Monday, 19 December 2011

State Worship

Liturgical dance, North Korean style
I've been struck by the outpourings of grief in North Korea, where the People's Republic's beloved leader, Kim Jong-Il (God rest him) has died, apparently, of a heart attack.

I'm assuming that there is no Christianity in North Korea. I'm assuming that if there ever was Christianity in North Korea, that it has been 'destroyed'. Perhaps Dawkins looks to North Korea as something of a model, in terms of religious expression.

What North Korea really shows us is that worship is integral to human beings. In that country, if scenes on television are to be believed, there is weeping and wailing in Pyongyang because of the death of the leader around whom had been built up a mega cult of personality. The State, in that country, as well as the leader, appears to be invested with god-like status. It is rather frightening to watch the scenes, not because of the outpourings of grief, but because we can safely assume that the love directed towards Kim Jong-il is somewhat misdirected. Grief is natural, but the uncontrollable and sometimes quite violent sobbing of the people of Pyongyang suggest that this is no 'Diana' moment for the country, but rather visible proof that the people of North Korea are almost completely brainwashed by the doctrines of the atheist paradise. The ones who aren't brainwashed are, presumably, in gulags somewhere, starving to death.

I always smile when Dawkins says of those who believe Christian doctrines, that we are 'brainwashed'. Has he never thought what an atheistic State in which religion has been all but banished looks like? Did he never look at Mao with his 'little red book' indoctrinating Chinese children of the new doctrines of communism and think, 'Ah, a fine example of a country in which religion has been destroyed'? Does he not look at North Korea and see his atheist paradise in all its glory? Christopher Hitchens (God rest him) spoke of his resistence to faith in God because God demands our love like as in a 'celestial North Korea'. Yet, few believers would say that God's treatment of them was dictatorial. We who know we are sinners know how tenderly Christ calls His sheep back to Him with love and allows us to face the trials and tribulations that come with having free will. We know that it is usually our own disobedience which brings us distress, rather than our obedience. Really, the Lord Jesus shows us just how ungodly and diabolical those mere mortals who seek an entire country's adulation and who want to be worshipped are.

How do we build Utopia, Richard?
In North Korea the State is all-pervasive and all powerful. Religious expression, in terms of traditonal religion, has been crushed. Yet, the desire to worship has been kept intact in North Korea, it cannot be destroyed, and that innate desire to worship has been harnessed towards the State and the leader in charge. It shows us that worship is integral and completely natural for us human beings and that even in North Korea, in the absence of God, we haven't 'evolved' out of it. The desire to worship isn't artificial, something man-made. Worship is as natural for us as waking and sleeping. Our natural human desire to worship can be manipulated by the powerful and used to frightening effect, when it is geared towards the State.

Stalin and Soviet Russia tried desperately to crush religion and enforce upon the populaces of the Soviet bloc a similar kind of State worship, which was almost always accompanied with the obligatory cult of personality surrounding the beloved leaders. Even when religious expression is crushed, a 'god' must be praised, revered, glorified, honoured and even worshippped. In all such set-ups, 'false messiahs' arise who take the praise. Yet, as soon as the 'evil empire' started to come tumbling down, the Russian people flocked to Orthodox churches to worship not a cult of man, but God.

Worship is natural to us but only healthy when God is worshipped, because only God is trustworthy or can be trusted with our love, adoration, praise and worship, however imperfect our love and praise for Him is. Perhaps Dawkins has not looked at North Korea and recognised a State in which Christianity has been 'destoyed', and indeed, really is a model of an atheist paradise. He should beware, however, and see in North Korea that when God is totally eradicated from the public square, something, or someone else has to step in and take the praise, if not the blame.

Sadly, the problem with so many of the high priests of atheism is that you kind of get the feeling that they wouldn't mind terribly if the persons who stepped in to be worshipped were themselves. Dawkins might say, 'Well, how ridiculous. I'm no communist.' Well, maybe he isn't, but really Mr Dawkins, once you've convinced an entire population that there is no afterlife and that there is no Heaven, someone, somewhere, has to start building the earthly utopia pretty quickly. Of course, when utopia doesn't arrive quickly, the ones who say that it isn't utopia need to be silenced. Quite what you do with the ones who want the real deal of the City of God is anyone's guess. All in all, Rich. I think you've got your work cut out here, mate.


Anonymous said...

I was sent a little vid of poor Christopher Hitchens a few weeks ago. While Hitchens had his nasty moments and was of course as athiest as is possible, he did have a respect for others. He was disturbed by a conversation with Dawkins in which is was clear that should Dawkins ever have the power, he would destroy people who refused to stop believing in exactly the way Dawkins says we should believe.
That man's pride has made a very dark centre in his soul.

In NK I wonder how much emotional show is out of fear of not showing the right emotion?

No one with even a cursory knowledge of history - especially of the East with it's extreme cesearopapism (please don't make me check the spelling of that!) can believe with any honesty that destroying true religion is a good thing - or even possible.

God help poor of Jong and I hope He has had some mercy on Christopher Hitchens, because I always got the feeling that at least Hitchens was searching for truth. I hope I was right about that.

Lazarus said...

The usual reaction I've got from 'the brights' when raising this sort of point is that Marxism is a form of religion. This quite misses the point that, as you say, worship is natural to human beings and the only question is whether we worship the good the true and the beautiful in God, or gather round the altar of whichever Dear Leader happens to be in charge at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I think that it might be problematic, even a bit glib, to imply that irreligious regimes are automatically atheist regimes and that atheist regimes automatically end up like North Korea or Mao's China - worshipping the state. In the most simple terms; we live in a country whre people have significantly diveregent worldviews, the question, therefore, is how to mediate public space so as to reflect this reality? How do we run our schools, health service, public broadcaster etc so as to be fair? The only answer must be an ongoing negotiation which continually aims for public neutrality while recognising that it cannot actually ever exist. This is a bit broing and rather complicated and doesn't fit nicely on a banner, but it is decent and honest. As for Hitchens, I think he may have been dreadful in some respects, but he was concerened to confront bullies who try and dictate what people believe without reason (in either sense of the term)whoever they may be. I wouldn't fancy a long weekend in North Korea, but nor would I fancy one in Franco's Spain (although I am not suggesting the two are morally equivalent). Liberal deomcracy is hard work and dull, but it makes for pleasant evenings.

Ps thanks for your blog. I really enjoy it.

Lazarus said...

@ Anon

The problem with this view of politics is that it ignores the Catholic view that the function of government is to promote human flourishing. If a population is confused about the nature of flourishing, there may be limits as to how well a government may be able to fulfil that function and may well have to compromise with false views. But that is a regrettable necessity. Ideally, both a government and the people will have correct views of what it is to be human -and that involves acceptance of our dependence on God.

In short, some version of balancing between Godless and Theistic world views may be a political reality, but it isn't a good thing in principle.

Martin Meenagh said...

One of the strange things about North Korea is that it does have sham parties in the government, and a 'national religion', chondoism. Koreans across the peninsula tend to break down into (pro-American) evangelicals, (pro-Democrat) catholics and Nationalist Buddhists, but Chondoists tried to merge all three into a sort of arian, rationalist and pantheistic idea. It's nearest western equivalent is probably all that Teilhard de Chardin Buddhist catholicism popular in the immediate wake of Vatican II.
In the North, the Workers' Party sometimes persecutes chondoists, and sometimes promotes them, with the brutal whimsy of an officially secular state. They're now esteimated to be about 12% of the officially atheist population 9and yes, I know, an officially atheist state with a national religion...but then they're mad).

Paul said...

@Lazarus, didn't you just miss his/her point? We have 'divergent views' as a society (i.e. I do not agree with a Muslim, or a Pentecostalist, so there can be no single governemnt ideology) - the best we can hope for is a broad-based notion of fairness that allows a viewpoint to be represented up to the point that it interferes with the liberty of others. Of course, as anon pointed out, this is 'boring' - it's not sexy poster stuff, the reality of democratic societies is grey and institutional, and largely it is anonymous. Notice, for instance, how the media is currently questioning who will be in charge of the North Korean nuclear arsenal, or the military, after the political transition? One would never ask this in a democratic nation, since institutional goivernance is divorced from the person at the top (when Labour lost the election the Conservatives didn't immediately replace the civil service, these executive roles are not part of the elected government). Your point appears to be 'yeah, that's all well and good, but it's flawed because it doesn't automatically grant one minority view, the Catholic one, supremacy at the expense of all others'. Hardly a fair criticism!

Mr Grumpy said...

Don't forget that the TV pictures only show us central Pyongyang. Only the elite and the most unshakable loyalists enjoy the privilege of living there.

There are certainly many thousands of Christians among the huge population of prison camp inmates - I'd suggest googling "North Korea Christians". Of course they need our prayers.

These points aside, an excellent post.

Lazarus said...

@ Paul

'the best we can hope for is a broad-based notion of fairness that allows a viewpoint to be represented up to the point that it interferes with the liberty of others'

Don't think I missed anon's point so much as disagreed with it!

The best we can hope for is a)for the state to embody as strong and correct a notion of flourishing in a divergent population as we can get; and b) to work on convincing that population that the Catholic view of flourishing is correct.

The claim that, as soon as we have a bit of disagreement in society, there is some necessity for the State to abandon all attempts at supporting the correct, Catholic view of human flourishing and for it to reduce its operations to those of merely facilitating negative liberty (ie the freedom to choose) is clearly false.

Clearly, there is no likelihood that as Catholics we will in the immediate future be able to get the whole Catholic package accepted in the UK. But there is every reason to hope and work for movement towards it -eg in the areas of family life.

Lacey Stinson said...

There is a fundamental flaw with this article. The idea that North Korea represents some kind of atheistic paradise is near blasphemous. But let's look at the article's claims.

First, the claim that "What North Korea really shows us is that worship is integral to human beings." This is ludicrous. It shows nothing of the sort. IF worship is integral to human beings, it would have to be a physiological/neurological mechanism, and could be easily shown as such using ordinary scientific methods. This has not been shown to be true.

If it were true that people have an innate need to worship, then it would be the worshipfulness of the people which caused North Korea and its leader to come into existence as a totalitarian state, rather than the other way around.

North Korea does exhibit a kind of worship, however, but that merely tells us the North Korea shares much in common with religion and not atheism, which involves no worship at all.

What is religion? Well, the Abrahamic religions could be described as required worship under the threat of punishment. There are 2 differences between North Korea and the Abrahamic religions. The first difference is that, in North Korea, the punishment for not worshipping is immediate and short-lived (generally, you suffer until you die), while in the Abrahamic religions, the punishment for not worshipping is eternal suffering and torment (with no appeals). The second difference is the focus of worship. In North Korea, the focus is on the state and the leader; in the Abrahamic religions, the focus is on a god, which is sometimes a person.

Atheism involves neither of these. First, there is no requirement to worship anything. And second, there is no punishment for failing to not believe in a god, tough there are personal consequences to failing not to believe, such as losing the ability to think rationally, and losing respect for the value of evidential reasoning. But no one forces anyone to lose these features of thought, they simply go hand-in-hand, in most cases, with a belief in gods, commonly referred to as superstitious belief.

The author repeatedly refers to North Korea as an atheist paradise: "Does he [Dawkins] not look at North Korea and see his atheist paradise in all its glory?" This is double-speak, plain and simple. North Korea is homologous to a religious hell, sans the eternal aspect.

North Korea is a totalitarian state which demands obedience under the threat of punishment or death. Abrahamic religions demand obedience under the threat of eternal punishment, a fate worse than death. There is very little difference between the two. Atheism has nothing whatsoever to do with either except in its opposition to such totalitarianism. Chirstopher Hitchens epitomized this view. He opposed totalitarianism of any form.

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