Lessons from Conversion by Burning Temples and Cutting the Head of Buddha Statues in Korea

by Minh Thạnh
Over the last decade, a large number of Buddhist temples in Korea had been destroyed or damaged by fanatically devout Christians. More recently, the Buddha statues, regarded as the devil, were attacked and beheaded in the name of Jesus.
One of the important tasks for researchers in social science is prediction, anticipation, with the usual methodology of presenting scenarios and situations and forecasting their probabilities of occurrence, as well as predicting by intensity and level.
Here we are also following the usual method of analyzing expected situations. However, we stick to the case of Korean Buddhism, Buddhism in a country that is heavily affected by conversion, and from which possible situations that can occur to Buddhism in Vietnam are presented.
From many complex changes in history, for which Korean Buddhism is also partly responsible, Buddhism, at the present time, is a minority religion in Korea, ranking second to Christianity.
Buddhists account for 22.8% of the Korean population (according to the Wikipedia’s article “Religion in Korea”), while Christians account for 29.2% (both Protestants and Roman Catholics combined, with Protestants dominating).
Thus, although the religion has become a minority with a second rank, but when compared to each branch of Christianity, which can be considered as separated religions, Buddhism is still the leading religion with the most followers in South Korea.
The above ratio is still high if compared to the percentage of adherents across the population, which is only 18% according to official statistics. However, if compared to the ratios in East Asian bloc countries, the percentage of Christians in South Korea is the 3rd highest (after the Philippines and East Timor).
But compared to other countries influenced by the Chinese civilization, then Korea would stand as the most converted country and also with the fastest speed.
One-third of the Korean population has become Christian sheep, while nearly half are recognized as atheists. A good percentage of these are shifting towards Christianity, mainly Protestants.
Korea and Vietnam are similar, with both countries influenced by Chinese civilization and a 2000-year history of a Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Buddhism is deeply entrenched in people’s spiritual life, but it also is a key focal point of Christianity. Christian adherents are growing fast, and, especially, leading in the conversion of Buddhists are several Protestant denominations that are extreme and sometimes fanatical.
The phenomenon of Buddhist conversion by Protestant churches in Vietnam took place long ago. Before 1975, it seemed to occur at the same level as Korea’s. After 1975, the conversion seemed more discreet, though silently but still strong.
Thus, the Protestants have trained a number of pastors and teachers, and missionary activities have taken off in the 1990s and 2000s.
Conversion activities carried out by Protestants in the last 10 years have moved from discreet and quiet to frantic on the exterior side. The situation is becoming more similar to that occurred in Korea, and some activities in Vietnam have been advised, organized and even directly managed by Korean Protestants from behind the scene.
The event “fire burning at My Dinh” in late 2010 marked a significant step in the process of conversion activities in Vietnam. It has switched from silent to public and frantic, and from public and frantic to challenging and extreme, with “fiery” events, provocations and challenges.
With such reality, what predictions can we make about the conversion of Buddhists in Vietnam, compared with the process that took place in Korea, and in the context of a number of Koreans who are responsible for conversion activities, are actually present and direct these activities in Vietnam?
Conversion through church preaching is normal, but it is objectionable to organize activities that cause conflicts and provocations in an extremist and fanatical manner. Following are the situations that happened in Korea:
The scenario based on government powers and support. This situation certainly cannot happen in Vietnam on a large scale, in official policy, but it also does not exclude acts in the back door with some officials that are corrupted and ignorant.
However, we should also learn about this situation, such as using the common excuse of public work to remove the signposts to the pagodas, their names and visitor guidelines in the official documents published by the government, using the police to harass and search the pagodas, and, particularly, the South Korean police had humiliated the leaders of the Buddhist sect Jogye who were treated as common criminals.
– The situation of using provocative, hostile and violent acts against Buddhism indirectly to satisfy the manic episodes of religious excitement.
Wikipedia, in its article “Religion in Korea”, has briefly described this in the section on “Religious Conflict”. Christian activities against Korean Buddhism represent a unique case (compared to other religions).
“Some South Korean evangelical Christians have expressed hostility to Buddhism. There have been dozens incidents of arson and vandalism against Buddhist shrines and facilities over the last two decades, including the destruction of several large temples.
In some of these incidents, the perpetrators were identified as Christians, or left messages denouncing “idol worship.”
The exhortation of acts against Buddhism has become public, similar to the Declaration of Belonging to God during the fire night at My Dinh.
In a crowded preaching in Busan, Korean Christians had prayed, according to the article “Persecution of Buddhists” of Wikipedia, “Lord, let the Buddhist temples in this country crumble down!”, and they did not wait for the hand of God but they had carried out: “Over the course of the last decade a fairly large number of Buddhist temples in South Korea have been destroyed or damaged by fire by misguided Christian fundamentalists. More recently Buddhist statues have been identified as idols, and attacked and decapitated in the name of Jesus “.
It also need to be told clearly that the sneaky burning of temples and Buddha statues by Christians in South Korea happened for a long time ago before President Lee Myung-bak took office. He is the president who publicly supports the actions to eradicate Buddhism.
According to the descriptions in online documents, these acts of religious fanatics “in the name of Jesus” are usually conducted at night, and it is very difficult to find the culprits for heavy damages caused to the Korean Buddhism.
This is a situation that will likely occur in Vietnam, when the conversion process has reached the level of “fire” as in the My Dinh event in December 2010.
Speaking insults against ancestors during that fire-excited night, they no longer have to fear anyone, even Buddhism which is a very peaceful religion, but a thorn in their eyes.
There are many reasons for Vietnamese Buddhists to stay alert against the sneaky burning of temples as in South Korea.
Besides the reason that there are several Korean missionaries who are present in Vietnam and direct the activities of conversion, fanaticism can reach an extremely high level and Christians could attack Buddhism in a sneaky way to release their pent-up resentment of the superficial development (it is emphasized, just superficial development) of Vietnamese Buddhism in recent years.
And, in the same way, when they hate someone, but if that person is too strong and they cannot not do anything about it, then to revenge and release the pent-up resentment, they will attack the beloved relatives of the hated person.
When a religion considers Buddhism as enemy and announces excited episodes, whose history is related to the burning of temples and destruction of statues “in the name of Jesus”, then warnings such as those in this article are very necessary for Vietnamese Buddhists to take protective measures.
When they talk about “excited episode” we may be concerned similarly to “Religious ecstasy” (roughly translated as “religious ecstasy pills, “religious stimulation”). Please see the above terms in Wikipedia.
A reader had a very reasonable opinion that gathering a large number of people, starting fires, taking ecstasy pills, dancing, screaming …are too dangerous for themselves and others.
As such, this article has passed the alarm level of conversion, and has reached the more alarming level about the dangers of violent means of conversion, when the conversion process has reached the threshold “fire.”
Vietnamese Link http://www.giaodiemonline.info/noidung_detail.php?newsid=5424
Written in Vietnamese by Minh Thạnh
Translated by Nguyęn Tánh
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