As an officially atheistic government, North Korea refuses to call Juche–the official ideology of the North Korean state–a religion, but the truth is that it bears all the markings of one. Even more, it shares extensive similarities with Christianity.
Consider the following:
- Christianity and Juche both have, as the center of their veneration, a trinity. Christians worship the one-in-three God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as revealed in Scripture. Juche adherents worship Kim Il Sung, the former leader of North Korea who died in 1994, his wife Kim Jung Sook, and his son, Kim Jong Il, now also deceased (and reverenced). Homes in North Korea are required to feature prominently hung portraits of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and damage to or neglect of either of their portraits (including, for example, failure to dust them or rescue them in the event of a house fire or flood) is a grave, often fatal offense.
- Christians hold the Bible to be a sacred book, inspired by God himself. Juche holds the writings and teachings of Kim Il Sung to be holy and authoritative, and all North Koreans regardless of age regularly receive teaching from them. They are required to memorize large sections of these writings and to be able to quote from them throughout their lives. It would not be inaccurate to say that North Korean ethics is built around a “WWKD?” mentality: What would Kim Il Sung do? From grade school on, North Koreans are taught 100 stories of Kim Il Sung’s life, and these are considered normative for how all North Koreans should act.
- Christians worship Jesus as the Son of God and believe he was resurrected from the dead to reign in glory with the Father. We believe upon death, believers are united with Jesus in heaven for eternity. Juche worships Kim Il Sung as though he is divine. He remains North Korea’s “eternal president,” which makes North Korea the only necrocracy (i.e., country ruled by a dead man) in the world. For North Koreans, eternal life is found in acts of great sacrifice and reverence of Kim Il Sung and his offspring, since such acts are memorialized forever in stories, songs, dramas, books, and films.
- Many Christians believe the locations where Jesus was born, taught, prayed, etc. to be holy ground and many travel to Israel to see them. Likewise for the sites marking events in the life of Kim Il Sung. To this day, decades after his death, the places he visited, the comments he made at each site, and even the tools he touched are preserved and maintained with the same level of devotion as the shrines of Jesus. The same is true of Kim Jong Il. North Koreans say a star appeared overhead when Kim Jong Il was born in a humble log cabin in the snowy midwinter. As one reporter wrote, “All that is missing is the three kings and their camels.”
- Christians attend weekly gatherings where we join together in the worship of God, repent of sin, and receive instruction from Scripture. Juche adherents gather regularly to repent of wrongdoing and receive instruction from Kim Il Sung. They sing songs from the Kim Il Sung hymnal–600 songs of worship of the one they call the “Great Leader.” Every city and village in North Korea contains a “Kim Il Sung Research Center,” which to Western eyes looks like what we would call a church building. North Korean defectors regularly tell us that if North Korea falls, it will not be necessary to build church buildings; all that is needed is to convert existing Kim Il Sung Research Centers.
Born into a family of devout Christians, some believe Kim Il Sung saw the power of Christianity in the lives of its adherents and modeled Juche after it. There is also evidence that Kim Il Sung said, “Only Christianity can cut the root of our communism,” which explains North Korea’s consistent zero tolerance policy toward the practice and spread of the Christian faith. This quote remains unverified, but it is certain that Juche bears a striking resemblance to Christianity and that Christianity remains an innate and total rebuttal to the Juche ideology.