Thursday, December 16, 2010

When Humans Become Gods

Last night I watched a National Geographic documentary, “Inside North Korea.” A reporter and her cameraman went into North Korea as part of a humanitarian doctor’s team, and filmed under the pretense of making a documentary about his work. The doctor and his staff performed a thousand surgeries in ten days to remove cataracts from blind patients.

The documentary describes how North Korea is ruled by the whims of the Beloved Leader, Kim Jong Il, who enriches himself while his people starve to death by the millions. There were interviews with North Koreans who had defected, including one young man who had been a guard at one of North Koreas concentration camps. Miles square, these camps house the people who express dissatisfaction with the government – and the dissidents’ parents, siblings, children, cousins…

My gut reaction was that the world would be a better place if Pyongyang went up in a mushroom cloud. Of course, that’s not practical, but if even half of what was described is accurate, living in North Korea is nearly identical to living in Nazi Germany.

What was astonishing was the end of the documentary. The blind patients are all gathered in an auditorium, and one by one they have their bandages removed. They shout and cry with joy as they discover they can see, and immediately go to the front of the room and kneel before large pictures of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. The crowd waves their hands in the air as the patients shout praises of Kim Jong Il and vow that their children will venerate him, that they will work harder for him, that they will help wipe out America (despite some of the equipment used in the operations having been donated by America and other Western nations).

It hit me. This is where gods come from! North Koreans worship Kim Jong Il as a god. His pictures are everywhere, just like any religious icon. Children are indoctrinated from an early age, just like in any religion. Kim Jong Il knows all, is infallible, and all good comes from him. Just like God. They even have a better theodicy than most religions. All bad things are the fault of the outside world, especially America.

Rulers in the ancient world were often worshipped as gods or the children of gods. The cults of the pharaoh or of the god-kings of Mesopotamia were probably very like the cult of Kim Jong Il. And the cults of dead god-kings were probably very like the cult of Kim Il Sung. In the ancient world, where history was mostly oral and prone to embellishment, how many centuries would need to pass before stories of the late god-kings became stories of the creator gods?