The Korean peninsula may be a fascinating place with different religious beliefs and practices taking place in the peninsula more than most other places in the world. Prior to 1945, Korea was a unitary state, but after 1945 it was divided into North and South Korea. Not much is known about the religious practices taking place in North Korea as it is a closed society ruled by the communist party. However, Juche, a form or religion that embarks on self-reliance and is considered to be a mixture of Marxism and neo-Confucianism is widely encouraged and practiced in North Korea. On the other hand in South Korea, there is an explosion of religious activity. There are Buddhists, Christians, and a number of new Korean religions and of course Shamanism. This particular topic focuses little on North Korea as very little information is forth coming from this country because of communist rule. Instead it focuses on South Korea and the wide spectrum of religious beliefs being practiced there.
South Korea has a huge network of Confucian shrines and a lively and active Buddhist community, with a large number of monasteries. Completing this diversity is the presence of a large number of Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians. The Protestant population in South Korea is the highest in Asia and as far Catholic Christians go, it ranks just behind Philippines and East Timor, as the country that has the highest number of Catholics in the Asia. Approximately 25.3% of the South Korean population is Buddhist, 19.8% Protestant, 7.4 Catholic, 0.3% Confucians, 0.21% Won Buddhists and 0.75% having other religious affiliations of the total 54% population of South Korea that is religious. The remaining 46% is said to have no religious affiliation even though that number is dropping. Many South Koreans also practice shamanism along with their usual religious affiliations.
Most of those who have no religious affiliation do so just because they want to participate in the religious ceremonies and rituals of other religions. These people just want to be free to visit Shamans as well as Buddhist temples to participate in their rituals. For Koreans the term “religion” does not mean the beliefs and practices that they uphold, but instead for them it means the pursuit of salvation. Salvation may mean different things to different people, like for example, for Christians and Pure Land Buddhists it means going to heaven but for certain others like some sects of Buddhism it means total detachment from worldly things or a detachment from materialistic life. But the ultimate goal of salvation is an end to suffering and attainment of permanent happiness or bliss. Salvation is not the only goal that Koreans seek to achieve in their pursuit of religion but there are also other goals such as attainment of self-perfection, which in certain cases is a means to an end, and that end is salvation. By striving to overcome their human weaknesses these people try to achieve self-perfection.
The question that come up in my mind are, why is there such a religious fervor in South Korea? In spite of a diverse environment, why is there no religious strife in South Korea as witnessed in other countries with religiously diverse populations? What are the factors that are contributing to South Korea's growth in such a religiously diverse environment when many such religiously diverse countries are mostly developing or underdeveloped countries? We address these questions one by one in this assignment.
We all know that there is no scientific evidence of the existence of God and that there are many who do not believe in his existence especially in the developed world but South Korea seems to be an exception. Most of the people there believe in the existence of God in some form or the other. The main reason that people believe in God's existence is their deep desire to achieve salvation, the salvation of the kind that means an end to their suffering by either going to heaven or getting detached from the materialistic world. This appears to me that since South Korea is a developed country with a high income, there is an ever increasing need for all the material goods of life so as to lead a happy life. This ever increasing need for materialistic goodies might result in people working more and more, in order to earn that extra income to satiate their need for these materialistic goodies. More work would mean more stress and tension, and a general inability to cope with the stress and tension is what may be forcing many South Koreans to seek salvation. Salvation that would help them achieve paradise, salvation that would help them free themselves from the materialistic wants of daily life. Freedom from these materialistic wants is something I feel that most South Koreans are desiring, because these materialistic wants are causing stress and tension in their daily lives. It is this desire to free themselves from these materialism that is driving them to seek salvation and making them more religiously inclined. This appears to be the reason for such a religious fervor in South Korea.
The second question that needs to be answered is the absence of religious strife in South Korea. I believe that most of the religions that are being practiced in South Korea today do not proclaim violent punishments to those who break the laws of the religion, not only that most of these religions tend to speak of the importance of non-violence, love and the respect for life be it human or animals. This non-proclamation of violent punishments for violation of religious laws and the love and respect for life preached by all these religions including Shamanism in South Korea is what is behind the peaceful co-existence of these religions, and the absence of religious strife in South Korea.
The third question that needs to be answered is the growth of South Korea when most other religiously diverse countries are underdeveloped or developing. This may be because of the assurance of wealth and prosperity that is preached in some of the most dominant religions in South Korea like Christianity, in which certain sections preach the assurance of wealth and prosperity for those who seek God. It is this desire for seeking God that may be leading many South Koreans to seek wealth, prosperity and growth, which might be resulting in the growth of South Korea.
Overall the presence of so many religions in a scientifically advanced country like South Korea, especially when science says that there is no evidence of the existence of God is something that is amazing. In most of the developed countries of the world especially those that belong to the western world, when many people have stopped believing in the existence of God, there are at least many in South Korea, a technologically advanced country, who believe in the existence of God.