North Korea has 10 principles designed to uphold its monolithic one-party system. Article 3, Clause 6 of the 10 principles -- a set of guidelines for everyday life -- stresses the need to "respectfully care for, and thoroughly protect, the Dear Leader's portraits, statues, and publications."
An official from the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was in North Korea to assist in building a light-water nuclear reactor. He found himself in trouble when he inadvertently sat on a copy of "Rodong Sinmun" that carried a photo of Kim Il-sung and his son.
American religion website adherents.com said Monday that North Korea's "juche" (self-reliance) ideology ranks 10th in the world's major religions in terms of the number of believers.
With its 19 million followers, juche ranks second after Sikhism (23 million) below the world's four major religions -- Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism -- and a few non-establishment religions, such as primal-indigenous beliefs and animism.
Juche outnumbers several better-known religions, including Judaism (14 million), Bahaism (7 million), Jainism (4.2 million), Shinto (4 million), and Zoroastrianism (2.6 million).
"From a sociological viewpoint, juche is clearly a religion" considering that it is so influential in its adherents' lives and that it is exclusive of other ideologies, Adherents.com said.
In fact juche has all the necessary religious elements, including a founder (Kim Il-sung), a successor (Kim Jong-il), a sacred ground (Mangyongdae), an organization (Workers Party and the military), doctrines, and precepts.
A prevailing view in academia also considers juche a religion. Rhee Sang-Woo, former president of Hallym University, said, "Juche is in the same vein as a monotheistic religion. North Korea is a strict theocracy."
Shin Eun-hee, a professor of religious studies at Simpson College in the U.S., regards juche as a "spiritual force that has sustained the North Korean people since the 1990s."
Seeing juche regarded as one of the world's major religions, we are reminded once again that it is not easy to free the North Korean people spiritually.
[Excerpt of a column in Chosun Ilbo by Lee Seon-min]