- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

KAMPALA, Uganda — A religion with origins in Japan is quickly amassing a following in Uganda, winning converts in a sleek campaign that has attracted the attention of Christian clerics offended by its beliefs.

Happy Science advertises itself as a global religion with a goal of teaching “the truth about life, the world and ourselves.” The religion says its grand mission is to create a world filled with love, peace, harmony and prosperity.

The success of Happy Science in Uganda was put on public display late last month at a lecture given by the religion’s middle-aged Japanese founder on his first visit to Africa.

Buses decorated with the image of Happy Science founder Ryuho Okawa ferried people from throughout Uganda to attend his lecture inside the national stadium, causing traffic jams and upsetting athletes who had planned to use the venue for Olympic trials.

Happy Science officials do not know precisely how many converts they have won since coming to Uganda in 2008, but they say most of the 10,000 people who attended Mr. Okawa’s lecture were believers.

Uganda’s population, one of the youngest in the world, is heavily Christian, and Happy Science officials want to use the East African country as a springboard for what they hope will be success across Africa.

But the group’s visibility, as a result of old-fashioned missionary work and the frequent appearance of members on national television, has brought scrutiny.

Vow of allegiance

Some Christian clerics have gone on the offensive, saying the religion should not be allowed to take root in Uganda. They are especially hostile to an essential part of Happy Science: That Mr. Okawa, the 55-year-old former market trader who started the religion in 1986, is also the deity.

“It’s an abomination for Okawa to come and tell us that we should bow and worship him,” said Martin Ssempa, a well-known Pentecostal pastor who is popular with young Ugandans.

“This man is arrogant, and he is also misguided,” Mr. Ssempa said. “People who claim to be God are either impersonators or comedians. I have not found Okawa funny.”

Happy Science officials said in an interview with the Associated Press that the religion is open to all who show interest, and that those offended by its beliefs are free to stay away.

“Master Okawa is a part of the El Cantare consciousness,” said Brian Rycroft, the South African head of Happy Science in Africa, referring to the deity’s name in Happy Science teachings. “You could say he is one with God.”

A Happy Science temple in the Ugandan capital is decorated with a golden statue built in the likeness of Mr. Okawa.

The fine art is the holiest part of all Happy Science temples, members said, advising against photographing the altar. Those wishing to join Happy Science make a simple vow of allegiance to Mr. Okawa.

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