[Viewpoint]Longing for faith
Dark clouds of economic crisis are hanging over Korean society. Massive layoffs are imminent and the people are feeling jittery about the future. Amid this general sense of crisis, it was even more devastating to see the deaths caused by the tragic clash in Yongsan.
The confrontations continue between the government and civic groups, and the wound from the Yongsan incident is deepening. Although all this trouble demands the attention of the people, at root it is becoming a matter of little to no importance.
After the deadly incident took place, many religious groups headed to Yongsan under the banner of social participation. Last week, the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice held a mass and a Buddhist group also held a service. Protestants also gathered for a Thursday prayer.
Of course, religious groups have the right to express their position on major issues. That is an important social function of religion.
However, the religious groups sent a message of conflict and confrontation rather than one of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Religious leaders led the democratization movement in the 1980s, gaining public support in the fight against the military regime. They worked to end the darkness of the era and heal the people.
It was an important moment in our history, where the pains of the era were healed by religious leaders of great foresight and wisdom.
But how did the people react to the religious leaders’ demonstrations at Yongsan?
There was no applause. The people did not nod their heads in approval as they had done in the 1980s. Instead, many shook their heads in disapproval and disappointment.
The reason is simple. The religious leaders’ slogans did not tap into the pain and insecurity the public was experiencing over the Yongsan tragedy. They failed to send the right message. The people do not want religion to play the role of judge.
What, then, is the main role of religion in a society?
It is unity and harmony. It is communication. Religion must work as a bridge between differing opinions.
What does our era demand from religion? Is it a message of confrontation and conflict?
No. We want a faith that touches us on an emotional level. We want a religion that can help us toward recovery.
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said the characteristics of the contemporary era are free-floating danger and insecurity. This age needs the emotional role that is played by religion.
Kim Gwan-chan, who lost his police officer son during the clash in Yongsan, recently met with Venerable Myeongjin of Bongeun Temple. Many people nodded as they saw the meeting; some shed tears.
The event showed the positive emotions that religion is meant to inspire. They learned how the pain of the secular problems of the world, as exemplified by Yongsan, can communicate with something that exists on a higher plane. At that moment, religion was the bridge that we all needed.
In our time, we wonder about the true role of religion in our society. We do not want a religion built upon a rigid set of conventional rules and group action.
We face a deep sense of insecurities as individuals, and we need a faith that puts us back in touch with our softer side and leads us toward the true meaning of life, showing us that the world can actually be a wonderful place to live.
In our time, what our souls need is not manifestos and confrontation, but care, healing, recovery and communication.
I pray that the pains and agonies of the Yongsan tragedy will soon be healed.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Kyung Hee University.