Sunday, October 4, 2009

Religion and Politics in Present Day Korea

An academic meeting on 'the relationship of the state and religion in the present society' was reported on by the Catholic Peace Weekly. Professor Kang of Hanshin University maintained in his delivery that the influence of any religion decreases in proportion to the growth of its political influence.

The professor mentioned that many who are of the conservative bent in religion feel that it will be profitable for them to get involved in politics but in doing so lose the confidence of the people and the good feelings toward the religion decreases.

He showed how this has worked out for the Protestants from the 1940s on. There was a decrease in the number of Protestants from 1940-1945. At this time many of the upper classes of Protestant society favored the Japanese: there was a drop in the number of Protestants.

In 1955-62 when Syngman Rhee was in control many of the Protestants who had studied overseas were given places in the government and again a decrease in the number of Protestants. In the United States Provisional Government of the 50 Koreans who were given high positions 35 were Protestants.

Again from 1995-2005 there was another drop in the numbers. President Kim Yong Sam an elder in the Protestant Church was followed by Kim Tae-chung and the Sunshine Policy and Roh Moo-hyun who continued that policy but most of the conservative Protestants were against the policy and we had another drop in the numbers.

The professor has cited two principles that he feels are necessary for a religion to get involved successfully in politics. One is the trust of society, the society has to acknowledged the virtue of the leaders of the religion. Secondly, mutual understanding between the society and the religion. They have to use words that both understand, and in harmony. The professor feels without this the religion is going to receive a death blow.

The Professor feels that President Lee Myung -bak as an elder of the Somang Church has involved the conservative element of Protestants and given the impression of selfish interest instead of the common good. He has also divided the conservative and progressive elements in Protestantism and brought division between religions and within groups in society.

There was a very serious period when the the Buddhist took to the streets which is not their way, after they felt and rightly so, that they were being discriminated against. There was a very noticeable pro- Christian bias in the selection of his cabinet and filling places in government, along with slights to the Buddhists. He has publicly apologised and has attended a Buddhist event for the first time since in office. It seemed to be a reconciliatory gesture aimed at mending the bridges. Korea has had a fairly good history of toleration and the President, belatedly has acknowledge the results of his actions and taken measures to remedy the situation.

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