God and Eric Hoffer in North Korea (Pt. 2)

For the reasons I described here, if a resistance movement ever arises in North Korea, it will almost necessarily draw its essential inspiration and cohesion from Christianity. It requires extraordinary inspiration for anyone to sacrifice her individual interests for collective interests, and it is almost inevitably messianic faith — in Christianity, Islam, or Marxism in its various idealistic or pseudo-nationalist variations — that has supplied that inspiration to adherents of revolutionary movements. Pyongyang obviously knows this, which is why its propagandists stole so many elements of Christian dogma, and why it allows no gods before Kim. The comparison was the first thing about this leaflet that struck me.

As a non-religious person who often finds himself in sympathy (and in league) with Christian human rights activists, I often hear pastors, particularly Korean-American pastors, claim to have contact with underground churches or religious organizations inside North Korea. I always hope that it’s true, but it’s in the nature of a cynical lawyer to disbelieve whatever isn’t proven to me. In a place like North Korea, religious beliefs and associations are profoundly courageous and presumably scarce for the same reason: they are inherently subversive. That’s why the North Korean security forces carefully interrogate defectors to try to identify those who have had contact with Christians, and it’s also why the authorities single them out for the harshest punishments, including torture, long sentences in prison camps, and public execution.

One can find claims on the internet that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of secret believers in the North. I can’t help being skeptical of those claims. But recently, the Daily NK ran an interview with a defector who claims he converted to Christianity and returned to the North as a missionary. I’m in no position to verify any of the declarant’s claims, naturally, but their consistency with other facts I’ve read over the years makes it ring true. I won’t even bother to graf it, but there are many reasons to read it, including the story of escape, his emotional path to loss of faith in the state and the transfer of his faith, and his claim that high-ranking officials attended his underground church.


  1. There is a case to be made given how Christianity in particular had such a resonance with South Koreans.

    I am not entirely familiar with the history of Christianity and how/why it became so dominant over existing faiths and other new faiths introduced after WW2.

    Perhaps the North Koreans might be susceptible in similar fashion?


  2. It case of Christianity in Korea is actually quite different then other parts of the world, at least when it first starts with Catholicism. During the Joseon Dynasty some had traveled to China where they came into contact with the bible and some believers there, and they brought back the bible to Korea and translated it themselves. This is one of the reasons I think that Catholics and Buddhists in Korea get along so well is that much of the converting and proselytizing was done by native Koreans and not foreign missionaries.
    As for Protestantism, that was done by American Presbyterian missionaries that brought modern medicine, and well as their views on God and so forth. Pyongyang was actually a huge hot bed of missionary activity and had many churches before the Korean war.
    I would think that if it was allowed that both Christianity and Buddhism would spread or respread I guess through out the north mostly by other Koreans doing the it.


  3. Justin, Korea, particularly north Korea as in Pyongyang, used to be known as the Jerusalem of Asia before Kim il Sung purged all religion from the nation. Christianity in particular to him was the most dangerous thing to his rule.



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