Korea, Cults, and You
When I moved to Japan back in 2008, one of my most favourite things about the culture was the absence of “religion” and instead, the infusion of faith in culture. There were temples all over the place, and if you wanted to go to them, you could. It was very no pressure though. There were no services, no specific things you had to do weekly, and generally speaking, I could embrace the idea of having the idea of having faith in a higher power, though that higher power was very vague and ambiguous. To me, it had no name, no face, and instead was simply a feeling I would get if I went to a place like a shrine or temple. Or, in the case of Kamamura, an entire town.
So, when I moved to Korea in 2010, the very last, and may I stress very last thing I expected to be getting myself into was a country with one of the highest concentrations of Christianity in Asia, and a tendency to take things very far. I mean, we’ve all seen how far the fans can go just for pretty guys and girls. Imagine how they get over people who they believe ACTUALLY created the entire universe and all things within it?
For the first few months I was here, I was rather ignorant to the extremity that religion can get to here, because I taught small children and tended to not know many Koreans. I was surprised at how often the topic of my religion would come up in conversation, and amused at how horrified people were when I said “Oh, I don’t have a religion.” I had more door-to-door Church ladies come to my apartment than I had ever had in all my years of living in Canada in one year, and just assumed that there must have been some connection between the missionaries and the rebuilding of Korea after the war and some bond that must have been created. I had a friend who joined a church with a friend, and it was my first exposure to just how quickly things can get out of hand in this country. It went from simple volunteer work and worship to asking for money. And more money. And more and more money. Until my friend had gone through a LOT of her savings. Finally, with the help from friends, we were able to convince her that she was actually being manipulated by a cult and she needed to get out. It was a really eye opening experience, and I became a lot more suspicious after that.
It wasn’t until I worked in middle school that I started to have more communication with lots of Koreans, and started noticing just how wide scale things were. One thing was the appearance of Mannam in 2012. I had never heard of this group until the GEPIK Plus training in the spring of 2012. There was something strange at how… energetic and happy they were. All the time. Their presence at our training was massive, and then I started to see them… everywhere… And I wasn’t the only one who seemed to be suspicious. Their name was floating around the foreign message boards, because there was one thing that we all noticed: the foreigners were being targeted. Why target such a small population in South Korea? We couldn’t understand. Thankfully, Scroozle’s Sanctuary, another Canadian blogger here in Korea, did some SERIOUS investigating that year and dug through the mess that is Mannam to find the connections to Shinchonji, one of the very many cults here in South Korea. Another favourite post about Mannam/Shinchonji is from 3WiseMonkeys, well worth a look.
Most of the foreigners that I know who have lived here a while now know that if someone wants to talk to you on the street, 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be about religion, and it’s going to be a religion you’ve never heard of. Most people don’t even acknowledge them, however it is well worth reminding people that, if you’re coming to Korea, when someone comes up to you on the streets asking if they could ask you some questions, or if you could watch a video, or if you’d like to join an event, that is not the time to be polite. At all. Nobody will care and nobody will be hurt if you keep walking.
Why do I say this? Because these cults pop up as frequently as new idol groups do. I haven’t heard of Mannam in a while, but there are new ones to watch out for. This morning, while I was heading to the butchers, I was asked THREE TIMES about “The Church of the Heavenly Mother” earlier today, which is a recent record. Luckily, I had heard about this one when an interview with Peter Daley showed up on the AsiaPundits website. That one is VERY MUCH worth a read. This current cult believes that God is a woman. An old woman. An old woman living in South Korea. An ahjumah.
As much as I like the idea of a woman being in charge of all things in the entire universe, I tend to be of the opinion that if God were a woman, there would be no PMS, labour pains, or carbohydrates. Can’t argue with that one! 😉
Anyways, people in Korea, keep on your toes. I know many of you want to be friendly, and the promise of free things and meeting cool, English speaking Koreans sounds awesome, but remember… You never get something for nothing. If you can’t see what you’re doing for them in return, it’s probably questionable.