June 05, 2012

Is Christianity the Biggest Threat to Korean Culture?

A simple conversation with my co-teacher got me thinking. He said that at Chuseok, he and his wife do not honour the spirits of their ancestors in the traditional Korean way (see below), and when asked why, he said it’s because they are Christian. I found this both shocking and sad.

Chuseok, a kind of autumnal harvest festival, is the biggest holiday event of the year in Korea, equivalent in magnitude, to Thanksgiving in the States, or Christmas (not an especially religious Christmas!) in the UK. In Korea families flock home to perform traditional ancestral worship rituals, be with their relatives, visit the graves of the recently deceased to tidy them and offer gifts of thanks (food etc.). 

Currently around 30% of Koreans are Christian, a number that is growing year on year since the ‘conversion boom’ of the 1980s. It’s an actively expansive religion, and if you don’t think so, ask yourself how many times someone has handed you a leaflet in the street, or knocked on your door, asking you to convert to Christianity. Atheists don’t do that nor, for that matter, do Confucianists. Confucianism, like Buddhism, is as much a way of life as it is a religion, a peaceful way of life that is embedded in Korean society and culture, even the everyday greeting ‘hello’ (ahn-yeong-ha-seh-yo) is literally translated as ‘are you in peace?’. 

The land of the morning calm does not need the ‘wrath of god’. Korea should stick to its own traditions and culture, which, frankly, are considerably superior to anything Christianity has to offer. Christianity is not ‘bad’ per se, good things may come out of it like charitable donations – let’s be clear, most charities are not religious - but Korea has its own, beautiful, peaceful way of life already, steeped in Confucian tradition and wisdom. That they would even dream of swapping that for flawed (look what the USA is doing with it) Christianity is heartbreaking. 

To adopt a spurious, faltering and flawed religion from another world will bring nothing but conflict and irreparable damage to Korea’s identity and culture. If you’re a Christian, you should think twice before attempting to convert anyone else to your belief system. You may think you are doing something awesome, but you might only be damaging centuries of culture.