(The Economist) - What is the tenth most widely followed religion in the world? According to www.adherents.com, a site which gathers data on faith from many sources, that honour goes to juche, the national ideology of North Korea, which is credited with 19m followers. As the site's editors explain, "from a sociological viewpoint, it is clearly a religion". Juche is more obviously religious in character than either Soviet communism or Maoism. Thomas J Belke, an American Protestant theologian who has writen a book about juche, agrees that it's a religion. "It has a comprehensive belief system, holy places, distinctive customs...and it displaces other religions."
It does not take a sociological genius to see that the cult of the North Korean state's founder, Kim Il Sung, and of his son and successor Kim Jong Il, who ruled from 1994 to 2011, shares many features with established creeds. Images of the Kims, and their all-wise pronouncements, fill the sensory field of every North Korean, in a way that Christianity permeated daily life in medieval Europe or Byzantium. The founder is sometimes presented as a kind of god, and his successor as the "son of a god"—a formula that has echoes of Christian theology. If the latest member of the dynasty to take the helm, Kim Jong Un, has any legitimacy, it is as the grandson of one divine figure and son of another. The young scion is starting to accumulate laudatory titles of his own.
The birth of Kim Jong Il is said to have been foretold by a swallow and attended by miraculous signs, including a double rainbow and a brilliant star. He is also credited with more banal tokens of miraculous power, such as a record-breaking performance at golf. Whereas schools in some countries have chapels or mosques, places of instruction in North Korea have rooms set aside for learning about the achievements of the divinely guided dynasty. This cult has its sacred statues, its icons and martyrs—such as a girl who is said to have drowned while trying to save images of her leaders from a flood.
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