Ham in South Korea
With such a socio-political background, as soon as Ham settled in to what he presumed to be a 'liberal and democratic' south Korea, Ham was greatly disappointed. But Ham did not remain disappointed for long. Shortly, in order to boost the socio-political morals of south Korea, he created the Bible Study Meetings at both Seoul National University and Yonhui and Severance Colleges (later Yonsei University). In 1948, Ham also established regular Sunday Religious Lectures at the YMCA and Chungjong Presbyterian Church in Seoul, and in major cities in southern Korea such as, Pusan, Masan and Wonju for the public.
A number of Koreans who were disappointed with the socio-political chaos of post-Second World War Korea and the apathetic attitude of the Christian churches on social issues, attended Ham's public lectures. Using these lectures and study meetings Ham presented his views on the role of Christianity for society, and embarked on a period of prolific writing. Even though Ham confessed himself to be a Christian, his view of Christianity was not the same as the 'conventional view' in that, unlike most Christians in Korea. Ham differentiated between two aspects of Christianity. The first aspect was "Love your neighbour as yourself", in the same way that Jesus regarded the Samaritan, traditionally the enemy of the Jews, as his neighbour. For Ham this was the most essential of all Christian commandments, on a par with believing in God. The second aspect was Christianity as a phenomenon and institution which emphasised its organisational strength. Ham was not interested in this side of Christianity.
It seems to me that Ham tried to see the 'essence' of Christianity beyond institutionalised Christianity and that his understanding of religion too was beyond a religious system. Ham advocated in public what he believed, yet was never a partisan, nor did he view things from just one standpoint. When ideas came to him from outside, Ham received them but did not cling to them. It seems that he tried to see the whole world through various religious beliefs, and that is why he was tolerant towards other religious faiths. Meanwhile, as a result of his various public lectures and writings, Ham gained many sympathisers and became widely revered as an inspired teacher. In particular, Ham's influence among the intelligentsia and students strengthened. Kim Donggill and Ahn Byungmu both met Ham at this time, and fell under his influence. They maintained a close relationship with him for the rest of his life.
By this time Ham's teacher, Yu Yongmo, also presented his public lectures on the philosophy of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu as well as other East Asian classics, which Ham attended as a student while he taught in public. Although Yu Yongmo had been Ham's teacher since the Osan School period (1921 onward), Yu was not as well-known in Korean society as Ham. Yu was a meditative and reclusive thinker rather than a socio-political one; he neither had been involved in nor participated in directly, the socio-political issues and struggles of the day. Yu had not practised political affairs and was a somewhat 'detached' Christian. Hence the south Korean public were only vaguely acquainted with him. Yu was mainly known within the limited circles of Ham's followers, as a "Teacher of Ham Sokhon".
The alien military governments, the United States in south Korea and the Soviet Union in north Korea, had remained for three years 1945-1948, until they were succeeded by 'native' yet mutually antagonistic regimes of Syngman Rhee and Kim Ilsung. The competition and animosity between rightists and leftists, and between Communists and anti-Communists, were further antagonised by the furious feeling and resentment of both regimes. By mid 1949, the United States and the Soviet Union's troops had been withdrawn from the Korean peninsula.
On 12 January, 1950, American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson spoke at the Press Club in Washington D.C. on the new American defence perimeter in the Far East. Korea was excluded from it. Encouraged by Acheson's announcement, in the early dawn of 25 June, 1950 North Korean troops invaded South Korea and three years of war began. In fact, the Korean War was not a 'Korean Civil War'; it was a war between the United States and United Nations on one side, and the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China on the other. More precisely it was a competition for hegemony between the two post-Second World War superpowers during the bipolar stage of the Cold War.
Close to March, 1951 the Korean War front had stabilised around the 38th parallel, which provided the ground for the truce of July 1953. The 38th parallel reflected not only the equilibrium of military power but also the post-war political settlement. Twofold dispositions of ideological perspectives became established; anti-American and anti-Japanese imperialism in North Korea and anti-Communism in South Korea separated the people of North and South Korea in a way not imagined in 1945. In November 1951, Rhee established the Liberal Party, a political machine to consolidate his power base. Six months later, in May 1952, Rhee imprisoned fourteen assemblymen and declared martial law in order to amend the constitution in his favour.
During the War, especially at times of stalemate, Ham held weekly Bible Study Meetings in Pusan, the capital of the South Korean exiled government. What is more, from 6 to 11 August 1951, Ham held public lectures in Kwangju on the subjects of the 'Overcoming of Suffering' and 'The Life of Jesus'. Kwangju had been in South Korea's territory since 18 September 1950. By holding those meetings, Ham encouraged and consoled the multitude of refugees from the tragedy and disaster of the War. In particular, these public lectures paved the way for the reconstruction of the Korean YMCA after the Korean War.
While Ham instilled spirit into the Korean refugees by lecturing on Biblical themes, he also studied other religious scriptures, especially the Bhagavadgita. As a result of this study, after the Korean War Ham translated and published the Bhagavadgita into the Korean language. This first Korean translation was done from English translation of Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. Ham's translation of the Bhagavadgita made use of his wide study of other religious scriptures. In particular, Ham's appended notes to the Bhagavadgita covered: the Bible, the Tao-te Ching, the Chuang-tzu, the Lieh-tzu, the Analects of Confucius, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Wang Yangming, the Great Learning, the Mencius, the Book of Changes, the Dharmapada, the Koran, and the Journal of George Fox.
Ham the 'Heretic' Table of Contents