Welcome to the Dollhouse

On the opposite side of the street facing Taiwan National Palace Museum, smaller yet modern buildings line up incorporating museums for special topics, research firms, office spaces. One of the building says SoKa Gakkai, Japan’s largest new religion. Their appearance is more humble and non-religious than one might expect for a religious group. The facility is placed inside a modern but no-frill office building, humbly sandwiched by other institutions. But the fact that they have a “branch office” in front of Taipei’s touristic Mecca paying premium rent suggests they can afford a good amount of money on the look and operation.

All new religion’s facilities and organizational structures, as far as I know, have one trait in common. Despite being religious organizations that are supposed to be “separated” from the society, they closely resemble the mainstream organization of the secular world: companies. To view it in a positive angle, in the new world of religion, the difference between the material world and the religious world does not lie in the superficial realm. You must dive deeper to see the truth (after all, it is a spiritual world).

In contrast, the old world of religion was clearly separated from the secular counterpart of its era; Just take a look at any religious architecture. All those churches/temples/mosques take pride in the fact that they provided a totally different world and experience from the peasant life. The spiritual world existed outside the mainstream society, which still makes sense today.

The modernity of new religions is understandable: they need to fill the needs that are not satisfied by antiquated beliefs. But where does the proximity with the secular life come from? Aren’t they supposed to show us the “way out” from the already-tired form of modern civilization?

The logical answer is that the new religions do not provide a way “into,” not “out of” the reality. That is why they boast similarities with corporations, the symbol of the modern society, in appearance as well as functionalities. As in any spiritual teachings, new religions do provide an escape route, but instead of showing us into a completely different universe, they are inviting us into an alternative (and better) version of the real world.

What the new religions, which resemble the society on the superficial level, provide is the illusion of the should-have-been fantasy reality. The more we are disillusioned about our modern life and the old false promise of the existing religions, the more we are attracted to an organization that establishes itself firmly on this reality (thus maintain modern structure) yet still provide a beautiful/spiritual/peaceful alternative universe. That is the reason why disproportionately high number of intelligent and educated people join the new religious movement (thus jacking up the real estate and interior design grade).

The new religions provide a safe house for the wounded soul by reassuring them that it is the real world that is malfunctioning, not them. In a way, this dogma is more atrocious than the old blind faith, because in the latter case at least the follower knew that it was them who needed to change. And I had seen firsthand what happens when a utopia starts to fall apart.

When a cult group caused a terrorist attack and took many people’s lives in Tokyo subway almost 20 years ago, everybody rushed to the conclusion that they were “crazy” “fanatic” “outsiders.” Believers were prosecuted, chased, hunted down not just by the authorities but also by every single person. It was almost as if the whole society tried to wipe off the existence of the group from this world and their memory. Because the group was “an outsider”? No, because the group was “one of them.” The cult group was not a group comprised of minorities.  Many members were intelligent college graduates and even hosted real companies to fund their religious activities. The group was, in a word, Japan. And that’s why everybody wanted to “finish” the problem with zeal. Family troubles must be swept under a rug. Ignorance is bliss.

Living inside a dollhouse is fantasy-stic for a while, but it is also a life inside a pressure cooker. Sooner or later the whole lie that not the leader but the follower tell themselves come out with a bursting energy. I just hope that it will not be in the form of terror attack.