Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why Are They Leaving the Church?

Korea is cited often as a country with the fifth largest number of atheists. The last census showed the number of non-believers rose to 58.1 percent which number continues to grow. For the  first time, officially, there are more Koreans who consider themselves non-believers than believers. 

The numbers of believers in the 2005 census were 52.9% but in the latest census, the number was 43.9%. The Catholic Church's own statistics in 2017  registered 11.1 % of the population as Catholic but the 2015 census only registered 7.9% which is a more realistic figure.

Attempting to give an objective picture of the religious situation in Korea may be more difficult than many other countries. Shamanism is still strong within the country. This doesn't show on the census. Confucianism is considered a philosophy rather than a religion by many. Cultural Buddhists would very likely be missed in the census. Eight religions were listed on the census and a blank. Consequently the non-religious may not be what we may think.

The number of convinced atheists according to a 2012 Gallup International poll found that 15% of the population would be convinced atheists a figure which will continue to rise. An increase from a poll in 2005 which showed 11%, however, presently the atheists are not the militant type but this is beginning to change.

Where is Korean Catholicism heading? Korean Catholics visiting Europe do see a once thriving religious life that seems to be on life support. A reporter for the Catholic Peace Weekly recounts a visit to the eldest daughter of the church, France, on news coverage for the paper and her impression on the visit.  

Are you Catholic? The answer should be 'Yes' or 'No' however, she says, this is not the case instead a long explanation. This she says was the consistent answer to her question.

She went to France last month to cover some of the less known religious shrines in the country. Many were enthusiastic about France's historic Catholic history and holy sites, but when it turned to their own personal faith the response was vague and half hearted. "I was baptized as a child and my whole family is all believers." Mimicking the words of a song: 'a believer and not a believer,' is her take on what she continued to hear. Some will tell you they don't go to church but they believe in God and live accordingly. They consider themselves believers.

They asked numerous questions about the Korean church and were surprised to hear that with so few Catholics Korea had a comprehensive media with TV, newspaper, and radio run by the church and the number of believers continues to increase. Jokingly they told her they should be giving them many of their empty churches.

She mentions that out of a hundred of the French young people 64 are non-believers, 23 are Catholic and 10 are members of the Islam faith. Why did the French leave the church? A valid question for the Korean church to ponder.

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