6.2. Democracy in Korea
Ham pursued freedom and democracy throughout his life and influenced his fellow Koreans with his spirit. It seems to me that Ham's activities for democracy in Korea were deeply inter-linked with his idea of religious pluralism as, for Ham, one of the main principles of democracy was ideological as well as political pluralism. Furthermore it was his sense of religion, in particular Christianity, which was the driving force behind his effort to bring about the democratisation of South Korea. Thus for Ham, his activities as a freedom fighter and his ideas as a free thinker were inseparable, since his ideas determined his activity. I will discuss what kind of role Ham performed as a Voice of the Korean people in this light.
Ham the Reviver of the Socio-Political Aspects of Christianity
In the past, the people of Korea have been inclined towards fatalism, partly because throughout their history Koreans have been a people oppressed from without or from rulers within. Fatalism is a common belief of the tyrannised, and this sense of fatalism was later fossilised by Confucian traditions. As an evidence of this, Korean people have generally not questioned the status quo, and some turned to geomancy, fortune telling and specious-religions and synthetic cults as a relief for their ills, with little sense of the possibilities for improvement of their lot.
Through his prolific writings and speeches Ham tried to break these ills and the prolonged ideological legacies of Korea. Ham never believed in fatalism in human affairs. Instead he had faith in the Providence of God and he perceived God not only as a personified being but also as an immanent and transcendental being. Therefore, Ham thought that human affairs are always operating by provision of Divinity. What is more, Ham spoke out as the 'voice of the people' for new ideas and beliefs, that is for democracy in Korea. As Western mass-media described, Ham lived as a sort of Gandhi in Korea. But unlike Gandhi, perhaps due to his lack of tangible political leadership, Ham was never able to mobilise or organise the nation-wide Satragraha, which can be seen partly as Ham's political failure. The civil disobedience movements in Korea could not devise ways of exercising political pressure in non-violent ways. Therefore, Ham protested through his individual influence on people and through his established activities of public lectures and the regular study groups on Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, Quakerism and Biblical studies.
Ham highlighted and emphasised the basic nature of the Christian message as both socio-political and religious; as the hope for freeing the oppressed people and as a message of good news. Ham's effort, reviving the socio-political aspects of Christianity, was fundamentally significant in bringing about democracy in Korea, because in Korea one's socio-political outlook coincides with one's religious outlook. For example, according to Yi Won'gyu's survey on the socio-political and economic notions of Korean Christians, when one's view on Christianity is conservative, one's view on society and politics tends to be conservative. In view of this, Korean Christians' conservatism tends to see the established political system less critically and more positively.
By way of illustration, in those whose faith in Christianity is conservative, there is a tendency to conserve the social status quo and stress individual fault rather than structural fault with regard to social problems. Also they tend to be 'optimistic' about the economic distribution of wealth in their country. On the other hand, in those whose faith in Christianity is liberal, political consciousness also tends to be critical and progressive, and to emphasise socio-political participation by Christians. They are also more socially conscious, and emphasis is placed on social and structural problems rather than individual ones. In addition they have more suspicion and a critical view of the economic condition of their country.
In this respect, one's religious view intensely affects not only one's political view but also one's socio-economic views. It seems to me that in twentieth century Korea, Ham was the man who influenced and transformed the conservative Korean Christians' nature to be more broad-minded and liberal. Ham's followers like Chang Chunha, Kim Donggill and Ahn Byungmu were liberal Christians, who became well-known as viable alternatives to the opposition party; the official opposition hardly existed and Christians after all can not be regarded as Communist as there is a strong tradition of anti-Communism within South Korea.
While it seems that throughout the military dictatorial periods, university students created the cohesive and the somewhat dynamic resistance groups, Christians like Ham, Kim Donggill and Ahn Byungmu, conceivably held the greatest capacity for protest. Account must be taken of the significant root-stock of legitimacy in the ideological ambience of South Korea. As a result, the Christian churches appeared to promote the organisational infrastructure of the opposition movement. The most important political statements would never have appeared without the participation of liberal Christians. An average of 44.5% of the participants in the civil rights movement were prominent people in the Protestant and Catholic churches.
Headed by Ham and followed by Chang Chunha, Kim Donggill and Ahn Byungmu, liberal-democratic laymen of the Protestant church were the indispensable protagonists of extra-parliamentary (Chae-ya) power, which was well established in dissident activity. Because the official opposition party, the Sinmin-dang, had not been able to function properly due to the introduction of the Yusin rule, it was Ham and his followers, who were not the official leaders of the Korean Christian congregation, who demanded the democratic advancement of civil rights, the relief of destitution, and improved labour conditions. Thus the liberal Christians' leading role in major events was evident. They provided 69% of the signatories of the main political statements.
In the 1970s, the affluent few had abundance whilst the majority were barely able to sustain themselves. The entire activity for democratisation in South Korea during this period was not just power politics or party politics to help one political party above another, but a populist activity for the rights of commoners, their living and their humanisation. The common people were Ham's lasting and absorbing passion as much as God was. Whatever the circumstances, Ham stood on the side of the oppressed, the aggrieved, and the powerless.
Ham opposed the rule of decision by majority, because the minority could be sacrificed to the majority: as had happened to Taoists under the Confucian ruling class and Quakers under the established Christian churches of the 17th century. As I have pointed out earlier, for Ham democracy meant not only the "greatest happiness of the greatest number", but also the protection of the minority's dignity from abuse by the majority. In this respect, Ham saw the importance of socio-political notions not only to the common people but also to conservative Korean Christians. In my view, Ham planted the concept of socio-political responsibility in his fellow people and in the Korean churchgoers, while most of the dogmatic church leaders shut their gates to the secular world and adopted Biblical fundamentalism as an alternative.
It can be argued that the fundamentalist characteristics of the Korean church were due to the fundamentalist characteristics of early missionaries. There is no doubt that all the early missionaries possessed an enthusiastic passion for their gospel. All of the early missionaries were in their 20s: Underwood was 26; Appenzeller and Allen were 27; and Scranton was 29. While the earnest devotion of the young missionaries and their strong social conscience was unquestionable, they were also men of inexperience and naiveté, and were not mature enough. Most contemporary Korean Christians have inherited this legacy of immaturity and inexperience from the early missionaries, who tended to think that religion was only about their relationship with God, and did not recognise different socio-cultural aspects of Christianity, that religion is also about one's relationship to different socio-political surroundings and culture.
In order to side-step trouble with the Korean ruling class and the Japanese imperial authorities, the early missionaries attempted to preclude any kind of political and historical usage of the Christian message. Thus the Korean Christians were predominantly not political. Conservative in doctrinal themes, most Korean Christians are 'sacred' churchgoers, generally eager in church organisations. Yet they profess a disinterest in a dynamic political expression of their ideology. They tend to distinguish between 'secular' matters and 'sacred' matters.
However, in reality, in twentieth century Korean history every Korean's life has been affected by political intervention. As Aristotle once pointed out human beings are political animals, whether one likes politics or not. Therefore, in my view, here was the task for the Korean church - to discover the original political and historical applications of the Christian message, which Korean Christians had missed.
Ham and Democracy with Reference to the Bible Table of Contents