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When the Sun of Mankind was born, in a humble log cabin on his nation’s holiest mountain, a new bright star shone in the heavens, and a double rainbow appeared. The birds sang songs of praise in human voice. The Sun of Mankind’s father, though his mortal body is dead, rules in eternity, and his spirit is reincarnated in the Sun of Mankind. The Sun of Mankind is also known as the Great Man Who Descended From Heaven.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to atheist North Korea.
The Sun of Mankind, in case you’re wondering, was the late Kim Jong-il, who died over the weekend following a heart attack. His father, the eternal leader who was reincarnated in his son, was Kim il Sung, who died in 1994 at the age of 82 but is still the official president. Christopher Hitchens, who sadly did not live to see Kim’s death, thus described North Korea as the only “necrocracy” in the world.
Kim Jong-il, the Shining Star of Mount Paekdu, was not, of course, born in a log cabin on the mountain at all, but in exile in Siberia. (I am also unable to confirm the reports of talking birds and celestial miracles.) But the birth of a great Son to a great Father in humble-yet-holy circumstances, accompanied by heavenly signs, is very familiar, as is death and reincarnation. Mithras, a pagan sun-god, was apparently born of a virgin to great miracles, and died and was reincarnated. That story has many obvious parallels to that of Jesus Christ. In Greek mythology, Dionysius, the son of the great god Zeus, was killed and resurrected.
Whatever you can call the Kim Jong-il premiership, and the whole sad, sorry North Korean experience since the Second World War, it is not an atheist dictatorship. A better parallel would be a theocracy. Hitchens reported, in a heartrending account of his time in the failed state, that $2.68 billion (£1.7 billion) was spent on memorial events and constructions in the wake of Kim il Sung’s death 17 years ago. It’s a modern-day Pharoanic kingdom, with similar Sun-God mythology: Kim il Sung and Kim Jong-il were worshipped (see the video above to see what I mean). Sticking with Hitchens, he says that the closest parallel is to the Confucian ancestor-worship which had held sway in Korean society for generations before the rise of Maoism.
(On the subject of worship: there’s a tragicomic quality to some of Kim’s “miracles”. We are told that he could control the weather; that he had no need to use toilets, since he never defecated; he invented hamburgers, which probably counts as a miracle since they existed before he was born; and, my own personal favourite, on his first-ever round of golf, he shot 38 under par, including 11 holes in one. It’s his restraint, almost a modesty, in not claiming to have got a perfect score of 18, which I find oddly touching. See the Huffington Post for more.)
None of this is intended to mean that religious societies are all going to be like North Korea, or that religion implies dictatorship, or that all atheists are lovely people. But to suggest that North Korea is what happens when atheism holds sway in a country is equally ridiculous. Saying Kim Jong-il was a Lefty atheist is like saying that Hitler was a conservative Catholic, and we all know that that is very silly indeed.