Where Religion and Covid Meets

Abstinence

Back in 2017, after years of scandals and people protesting everyday in Seoul, Park Gun-Hye, the conservative president of South Korea and daughter of the former dictator Park Chung-Hee was ousted from her position, formally impeached, and sent to prison for corruption. She was sentenced for twenty-four years. The protests, which was key in removing Park, was fueled by the president’s inept response to the Sewol ferry disaster where 304 people, mostly high school students, died. This, plus her government’s push for censorship and the discovery that the daughter of a cult leader was unofficially acting as her right hand man and was privy to state secrets pushed people to the streets. It was a natural groundswell which started from journalism, to the Internet, to mainstream media and some celebrities openly pushing for her ouster, and down to the streets. The impeachment of Park Gun-Hye was even seen as a model for how some countries *cough, United States, cough* should handle massive abuse and corruption by the government.

Conservatives in the country afterwards saw these events and tried to emulate it. They tried to push for the impeachment of the current president on made-up charges. Coddling to North Koreans, being inept, being a criminal, anything. The charges were extremely inept since none of them were based on provable facts, and the current president was enjoying an extremely high approval rating when his opponents started to encourage the rallies. Every weekend, they rallied their supporters, mostly made up of senior citizens, to the same place where the former protests used to take place. The protests became a mixture of confused ideologies, Internet rumors, and religion. People walked around with the Korean flag, the American flag to symbolize freedom from the supposed dictatorship of the current president, and the Israeli flag for whatever reason. In some instances, there were even signs asking Donald Trump to bomb North Korea. So much for being patriotic and Christian.

I work near where these protests occurred. They’re supposed to happen only on weekends, but sometimes I would see them on Thursday and Friday afternoons as well. The place I work at is also close to a park popular among retirees. There, old people would congregate, wander about, and shop for useless wares and snake oil. I notice that the same people that walk around the park, are basically the same type of people going to these protests. Often, the people around the park would be carrying Korean and American flags as well.

See, these protests have become more like a social gathering for people. It’s a thing to do in the afternoon. I passed by these protests a couple of times and many people are just chilling. There are even snack and liquor vendors. The frustration and rage that political and religious leaders are fueling, I believe, tend to be more rooted to longing for a feeling of being in control, longing for a time when they were younger and more relevant to society… which is ironically back when the country was under a dictatorship. And really, there is no concrete reason to any of their demands.

A: Impeach the president.

B: Why?

A: Because he’s corrupt.

B: Really, why?

A: Because, uhm, *Insert this politician under him* was corrupt/caught in a scandal/etc.

B: Okay, but he was let go. That’s not the president.

A: Well, uhm, look at the economy! (and on and on we go.)

The people attending these protests are at best bored. At worst, they are stubborn, brainwashed morons. They are being taken advantage of by political and religious leaders. A few days ago, these protests and the mega church where one of their leaders con his followers became the spark that started another spike in covid-19 cases, much worse than the previous ones we had in the country. The religious leader, Pastor Jun, was diagnosed with covid-19. And even after being diagnosed, he was caught walking around, smiling, and not properly wearing a mask. Asked about the disease, he claimed that it was spread by North Koreans who aimed to sabotage his church and the movement. In Canada, this would be seen as a false claim of terrorism. It is irresponsible and illegal.

Now people who attended the rally as well as the police they clashed with, who had no choice but to be there, are now at risk of having the disease. Thousands of police officers are being tested, but tracing all of the people who attended the rally and members of the church is more challenging. Before all of this, doctors were already on strike, demanding significant change in the country’s medical infrastructure, as well as an increase in pay for working in remote areas. Just yesterday, a member of the church who was diagnosed with covid-19 escaped from his quarantine and was caught in a coffee shop. These people are insane. Things were already bad. Religious nuts, craven politicians, and brainwashed senior citizens just made it worse.

Again, South Korea is on high alert. People in Seoul are advised not to travel outside of the city. Masks are required in most workplaces and allowed to be taken off mostly only on one’s desk. Gatherings after work are discouraged. Gatherings of more than fifty people are discouraged. Church services are canceled, as well as afterschool academies. My Korean class was again canceled yesterday. I’m not sure when classes will resume. Many stores were closed yesterday. Clubs, sports facilities, karaoke bars, and PC rooms are closed. Personally, this virus has already cost me money this year, and Pastor Jun and his followers just cost me even more. The economy was going back up but this recent resurgence has brought the economy back down again.

The first case of covid-19 in the country was brought by missionaries who traveled to Wuhan and kept their actions a secret for days. It has spiked several times in many churches. And now, the latest spike is caused by one of the most politically influential churches in the country. I don’t know what it is they do in these churches that they often become vectors for the disease. I’ve gone to coffee shops, bars, schools, company buildings, and restaurants, and they don’t become vectors for the disease as often as these churches.

The nighttime landscape of Seoul is dotted with so many neon red crosses. Unless the government cracks down on these churches, which are technically businesses, this virus will spike again and again. The wonderful thing about God is that he is omnipresent. People could still talk to him at home.

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