One of the most amusing errors made by political pundits is the philosophical and religious nomenclature given to military dictatorships around the world.
It’s not unusual for pundits to describe historical dictatorships like, say, Stalinist Russia, or current military dictatorships like, say, North Korea, as “atheist.” Sometimes the comparison is made with a wry smile and nod that implies, since these regimes reject religion of any kind, it’s proof positive that religion has only good effects, while rejection of religion has only bad effects.
Not true. Anyone who claims Stalinist Russia or modern North Korea are atheist or anti-religious states know scarcely anything about those regimes. Let’s look a little closer at one of them, North Korea.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea as it’s usually called, is set up to do one thing and one thing only, and that is worship. The subject of worship for the past roughly 60 years has been a member of the Kim family, a “holy trinity” if you wish. Grandfather Kim Il-sung (the “Heavenly Leader”), son Kim Jong-il (“Supreme Leader”) and the current Kim, Jong-un (“Respected Comrade who is identical to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il”) are referred to only in revered tones as virtually-divine personalities. Kim Il-sung, in fact, still rules the country despite the fact that he’s been dead since 1994 (other Kims only fill in for him). That’s only one of the myth-like stories surrounding members of the Kim family.
Ex-patriot writer Kang Chol-hwan noted that North Korean children are indoctrinated to see the Kim family as superhuman, or divine…as gods. “I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them urinated or defecated. Who could imagine such things of gods?”
According to the British Museum, there are more than 500 statues of Grandfather Kim Il-sung in North Korea and he is routinely credited with single-handedly destroying the Japanese at the end of World War II. The North Korean government claims Kim Il-sung, on his first game of bowling, scored a perfect 300 and the first time he golfed, he scored five holes-in-one.
His son, Kim Jong-il, while born in Russia in 1941, is described as being born on a blessed mountain in North Korea, his birth announced by a swallow that sang in perfect Korean, that winter changed to spring the day Kim Jong-il was born, a new star was created in the sky and rainbows spontaneously appeared to herald his birth. Apparently, the heir could both walk and talk before he was only six months old.
Kim Jong-il’s charmed, divine life continued unabated. North Korean propaganda told citizens that Kim Jong-il could mentally control the weather by whatever mood struck him, similar to many religion’s “sky gods.” The DPRK also tells its citizens that current leader Kim Jong-un learned to drive automobiles at three years of age and was winning international yachting competitions at age nine.
But perhaps most telling about the religion of North Korea is the propaganda of hate. The tiny, outcast nation continually bombards its citizens with threats of attack by other nations while praising the protection of Kim Jong-un.
The International Cultic Studies Association probably puts it best in an introduction to a paper on North Korea’s state religion, which is simply veneration of its military dictators: “Moreover, (DPRK) seems to be slipping more and more toward a totalistic cult model that mirrors the behavior of groups that have, in the past, used weapons of mass destruction, murdered outsiders, and committed group suicide. By viewing North Korea not as a rational nation-state but as a religious cult, policymakers will have a better model to understand and predict North Korea’s behavior.”
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.