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God forbid, religion in North Korea ?

By Sunny Lee

ICC Note: Here is an inside look at the “religion” of North Korea . Please keep all North Koreans in your prayers as they search for the true answer – Jesus Christ.

5/11/07 North Korea For full story….(Asia Times Online) Juche, or “self-reliance”, joins the list alongside the world’s major religions such as Christianity and Islam, and even elbowed out some better-known religions such as Judaism, which is estimated to have 14 million believers, from the top 10 “major religions of the world” list.

From a sociological point of view, juche delivers a full range of what a religion is supposed to deliver in society, the website says, explaining its rationale for classifying North Korea ‘s state doctrine as a religion. In fact, the site has a separate link devoted wholly to explaining painstakingly in multiple pages the theoretical and sociological basis of what makes juche count as a religion.

This view, however, is not necessarily shared in North Korea , which is after all a communist country and officially atheistic. The Pyongyang government promotes juche as a state ideology but does not outwardly endorse it as a religion. North Koreans actually use the term juche sasang, meaning the “juche ideology”.

Nonetheless, the US website says juche is de facto the only officially sanctioned national ideology and also the only allowed belief system in the country at the exclusion of all other religions, so it “clearly” qualifies as a religion. Importantly, it asserts, juche, in many ways, is even more overtly religious than were Soviet-era communism or Chinese Maoism.

Many visitors who have been to North Korea are inclined to be convinced by the argument, including Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister. Han was recently quoted as saying that the cult of two Kims (current ruler Kim Jong-il and his late father, the country’s founder Kim Il-sung) is very extensive.

“There is a deification and a religious emotional element [in juche] in the North,” said Han. “The twinned photos of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are everywhere. Every speech says Kim Il-sung is still alive. I think if I stayed another two weeks, I might even see Kim Il-sung. The country worships someone who is deceased, as if he were alive.”

Eun Hee-shin, a Korean-Canadian who has been teaching “religion and culture” at North Korea’s Kim Il-sung University since 2003, recently told a South Korean magazine: “Whenever I visit Pyongyang, I get the feeling that North Korea is a place that doesn’t feel the need to have other religions. For North Koreans, the juche ideology is the most uplifting religion and has become a firm faith.”

In a surprisingly sympathetic view, Eun saw similarities between Christianity and juche. If Christianity is a distinctive form of religious culture that believes in “Father God”, the juche ideology is North Korea ‘s distinctive form of religious culture that believes in “Supreme Father”, Eun said.

“The juche ideology goes beyond being a political ideology and has become a state religion. The deification of Kim Il-sung has been carried out accordingly. From the perspective of the academic study of religion, this is similar to the deification of Jesus that [occurred] after his death,” Eun said.

From Eun’s point of view, it’s simplistic to think of a female schoolteacher who died in flames while trying to save the portrait of Kim Il-sung during the 2004 explosion incident in the Yongchon region as strange. Deification always produces fervent followers, and there’s little difference between a Christian martyr in a remote African village and the North Korean teacher, Eun said.

Juche began to impinge on the outside world from the mid-1960s in some translated North Korean works. Yet the origin of the ideology goes back to a 1955 speech made by Kim Il-sung, titled “On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work”.

The juche philosophy gradually emerged as a systematic ideological doctrine in North Korea while it was witnessing the China-Soviet split in the 1960s. Kim Il-sung outlined the three fundamental principles of juche in 1965. They were “independence in politics”, “self-sustenance in the economy”, and “self-defense of the national security”.

It is not easy to travel to North Korea to find out for oneself the magnitude of the cult indoctrination of juche in real life. Last year, the country had only about 20,000 visitors from abroad. But this month Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV offered viewers a rare glimpse of how the theology of Kim worship is practiced in North Korea, airing an hour-long program fresh from Pyongyang.

Reporter Liu Fang quizzed a young student and checked on the degree of deification of the Dear Leader by asking questions that very much sounded like a Sunday-school teacher asking her pupil about the bedtime prayer. “Do you spare a particular time of the day, such as before you go to bed, for Kim? Do you talk to Kim? Does he talk to you?”

The young student’s answer to all these questions was, “Yes.”