[Outlook]Set religion free

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[Outlook]Set religion free

Let’s suppose a person is drowning. We wouldn’t think about his religion before deciding whether or not to rescue him. In university entrance exams or exams to recruit new employees, people are not discriminated against based on their religious beliefs.

People don’t have conflicts or problems in their social life because of religion, either. In our society, different religions don’t draw lines between people. So why has discrimination against a certain religion become an issue recently?

The issue of discrimination against a certain religion is related to power. Eo Cheong-soo, the head of the National Police Agency, appeared on an advertisement for a Christian event for policemen, and that has become controversial. But the first and second times the event took place, former heads of the National Police Agency appeared on advertisements as well. However, it didn’t draw attention that time.

Meanwhile, a map produced by a government department showed only Christian churches, omitting Buddhist temples. That was insane. Buddhism is part of our culture and historically our main religion.

An increasing number of civil workers say they are Christians, just as many people said their hometowns were in the Honam area after former President Kim Dae-jung took office. For those who use any means to gain power and to be hired by the government, exploiting religion is not exceptional.

The recent conflict centering around religion is not the result of religious issues but people using religion as a means to propel their interests. We shouldn’t judge religion based on these worldly people.

Democracy and religion can be either extreme opposites or partners. If religion controls the state, democracy collapses because the powerful don’t accept other religious beliefs. The examples are extremist Islam or some countries with state religions that don’t acknowledge other faiths.

In a democracy, however, the rights of minorities are respected and therefore all religions are accepted because individuals have freedom and the right to choose their beliefs.

Religious groups also need to abide by the Constitution. The incident in which police officers stopped and searched a car carrying the head monk of Jogye Temple in Seoul has become controversial. The Jogye Temple is a sanctuary, just as Myeongdong Cathedral is, because it has protected those who are oppressed in the world.

However, if the temple doesn’t abide by the law, the freedom of religion can’t be legally protected. Therefore, the police officers who stopped the head monk didn’t make a mistake. If the monks are angry about the search, people of higher rank should deliver an apology. The police shouldn’t be punished as they were faithfully carrying out their duties.

As democracy is based on diversity, religious differences should be accepted as well. If religious belief is no longer up to individual choice but becomes social dogma, religion and individual freedoms clash.

Therefore, religion should be a matter of individual choice.

However, one can’t say all religions are the same. If everything has only relative value, one need not protect what one feels is important. If people don’t have anything that they own and treasure, they become nothing but roamers. The empty space will be filled with standardized values. Thus, we shouldn’t condemn people who are committed to their religions as being extremists.

These days religious conflict has taken place because religion has become mixed with worldly values. However, true religion goes beyond the power of the mundane world. Jesus said to give Caesar what is Caesar’s and Buddha abandoned his privileges as a prince.

They didn’t come to the world to take power. They came here to spread the news of Heaven, the news of peace to those who were oppressed by the powerful, left out because of poverty and who were in pain.

If religion’s successes and failures are decided by power, it is no longer religion. Christianity and Buddhism have been alive for thousands of years, and this is not because those in power have favored them. Christianity won’t thrive just because a church elder has become the president.

Religion prospers when it is oppressed in the world. If the government oppresses Buddhism, it will thrive, as seen in the early history of Buddhism in our country. Let’s set religion free from the world.

Let go of religion so that it can focus on the matters of Heaven and the spirit.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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