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Destroying the World to Save It: Aum…

Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and…

by Robert Jay Lifton

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813233,153 (4.15)3
"With unusual access to former Aum members, Lifton has produced a study of the inner life of a modern millennial cult, offering a subtle portrait of how guru and disciples reinforce each other's wildest destructive fantasies. Lifton offers a sobering exploration of how Aum's guru, Shoko Asahara - charismatic leader, con man, madman - created a religion from a global stew of New Age thinking, ancient religious practices, and apocalyptic science fiction; of how he recruited scientists as disciples and set them to producing the "poor man's atomic bomb" (chemical and biological weapons). Through Aum, Lifton explores a historically unprecedented phenomenon, a twenty-first century in which cults and terrorists may be able to create their own holocausts."--BOOK JACKET."Taking stock as well of Charles Manson, the Heaven's Gate cult, and the Oklahoma City bombers, Lifton argues that Aum Shinrikyo was not just a "nightmare of Japanese religion," but a global nightmare that revealed a world unexpectedly at risk."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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This might be the scariest book I have ever read. It was written in 1999... before the Twin Towers attack. Lifton warns us that Aum Shinrikyo would likely be the start... well, a further step in a pattern that would probably just keep expanding. And so it has. Right now, whew, to look at Kim and Trump rattling their nuclear swords. What a world.

Lifton goes through quite carefully the various dimensions of the Aum Shinrikyo phenomenon. I should say, I practice Vajrayana Buddhism, which seems to be the main foundation of Aum Shinrikyo. There is a classical perversion of Vajrayana, where emptiness and compassion, the absolute cornerstones of Buddhism, are forgotten, and the visionary outrageousness of Vajrayana is acted out literally. Aum Shinrikyo was a textbook example, with the further extensions into modern weapons of mass destruction, science fiction imagery, etc. But still, to see how the tools of Vajrayana Buddhism can be so misused... actually, there are plenty of warnings in Vajrayana about the potential for misuse, but it is easy not to take those too seriously.... kind of like reading the pages of possible side effects when you pick up some pills from the pharmacy. Whew, that horrible stuff really can happen!

It's a bit like George W. Bush's call for a war against evil... something like that. Lifton I think makes the crucial point, though he doesn't elaborate it. The real value of a book like this is that it can alert us to what is possible. Lifton does a good job of showing how this kind of thing could happen anywhere, it's not just some strange Japanese one-off. The real way to fight evil is to start with the awareness that the potential for evil exists in all of us. Real evil starts with the assumption that I myself am inherently not evil. That opens the door to every evil.

It is so utterly sad to reflect on how the horrible predictions suggested by this book have been fulfilled. These are not any sort of unique special events, but just instances of a general pattern. Whew, what a dark place we have gotten to! Yeah, okay, to see that darkness is itself a glimmer of light. I sure wouldn't mind a bit more than a glimmer! ( )
  kukulaj | Dec 25, 2017 |
The first part of the book is based on interviews with lower echelon Aum members. If you haven't read much about people who join destructive sub-groups, you're likely to find this part of interest.

I, however, was more interested in Lifton's analysis of the group, especially vis-a-vis his work with the Nazis. I didn't find this part particularly well written. The arguments were more off-hand remarks rather than clear points. Maybe he feels he's made them so many times before he doesn't need to get into the details. However, when he starts analyzing millennial groups in general, he just gets too loosey-goosey for me, and I stopped reading.

The footnotes are less than comprehensive and there is no bibliography. ( )
  aulsmith | Jun 24, 2014 |
An examination of the Japanese extremist cult.
  Fledgist | Sep 30, 2007 |
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