“The Next Great Awakening” review

The Next Great Awakening? Let’s hope not.

For the love of Buddha, don’t buy this book as your first Okawa book, because in that case it will probably also be your last. That would be a pity, I think. Even if you don’t believe that Ryuho Okawa is a god from Venus, there is still a reason why he is a bestselling author in Japan. Unfortunately for the expansion of his new religion abroad, Japan is a bit different from the West when it comes to UFOs and such. Or perhaps I am different from both Japan and the West, but let us hope not.

For the new reader, Ryuho Okawa is the founder and leader and god of the Japanese new religion Happy Science. Technically Happy Science (Kofuku-no-Kagaku, more literally the Science of Happiness) is clearly a cult, in that the members actually worship their founder as divine. Most of us would not do that. But that said, this is not your average loon. He is clearly extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, and has read several tens of thousands of books during his lifetime, from different cultures and ages in history. From these he has distilled the tenets that everywhere and in every age have led to happiness, harmony and prosperity. Given the quality and quantity of his work, it is kind of understandable that he feels like he belongs not just on another planet, but in a completely different order of being from the usual “expert” who has simply attended a socialist university, read a few hundred books and never reflected much on ultimate reality.

Mr Okawa’s self-help books are quite thoughtful and inspirational, in my opinion. Unfortunately, this latest book reads like something written by a random jobless person who has spent too much time in the dark and refuse-strewn back alleys of the Internet. Or more charitably, as a science fiction novel set in an alternate history where Erich von Däniken’s space gods were not only real, but are still around and messing with people’s heads.

The plot is that Earth (and other backwater planets) are protected by a Galactic Treaty. Eerily similar to the Prime Directive of Star Trek, it forbids spacefaring aliens from interfering with non-spacefaring civilizations, although small-scale research expeditions are allowed, as long as these happen in secret and with as little influence on the planet as possible. There are two exceptions though. One is if the aliens are invited by the local god, in Earth’s case called El Cantare.

The other exception is if the local civilization is in the process of exterminating all intelligent life on the planet, for instance through atomic war or worse. In that case, other civilizations are allowed to intervene to stop the madness and save the species. Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Earthlings have been on the endangered species list. There are currently two opinions on how to save them.

A minority, but with a heavy local presence, advocates basically bombing us back to the stone age. Using terraforming tools like tsunamis, volcanoes and mass crust movement, looking like natural disasters to the locals, they are thinking of erasing civilization to the ground. If this is not approved, they will punish advanced societies by inducing large-scale mental disorders. (There is no reference to the Tower of Babel episode, strangely enough.)

The larger faction wants to give humans a chance, by encouraging them toward love and tolerance so that they may refrain from actually using their weapons. The tentative plan is to get the world’s religions to cooperate about their shared values, rather than fight over details. Unfortunately, the more warlike aliens are fanning the flames of conflict, currently between Christians and Muslims, conveniently for the more draconian solution.

If this had been a novel, it would actually had been a pretty good one. Unfortunately, there is nothing to imply that Mr Okawa and his followers don’t actually believe it all, and then some. UFOs and various more or less humanoid aliens are already among us, and more are on their way. We have to make haste to create a civilization that is not only found worthy to survive, but is also able to integrate visitors and immigrants from numerous star systems in a galactic melting pot. The plan is to make Earth into a cosmic “Planet of Love”, where aliens from technologically advanced but culturally less refined planets can come and learn religion and politics.

So there you have it. Definitely a break from the usual self-help books. And there is more to come. Okawa is currently studying the Laws of the Universe, and will be back with a book detailing Truth that surpasses this single planet.

Warmly recommended if you actually believe there are UFOs and aliens on Earth now. Otherwise… well, I suppose you may want to read it if you think Happy Science is a crazy cult and you are looking for indications of this. I fear this will be its most common use. Alas for the many years of hard work that Okawa and his followers have put into making an organization based on universal principles of love, wisdom, self-reflection and progress.

Of course, once the aliens show up, I will have to reconsider…