Japanese schools creating unbelief among children?

The label of “mushūkyō,” or non-religious, that is spread through Japan’s school system is having the effect of stigmatizing children with religious—often Catholic or religious minority—backgrounds, leading to their “silent exodus” from churches, according to a study in the journal Religions (July 1). Alec R. LeMay of Bunkyo University conducted observations of children, some of them foreign-born, at a Catholic church, Sunday school classes, and 15 biannual church camps, as well as in-depth interviews with a small group of Japanese people, ages 14–50, who had undergone public schooling. LeMay found the children to be sporadic in attending the church school. In observing classes over a period of 26 months (from April of 2017 to May of 2019), he found that 50 percent of the children attended only once; the same sparse attendance was seen at the church camps. The pattern was that children sent by their parents to church and classes would attend regularly until about the fourth grade, when their allegiance to school friends and activities outside of church increased, leading to their eventual disappearance from church life.

In his interviews with the small group of individuals raised in Japan’s public schools, LeMay was informed that they often had to hide their Catholicism to fit in, both with their peers and authorities at school. One interviewee’s church activity, including wearing a religious medal, was seen as strange and cast him in a negative light, leading to conflict. Teachers ridiculed weekly church attendance. Often these students began to feel alienated from their religious families. LeMay writes that school authorities place psychological and social pressures on children that often overreach class activities, such as making club attendance mandatory, incentivizing church absence and decreased parent-child time. He adds that this “environment ‘encapsulates’ children into mushūkyō groups they perceive as representative of the reality in Japan, thus producing the view that they alone practice the religious views they hold…In doing so, schools construct competing narratives of mushūkyō that challenge and displace Catholic primacy in these children’s lives.” But LeMay concludes that this is not only a Catholic problem. “The current educational system with its control of the time and life decisions of children is suffocating alternative and dissenting views.”

(Religions, https://www.mdpi.com/search?q=&journal=religions&sort=pubdate&page_count=50)