Why North Korea Is Not Going to Be Another Eastern Europe

A friend asked me today:

“Based on your experience with Eastern Europe, what do you think will happen now in North Korea? Do you think they have a chance for a revolution, just like Eastern Europe?”

I had to disappoint him. I said:

“No, I think the regime will consolidate even more, and it will become even more repressive and hard-line, and people will be too scared to revolt.”

“Too bad,” he said. “I hoped history repeats itself.”

It does. When the conditions are the same, history repeats itself. God has created a predictable history. There are always signs that tell us where to look, if we only can see them.

But they are not in the visible events. These factors are invisible to the untrained eye. Or, rather, let’s put it this way: they are invisible to the media and the US State Department. These factors determine the type of culture and society a people will have, and they will determine the way a people will react to historical circumstances.

In 1959, Henry Van Til, a nephew of the great Reformed theologian Cornelius Van Til, wrote one of the greatest and least noticed books written in the Western world: The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. The book was a radical break with the social theories reigning in both the seminaries and the universities in America and the world at the time. In it, Henry Van Til declared that there is only one factor that determines the shape, the nature, the legal systems, and the social practices of a culture: the predominant religion of that culture. “Culture,” he said in a sentence summarizing his whole thesis, “is religion externalized.” People react to circumstances not as automatons pre-programmed and conditioned by their environment or by the impersonal social forces or by some inevitable “stages” of history; they build and fight and learn and do business and form ethical rules and legal system and dispense justice and write literature entirely based on their self-conscious faith. Nothing else matters.

The predominant social theories at the time were materialistic; people and collectives were believed to be automatons or amoebas, reacting mindlessly in the same way to outside stimuli. Not only atheists and Marxists had that materialistic theory about history; churches were beginning to adopt it too. No wonder Henry Van Til’s book went unnoticed by both Christians and non-Christians.

But Henry Van Til was right; and history proves he was right. There is no other explanation why the rise of capitalism and the modern ideas of liberty and justice for all happened in Christian Europe, of all places in the world. It had nothing to do with Europe’s climate, economic conditions (if anything, economic conditions were created by the specific religious beliefs), genes, geography, etc. There was only one reason for the rise of Europe: Christianity. It was Christianity that gave it the ideas of rights, of sanctity of life and the family, of justice for all, of rule of law, and the protection of private property. Where Christianity was stronger – in the areas of Reformed Protestantism like Switzerland, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and America – no dictatorship was possible because men were inspired by their Christian convictions to lay their lives for their God-given rights of Life, Liberty, and Property. At least one crowned head was severed from its body to give warning to others, and hundreds of tax-collectors in England in the 1640s and in America in the 1770s experienced the righteous wrath of a predominantly Christian population that would have no King but God. In other areas of Europe, where Christianity was weaker – the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox parts of Christendom – such ideas were still popular, if not predominant.

When Christianity’s influence waned in the East, it fell to Communism.

But the Communist leaders were not able to erase that influence completely, however hard they tried. They understood that it was the only obstacle to creating a permanent dictatorship; that people armed with the ideas of the Gospel can not be subjugated forever; that one day these people will remember their historical memory and rise against their oppressors.

I was privileged to be part of that revolution. And I was privileged in the process of that revolution to discover the true source of those values that motivated and inspired us to risk rising against the oppression: Jesus Christ.

North Korea is not so fortunate. It has never had the history of Christianity as its predominant religion. It never had the chance in its history to touch and taste the sweetness of liberty and justice for all, of sanctity of life, of the individual pursuit of happiness. As far back as Koreans can go in their history, their nation has always been dominated by religions that emphasize passive obedience, loyalty to the ruler, and no God Creator who will judge the wicked rulers and will reward those that sacrifice their life for liberty and justice for all. The modern religion of North Korea, the Juche, is just a new incarnation of those old cults to the state as the supreme god, and no God above it. And North Korea doesn’t even have the privilege South Korea has of having thousands of American missionaries to convert large numbers of the population to Christ, leading to an astounding 40% of the population being active Christians today.

Without such foundation in the Christian faith, and without any history of Christian influence to at least inform the instincts and the feelings of the population in North Korea, I can not expect things to change. Just as I did not expect the “Arab spring” to turn the Arab world into something better; again, having no Christian foundation, the Arab populations of Northern Africa won’t create a healthy culture of liberty and justice for all. They can only create chaos, and eventually a new dictatorship. I only needed to look at their religion to know it. And I know it about North Korea as well.

I don’t know what God has for North Korea in the near future. I know that a free society is only created on the basis of a religion that preaches that free society. There is only one such religion – Christianity. God have mercy on the unfortunate millions living in that concentration camp called “North Korea,” and give the the miracle of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Only then they will be free in their spirit, and then free their society from dictators.