[Viewpoint]An unsavory mix

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[Viewpoint]An unsavory mix

Recently, I heard a very strange thing, something I wish I hadn’t. I was climbing a mountain near my home when a speech greeted my ears from a Buddhist temple at the entrance of the hiking trail. “The Christians are united. That’s why a Christian president has been elected. The Christians are occupying all the important positions. What are we Buddhists doing about it?”
If a Buddhist priest was quietly preaching to believers, I would not have heard the sermon as a passerby. However, it was amplified over a loudspeaker. The monk asked the Buddhists to be more faithful, saying, “The believers should come to worship more often at the temple.”
I could not help but sigh.
The citizens are already feeling unhappy because the new administration’s appointments seem to be tied to the candidates’ academic, religious and regional backgrounds.
Kim Ha-joong, the Korean ambassador to China and the Unification minister nominee, is drawing attention for boasting about his faith.
After the Blue House announced his appointment, he met with correspondents in Beijing and recited an episode in which he wept as he prayed for his fellow North Koreans.
When Kim visited the North for the inter-Korean summit meeting in June 2000, he cried his heart out as he prayed at the state guest house.
He said, “I got down on my knees and prayed in tears every morning and evening in my room for God’s love and blessing over South Korea and the North, for better inter-Korean relations, prosperity and unification.” It was his response to a question about the direction of his North Korea policies.
He also talked about how he prayed for the Chinese. In 1995, he started praying for about 20 Chinese friends. The list has grown to more than 80. Five of them are current cabinet members. About 22 are former and incumbent sub-cabinet officials. “They love me very much,” he added.
He might have been bragging about his network in China.
Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore who is revered as the father of the country, recalled in his autobiography that the hardest challenge while in office was personnel management. After trial and error, he concluded that what’s more important than ability was personality, especially a sense of balance and reality. To evaluate people’s character, he even used psychological tests.
He reckoned the most important qualities required of people responsible for state affairs were a sense of balance to remain impartial, and a sense of reality to look at a given situation calmly.
In a country where the separation of religion and state is a solemn principle, religion is a personal matter unrelated to the execution of national matters.
Why would Kim talk about his prayers for North Korea when he was asked about North Korean policy? If he had a sense of balance as a public servant, he would not have discussed his personal religion at a public meeting.
The United Democratic Party turned down the appointment of Kim Soung-yee, who had been designated as the minister of Health, Welfare and Family. Kim’s rejection was due to a variety of reasons, from duplicated journals to alleged real estate speculation.
Last year, Kim wrote a newspaper column arguing that religious faith determined the success or failure of social welfare policy.
He might have written such a point on purpose in consideration for the characteristic of the particular daily, but if he truly believes so, he has admitted that he absolutely lacks a sense of reality.
When President Lee Myung-bak was serving as mayor of Seoul, he received a lot of criticism when he said he dedicated Seoul to God. Public servants are not excluded from the freedom of religion, but they must strictly distinguish personal issues from official matters. They should not lose their sense of balance and reality on state affairs because of their religion.
Grand National Party leader Kang Jae-sup met with Venerable Gigwan, the executive chief of the Jogye Order Wednesday.
Kang might have wanted to assuage the Buddhists’ dissatisfaction about the newly appointed government officials.
Or maybe he might have hoped to garner support from Buddhists in the upcoming National Assembly election.
Either way, the meeting does not look normal. No matter what the temple loud speaker delivers, religion and politics cannot mix.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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