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Robert Park
January 3, 2010 1:07 AM   Subscribe

On Christmas day, Robert Park walked over the frozen Tumen river from China and into North Korea. He did an interview that was to be released when he had crossed over.
posted by paladin (148 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
This kind of spectacular foolishness makes everyone, including him, look bad, excepting of course the North Koreans, unfortunately (and even gives them an opportunity to look good by booting him back out). I have a tendency to sympathize with the oddballs and the underdogs, but this idiot needs medication more than recognition for a ridiculous god-struck stunt like this, and I have little sympathy for martyrs driven by religious madness.

The one thing he is right about is that it is insupportable how little attention is paid by the international community to the hell that is North Korea. If something good comes of his pointless 'self-sacrifice', that would be splendid. I have my doubts that anything will.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:25 AM on January 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


Thanks for fleshing out that a little.
posted by fcummins at 1:30 AM on January 3, 2010


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by smackwich at 2:02 AM on January 3, 2010


Last night, I finished reading this book about the true lives of North Koreans, which was excellent for providing a deeper perspective on day-to-day life there, and some excellent background history. It just came out, and I found it to be pretty gripping.

I tend to agree with stavrosthewonderchicken, with a couple of caveats:

1) Unlike the utterly, reprehensibly stupid Laura Ling and Euna Lee – both of whom should have known better (and one of whom, at least, had a child), this guy knows what he's up to and seems prepared to die . . . and, unlike some acts of martyrdom, at least his causes no real harm to anyone but himself. So I've got a lot more respect for him than those two fools with their grotesque sense of entitlement.

2) Ling and Lee got a lot of media attention which was entirely "Laura Ling, SISTER OF LISA!"-focused. This guy's relative anonymity may allow more of the focus to be on the North Koreans for a change.

He's foolish for sure, but the one thing I like about this stunt is that it may show some people how little is being done for the North Korean people, and how pathetic the West has become to even play ball with the ridiculous North Korean government.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:46 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I dunno. If some religious nut wants to protest something, then North Korea sounds like a fine choice. Think how nice would it have been if the Mormons, for example, had spent the last couple years focusing their efforts on pestering Kim Jong-il. I'd be thrilled if the religiously-inclined started throwing their weight behind some legitimate humanitarian causes.
posted by ryanrs at 3:00 AM on January 3, 2010 [21 favorites]


I like how he gave an interview beforehand, thus ensuring himself some release leverage in the form of publicity, before going on to claim he had no desire to be released. Right.
posted by jbr at 3:01 AM on January 3, 2010


Well, you have to admire the way he sticks to his beliefs. Good luck, Mr. Park, I hope your actions really do lead to change for the better..
posted by Daddy-O at 3:29 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


When dealing with people who would readily kill you, it's generally best to not be a hero. I still agree about the Mormons, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:38 AM on January 3, 2010


It's unfortunate we have chosen to snark about publicity instead of RTFA. This is not a stunt. Bad form, metafilter:

Park: My demand is that I do not want to be released. I don’t want President Obama to come and pay to get me out. But I want the North Korean people to be free. Until the concentration camps are liberated, I do not want to come out. If I have to die with them, I will. I am Christian and it says in the Bible that we must love the lost. We must love the poor and the needy. We must love them more than ourselves.

.
posted by mek at 3:59 AM on January 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


No, it's not a stunt. It's suicide by North Korea, and bloody sad.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:09 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


suicide by North Korea

Is North Korea really that bad?
posted by humannaire at 4:24 AM on January 3, 2010


Is North Korea really that bad?

It's pretty awful in nearly every way, and definitely one of the most totalitarian states in the world. Probably the most willfully isolated country in the world as well.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:28 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Let's see how this plays out.
I suppose, the smartest thing North Korea could do would to treat him to a hot cup of coffee, give him a stern warning and release him again. But somehow I doubt that this will happen.
posted by sour cream at 4:29 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]



I dunno. If some religious nut wants to protest something, then North Korea sounds like a fine choice. Think how nice would it have been if the Mormons, for example, had spent the last couple years focusing their efforts on pestering Kim Jong-il. I'd be thrilled if the religiously-inclined started throwing their weight behind some legitimate humanitarian causes.


Ryanrs, many of the relief organizations helping North Korean refugees are religious organizations.
posted by thisperon at 4:36 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]



Is North Korea really that bad?


Humannaire--if you can stomach it, you can read the Aquariums of Pyongyang or watch any of the numerous vids about the suffering there.

This one details the lab experiments North Korean "scientists" are performing on human prisoners (narrated by a prison guard who escaped.)

This one is about a refugee who was actually born in a prison camp, and had no realization of the outside world until he managed to escape.

On top of this there is starvation of the rest of the people who aren't living in the camps.
posted by thisperon at 4:42 AM on January 3, 2010 [21 favorites]


My pastor was friends with this guy. He was quite famous in Seoul for giving away his coat to any homeless person he happened upon. Seemed like a nice enough guy and I admire his conviction. It will be interesting to see what happens- It doesn't seem in North Korea's best interest to be known for brutalizing a somewhat sympathetic figure. Of course, that assumes that someone is in charge over there, which seems less and less likely.

Living in South Korea now, it blows my mind to think that just a few hundred miles (Less!) North, there is none of the prosperity or modernism that I experience everyday. Insane.
posted by GilloD at 5:15 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


"(For) these innocent men, women and children, as Christians, we need to take the cross for them. The cross means that we sacrifice our lives for the redemption of others."

Oh, Jesus Christ, get over yourself.
posted by ericb at 5:17 AM on January 3, 2010


EricB,

What are you getting at? That's the message of the Bible. As a Christian, I certainly don't live up to it. And that's largely the point- We struggle in vain the do our best and fall short, but that's okay. Good deeds are hard work. The Bible calls for an enormous amount of sacrifice that few of us are willing or able to provide. Park merely lives it out in the way he thinks is best and, honestly, he comes a whole lot closer than I do.

In the interview he makes a great point- Last year there were mass demonstrations over the importing of US Beef. But there as never been a demonstration even 1/10th as large for the human rights violations going on literally less than 500 miles away. Someone has to call some attention to it, no? I think he's made a brave sacrifice and MeFi's default, super-snark, po-mo attitude has labeled him a media whore or an idiot. I don't think he's exactly a saintly genius, but he's much more active, committed and brave than you or I.
posted by GilloD at 5:24 AM on January 3, 2010 [27 favorites]


I'd also second the Aquariums of Pyongyang.

Last night, I watched a fantastic documentary on Westerners visiting North Korea, and I was contemplating making a FPP out of it. However, this seems like the perfect opportunity to post it.

Friends of Kim
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:26 AM on January 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


I like how he gave an interview beforehand, thus ensuring himself some release leverage in the form of publicity, before going on to claim he had no desire to be released.

If he had not made the interview, his crossing would be a pointless stunt. No one would know why he did it. We might not even know that he did it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:32 AM on January 3, 2010


Last year there were mass demonstrations over the importing of US Beef.

That's not what they were about, really. Were you in Korea at the time?
posted by smorange at 5:33 AM on January 3, 2010




He's foolish for sure, but the one thing I like about this stunt is that it may show some people how little is being done for the North Korean people, and how pathetic the West has become to even play ball with the ridiculous North Korean government.

How is the West supposed to do anything for the North Korean people *without* playing ball with the North Korean government?

In the film that I link to upthread, a bunch of suckers from the west go on a tour of North Korea in order to promote solidarity with 'the people of North Korea' and protest US involvement in the region.

They go there, believing that the place is a workers paradise, but as the film goes on, it becomes pretty clear to them that it's anything but. Then, while visiting a hard currency hotel, they run into the guy who is running the UN Food Aid programme, who tells them that the UN is currently feeding half of North Korea, but in order to get that aid, first the regime has to request it.

So, the west is currently feeding half of the people of North Korea, but their 'Military First' programme means that most food aid goes to the troops before it goes to regular people -- who when this film was being made, were subsisting on approximately half of the minimum human requirements.

I dunno, it seems to me that the only way that you could help the people of North Korea while refusing to play ball with the government would be to declare war on them, and I'm pretty sure nobody wants that.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:43 AM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Exactly:
"Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, applauds Park’s 'moral courage' – but not his deed.

Park’s 'excursion into North Korea was a foolhardy stunt that can’t help but complicate diplomacy,' he says. 'It’s a gift to the Pyongyang regime, which can be expected to seek to bargain his freedom for diplomatic or PR advantage.'

He doubts 'the White House or State Department will be inclined to want to give away anything to gain Park’s freedom, especially since he might decide in the future to do it again.' The case, he adds, is 'not so much [an] embarrassment as an unnecessary encumbrance.'"
posted by ericb at 5:45 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hope his nonviolent protest leads to annihilation of the regime in the north. I say godspeed you crazy motherfucker. He is going to lead the people of North Korea out of bondage like some modern Moses. You skoff now but when the plague of frogs hits.....
posted by humanfont at 5:46 AM on January 3, 2010


Thanks for highlighting this: the story, and to a large extent the whole issue of human rights abuses in N Korea, had passed me by (I'm British, and the UK media doesn't take much interest in the 'far east', Burma excepted).
posted by MinPin at 6:18 AM on January 3, 2010


I don't know about you, but I'm deeply reluctant to say stuff like "Christ, what an asshole" or "Jesus Christ, get over yourself" about a guy who's willing to lay down his life in service of an unambiguous good.

Is it going to work? Probably not; silver bullets are few and far between in this world. But to just brush it off? Yeah, that sounds a lot more like "I am inadequate to my own small aspirations", or maybe "My flimsy convictions have never given me that much courage" than you probably realize.
posted by mhoye at 6:42 AM on January 3, 2010 [40 favorites]


I agree with his sentiments, but when you go all Jeanne de Park with the I had a vision where God revealed that there needs to be a mass demonstration movement for North Korean human rights then you lose me. Claiming that your actions are directed by a personal communique from your invisible sky friend undercuts any persuasive authority they might otherwise have.
posted by minimii at 6:49 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


What this dude is doing is hard as hell.

For the record, it absolutely would not matter to me if he was a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslem or whatever: for a man to be transformed by his connection to an unseen god and selflessly love the people around him (people he's never even seen!) as a result is an absurd miracle. It is a central mystery of the human experience.

On my best days I wish I could be like Richard Park and I hope any god that is blesses him overwhelmingly for going out like a man (Mench, if you will) because the rest of us are manifestly unable.
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:50 AM on January 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


Not to draw too close a paralell to the civil rights struggle, but if MeFi was around in 1965, when the marches in Selma took place, would someone have noted: "Christ, what an asshole"? When Rosa Park refused to give up her seat, would someone have said "Jeez, what a self-serving idiot. There were other seats on the bus, lady"?

Hindsight is 20/20 and history has vindicated their actions, but I'm just really cautious about. Hmm. Making value judgments about someone who makes a foolhardy, valiant decision in the face of certain consequence. If this guy somehow jumpstarts a revolution that ends the North Korean regime (Unlikely, but bear with me), we'd laud his actions as heroic and admirable. But our default position is snark and pessimism. Is it any wonder we feel more and more ineffective?
posted by GilloD at 6:55 AM on January 3, 2010 [27 favorites]


.
posted by msittig at 6:59 AM on January 3, 2010


What's hard about it? If you truly believe in that stuff, then obeying your omniscient and omnipotent deity is not a matter of debate or discussion, right? The all-powerful Oz says "do it" and off you go.

It's only hard if you have to talk yourself into following the heavenly dictates.
posted by minimii at 6:59 AM on January 3, 2010


PeterMcDermott: that Friends of Kim doc is fascinating. Thanks for posting.
posted by billysumday at 7:06 AM on January 3, 2010


I'm British, and the UK media doesn't take much interest in the 'far east', Burma excepted...

Be sure to check out BBC News on-going coverage of North Korea, Asia-Pacific and South Asia. Also: BBC's coverage of human rights in North Korea.
posted by ericb at 7:09 AM on January 3, 2010


Park is an incredibly brave and faith filled man. I will pray for the best, but I fear for the worst. I hope his actions amount to something other than a few articles in the first month of the year and the target of snarks by some. God Bless you, Mr. Parks.
posted by Atreides at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2010


The default position exists because "the christian god told me to do it" is invoked by hucksters and charlatans the world over. It's a crummy justification that taints the otherwise good nature of the action.

Rosa Parks did not have a revelation from god; she knew and understood from her everyday life that she was being treated as a second class citizen by assholes. I'm pretty sure the imaginary 1965 MeFI would have had her back.
posted by minimii at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


If this guy somehow jumpstarts a revolution that ends the North Korean regime (Unlikely, but bear with me), we'd laud his actions as heroic and admirable.

Part of the reason that North Korean people feel as they do was because of the way that their country was carpet bombed by the US, killing millions of civilians, during the civil war. This resulted in almost total devastation of their country and plays a dominant part in shaping the national ideology -- not just for the regime, but also for ordinary people over there.

Given this history -- not in the dim and distant past, but within living memory for many Koreans -- the idea that a sole American religious zealot could just wander across the border and somehow jumpstart a revolution might be the single most inane suggestion I've ever read on Metafilter.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:12 AM on January 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


But hey, I guess when you believe in miracles, anything is possible, right?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:14 AM on January 3, 2010


"The default position exists because "the christian god told me to do it" is invoked by hucksters and charlatans the world over. It's a crummy justification that taints the otherwise good nature of the action."

Well, okay. But what about when it's invoked by someone who isn't a huckster or a charlatan? Do we lack the capacity to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis? This kind of blanket judgment is the same thing we abhor in Liberal & Conservative politics, no? Just because it has an edge of trendy atheism about it doesn't make it any better a justification that "God told me to do it". If it truly bothers you that this was a Christian gesture, then evaluate it outside of that context: A man deeply bothered by human rights abuses inside of a totalitarian regime decides to walk into that regime to live among it's people and try to inspire them in some way.

"Rosa Parks did not have a revelation from god; she knew and understood from her everyday life that she was being treated as a second class citizen by assholes"

Rosa Parks has spoken many, many times about her faith. To consider her actions on that bus as purely humanist, without inspiration from the Christian religion, is narrow.
posted by GilloD at 7:20 AM on January 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


I hope his actions amount to something other than a few articles in the first month of the year...

So far, there are thousands of articles in worldwide media ... with more to come, I'm sure.
posted by ericb at 7:25 AM on January 3, 2010


I think We would say that the lakotas 'bullet proof' shirts were foolish.

This guy is just as foolish, and he doesn't get a pass for being Christian. If he wanted to help he could have done a lot better than suicide.
posted by dibblda at 7:29 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


What concerns me is the Park's meddling has material impact on current diplomatic activity. As stated above, his stunt is "an unnecessary encumbrance" to current negotiations for talks, etc. with North Korea and other parties. Since the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, the Swedish embassy which represents U.S. interests there is already seeking to meet with Park.
"Park, a US citizen of Korean ancestry, claimed he had seen a vision from God of North Korea's liberation and redemption, his colleagues said, adding that Park crossed the border shouting "I came here to proclaim God's love.'"*
I'm all for international diplomatic efforts -- much of which happens "behind the scenes" -- over the religious zealotry of one individual. Park's meddling only interferes with the efforts of som many.
posted by ericb at 7:36 AM on January 3, 2010


Giloo,

Does your god exist on a case by case basis? Who are you to judge the intent and actions of your god, as stated and demonstrated by his believers? Isn't the consideration of context on a case by case basis moral relativism? Christianity is not compatible with moral relativism, right?

You invoked Rosa Parks to equate today's atheists with yesterday's racists. I don't doubt that AME churches were significant in the movement, but only because the rest of the southern christians would not let blacks into their churches. God was OK with that, I guess. There were also an awful lot of nonchristians in that movement, as I recall.

tl;dr: Anyone can believe anything they want. I object to using religion as the basis for public policy.

I will regretfully have to bow out of further discussion for the moment.

brb, church.
posted by minimii at 7:43 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


To consider her actions on that bus as purely humanist, without inspiration from the Christian religion, is narrow.

Rosa Parks said in interview that she did it because "[she] was just plain tired, and [her] feet hurt".
posted by fritley at 7:44 AM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Background on the diplomatic history of the countries (United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan) seeking 'Six-Party Talks' with North Korea.

December 16, 2009: Obama wrote letter to N. Korean leader, official says
"President Obama wrote a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that a U.S. envoy delivered, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, delivered the letter for the North Korean leader during a three-day visit to North Korea last week, the official said.

The official declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Bosworth noted last week that, during his visit, he 'communicated President Obama's view that complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a fundamental undertaking of the six-party process ... and that the absence of progress on denuclearization is an obstacle to improving our relations.'"
posted by ericb at 7:46 AM on January 3, 2010


I applaud Mr. Park's conviction and his willingness to sacrifice for his beliefs. I also appreciate his concern for his fellow humans - we need more people like him. But I still think that entering North Korea like he did was a foolish and empty gesture. It gives the North Korean government a bargaining chip and hopelessly complicates the fragile diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and the DPRK.

He said "I don't want President Obama to come and pay to get me out." But that's not up to him, really. The article also mentions that his family is working with the State Department to secure his release. What are they going to do, just leave him there and wash their hands of him? That's not how it works. Yes, the Obama administration probably won't be willing to give up anything substantial to bargain him out of there, but they will likely have to give up something to secure his release, if he wants it or not. And that's score one for the North Korean regime, the exact opposite of what he wants.

This is the reason that I view the "divine inspiration" impetus as problematic in general, because it doesn't tend to allow for a complete thinking through of the ultimate implications of a specific action.
posted by gemmy at 7:47 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Park's actions aside, to what extent is really achievable through diplomatic exchanges between the US and North Korea? It seems that the history of these talks over the last fifteen to twenty years has essentially been for North Korea to win short term benefits in exchange for concessions that they can or do pull back from quite easily. If talks with North Korea are done essentially to prevent a maniac with a gun pointed at friend's head from pulling the trigger, then I'm not sure how Mr. Park's actions will really affect things. Would North Korea really attack South Korea if we ignored it? Or if we are engaging purely to be able to help the people of North Korea, then the presence of Mr. Park again doesn't seem to be much of a factor.

It does seem to me that a generation of diplomatic strategy with North Korea has amounted to little but the status quo and no real change or improvement.
posted by Atreides at 7:48 AM on January 3, 2010


North Korea extends olive branch to U.S. in New Year's message.

We'll see how much they mean it.
posted by ericb at 8:06 AM on January 3, 2010


I find the dialogue here on this one person's approach to his religious beliefs a little odd. Belief and uncalculated hope is something we can all share, whether we are atheists or not. I mean, I don't get why this guy would do this, and his statements will never convince me to do anything similar, but all I see is a rather zealous young man who has taken his own beliefs and political understandings to their inevitable conclusions. (There but for the grace of Zeus go I &etc.)

Religious belief and political ideology is a dangerous mix, and leads to some (to me) pretty odd choices. But I have to recognize that I just don't feel strongly about these things. I may not believe in any sort of god, but I do believe in the variety of human experience. And that variety is expressed in a great many ways, and always has been.

What harm has this person done with his personal expression of sacrifice and martyrdom? North Korea should be in the news, because the country is a fucking mess and its government is a corrupt and broken state. We can argue for years about the right way to correct this, or whether or not we should correct this at all. The fact that one person has made the personal the political should be a surprise to no one.

Once upon a time Americans used the same notions of personal/political to effect change in the American south. There was plenty of dialogue back then that these people were dangerous and stupid (maybe crazy) radicals that were making pointless gestures. There were gallons of ink spilled over how to best approach the unique problems of the south, and the so-called "negro problem." Others decided to take a more direct approach, and they were informed by their beliefs when making this choice.

Of course, the problems of North Korea on the global stage today are different than the racial issues of another time in the US. But the same sort of zealous, crazy, insane, martyred, futile thinking is going to drive folks to make similar political statements in the name of their religion.

Indeed, we should consider that, for these people, it is insane not to fulfill the requirements of their creed to stand by and watch their neighbours be stripped of their rights because of their geopolitical location.

As long as they are not harming children or small animals, these actions are no more hurtful to you and I than going to church. An action I see as a waste of a day off, but ultimately has nothing to do with me. Religion may be dangerous in and of itself, but no more dangerous than an atheist (i.e., me) participating in a global economy he has little control over, but which still makes radical changes to millions of lives.

Some people find strength and solace in being able to effect change in such a hopeless scenario. I can help but salute these folks for this.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:14 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Other interesting points of North Korea's New Year's message beyond stating their consideration of restarting the stalled multilateral talks and seeking better relations with South Korea and the United States:
"Other noticeable points of the message were the regime's emphasis on the economy.

'Pyongyang, for the first time in many years, has put more focus on the economy than the military,' [Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies] said.

North Korea is seen to be under the influence of an ongoing global financial crisis.

Conditions are expected to have worsened in the wake of stringent sanctions laid down by the U.N. after the North conducted its second nuclear test in May last year.

The unfavorable economic climate is part of the reason Pyongyang is so eager to mend fences with Seoul, experts said, as inter-Korean projects have served the North well financially.

'There is also a political twist to the North's focus on the economy and cooperation with others,' Professor Yang said. 'It is all proof that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is desperate to stabilize his state before relinquishing his throne.'"
posted by ericb at 8:20 AM on January 3, 2010


I hope his actions amount to something other than a few articles in the first month of the year...

There are some pretty hardcore Christians in SK. If they could get themselves organised such that they sent in one martyr per month on an ongoing basis I think this could actually get somewhere.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:22 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rosa Park may not be the best example. Martin Luther King may be a better example of someone protesting abuses because of his religious convictions.

He stated his reasoning: There has never been a mass demonstration for North Korean human rights and there needs to be.

Considering the human rights abuses occuring in the country, he has a point. I can't say I'm impressed with the argument that the diplomats are handling everything, so just stay home and don't worry your little heads about it. Using that argument, the segregation and abuses in South Africa and even the US would probably still exist.
posted by eye of newt at 8:28 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


If this guy somehow jumpstarts a revolution that ends the North Korean regime...

North Korea's "state run media [has been silent]" on Mr. Park, so there's likely only a handful of government and military officials there who are aware that he is even in the country and being held.

It's kinda hard to start a revolution in a regime that controls communication and about most everything else.
posted by ericb at 8:51 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't say I'm impressed with the argument that the diplomats are handling everything, so just stay home and don't worry your little heads about it.

Neither am I. While my normal stance in reaction to things like this is skepticism (I am not religious) and frustration (there really are smart, talented people whose whole jobs are working on these problems), I have to say that I am appalled at how deeply passivity seems to have infected American culture. North Koreans are real people who are really suffering, and Robert Park has--in the American conception, anyway--every right in the world to say and do something about it. We have never needed anyone's permission to speak up for victims of power or to stand up to injustice, and while Park's actions may or may not be an effective way to respond to the suffering occurring every day in North Korea, at least he's doing something.

No matter how much governments and corporations try to convince us that we are each, individually, powerless and therefore collectively in their hands (or at their mercy), it is not true. Change happens when people demand that change happens, and until there are mass, popular protests against what happens every day in DPRK, I doubt there will be any progress.

Robert Park's actions may not spark such a movement, but he's trying something, and I find it hard at the end of the day to really be too critical.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:56 AM on January 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think the correlations with the US civil rights movement are off, because this guy (although Korean-American) is basically an outsider with no base in the country. Actual North Koreans are liable to hear next to nothing about him, and even if they did his Bible-talk would come across as bizarre and culturally meaningless. Any attention he stands to gain is from outside, where the most we can do is cut off aid- starving people.

A revolution, if any, will come through crisis from within.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:07 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Claiming that your actions are directed by a personal communique from your invisible sky friend undercuts any persuasive authority they might otherwise have.

My invisible sky friend gives me personal communications. My doctors call it Left Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and give me prescriptions for it. I certainly don't make decisions based upon those communications. So far, no matter how bad the seizure, my sky friend hasn't told me to do crazy shit like walk into N. Korea.
posted by _paegan_ at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


What harm has this person done with his personal expression of sacrifice and martyrdom?

I appreciate your overall point. I may think this guy is insane, but I understand why he has admirers. But a former state department official flat-out said that he was an "unnecessary encumbrance" (thanks, ericb, for the additional reading) and it seems to me that the time, resources, money, and negotiations that are going to go into getting Parks released, whether he likes it or not, could indeed be better spent actually trying to fix North Korea.

This is a fascinating gesture though. Thanks, paladin.
posted by juliplease at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2010


Wow, I really don't get the hate. So he's religiously inspired, so what? What he's doing is a good thing, regardless of how he was inspired. He's not putting anyone in harms way except himself. The "Fuck this guy" stuff is completely incomprehensible. Why exactly do you have a problem with what he's doing? What negative consequences are there from his actions that you take exception too?

Slightly more complicated negotiations if the U.S. tries to focus on his release despite his wishes? The U.S. could just ignore it, which would have been in keeping with his wishes anyway. And this will certainly increase awareness of his issue.

--
A lot of the support for N.K really comes from China. If China was as interested in reform in North Korea as everyone else, they could really put the screws to it. They cut off an oil pipeline a while back over some issue and the North Koreans turned right around. Unfortunately I don't think the Chinese are exactly amenable to public pressure.
Part of the reason that North Korean people feel as they do was because of the way that their country was carpet bombed by the US, killing millions of civilians, during the civil war. This resulted in almost total devastation of their country and plays a dominant part in shaping the national ideology -- not just for the regime, but also for ordinary people over there.
Actually I belive South Korea was worse off after the war.
Given this history -- not in the dim and distant past, but within living memory for many Koreans -- the idea that a sole American religious zealot could just wander across the border and somehow jumpstart a revolution might be the single most inane suggestion I've ever read on Metafilter.
Well, his point was to raise awareness in the U.S, China, Japan and South Korea. He wants western governments to apply more pressure.
It's kinda hard to start a revolution in a regime that controls communication and about most everything else.
Right, but his point was to raise awareness in In South Korea The U.S, and other countries. Amazing that this simple point seems so hard for so many people to grasp.
posted by delmoi at 9:43 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although I would never do something like Park has, I understand his impulse. If you are working on a very large and difficult goal (say, religious or political freedom for North Koreans), you very quickly run up against the limits of your own abilities to affect change. It's one of the worst parts of activism, the feeling that you yourself can do so very little to make change happen, no matter how badly it's needed, no matter how hard you work. And so the desire to do something spectacular--walk into North Korea, confront a Russian whaling boat, set yourself on fire, stand in front of a tank in Tianamen Square--can become overwhelming. At least if you die, you know you did everything you could, you are not tormented by guilt or regret.

I'm not saying this is a healthy attitude, (suicide bombers are just one variant) but it's certainly not all that unusual in human history. Sometimes it does have an effect, sometimes it is just a tragic footnote.

Rosa Parks was not a martyr, though she was a brave woman willing to risk jail, but her actions were part of a careful strategy by the local civil-rights activists.
posted by emjaybee at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


But a former state department official flat-out said that he was an "unnecessary encumbrance"
An encumbrance in nuclear negotiations, that have (as far as I know) nothing to do with human rights. Indeed, every carrot we give them as an incentive to give up their nukes makes dealing with the human rights more difficult.

Not that I'm opposed to N.K giving up their nukes, but the Obama administration's goals and his are not the same anyway. But I doubt it will have much of an effect anyway.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 AM on January 3, 2010


South Korean Born-again Christians have been a pest before (e.g. in Afghanistan). That said, the tone here is really somewhat shocking. I'm more godless than anyone here, and I can recognize a noble intent, whatever about the utility, of this guy's actions. None of you hold your precious beliefs without some kind of framework, or faith, or conviction. His is Christian, but he sure as hell is not going there to talk about transsubstantiation or immaculate conception.
posted by fcummins at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wish I was brave enough to act this way about something so important.

Shame on you people who are blaming him for trying to bring even the smallest amount of positive change, or even just attention to this debacle. His motivation here isn't to spread the Good News, to you or to anyone else, his motivation is to help an entire nation of people who are living in a massive prison which is subsidized with your tax dollars, pounds and euros. That is a Good Thing. He isn't Geraldo doing the whole thing as a stunt for his TV show, he is driven by compassion love and concern for his fellow human beings. If you can't see that, then I feel sorry for you.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:27 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rosa Parks is the wrong model here. This is more George Fox.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:38 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I gotta say I'm puzzled by people who think this is a great thread to pop into with anti-Christian rhetoric. Yeah, this dude probably has a screw loose, but in this situation, that's not the problem. Old-school "lol internally inconsistent invisible sky god" smack talk seems quite petty in this context.
posted by kathrineg at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


An encumbrance in nuclear negotiations, that have (as far as I know) nothing to do with human rights.

It's true that North Korea's nuclear weapons program is the primary issue for the proposed Six-Party Talks. The U.S., however, also remains focused on other issues such as human rights abuses, biological and chemical weapons programs, ballistic missile programs and proliferation, terrorism, and illicit activities. There are many who believe that human rights should be integral to the talks. For example, in 2008, Jay Lefkowitz, the American special envoy for human rights in North Korea under George W. Bush "called into question the logic of separating the issues of human rights for North Koreans from security issues. He called for constructive engagement with North Korea in which the link between human rights and other issues is 'specific and non-severable.'

Lefkowitz's would like to see American relations with North Korea evolve into something along the lines of the 'Helsinki process,' which linked progress on human rights issues to dealings between Western governments and the Soviet Union starting in the late 1970s.

...Under his approach, economic aid would be possible, but it would be tied to 'tangible, verifiable progress' on human rights and other issues of concern. In his preference for results rather than more unimplemented agreements, Lefkowitz's position is not far from that of incoming South Korean President Lee Myung-bak."*

I hope such is possible, if efforts to get folks at the table are successful.
posted by ericb at 10:47 AM on January 3, 2010


Rosa Parks said in interview that she did it because "[she] was just plain tired, and [her] feet hurt".

You should've read the rest of your link:
The portrayal of Rosa Parks as a poor, tired and frail woman who “snapped” is not only false; it disregards the years of strategic planning by Civil Rights Movement activists and misrepresents the way in which meaningful social change actually occurs.

Though Rosa Parks became the focal point of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the idea for a boycott was conceived at least six years before her arrest. In 1949, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, an English professor and head of the Women’s Political Council (WPC), was ejected from a bus for refusing to move seats and resolved to do something about bus segregation. During the ensuing years, the WPC prepared to stage a bus boycott “when the time was ripe and the people were ready.” In the months prior to Parks’ arrest, at least three other African American people had been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats to white people. When Rosa Parks was arrested, movement leaders made a strategic decision to launch the boycott because they felt Mrs. Parks had the respect and support of her community as well as the fortitude to withstand the racism and publicity that the boycott would generate. emphasis mine
While I admire and empathize with Robert Park's determination to do something to bring attention to the human rights abuses in North Korea, and to spur the world's governments to push harder for change, I think he vastly underestimates the power that any single individual has in situations like this.

Rosa Parks does not seem to me to have been interested in martyrdom. I'm not so sure about Mr. Park.
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]




I seriously doubt that Park will spark a revolution... but, and this is a big but, he might be one of those first small pebbles that foretell an eventual revolution, and if there ever is such a thing in N Korea it will come from small people.

As too the huff duff stupid Christians... well there IS a reason I identify myself as a-relgious and not atheist. It seems more and more that atheism is just a marker for non-believer-with-a-stick-up-their-ass.
posted by edgeways at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm as atheist as they come, but this guy seems to me the best kind of Christian. One who actually takes the Gospel seriously. I wish all Christians had this guy's courage and decency. Hell, I wish everyone had this guy's courage and decency.

Bonus Snark: I'd like to start a collection to send a few thousand more Christians over there, starting with Robertson and Dobson.
posted by empath at 11:17 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, btw, he comes across as eminently sane to me. North Korea is a horror show, and the fact that he rest of the world has been letting it fester -- in fact subsidizing it, is a tragedy. And South Korea, China and the US, because of fears of what would happen if the government collapsed has been complicit.
posted by empath at 11:22 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


GODDAMN I HATE PEOPLE WITH THE COURAGE OF THEIR CONVICTIONS FUCK THAT GUY FOR GIVING A SHIT ABOUT OTHER HUMAN BEINGS

WHAT'S ON TV
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2010 [14 favorites]


Reading some of the snarky responses in this thread reminds me of a conversation I had with a few American friends recently. We were talking about the difference between attitudes toward protest in Asia (specifically Korea, China and Japan) and in the United States. The general consensus was that in Asia, extreme self-sacrifice in protest is still often considered admirable. In the US, especially among the cultural elite, it often isn't.

I think this lack of admiration for self-sacrifice extends across the professional class. When a friend of mine was in public policy graduate school, they ran a couple of decision simulations. Some of them were designed to put the the students in hypothetical life and death situations.

In one of them, my friend (who grew up part of his life in E. Asia) and a classmate came up with a solution that would allow everyone in the group to survive, except two people who would have to sacrifice themselves so everyone else could live. My friend and his classmate volunteered to be the two people. The other students were apparently horrified by this, and the instructor stopped the simulation and refused to allow my friend and his classmate to proceed with their plan. My friend's classmate was a Japanese national.

I was born in the US and have lived here most of my life, and I still don't understand how people can mock a person who chooses to lay down his life for others on the small chance that it will have a positive benefit.

While the professional and bohemian classes may mock self-sacrifice, I can say from personal experience that among blue collar workers and the military, it is still venerated. Make of that what you will.
posted by wuwei at 11:40 AM on January 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


BTW -- Dr. Robert R. King is the current Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues.

You can read his statement as nominee before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (November 5, 2009) here.

Wikipedia entry: Human Rights in North Korea.
posted by ericb at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2010


Wuwei says to act,
And then my head exploded.
And then I was not.
posted by Splunge at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2010


Ah but Splunge, it's about non-acting acting, or acting without acting. =)
posted by wuwei at 12:11 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem here isn't the self-sacrifice, it's that the guy doesn't have a solid plan for positive change and is much more likely to simply make things worse than anything else. North Korea will probably just nab him and be like 'Look! We caught an infiltrator! Everything we've been telling you is true!' The guy will never have an opportunity to even explain to the North Koreans why he's there. Hell, if he ever successfully explained it to anyone other than an interrogator, the government would probably kill them.

Good intentions are not enough - they must be intelligently implemented. This plan is not and is much more likely to make things worse than better.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:13 PM on January 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


In a month ask the average North Korean: "Who is Robert Park? What happened at our border on the frozen Tumen river (China) on December 25, 2009 -- also known as Christmas Day elsewhere in the world?" Very few will be able to answer correctly.

In a month ask the average U.S. citizen: "Who is Robert Park? What happened at North Korea's border on the frozen Tumen river (China) on Christmas Day, 2009?" A very small percentage of the population will be able to answer correctly. How much of the populace is even aware of and following U.S. foreign policy and events?
posted by ericb at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2010


How much of the populace is even aware of and following U.S. foreign policy and events?

Exhibit A: Jay Leno's 'Jaywalking' videos.
posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2010


Video: Jersey Shore cast joins Jay for Jaywalk All-Stars.
posted by ericb at 12:41 PM on January 3, 2010


Of course NK is a festering sore. Of course anyone who tries to do something about it should not be condemned or held in contempt. But this does not absolve us from seeing things in context. I would not criticize or mock him. But admire? Sorry, I don't. It does make a huge difference what his motivations were. If he were someone whom a TV show promised $10 million if he pulled off this action, would you not have a different attitude? So, context is important. If he did this, purely because he was outraged by the conditions in NK - to me, he'd be a hero, whether he also happened to be religious or not. But when he puts his religiosity front and center as the prime motivator that I grow cold. Because I'd hope people would be good and ethical and just and empathetic from their own moral and psychological imperatives, and not because SuperCop in the sky is watching and ordering. I have met people who say "were it not for JC, I'd be a thief and rapist, drunkard whatever" - well, I guess I should be grateful you are a nutter in that particular way vs another way, but it does not engender any respect for you on my part. Because that's the trouble with folks whose prime motivation is religiously based - it can be used for good or for ill - like the 9/11 perpetrators. It's just a matter of luck of the draw that your particular religious interpretation - just as arbitrary as any other - leads to positive outcomes (as it does in this Parks case), rather than horrible ones. It's like a vicious dog - you're glad he mauled the thief, but it's still a vicious dog, and what if he one day turns on you? I'd rather than people's good deeds did not come from irrational and arbitrary grounds. That's my preference.

So, do I condemn him or have contempt or disapproval for this guy? Of course not. But I withhold the hosannas. And that's another thing - if you are religious, than isn't this your duty? I'm more impressed by someone who does it out of moral conviction fully taking on and cognizant of the full weight of the sacrifice. Because if you die, as a Christian in fulfilling your Christian duty, you believe you have heaven awaiting you - the giant reward, infinitely bigger than the $10 million from a TV show. And that's the difference. You are mercenary. You are in it for the prize, not for the inherent virtue of the cause. And I don't admire mercenaries, because they are in it for essentially selfish reasons - religious martyrs are to me the ultimate mercenaries. I guess we're lucky they happen to be on our side this time. And for that, I'm grateful - the twist of fate and luck - and for nothing else.
posted by VikingSword at 1:13 PM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oops, pardon the multiple typos "than" instead of "then" etc. - coffee time!
posted by VikingSword at 1:17 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


VikingSword, that's really not an accurate portrayal of the Christian concept of martyrdom (though who knows what any individual martyr is really motivated by).

Because I'd hope people would be good and ethical and just and empathetic from their own moral and psychological imperatives, and not because SuperCop in the sky is watching and ordering.

You know that pleasant glow you get when you do something nice, not self-satisfaction so much as happiness that you've helped another? Christians (and whoever) get that too! And generally speaking, that is much more their motivation than fear of SkyCop. Although of course, the idea that you will have to answer for your time on earth can add a little dollop of motivation, much as the idea that you will not want to be remembered as a raging bastard by all who knew you might motivate an atheist.

But no one should call you narcissistic for caring what people think of you. Likewise, if someone actually believes in God and thinks that God gave them a life that they are supposed to use in an ethical manner, that may be an inaccurate motivation, but it is not a bad one in principle.

And really, as an ex-believer, I can tell you, mercenary is not accurate either; the hope of heaven, however fervently you hold on to it, will never seem as real to you as the gun pointed at your head. That's what all the talk about "faith" was about, that very difficulty in actually believing that you were going to be rewarded and therefore you should Do the Horribly Difficult Thing instead of running away as fast as possible.
posted by emjaybee at 1:30 PM on January 3, 2010


In the summer of 2006 I rode a train up to Dandong, a city on China's border with North Korea, hopped on a bus to the Tiger Mountain Great Wall, and walked a ways down the river until it got narrow enough to swim across. I only stayed on the other side long enough to pose for a few pictures before I came scrambling back across the river. I was luckier (although probably more stupid) than Laura and Euna, as nothing came of it other than a couple guys on the Chinese side who'd seen me cross and gave me a lecture after establishing that I wasn't an escaping North Korean.

Despite the religious angle that he presents his mission with, and the likelihood that nothing will come out of it, I have to respect this guy. I wish I had half the cojones that he does.
posted by pravit at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2010


"the christian god told me to do it"
"...she knew and understood from her everyday life that...[she needed to...]"


It may not be obvious, but I think these are different language for the same thing.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2010


You know that pleasant glow you get when you do something nice, not self-satisfaction so much as happiness that you've helped another? Christians (and whoever) get that too! And generally speaking, that is much more their motivation than fear of SkyCop.

Of course. And I acknowledge that:

"If he did this, purely because he was outraged by the conditions in NK - to me, he'd be a hero, whether he also happened to be religious or not."

Perhaps I was not clear enough, so I bolded that. I completely agree that Christians (and religious people in general) can act out of purely ethical motivations just as atheists can. And if that were the case here, I'd say fine: he's a hero. But that's not what is happening. He is putting the religious motivation front and center and the key motivator. That's exactly the opposite of what you and I are talking about. It IS the SkyCop and it is the 77 virgins (oops, wrong religion) - HEAVEN.

And really, as an ex-believer, I can tell you, mercenary is not accurate either; the hope of heaven, however fervently you hold on to it, will never seem as real to you as the gun pointed at your head. That's what all the talk about "faith" was about, that very difficulty in actually believing that you were going to be rewarded and therefore you should Do the Horribly Difficult Thing instead of running away as fast as possible.

Right - when we talk about a religious person doing an ethical thing, but not when we are talking about someone for whom the religious aspect is front and center - as it is here. Then, the expectation of reward - as so many suicide bombers and other "martyrs" have explicitly stated - is central. It's SKYCOP AND HIS DIKTATS, and it is HEAVEN or virgins or whatever. That's the problem here. It's great when it works for your side, but not so great otherwise.
posted by VikingSword at 1:40 PM on January 3, 2010


VikingSword: "It's just a matter of luck of the draw that your particular religious interpretation - just as arbitrary as any other - leads to positive outcomes (as it does in this Parks case), rather than horrible ones. "

You can't deny that absent a true god, the god one creates is very much a function of one's personality, one's experiences and one's moral character. Park's god is rather kick-ass, if I may say so myself, and good for him.
posted by kathrineg at 1:43 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Then, the expectation of reward - as so many suicide bombers and other "martyrs" have explicitly stated - is central.

Meh, you can go to heaven pretty easy as a modern American Christian. I don't think you need a passport. Maybe just an enhanced state ID.
posted by kathrineg at 1:46 PM on January 3, 2010


From the second link:

I am Christian, but I do have to say that this is not a legitimate government.

This is close to the definition of a non sequitur.
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:57 PM on January 3, 2010


.
posted by Lobster Garden at 2:01 PM on January 3, 2010


inoculatedcities, I thought he was referring to the render-unto-ceasar-what-is-cesar's bit.
posted by kathrineg at 2:14 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


While the professional and bohemian classes may mock self-sacrifice, I can say from personal experience that among blue collar workers and the military, it is still venerated.

Unlike many on Metafilter and in this thread, I'm not a foreign policy specialist. But I am curious how, exactly, this individual really affects diplomacy, since the West is giving the NK government more or less everything that Kim Jong-il bullies the rest of the world for, anyway. How much more complacent can the United States get about how it handles North Korea, by virtue of Robert Park being held captive?

I understand the snark on some level, but I don't understand how it changes diplomacy. Can someone explain this truthfully?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


when we talk about a religious person doing an ethical thing, but not when we are talking about someone for whom the religious aspect is front and center - as it is here. Then, the expectation of reward - as so many suicide bombers and other "martyrs" have explicitly stated - is central.

Hm. Well, I suppose the difference I was trying to tease out was, actual mercenaries don't feel much doubt about whether they'll get paid; there is not any faith required, though perhaps some risk that they'll get screwed on the deal.

Whereas promises of heaven/virgins/what have you cannot not be proven, and if you don't get them, there's not another job you can get later on.

I think what I was also trying to highlight was the role of despair as a driving force, instead of greed, for martyrdom. Even devout Christians are not generally eager for death, no matter how much they believe in rewards afterwards. My speculation was that it's desperation and despair at all other forms of action that drives many martyrs. And mental illness, brainwashing by cult leaders, etc. In order to walk eagerly into the next world, you have to already have given up on this one.
posted by emjaybee at 2:44 PM on January 3, 2010


"Park, a US citizen of Korean ancestry, claimed he had seen a vision from God of North Korea's liberation and redemption, his colleagues said, adding that Park crossed the border shouting "I came here to proclaim God's love.'"

That's why there is snark for what is essentially a brave action, when taken in the context of an athiest worldview.

Vikingsword has made this point better than I can. When taken in a religous context he is wishing for death, and hurrying his ascent to heaven (which I understand is supposed to be a nice place to go to if you are religous)..... nice work if you can get it.

We medicate many people who have visions, who try to commit suicide, who claim to speak to invisible 'friends' - i've always wondered how the distinction is made in the borderline cases, 'cos of course there must be a line somewhere (even if it is not consciously drawn).

This case is the 'harmless' end of what scares me about religion. Its already been pointed out that the islamic martyrs who perpetrated the 911 atrocities were acting in exactly the same mode as this fella - ie. fulfilling their view of what it means to be a committed muslim, just as Parks is fulfilling his view of what it means to be a christian.

And therein lies the fear, my fear. Without a rational framework (and faith denies rational analysis) it is impossible to draw a distinct line between mad and religous. Now clearly I am talking about the borderline cases. The maddest of the mad and the St Theresa's are fairly easy to classify, but somewhere along the way there are some very scary acts that some people think are OK while the rest of us wince.

This man is, in my opinion, closer to the St Theresa camp than the out and out nutters, but I just wish he was doing it as a result of rational analysis not religous vision.

It has already become a matter of pride for some Christian's across the world (read the comment section in the reuters article) and because Christianity scares me I understand the snark.
posted by Boslowski at 3:00 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


what a moron. if the north koreans sentenced him to a little jailtime and then kicked him out I wouldn't exactly be outraged.
posted by krautland at 3:07 PM on January 3, 2010


Even if I think Park is on a fool's errand, I can't really find fault in a Christian deciding to walk the talk. As for being an encumbrance or impediment to progress in NK, he's small beer compared to the fucking madman who owns that horror show.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2010


someone needs to do a peacewalk into a couple of parents basements.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:26 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That a person lays down their life does not make their action noble, nor their cause worthy. Surrendering yourself to totalitarian maniacs because you've got the idea in your head that it's somehow the right thing to do doesn't make you a hero or someone with courage or morality. It makes you fucking stupid.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:28 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]



In a month ask the average North Korean: "Who is Robert Park?
....
In a month ask the average U.S. citizen: "Who is Robert Park?
posted by ericb


If he can manage to get people in South Korea (if nowhere else) actually start protesting the inhumane conditions that the North Koreans are having to endure, and if North Koreans listen to such radio stations as Free North Korea Radio (a bit if, I admit) then maybe the answers may not be what you think. Certainly that is what Robert Park is hoping for, in any case.

But if everyone just dismisses him and what is happening in North Korea, then maybe it is all for nought.
posted by eye of newt at 3:31 PM on January 3, 2010


Go ahead, poke NK a tiny bit closer to collapse.

See how well China likes it when you do that.

NK won't be changing any time soon. It's far too useful as-is.
posted by aramaic at 3:35 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


nought/naught and others--sorry for all the bad grammer
posted by eye of newt at 3:38 PM on January 3, 2010




BTW in a separate, but related issue there have recently been "reports of protest and violence in Pyongyang among members of a small but restive middle class" regarding North Korea's "drastic reform of its currency in what's widely viewed as an attempt to control a growing black market and curbing runaway inflation."
posted by ericb at 3:56 PM on January 3, 2010


If he did this, purely because he was outraged by the conditions in NK - to me, he'd be a hero, whether he also happened to be religious or not. But when he puts his religiosity front and center as the prime motivator that I grow cold. Because I'd hope people would be good and ethical and just and empathetic from their own moral and psychological imperatives, and not because SuperCop in the sky is watching and ordering. - Vikingsword

Did you read the interview? He states the conditions of the North Korean populace as the reason. He's doing this to spark protests for what's happening to the people who are suffering.

Its already been pointed out that the islamic martyrs who perpetrated the 911 atrocities were acting in exactly the same mode as this fella - ie. fulfilling their view of what it means to be a committed muslim, just as Parks is fulfilling his view of what it means to be a christian. -Boslowski

Your comparison is not the best. The terrorists on 9/11 intentionally killed themselves for their religion and expected reward in Heaven. A Christian does not seek death, but accepts it if it should occur. There's a difference, perhaps a thin line, but a difference nonetheless. The whole Crusader aspect of fighting for Christianity arose out of the Pope looking for warriors to fight for his cause, and by proclaiming that those who did would go to Heaven. While my memory is poor, I don't recall Jesus saying anything to that nature.

Mr. Park didn't enter North Korea to die and become a martyr. He's ready for it, should it happen, but he's putting his faith in God for the best possible result.
posted by Atreides at 3:58 PM on January 3, 2010


If he can manage to get people in South Korea (if nowhere else) actually start protesting the inhumane conditions that the North Koreans are having to endure...

It's not like South Koreans haven't been protesting North Korea on behalf of their friends, families and unknown neighbors to the north since 1953.
posted by ericb at 3:59 PM on January 3, 2010


eye of newt: If he can manage to get people in South Korea (if nowhere else) actually start protesting the inhumane conditions that the North Koreans are having to endure...

It will accomplish nothing. The South Koreans don't have the ability to stop the North and the North Koreans won't be allowed to learn of the protests.

...and if North Koreans listen to such radio stations as Free North Korea Radio (a bit if, I admit) then maybe the answers may not be what you think.

I'm willing to bet that every radio receiver that the average peon is allowed to have in NK is fixed-frequency to the government propaganda channel. And of course, most probably don't have one at all.

But if everyone just dismisses him and what is happening in North Korea, then maybe it is all for nought.

It's for less than naught. The NKs will parade him about as a captured spy, talk about how the rest of the world hates them and is evil, and reinforce the xenophobia of the population. Maybe they'll ransom him back for either money or concessions (even if he said he didn't want to be rescued, it's pretty easy to argue that he was mentally ill when he said that.) He has turned himself into a propaganda prop or a hostage for the enemy and accomplished nothing but making things worse. All with the best of intentions.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:01 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


nought/naught and others--sorry for all the bad grammer

That'd be 'grammar.' : )
posted by ericb at 4:02 PM on January 3, 2010


Your comparison is not the best. The terrorists on 9/11 intentionally killed themselves......

If you read my post again I think you will find that we are not dissagreeing (at least not on this small part). I simply point out that he is excercising his interpretation of his christian duty, in the same way that on 911 a bunch of muslims excercised their interpretation of their muslim duty.

Now, the fact that, in my opinion his actions carry a high likelihood of death, and the fact that he has stated clearly that he does not want to be rescued, lead me to extrapolate and classify his actions as martyrdom.

It may not be, of course, but that is my opinion. And it doesn't matter, which way lies the truth (martyr or not) because this greyness, this lack of clear objectivity is what scares me.

Religion is scary precisley because there is no rational framework to analyse what is happening. I make it clear that I do not consider his actions harmful, and for the record I clearly believe that the actions on 911 were harmful (of course).

The connection and the comparison (which I think is absolutely the best, precisely because one was so massively impactful and one likely won't be) is that both are human interpretations of heavenly imperative. And try as you like there is no clear way to judge these scenarios.

Such stuff clears the way for moments of horror such as 911. The snark exists because the day to day acceptance of divine instruction in circmustances such as Mr Parks is no different to the divine instruction that led to 911. They are both unprovable and rely on faith.

Allowing the trivial while decrying the impactful simply perpetuates the overall mechanic.
posted by Boslowski at 4:39 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yikes grammar--my mind isn't working today.

But your links prove my point. A small handful of people marching is not the same as world outrage. In Darfur there were perhaps 200,000 deaths. In North Korea, about 2 million people have starved to death since 1995. How many more to come?

It just doesn't get the attention it deserves, and it is admirable if someone is willing to risk his life to get more people to see what is happening.

But don't protest too much, or Kim Jong-il may get upset and reverse the all the diplomatic progress made so far, (/sarcasm) which is typical of someone used to getting what he wants through bullying.
posted by eye of newt at 5:01 PM on January 3, 2010


But when he puts his religiosity front and center as the prime motivator that I grow cold. Because I'd hope people would be good and ethical and just and empathetic from their own moral and psychological imperatives, and not because SuperCop in the sky is watching and ordering.

This comment betrays an unfortunate misunderstanding of Christianity and Park's interpretation in particular. My first point: a rational self-interested person would never do what he is doing, and therefore we must consider that maybe there are better ways of living than that. His motivations are (I guess) the teachings of Jesus, which basically put self-sacrifice above all else, hence the Golden Rule. If we were all willing to give more than we take, to put others above ourselves, then we would basically reach "nirvana" or whatever you want to call it, God's kingdom on earth, the garden of Eden, etc. Of course, that's an impossible goal, which Jesus himself acknowledged (in both claiming to be supernatural, and acknowledging the flaws in other humans, and loving them despite it). This message has nothing to do with dogma or religion - it's a simple way of living, and you don't have to believe Jesus was the son of god to accept the ideas as good ones. I'm an atheist myself, but I understand Park's motivations, and they are as close to Jesus as one could imagine. It's unfortunate that martyrdom has become almost synonymous with terrorism these days, as the meaning is really about putting self-interest aside for the good of humanity (not a select portion of humanity which happens to worship the same God as you.) Park isn't stupid, he's not crossing the country to convert it to Catholicism or whatever. He knows that isn't going to happen.

Honestly, if Jesus Christ was alive today he would be accused of being an attention whore for being crucified and a communist for being against money-lenders and demanding forgiveness of debts. It's so very, very sad that most branches of Christianity have strayed so far from what Jesus actually taught.
posted by mek at 6:03 PM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Religion is scary precisley because there is no rational framework to analyse what is happening.

Sometimes rationality is the problem.
posted by empath at 6:26 PM on January 3, 2010


Because I'd hope people would be good and ethical and just and empathetic from their own moral and psychological imperatives,

I'd like people to do that, regardless of their reasons.
posted by empath at 6:28 PM on January 3, 2010


My first point: a rational self-interested person would never do what he is doing, and therefore we must consider that maybe there are better ways of living than that.

If he sincerely believes that Heaven is his reward, and we're not excluding that belief from rationality, this is a perfectly rational and self-interested act. If you believe in Heaven, in a perfect existence so profound and eternal that nothing on earth can compare, you have no reason to live. Having a Heaven-belief and acting with regard to one's own safety would be contradictory.

He's not losing his own comfort and life. He is, to his mind, gaining an eternity of bliss. That he endures pain, and causes pain to others, in this world is irrelevant. He is behaving in a way that, according to his own testimony, he would not behave if he did not believe that he was going to recieve the greatest possible reward for it. There is nothing commendable or noble or great about it. He is acting in his own self-interest.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's being a selfish jerk, in other words.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:33 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


delmoi writes: "A lot of the support for N.K really comes from China."

Not since about 1953. The North Korean regime from its inception has been considered a strange fish by Moscow and Beijing. Direct financial and military support hasn't been coming from China or Russia/former USSR for a long time. The trade routes out of northern DPRK with China are significant for the trickle of hard cash Pyongyang gets, but this isn't "support" "from China" in the sense you seem to imply. And the only reason China got involved in the Korean War directly (sending troops in) was to protect its own border.

As for Mr. Park, I think it's a stunt but I can't seriously fault him. Especially in the context of North/South Korean relations, it's probably something a lot of South Korean Christians will respond positively to in the sense of reminding them of the hardships in North Korea. (Of course, given the family ties between the two countries it's ridiculous to think that many South Koreans aren't deeply concerned with the wellfare of their fellow Koreans to the north already. It's not something South Koreans like to talk about with foreigners in my experience, but that often gets mistranslated as "they don't care.")

So in the long-run it's a gesture that will amount to little. But there's no way in hell Pyongyang will have the guy executed. They'll probably release some pictures of him and angle for another American bigwig a la Clinton to come over and play nice for some photo-ops with Dear Leader.

I'm not a Christian, but what we should all pray for is Kim Jong-il's cancer to metastasize/go malignant as soon as possible.
posted by bardic at 6:36 PM on January 3, 2010


inoculatedcities, I thought he was referring to the render-unto-ceasar-what-is-cesar's bit.

You might be right: we all know the well-established tendency of religious zealots to remove themselves from political debate.
posted by inoculatedcities at 6:53 PM on January 3, 2010


Pope Guilty, I don't disagree with your point, but I think you are putting words in his mouth and thoughts in his head. He hasn't claimed to be on a mission from God nor does he claim he will go to Heaven for his good deeds. Though he may believe that on some level, I don't think it's fair to assume so. In fact, it's an ad hominem to attribute these beliefs to him without any proof - and the only proof we do have shows him to be thoughtful and rational, not a religious zealot.
posted by mek at 7:10 PM on January 3, 2010


I'm not calling him a zealot. I'm calling him somebody who behaves as if he believes the things that nearly every Christian claims to believe.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:21 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This comment betrays an unfortunate misunderstanding of Christianity and Park's interpretation in particular. My first point: a rational self-interested person would never do what he is doing, and therefore we must consider that maybe there are better ways of living than that. His motivations are (I guess) the teachings of Jesus, which basically put self-sacrifice above all else, hence the Golden Rule.

PG already addressed a lot of this, so I won't bother repeating his argument, but I'll point out one thing: this is extremely presumptuous. You don't need to be religious to act selflessly, or to self-sacrifice. In fact, altruism, and acting to the detriment of one's own interests, but in favor of others or society (or "the group") is biologically based, and occurs in animals as low on the evolutionary scale as insects. And really, anyone whose taken even a most cursory look at history will be confronted with an infinite number of examples of people sacrificing their very lives for reasons that have nothing, but nothing to do with religion. Heck, tons of Communists, avowed atheists, sacrificed their lives for the sake of building a just society. Religion has no monopoly on sacrifice or altruism. Thinking otherwise betrays an unfortunate lack of understanding of biology, sociology, psychology or history.
posted by VikingSword at 7:28 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I said exactly that later in the same comment you quoted.
posted by mek at 7:57 PM on January 3, 2010


You don't need to be religious to act selflessly, or to self-sacrifice. In fact, altruism, and acting to the detriment of one's own interests, but in favor of others or society but in favor of others or society (or "the group") is biologically based, and occurs in animals as low on the evolutionary scale as insects. And really, anyone whose taken even a most cursory look at history will be confronted with an infinite number of examples of people sacrificing their very lives for reasons that have nothing, but nothing to do with religion.

Agreed, but in this case Park is motivated to do what he feels to be good work, despite the potential cost, by his faith. No one is claiming that his goals or actions are purer or better than someone whose secular philosophy would lead them to perform a similar act or that people who are keen on Jesus have a monopoly on altruism. His actions are a positive manifestation of his Christian beliefs. Laudable, regardless of their impetus or efficacy.

The claim that his eyes are on the after-life prize and therefore his mission is tainted is pretty sophomoric; while the promise of heaven may be a comfort to one undertaking an arduous endeavor (Shit, the same could be said of suicide bombers - none of them are blowing themselves up because they really, really, really want to score with a 72-angel harem), from the little we know about Park, it seems clear he is motivated by humanitarian concerns. If people are uncomfortable that those concerns are framed by a Christian viewpoint, they're entitled to their opinion, however myopic or puerile it may be.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:34 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


North Korea will probably just nab him and be like 'Look! We caught an infiltrator! Everything we've been telling you is true!

North Korea can (and probably does) say this whether or not anyone has tried to infiltrate North Korea that month.* Whaterver Mr. Park does, I doubt it will have a meaningful causal effect on North Korean media or the message it conveys.

* The irony being that North Korea has a history of infiltrating South Korea via tunnels and also of kidnapping people from Japan via submarine-based commando squads.
posted by zippy at 8:44 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the problem here is that people hold the false belief that they understand why they do things. Most people like to believe that the reason they are a good person (if they are a good person) has to do with their personal ethical, moral and belief systems, and that if others hold the same or similar belief systems, that they can understand them and better predict their behavior -- because they're essentially 'on the same team'.

So if an atheist sees a good and kind and decent person who claims to be a Christian, their fear is that the Christian, because they hold a belief system that would seem to be antithetical to their own is only pretending to be good, and at any moment, they could be forced by their belief system to do a bad thing (at least from the atheists point of view). I personally think that good people are just good people, and that they will assign meaning to their own good acts using whatever belief system is handy to them, but that the source of their good acts lies somewhere deep in the unexamined parts of their brains, not in their conscious beliefs.

I've known a few people in my life who I would classify as genuinely good -- the kind of people who just seem to improve the lives of everyone around them. Some of them have been Christian, some have been atheists, some, I don't know what their religions were. But all of them have a lot more in common with each other, than they do with their co-religionists -- Selflessness, a happy-go-lucky demeanor, generosity, curiousity about the world and other people, a live-and-let-live attitude, and so on.
posted by empath at 8:49 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed, but in this case Park is motivated to do what he feels to be good work, despite the potential cost, by his faith. No one is claiming that his goals or actions are purer or better than someone whose secular philosophy would lead them to perform a similar act or that people who are keen on Jesus have a monopoly on altruism. His actions are a positive manifestation of his Christian beliefs.

I'm not saying you're wrong, because I don't know him -- but there are lots of faithful Christians in the world who don't risk life and limb to make the world a better place. It simply cannot be his faith that leads him to do this. It may be his rationalization for why he does it, but I have a feeling that he'd be doing something similar no matter what his religion was.
posted by empath at 9:03 PM on January 3, 2010


I'm not saying you're wrong

In retrospect, my comment's pretty dang sloppy. I start out by saying faith is Park's motivator, but by the end my take is pretty similar to yours, with the humanitarian concerns within a Christian framework.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:53 PM on January 3, 2010


As someone who is agnostic, the "LOL STUPID CHRISTIANS" remarks in this thread seem incredibly juvenile.

I get the feeling the world could use not only fewer gaybashing fundies but also you guys as well.

The joys of indulging in self-righteousness rage seem pretty evenly spread, for the most part, regardless of whether someone believes in god or not. Good to know there will never be a shortage of it even if religion fades away.
posted by thisperon at 3:17 AM on January 4, 2010


I salute this man.

Last year there were mass demonstrations over the importing of US Beef.

That's not what they were about, really. Were you in Korea at the time?


I was. The protests against 2MB and his policies are and were ridiculous and show how out of touch many South Koreans are with the reality of their situation. I guess you'd rather support the embarrassing supplications towards North Korea of a president who threw himself off a cliff when confronted with evidence of his own financial corruption?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 4:10 AM on January 4, 2010


Presumptuous, I know, but god was overreaching when he made his divine revelation to Mr. Park, in that expecting someone to save an entire country, even a pestilent shithole run by a corrupt regime, is a pretty high hurdle in the miracle department. He really should have started small and worked his way up.
posted by minimii at 5:34 AM on January 4, 2010


Pope Guilty - aren't you essentially saying that any form of charity is done for the selfish reasons of the charitable person? Or does your hypothesis only apply when that good is done by someone in a religion that rewards good deeds?
posted by Atreides at 6:19 AM on January 4, 2010


No, I'm saying that believing in supernaturally-assured rewards and punishment makes a person internally a child and externally a jerk. There is such a thing as altruism. Religion is generally hostile to it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:11 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


"You'll get your reward once you're dead" has always sounded to me like the biggest con in the world. I still hope he makes it out somehow.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:19 PM on January 4, 2010


No, I'm saying that believing in supernaturally-assured rewards and punishment makes a person internally a child and externally a jerk.

Oy! Mad because the omniscient being gave us coal, are we?
posted by kathrineg at 3:38 PM on January 4, 2010


Oy! Mad because the omniscient being gave us coal, are we?

Ah, yes, the old "You're mad at God!" routine. It's a very cute derail, and this shouldn't surprise; the arguments in favor of religious belief- and more germanely, acting upon it- are so profoundly terrible that the usual response to anything other than "He did a thing other than blow people up, and he did it for his faith? Good for him!" tends to just be vicious dismissal such as this. You have contributed nothing whatsoever to this thread other than repeated efforts to derail the conversation because you didn't like the way it was going, and still have not, with this comment, made any addition in any way to the discussion. Contribute to the thread or leave it, I don't care, but shit in your toilet, not in Metafilter threads.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:51 PM on January 4, 2010


I am not going to bash this man's arguably misguided intentions for putting himself almost certainly into a death camp. My guess is that the North Korean government may use his release to get even more aid or leverage at future nuclear talk. The crux of this decades-long standoff is that neither South Korea nor China want to really see the DPRK lose its current government, as the result would surely be both countries being overrun with refugees. South Korea would bear a heavy portion of the cost of rebuilding a country completely devastated (not by the Korean War, as Peter McDermott would have you think, a war that North Korea instigated, by the way) but by years of mismanagement and lack of investment in economic infrastructure beyond the military-industrial complex. So right now we're looking at at dead-stop game of chicken. As far as North Korea is concerned, the war never ended. They have tens thousands of soldiers along the DMZ, whch is only 30 miles from Seoul, and nobody with half a brain is going to propose declaring war on North Korea to overthrow the government. The only way change can happen is that if the army and the general public are rocked by sufficient unrest to send Kim Jong-Il and his family to the firing squad. South Korea doesn't have much to do with it.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:39 PM on January 4, 2010


No, I'm saying that believing in supernaturally-assured rewards and punishment makes a person internally a child and externally a jerk. There is such a thing as altruism. Religion is generally hostile to it.

I'm having a hard time thinking of a constructive response to this pretty strong and somewhat hostile position, so I'll keep my own response limited.

I would counter that religion, rather than being hostile to altruistic acts, is the greatest origin for them. Virtually every major religion has some form of major foundation based upon doing well on others, be it Christianity, Hinduism, or Islam. One important element of Christianity, to take your preposition that good acts are done to gain entry into Heaven, is that good acts alone aren't good enough to garner such a reward. This is true for many other religions, while they teach that their followers should be charitable and do good, such acts are not enough for the followers to gain that reward. There's always something more, something more critical and important that these religions ask of those who follow.

Thus, post-death reward isn't established purely on these acts. Now instead of being hostile, I would suggest that religion lays down the ground work for followers to be altruistic. It's a door opener for the heart to be compassionate and caring. It creates the mind set that leads to more charitable acts.

Someone who isn't religious can feel and think the same way, but obviously, arrived at that point through a different means. Because someone has come to do good via a religious path, doesn't make their altruism any less than those who have done so by a secular one.

As for your comment on folks who choose to have faith, I hope someday you reconsider such a harsh position.
posted by Atreides at 6:44 PM on January 4, 2010


I didn't want to get back into this thread, but the following post is so deeply offensive, that something must be said:

One important element of Christianity, to take your preposition that good acts are done to gain entry into Heaven, is that good acts alone aren't good enough to garner such a reward. This is true for many other religions, while they teach that their followers should be charitable and do good, such acts are not enough for the followers to gain that reward. There's always something more, something more critical and important that these religions ask of those who follow.

This is revolting. You are right that "good acts alone aren't good enough to garner such a reward" - but I am flabbergasted that you should think this is a good thing in the context of Christianity. One of the most deeply repulsive things about Christianity is precisely this aspect. You do not gain access to heaven through good deeds - but only through professing your belief in JC. Nowhere has this obscenity been illustrated more clearly than the (possibly apocryphal event) when a WWII Nazi criminal was brought to Italy to face justice, and was met at the airport by a priest who convinced the criminal to "accept JC". A Rabbi who was there noted, that he himself, the Rabbi who tried to lead an exemplary life of good deeds would according to the priest be tortured in hell for all eternity, while the Nazi who accpets JC in the last months of his life is going straight to heaven according to strict Christian doctrine. You don't have to be a theologian to find this utterly contemptible. Because from a Christian perspective, a Jew who has done nothing but lead a saintly life, but who in his words explicitly rejected JC would be Tortured. For. All. Eternity. While Hitler, had he only accepted JC 5 seconds before croaking (had it been "of natural causes") would be crouching at God's enormous feet, in Heaven, for all eternity. That's entirely possible and supremely just according to Christian dogma.

Quite frankly, any mentality that can embrace such monstrosity, is to me beyond any human redemption. And as such, I find Christianity an especially odious affliction upon humanity, and anything done in its name, good or bad, is tainted.
posted by VikingSword at 7:24 PM on January 4, 2010


Dude, you don't know as much about Christianity as you think you know. People who believe that faith alone will get you into heaven but works alone will not are kinda meh, but I would not say that it is a consistent Christian position by any means. Of course I am not a Christian, Christian theologian, or theologian, so correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by kathrineg at 7:28 PM on January 4, 2010


You do not gain access to heaven through good deeds - but only through professing your belief in JC.

Well, to be fair, it was precisely the tension between those two ideas that was one of the roots of the Reformation, in that some banged their tables and declared "ACTS" and some did the same while shouting "BELIEF" (and some bright sparks weren't so sure either way), so you'd do well to wind back the blanket statements a bit, maybe.

I am in no way Christian in terms of my own beliefs (or lack thereof), but I do think it's right to treat them fairly when discussing theirs.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2010


Well, to be fair, it was precisely the tension between those two ideas that was one of the roots of the Reformation, in that some banged their tables and declared "ACTS" and some did the same while shouting "BELIEF" (and some bright sparks weren't so sure either way), so you'd do well to wind back the blanket statements a bit, maybe.

Of course there are a myriad sects and divisions in every religion including Christianity. But the fact remains that a very prominent and politically powerful segment (many Evangelicals in the U.S.) are totally onboard with that idea. So it is only fair, allowing for exceptions of course, as always in everything. And I do have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Park is more toward that end of Christianity, than, say, an Orthodox. So it is quite relevant in this case, seems to me.
posted by VikingSword at 7:39 PM on January 4, 2010


Robert Park is a Christian. Does that really make a wide-ranging dismissal of Christianity, based on beliefs which Mr. Park may not even share, relevant? So you think Christians are douchebags with stupid beliefs. Okay. Is it going to add anything to the conversation? It's like those asshole who come into any discussion of atheism with OMG THOSE FUCKING HATEFUL ATHIESTS OMGGGG DAWKINS BLUUGHHH. It's tiresome and fighty.
posted by kathrineg at 7:45 PM on January 4, 2010


Robert Park is a Christian. Does that really make a wide-ranging dismissal of Christianity, based on beliefs which Mr. Park may not even share, relevant? So you think Christians are douchebags with stupid beliefs. Okay. Is it going to add anything to the conversation? It's like those asshole who come into any discussion of atheism with OMG THOSE FUCKING HATEFUL ATHIESTS OMGGGG DAWKINS BLUUGHHH. It's tiresome and fighty.

Don't be tiresome and fighty. I didn't state anywhere that all Christians are douchebags with stupid beliefs. Try adding something to the conversation. Is it relevant that Parks is a Christian who professes that his Christianity is the prime motivator in his actions? Why, yes - and because one of the prime tenets of the faith - which virtually all Christians accept - is that there is no way to salvation but through JC, I pointed out the implications of this, which some Christians make more explicit than others... and I did it in direct response to a post which celebrated that aspect of Christianity. Do try to keep up, thanks.
posted by VikingSword at 7:54 PM on January 4, 2010


Contribute to the thread or leave it, I don't care, but shit in your toilet, not in Metafilter threads.

Seriously, this is coming from YOU?

Dude, take a look at yourself. HARD.
posted by thisperon at 10:23 PM on January 4, 2010


Quite frankly, any mentality that can embrace such monstrosity, is to me beyond any human redemption. And as such, I find Christianity an especially odious affliction upon humanity, and anything done in its name, good or bad, is tainted.

First of all, thanks for bringing this story into the discussion. I think there are some nice parallels to be drawn with the article.

Now, it may be that my understanding of Christianity is farther off the mark than anyone else's, however I don't consider this story to be a "monstrosity," and I want to explore that first. I'm interested in discussion if there's any polite discussion left to be had in this thread.

I think part of the problem is that the religious language is misunderstood, so what we need to do is translate it into language that we can all understand.

My personal belief is that when Jesus said that there was no way to get to the kingdom of God but through accepting him, he meant fundamentally (as opposed to superficially or mentally) accepting his philosophy. In other words to become a person who essentially considers the plight of others to be of equal importance as his or her own plight.

I do not believe as some (most?) Christians do that Jesus has to be accepted in name because that seems irrational. So, the rabbi still has his chance, but his rejection of the Nazi's salvation goes against my moral intuition (but this is my feeling and you're entitled to yours.)

As for the Nazi, what does it matter what a person has done if his every future action is devoted to the cause of humanity? We can't expect anyone to change the past, and the only purpose of suffering is surely the transformation of the individual; once that's complete, what more is there to want?

Seen this way, does the story still seem monstrous?

And what about Mr. Park? Perhaps he is truly being guided by a fraternal sense (the intuitive conviction that the suffering of the North Koreans is everyone's suffering.) Then, surely there is a chance that his action can inspire others to believe in that same fraternity. Even if they shoot him, his executioner will be a disenfranchised North Korean. Can you imagine shooting the man who has come to defend the lives of your family? Who will have the audacity to execute him, or to starve him in jail, or to set the rats on him, and then look his starving family in the eyes?

Or maybe you're right that Mr. Park is "a mercenary" conniving at 'entering heaven' by simulating what he thinks a Christian would do.

We can't know; we can only imagine what his motivations are given his behaviour. Your're right that it might all be misguided "mercenary" action. My impression is that it's genuine because this rings authentic:

I am going in for the sake of the lives of the North Korean people. And if he (Kim Jong-il) kills me, in a sense, I realize this is better. Then the governments of the world will become more prone to say something, and more embarrassed and more forced to make a statement.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:39 AM on January 5, 2010


Seen this way, does the story still seem monstrous?

You can construct any personal interpretation of christian dogma to say what you think is better or nicer than what others think / do / claim to be correct. All you have actually done, though, is to take the truly monstrous part, the rabbi being condemned, the nazi being repreived, and said well surely thats not true.

And it shouldn't be of course not. Nonetheless according to the church (apparently the representative of god here on earth, papal infallability and all that) it is true.

Furthermore I have real problems with anyone second guessing what a god figure means with their statements, and then acting on that interpretation with the conviction of religous certainty (and again I'm not saying you are acting with religous certainty, I don't know you, I make a general point here - although quite relevant to Mr Parks).

If jesus really was the son of god and he meant that the only way to get into the kingdom of god was by accepting his philosophy - well don't you think he would have said that ? its not as though its a difficult concept.

'Hmmmmm, lets see. I want people to do good things. I know. What I'll do is i'll use deliberately obtuse statements, expertly designed so that some people can interpret them one way and other people another way, thats guaranteed to work'

Way to go. for a god / son of god figure that seems pretty daft to me. And before I get any god works in mysterious ways rubbish please don't bother, thats one of the cheapest most offensive con tricks in the cupboard (my opinion I know but you aren't going to be able to change my mind).

For what its worth your interpretation makes way more sense to me too. It is rational and seems to be a good way of rewarding actual behaviour. The trouble is the church doesn't agree with you, and most 'real' christians don't agree with you. Certainly the priest and the rabbi in the story under discussion don't. And in the absence of a logical / rational framework for analysis, and in practical terms, might tends to be right.

Moreover it also enables the truly bad people in this world to behave exactly as they want and still garner the 'ultimate reward'. Now, clearly I don't believe in the whole reward malarky anyway, but this strikes me as a bad way of making people behave well for their whole lives. It is a good way to recruit for your religion though.

I don't have too much bluster regarding whether or not Mr Parks is a mercenary or not but I will say that the reward / fear mechanic really isnt very 'saintly' (for want of a better word). Most power structures use it, and obscenely enough the NK government is a fine example of just exactly that - they just do the same thing while you are alive instead of waiting for you to die. Its a simple if you're not with us you're against us rhetoric.
posted by Boslowski at 6:11 AM on January 5, 2010


Vikingsword, I'm sorry you find one of the tenets of Christianity so offensive. I am certainly no theologian, have only read the New Testament once, and am working my way through the Old Testament now. I'm far from being the best representative for theologic debate, but one aspect of the requirement you find so awful is that its an option open to anyone. In your scenario, the Rabbi has the choice to follow Jesus or not. He may not believe in the divinity of Christ (and even some Christians don't either), and its his right to do so. More so, if he firmly believes in his own convictions, he will have no fear nor reason to worry about going to a Christian Hell. However, everyone has the chance to choose to follow Jesus.

While good acts alone are not enough, that does not mean they are not required. One of the more succinct answers Jesus gave (rather than being ambiguous as stated above), when asked what was the path to Heaven, had only two parts. One, love God with all your heart and soul, and two, love your neighbor as as yourself (in the book of Matthew). Pretty simple. Obviously, one is more important than the other, but the two are not inseparable.

With regard to the Nazi war criminal, it requires a true repentance in the part of the Nazi. It isn't a quick ticket away from one's own actions, but a sincere belief. It's not a last minute reprieve that can be gotten with a smirk and simple recitation of words. It's an extension of the forgiveness that Christianity extends to anyone (spiritually - he'd still have to pay for his secular crimes).

More so, Christianity is not the only religion, and should not be centered out as such, to have certain exclusive requirements for reward. (If this aspect is offensive, then that offense should extend universally - in which case less about disgust with Christianity and more with how universal religions are composed)

Returning to the subject of the post, even if you do find Mr. Park's faith offensive, you should at least admire his intent. From the Huffington Post article is a quote concerning a letter he carried:

"Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive," said the letter, according to a copy posted on the conservative group's Web site. "Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today."
posted by Atreides at 7:12 AM on January 5, 2010


No, I'm saying that believing in supernaturally-assured rewards and punishment makes a person internally a child and externally a jerk.

So what's your excuse?

Ba-dum-tish!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:18 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


More so, Christianity is not the only religion, and should not be centered out as such, to have certain exclusive requirements for reward. (If this aspect is offensive, then that offense should extend universally - in which case less about disgust with Christianity and more with how universal religions are composed)

Yes. Couldn't agree more. For me its not just christianity. Its just that this thread is about a christian.

I'll specify a little though. I have significent issues with religions that recruit. As a younger man I spent a lot of time flirting with taoism. I was sincere at the time, but now looking back can accurately describe it as a flirtation, after all I wasn't very good and got pretty easily distracted by fun.

What drew me to it though was that there was no obligation, on anyone involved, to pull others into the fold. Indeed there are many stories of young men seeking masters and instruction and being very actively discouraged.

I liked it because I could comfortably see it as a way to live for the betterment of myself, and those around me, without the complication of being a power structure. I don't like those that seek to control me and I certainly don't trust their motives when they are faceless and powerful and of dubious morality (I make this distinction because there are some 'controlling' relationships that are good - healthy parent / child relationships for one).

Are all religous people of dubious morality - no of course not. Most, indeed the vast majority are good folk (largely because most, indeed the vast majority of all folk are good folk).

Is Mr Parks a good person ? I'd say he probably is. Do I admire his decision to 'proclaim god's love' at the same time as he executes his decent intent ? Not at all in fact it makes me want to vomit. It is just another way (consciously or otherwise) to recruit, and quite frankly, when you start trying to tell people what to think and feel then I'm going to start classifying you as the thought police (that was the polite version).
posted by Boslowski at 9:26 AM on January 5, 2010


You can construct any personal interpretation of christian dogma to say what you think is better or nicer than what others think / do / claim to be correct. All you have actually done, though, is to take the truly monstrous part, the rabbi being condemned, the nazi being repreived, and said well surely thats not true.

I was trying to defend the Christian interpretation, explaining why I think it makes sense.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:09 PM on January 5, 2010


It is just another way (consciously or otherwise) to recruit, and quite frankly, when you start trying to tell people what to think and feel then I'm going to start classifying you as the thought police (that was the polite version).

No one can be forced to become a Christian, and those who have tried to force others are failing in their own duties. I only know a limited amount about Taoism, but I would suspect that it has its own rules and philosophies. Every religion requires the adoption of certain philosophies and approaches to life. Thus, every religion tells you what to do or think to an extent. The difference between Taoism and Christianity is that Taoist Masters wait for students to come to them.

The difference, as you pointed out, is the proselytizing. One religion has an active tradition of doing such, another does not. While Mr. Park most definitely wants to see the adoption of Christianity in North Korea, he would not be withholding his charity or assistance on the expectation of conversion. If his actions led to conversion, it would be because others saw how he thought, how he acted, and saw good in it.

One reason individuals become Christians is for the exact same reasons that you sought out Taoism, "as a way to live for the betterment of myself, and those around me." In terms of structure, depending on the church, and there are a lot of churches.

I don't like those that seek to control me and I certainly don't trust their motives when they are faceless and powerful and of dubious morality

Are you referring to other individuals or are you referring to a deity? In any religion, you're going to fall within the control of one thing or another, be it a rules on how to interact with other people and nature, or the rules as set down by a deity. It's really just a matter of perception.

As for control within a church, that's been a matter of debate in Western Christianity since the Reformation. ;)

Lastly, I appreciate the discourse without the need to resort to demeaning words.
posted by Atreides at 12:49 PM on January 6, 2010


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