Juche

Juche: The religion reporter's way into the North Korea-U.S. nuclear summit story

Juche: The religion reporter's way into the North Korea-U.S. nuclear summit story

OK, so I’m booking political fantasy bets on whether President Donald Trump will actually have a monumental sit down with North Korea’s equally uniquely coiffed supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Not because I’m a gambling man, mind you, but because I’m a journalist in need of a lede graph to get rolling here, and that’s what came to mind. Forgive me, but that’s how I work this craft.

Now let’s get serious.

Despite the lower-level North Korea-United States talks in Helsinki this week, a Kim-Trump nuclear summit still feels like a long shot to me.

But if they do actually meet what might religion scribes contribute to the story beyond the standard pieces noting how Korean-American Christian missionaries and other idealistic Westerners occasionally get arrested in North Korea.

Well, you could write about how the officially atheist state actually has what some scholars identify as, speaking from a sociological point of view, a homegrown quasi-religion.

I’m speaking about Juche, North Korea’s official governing philosophy.

It's not that Juche hasn't been writing about before. It has, but only rarely. For some reason, editors (and I must cede, the public, too) seem to care more about those potentially deadly nuclear threats that both sides toss about every so often.

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Are reporters missing a surprising religion ghost when covering news about North Korea?

Are reporters missing a surprising religion ghost when covering news about North Korea?

Media mention of religion in North Korea generally involves the arrest of some unfortunate foreign Christian who thought they could sneak a Bible or other evangelism materials into what is arguably the world's most repressive state -- which is saying something, given the number of horrific governments out there.

By way of example, click here. Or click here, and then read what GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly said over the weekend about a CNN take on a major North Korea story.

As for the existence of religion in North Korea itself, the default position for most journalists, including those on the religion beat, is that the nation formally (and oxymoronically) known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is officially atheist. On occasion, a more knowledgeable reporter may note that its official philosophy is known in Korean as Juche.

This recent New York Times piece does just that. Here's the pertinent sentence: "Juche, or self-reliance, is the North’s governing ideology."

Well, yes. But there's so much more that can be said. Including that some who study the sociology of religion consider Juche -- as politicized and seemingly secular as it is -- a "religious" ideology. Which means there's a "religion ghost," or unrecognized religion angle, hidden in some stories about how the North's oppressed population endures.

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