Very interesting article about cults in Japan due to the 10 year anniversary of the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin attacks on a Japanese subway (I was here when it happened).
You could change “Buddhism and Shinto” to “Christianity and Judaism” and it would work fine in the states, too, I think.
Some great quotes include:
““In Japan, there is no dominant religion now,” says Inoue, “so young people tend to establish relatively freer religious ideas. Certainly the teachings of the Raelians are quite strange for most Japanese. However, younger generations have less ability to judge whether a religious group is strange or not.”
This is true. While temples and shrines are aplenty, people don’t actually know much about the teachings and beliefs that are associated with them.
“In researching his book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attacks and the Japanese Psyche, Haruki Murakami interviewed Aum followers and asked them whether, given the events of March 20, 1995, they regretted joining the cult. Almost all of them said they had no regrets. In considering why this is so, Murakami’s conclusion also could also be read as a warning: “In Aum they found a purity of purpose they could not find in ordinary society. Even if in the end it became something monstrous, the radiant, warm memory of the peace they originally found remains inside them, and nothing else can easily replace it.”
Here is where I see the parallel to the states. “purity of purpose” is something lacking in many ordinary societies. It can be very compelling.