Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Imperialistic Churches, Cosmologies and Strange Coincidences

I was invited to go to church with one of my co-workers. Well, she's actually a student at the school but she also helps out with lunch and that sort of thing so I consider her one of my co-workers. She spent the last three years in Jordon with her Uncle and speaks English very well because she went to the international school there. Her deepest desire is to get the hell out of Korea.

So, we went to her church and they started off with a lot of rock-esque hymns sung by an American girl. When the pastor (Pastor Bob) got up to speak, it was more like a battle plan than a sermon. The pastor gave us all these statistics about the 10-40 window (ten percent of landmass that houses 40 percent of the world's population). He had diagrams first about how most of the people in this window were not Christians (or as he said, 'unevangelized'. sort of like 'un-immunized'). He didn't overtly diss other religions so I was okay until the next slide that was the same map except with GNP per capita superimposed over it.

He didn't come out and say it but it was clear that he was making a connection between people's religion and their economic status. This was when the sermon turned for me from interesting to annoying. Pastor Bob went on to explain how Korea's reason for being in this 10-40 window (as the sole 'evangelized' country) was to convert the rest of Asia and North Africa. He told us how to identify a non-believer and how to go about getting them to talk to Jesus - i.e. ask them to coffee then start preaching the word of god to them.

I can't figure out if this Mandate of Heaven notion about Korea being in the 10-40 window for a reason comes from Western ideals or if its a homegrown thing. I haven't ever been to an English speaking church in America so I can't judge if the same attitude is common there. As far as Greek Orthodoxy is concerned, its more of a tradition than a religion - its a solid, everyday part of life and people don't go around trying to convert people who don't want to be converted. Its sort of like an semi-exclusive club in that way - you wanna be Greek Orthodox? Okay, but first you have to learn the secret handshake.

There are so many things I could say about this sermon - that correlation doesn't mean causation; that the reason most of these countries are poor and underdeveloped is because of people trying to tell them what's best for them and then taking advantage of them; that, generally, people don't appreciate finding out that an overture of friendship was actually a cheap ploy to get them to come to church; and that adopting a doctrine of live and let live is closer to the spirit of the Bible than this imperialistic religious colonization.

I'm not against religions in general. On the contrary, I think they serve a very important Anthropological purpose.

In my environmental Ethics class in college we talked a lot about religion as it applies to the environment and our current energy problems and one theory stuck with me. It says that when people don't have a cosmology (mostly, this just means a religion) they are less able to fit themselves in the world as a whole. They don't know why they are here, they don't understand what they should be doing. Some people say that there is no such thing as a moral code without a religion (which I think is complete ridiculousness, but none the less furthers the theory).

People who don't have a cosmology (refers more exactly to knowing where you come from, what is waiting for you at the end of life, and what you should be doing with your life) feel their life is useless, or that there is something missing. To fill this whole they consume. They fill their lives with things that they think will make it better - iPhones, 13 cars, countless amazon purchases, etc. That's why so many people have such credit card debt: because they consume pathologically. This is not to say that people who have iPhones, credit card debt, or buy things from amazon are all without cosmology, just that it could explain why there is so much of this sort of thing in America.

And in this instance, I suppose cosmology can mean any number of things. If you believe your purpose in life is to work for this company that you feel strongly is doing good things, or that you are raising kids to be productive members of society and well-adjusted individuals - separate from some divine force - that, too, is a kind of cosmology.

It's just a theory, but its an interesting one.

It just occurred to me that there is a tie in there with online games. When you don't have the means to buy these kinds of things, you can go online to places like World of Warcraft and spend all your time obtaining special items and outfits - swords, armor, potions, spells, etc - and completing quests. This fills your need to consume while giving you a sense of achievement without actually spending anything but time. You achieve status and wealth in a way that is visible and tangible to not only you but others in your online society.

Ne-Hyeung, my friend who took me to church, and I spent a while after the service talking about it (she said she almost fell asleep) and her mom dropped me off at my apartment, with a lot of baked goods she bought me and a whole bag of kumquats. I'm not sure where that came from but it was a nice gesture anyway.

On a rather strange note, I found out that my music teacher from first grade (in Nairobi) goes to this church. This is beyond weird. My only conclusion is that the world is a very very very small place.

EDIT: This is way too awesome not to share. They're plotting their revolution. I can feel it. Whose side are you on?


  1. I saw that octopus video a few days ago and thought of you! Does my intense fear of those damned octopi make sense now!? They're scary!

    Miss you! Hope all is well!


  2. hahaha thanks. you were right of course! They have them in tanks outside restaurants here and I always stop to stare to try an see if they are plotting anything. No outward plotting yet but its only a matter of time.