, but also a source for Japanese collectivism. But Japan is not only dominated by Shintoism but also by Buddhism. The Buddhist religion is based primarily on the ideas of the four noble truths, the three poisons, and the eight-fold path. In a nutshell, Buddhism does not offer specific moral guidance, rather an emphasis on suffering and how to remediate suffering. Also, underlying Buddhism are the ideas of interdependence and impermanence. (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) These have the effect of analyzing society as a whole system, and not as individuals. The I’s of Buddhism, as they are called, indicate that all things are connected, inseparable, and constantly changing. This whole worldview teaches collectivism over individualism. Now, it should be noted that Japan is one of the more individualistic countries of all the east Asian countries, however, it is still very collectivistic based on western standards. The key here also is that religion in Japan does not have a major emphasis on specific moral guidelines. There are no ten commandments like in Christianity. Rather, there is the view of society as a whole cohesive unit and an obedience to authority. (Roskin)

This societal intertwining of historical religion with the individual or collectivist perspective has had major implications for the rest of their respective country. Politically, France has many fragmented and weak political parties. Coalitions are typically necessary for a National Assembly majority. Of course, there are two largest parties, one left and one right, and this is typically seen in first-past-the-post election systems. France has an election system of first-past-the-post with runoff, which results in 2 large parties but still allows people to vote for third parties in the first election. (Roskin)

Even more interesting however is that for japan, virtually no left-wing party exists. This is because historically japan has been obedient to established feudal power structures, and following World War 2, not much changed to these structures. After World War 2, America had a shifting focus towards the rise of Communism and the Cold War, and thus changing these institutions was placed on a back burner and, in a way, forgotten. But still, at this time the United States imposed democratic institutions upon Japan. Which differed from France, who was able to eventually reach democracy on its own after nationalistic conquest and defeat. The fact that the United States of America did not change these political institutions allowed Japan to continue on a trend somewhat similar to as if nothing was imposed, which preserved the collectivistic mindset and the fact that virtually no left-wing political party exists. (Roskin)

Economically there are differences too. Again, both have highly regulated economies, but they are facing distinct economic problems, especially regarding their youth. In France, unemployment is extraordinarily high, especially among youth who are struggling to gain experience to meet the demands of limited entry-level positions. labor force rigidities and the welfare state are causing these problems. Which brings us to the difference of the welfare state. The welfare state exists in France because individuals may get left behind at no moral failure of their own. French criticize the United States as heartlessly capitalistic, with no regard for those facing financial hardship. In the case of Japan, there is virtually no welfare state, and there is an emphasis on saving. To need support is to bring dishonor upon yourself and to drag the whole system and society down. Which is perceived as extraordinarily shameful. But extreme savings can harm the economy because saved capital is not invested and working to produce a profit. (Roskin)

The economic strains of each country have affected the youth. In Japan, the young generation is even described as a “new” human race. (Roskin) In Japan, overwork is a prevalent issue. The population and economy have been declining and stagnating. The Japanese work extremely long hours. Many immigrants are deterred by this fact and this also contributes to Japan’s suicide problem. This has culminated in the fact that Japanese youth are no longer satisfied with Japanese living conditions. Japan’s economic and societal issues are currently contributing to a concerning decline of Japan. In the case of France, and as discussed earlier, the labor force rigidities and economic stagnation have led to an unemployment problem, especially among youth. Youth may have to leave for economic opportunities to sustain themselves. (Roskin)

Religion is a key part of personal identity. And throughout history, religion has been relevant in shaping the values of a society and shaping history. Despite being nearly 10000 kilometers apart, Japan and France happen to have a lot of similarities. (Google) But no two countries are exactly the same. The differing religious history between France and Japan has led to several societal, political, and economic differences in each respective country. The societies have become individualistic or collectivistic. Politically the parties reflect these differences. And economically, these values have led to different approaches regarding the welfare state and youth challenges.

Works Cited

French Wars of Religion. 21 10 2020. 25 10 2020. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Wars_of_Religion>.

Google. 2020. 25 10 2020.<https://www.google.com/search?q=distance+from+france+to+japan&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS916U S916&oq=distance+from+france+to+japan&aqs=chrome..69i57j0i22i30.7100j1j7&sourceid=chro me&ie=UTF-8>.

Hammer, Elizabeth. Buddhism in Japan. 2020. 25 10 2020. <https://asiasociety.org/education/buddhism- japan#:~:text=Traveling%20along%20this%20route%2C%20Mahayana,several%20volumes%20o f%20Buddhist%20text).>.

Roskin, Michael G. Countries & Concepts. Ed. Maureen Diana. 13. Charlyce Jones-Owen, 2016. 25 10 2020.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6. Columbia University Press, 2012. 25 10 2020 <https://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/religion/eastern/buddhism/buddhism/basic- beliefs-and- practices#:~:text=The%20basic%20doctrines%20of%20early,the%20cessation%20of%20sufferin g%2C%20the>.

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