[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]False religions prey mostly on the youngThere are about 40 self-appointed Jesuses living around the world now, according to reports collected online. But can you believe that 38 of them are reportedly living right here in Korea? And there are about 500 religions here that other countries do not seem to have.
It goes without saying that there are too many of them. But the real problem is that some are pseudo-religious groups or cults; some of their followers have been found guilty of cruel crimes. In 2003, the leader and some members of such a group, called Yeong Saeng, or Eternal Life, confessed to killing several members whose bodies were found in August of that year. The cult leader died in prison in 2004 while appealing a death sentence for directing the murders. Many of the victims were university students.
According to International Religion Research Information (IRRI), 20 to 30 religious groups, including some unfamiliar and suspicious ones, are active on campuses. And the numbers they attract are quite big, reaching about several hundred thousand.
I believe in freedom of religion. But an estimated 2 million people have reportedly been hurt directly and indirectly by these groups. Among them, many were university students. Apparently, religions easily attract young people in their 20s. After high school, students can fall into confusion, making it easier for religious recruiters to entice them through club activities, festivals and parties.
I quote below a student at my school, Kyung Hee University, who asked for anonymity before he described how he was tricked into a religious group he did not want to be involved with.
“At the very beginning, two people drew near and talked to me holding a Bible. They started a conversation with me about the existence of God. I ended up following them to their club. But when I reached their room, I realized that it was not the religious group I thought it was. Time went by and they forced me to pay them money. Since I was trying to get out of there, they succeeded. I don’t want to think about it again.”
I can’t say I can tell what is the right religion and what is not.
But I can say that if any group forces you to “donate more money” than you want, it is likely that it is not the religion you were seeking.
At present, there seems to be no special law restricting the birth of new religions. More of them keep appearing and investigating them is difficult.
Some people who help police or similar investigative organizations track down harmful religions have themselves become victims.
Tak Myoung-hwan, the former head of IRRI, was killed by a fanatic believer while investigating one group. His death and others have silenced some people and made suspect groups more secretive.
Should we then not challenge such group? Tak Ji-won, currently the head of IRRI and the son of Tak Myoung-hwan, said that would be the worst thing. If people say nothing, the problem will keep growing. People must try to expose them.
Mr. Tak advises students to learn to view religious groups objectively, and learn to decide whether they are the healthy kind they want to believe in.
* The writer is the editor of The University Life, the English newspaper of Kyung Hee University.
by Lee Sang-dong