[FOUNTAIN]A necessary or sinful act?The reason why taking a census is treated as a sin in the West is because of King David. One day, King David asked Joab the commander to count the number of his military forces. Joab tried to stop the king, saying, “Why are you trying to do a sinful act to Israel?” When King David refused to listen, Joab reported the number of fighting men to the king: In Israel, there were 800,000 able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah 500,000.
When Yahweh became angry, David begged, apologizing, “I have done wrong. Please forgive my sin.” However, Yahweh’s answer was firm. He told David to choose one of three punishments: three years of famine in the land, three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you or three days of plague in your land. King David chose the third option and within those three days around 70,000 people died because of the plague.
In the Bible, a commandment banning a census cannot be found anywhere. Then why was David punished? According to the theologists who published “The New Oxford Annotated Bible,” it was because David was trying to take over control of the Israelites, who should only be under the control of Yahweh. Knowing the number of people was considered to challenge the sacred area of God.
From then, a census was an “act arousing the anger of God.” It is said that in 1753, a British member of parliament opposed conducting a census, saying, “I’m afraid that we might be punished as David was.” In 1712, the New York State governor refused to conduct a census, arguing, “A census had always been followed by some kind of disease.”
It was only in the late 18th century that the fear of a census disappeared. The U.S. constitution requires a census to be conducted every 10 years. The country needed to know the exact population since the number of legislators was based on population. American statistician Helen Walker said, “The fear that the people might be punished by Heaven by repeating the sin David committed disappeared completely since the United States continued to prosper even after the census.”
A nationwide census has started in Korea. For the first time in history, it will even cover the number of disabled people. This is a statistic advanced countries already had several decades ago. Bernard Cohen, a former professor at Harvard University, said, “Knowing the exact number of people is the starting point of government administration.”
For effective government administration, it is time to look back at the basic statistical data of the population.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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