A couple of weeks ago I heard an interesting story from South Korea that I think is worth sharing due to is interesting quasi-religious dimensions. At any rate I like a good story of that nature coming out of Asia.
Anyways, apparently the current president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is at the centre of a peculiar scandal surrounding her involvement with a close confidant named Choi Soon-sil. Park is being accused of being directly influenced by the younger Choi, particularly allowing her to edit some of her speeches and granting her access to confidential government information. Why is this a big deal? Because Choi Soon-sil’s father is Choi Tae-min, who happened to be the leader of a shady shamanistic and pseudo-Christian cult.
The cult in question is known as Yeongseygo, also known as the Eternal Life Church. Yeongseygo was started in the 1970’s by the elder Choi, and is said to combine elements of Christianity, Buddhism and shamanistic beliefs – specifically a Korean system of shamanistic beliefs known as Cheondoism, which emerged in the 1900’s and is characterized by a belief in God as being present in everyone and everything at all times. The premise of the cult itself is that Choi Tae-min is the “Future Buddha” (a.k.a. Maitreya) and a messenger of God and that he had the ability to communicate the dead and with God, produce magical protective objects and act as a spiritual liaison for believers. Even stranger, the elder Choi claimed that, unlike ordinary Koreans, his blood was white instead of red. Both Choi Tae-min and Choi Soon-sil claimed that they had prophetic powers as well. For instance, the younger Choi reportedly told Park that North Korea would fall within two years. Opposition politicians think that Park may have been captivated by the younger Choi and the cult by her claims of prophetic powers.
Choi Tae-min served as the spiritual mentor of Park Geun-hye until he died in 1994, and there is suspicion that he used this role to secure bribes and gain political influence in the South Korean government. By convincing her that they had the ability to communicate with the spirit of her deceased mother, Yuk Young-soo, who was assassinated in 1974, the Chois were able to close to Park and exert their influence over her. This has lead to Choi Soon-sil being treated by the Korean press and public as a Rasputin-like figure – referring, of course to the fact that Grigori Rasputin was both an alleged mystic and faith healer and the trusted friend of one of the last Czars of Russia. There were even rumors that he had essentially complete control over Park Guen-hye during his time as her spiritual mentor, and those rumors seemed to be among the myriad of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. In addition to this, it is claimed that the Chois have been able to amass large amounts of money from not only the government, but also charitable organizations through embezzlement. It is believed that the influence of the elder Choi on Park Gyen-hye continues through the younger Choi, and so his cult continues to have great wealth and power via the South Korean government.
The entire affair has severely damaged the reputation of Park Geun-mye, with her polling numbers dropping. The South Korean public is now very resentful of Park, with some calling for her to resign or even for her to be impeached. There is deep concern among opposition politicians and citizen that the South Korean government is effectively run with theocratic influence, as well as in a somewhat dictatorial fashion. Given that South Korea has presidential elections next year, I can guess it does not look good for her party, though she herself is not running for election. Not only that, the North Korean media seems to be loving this development. North Korea hates Park Geun-mye, partly because of her hawkish stance on the North and plans by the South Korean government to reduce the capital, Pyongyang, to “ashes” should they attack the South, and the media even claims that she will meet the same fate as her father and mother.