[View point]His faith on his sleeve

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[View point]His faith on his sleeve

Duke Huan of Qi, one of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period in China, loved to dress in purple. The ministers and the people of the kingdom followed the duke’s lead and also favored clothing in that color. Fabrics in other colors was left in storage and became moth-eaten. King Zhuang of Chu, another one of the Five Hegemons, was fond of women with tiny waists. And his preference made all the women in the kingdom go on a diet and starve themselves. It was not uncommon to hear people mourning for women who died of hunger.

These are episodes that remind us of the importance of what a ruler says and does. The ruler’s influence is valid not just in China 2,600 years ago but also in Korea today.

When the power holder expresses dissatisfaction with something, people will immediately start attacking it. If the power holder shows his interest in something else, then only compliments follow that item. People follow the tastes of the powerful regardless of time and place. Therefore, those in power have to be prudent about what they say and do, no matter how trivial it might be.

The one who has to learn this lesson the most is the president. The Buddhists have become furious about the president’s Christian leanings. Lee Myung-bak is an elder in his church. In fact, the president might feel wrongly accused. He has only been faithful in his religious life, never forcing Christianity on others. The president does not recommend that his aides go to church. He believes that he should respect other religions in order to get respect for his religion.

Just as he is generous to other religions, he is unreserved in his own pursuit of religion. During the presidential campaign, his aides suggested that he limit his church appointments, but he stated firmly that his staff should not interfere with his religious life. Growing up listening to the prayers of his devout Christian mother, church became the means his mother used to turn poverty into success. And the president’s sincere faith should not be criticized.

His comments while serving as the mayor of Seoul were quite controversial, saying he would dedicate Seoul to God and calling Cheonggye Stream “a work of God.” However, after he became president, his statements have not been so unreasonable. He has said he hopes people evaluate the church elder as a good president and that their prayers would make the nation a land overflowing with blessing. These comments are appropriate since they were made at religious gatherings.

The problem is that there are people who follow the duke’s fashions and go on a diet to suit the king’s tastes. Because the chief executive wears his religion on his sleeve, some people suddenly frequent churches and bring out their Bibles from the attic, hoping to win royal favor. Some opportunists unnecessarily harm other religions

If the president was a faithful Buddhist, could the government remove Buddhist temples from traffic maps by mistake, if not by willful negligence? Would government officials forget to send a congratulatory message on the biggest holiday in Korean Buddhism, which dates back 1,600 years, but remember to send a video containing a congratulatory message to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a church?

Would the police chief be featured in a poster for a Christian event and the Seoul education superintendent openly praise God during working hours?

Religion is not the essence of the situation; it’s flattery. Power is bound to attract false admiration, but this time, the adulation turned especially noisy and dangerous because it was spiced up with religion.

That’s why the president has to apologize to the nation, not to the Buddhists. The president has to ask for forgiveness for letting those seeking his favor add fatal religious friction to a nation already riddled with regional and ideological conflicts.

These opportunists are even more harmful than some materialistic churches that want to piggyback on the president and expand their power.

Duke Huan of Qi and King Zhuang of Chu were heroes of their time, but one was swayed by flattery and starved to death while the other stayed away from it and enjoyed a peaceful life. I feel sorry for the president, but he has to nip religious opportunism in the bud even if it means restricting his own religious life. This is the best way to save himself as well as citizens who are already struggling with their lives, regardless of their religion.

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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