Saturday, July 24, 2010

Atheism in Korean Life

In a pastoral column, a priest mentions a middle school girl who for many years never missed Mass and was very active in catechism class. She didn't talk much but on a number of occasions was a big hit with everybody. Whether taking the role of the Blessed Mother in a musical or playing other parts in religious plays, she always stood out. However, this soon began to change, with the priest thinking that she was just growing into womanhood.

One day on returning to the rectory, he heard voices and found the girl fighting with some boys and using all kinds of foul language, which surprised him. He was planning to talk with her, when a couple of days later, she came on her own to see him and asked, "Father is there a God?' How much absurdity had she seen in her life, by the time she was in middle school for her to ask that kind of question, the priest wondered. She was better prepared to believe in the devil, she said. She talked for two hours and then put her face in her hands and started to cry. She finally got up from the chair, laughed, thanked him, and said, as she left, there has to be a God.

The priest mentioned that the young girl lived with her grandmother in a basement single room. The grandmother made enough to get along by picking up discarded rubbish in the neighborhood, so it was a hard life for the young girl. There are many like her who the priest hopes will find strength and be able to feel the presence of God in their lives.

Some months ago, there was a movement, like in the West, to advertise on buses against Christianity. They used a quote by Einstein: "I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures." The Protestant protest was so loud that the bus company discontinued the ads. (See UCAN.)

Atheism will make inroads in Korean Society in the years ahead, as it has in the West, with more movements organizing for this purpose. The society we are making, with the breakdown of traditional values, will be fertile ground for this type of nihilism.

Korea is already considered to be one of the countries that is atheistic; surveys show that over 50 percent have no religious beliefs. Little thought is given, however, to the fact that "no belief" does not necessarily mean atheism. Korea is a country where the unseen world for many is very real. Though this does not always translate into a religious belief, it is far from being atheism.


  1. The argument that atheists have less morals than theists is not valid. We are all humans and your moral code comes from your parents and society. Interestingly, largely atheist societies have less crime than theist societies. They also have more gender equality and workers rights.

    Why is it nihilistic not to believe in the supernatural?

  2. Sarah,

    Nihilism according to the dictionary: is a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. Second meaning: denies any objective ground of truth and esp.of moral truths. If believing only in what you see, material reality, does not make you deny objective grounds for truth and morality than you are right believing only what you see is not nihilistic.