The BBC’s John Sweeney on North Korea’s zombie gods

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North Korea Undercover

Book cover courtesy Bantam Press

North Korea Undercover: Inside the World's Most Secret State

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Author and investigative journalist John Sweeney went undercover to report from North Korea earlier this year. He found a nation brainwashed by a ruling family of dead gods, a dark state with no religious freedom.

  • Jon

    Anyone else find it ironic that an article about some foreign country with a “zombie religion”, is written by someone who’s home country’s biggest religion literally worships a God who was executed and buried, but then seen walking, talking, (and flying) around?

  • Palamas

    So you would equate the Christianity practiced in Great Britain with the murderous totalitarianism of the cult of the Kims? You must really be a barrel of laughs at Christmas parties.

  • Rev. Albert W. Kovacs, UCC

    Boy, you two are a couple of sourpusses! You’re probably too busy cheering on the guys with throat-slitting knives to attend any Christmas parties, and cleaning your shovels to bury folks up to their necks for stoning. – Christianity has slipped badly in England, Europe and the USA, which means a lot more people are on the road to hell, without a Christ to save their souls. – Satan loves naysayers like you and it looks like you’ve been enrolled in his cadre of hate and hostility. Why not come over and learn to like people – even the ones who aren’t so likeable, as you’ve chosen to be? Merry Christmas!!!

  • Charles G

    “North Korea is right-wing…”

    Sorry, but a COMMUNIST dictatorship is not by any stretch of the imagination “right wing”. What an incredibly ridiculous and biased statement.

  • Jon


    To be clear, I condemn in the strongest terms the dictatorship of North Korea, and other human rights abuses, past and present, regardless of what religion (or ideology) they are done under. I hope you will join me in that.

    My comment was only about the name chosen – “Zombie religion”.

    Speaking of murderous human rights abuses, non-Kim religions & ideologies have certainly spurred much more death and torture than over history than the Kims could dream of. (again, not to defend the Kims, just to keep from turning a blind eye to other abuses).

  • joh joseph

    Umm. No.

  • Larry

    Maybe while the USSR existed they kept up the pretense of a political ideology. At this point “left wing” and “right wing” are pretty much irrelevancies to the situation. There is no ideology other than, “do what the government says, or die!”

    Nowadays, its just all about the Kims. Its a totalitarian feudal system. Government functionaries carve up personal fiefdoms and survive through slave labor.

    Frankly with all the crap going on in that country, lack of religious freedom seems awfully short sighted. There are far worse and far more obvious problems over there.

  • Brace Lake

    A very interesting and insightful article. Someday when that regime collapses, the details of what they’ve been doing to their own people will come to light and it will be both shocking and heartbreaking.

    I have one issue with the article and it is largely a matter of semantics. North Korea is described as a “right-wing” totalitarian state. The use of the terms right-wing and left-wing has gone from describing quantifiable freedoms, property ownership rights, and other personal liberties, to now just calling anything that is evil “right wing”. In other words, those who occupy the more conservative spectrum of personal beliefs and politics are more closely related to a state like North Korea. May I remind that the DPRK is a hard communist nation. All means of production are state-owned. Personal property rights are limited or non-existent. Monetary transfers are infrequent and heavily monitored and regulated. There is nothing “right-wing” about this society or government.

    To the right-wing conservative, government regulation is a creeping disease that threatens to swallow society. To a left-wing liberal, the government is benevolent and knows what is best for its people. In free Western societies, there are examples of successes and failures of both types. But the core philosophies come down to property rights, and who is best to decide the welfare and direction of the people- a smart and caring state, or the independent individual.

  • Jon

    About the “Right-wing” description-

    The right wing in America as become increasingly defined by fundamentalist religion (after all, on issues of abortion, gay marriage, marijuana, and so on, right wing views are guided by religion and go directly against the idea of an independent individual). Maybe that is why the DPRK is being referred to as “right wing”. In that way, the DPRK shows the same religious fundamentalism that is the current face of the right wing/tea party in America.

  • Brace Lake

    Ahh. Now it shows.

    You can describe how people vote with polls or with an actual count. But alas, you cannot say what motivates them without a making broad stereotypes. Two prominent right-wing commentators are George Will and Charles Krauthammer. Both have recently described their personal belief system as non-religious. Perhaps, people oppose gay marriage, marijuana legalization, abortion, and other “right-wing” platforms for reasons other than religion.

    And don’t kid yourself, legalized recreational use of marijuana will have an effect on people who are not the individual user. Abortion, by its very nature, affects another person, and so forth.

    It is okay to disagree. It is not okay to disparage others for their opposing views by using broad and incorrect blanket statements.

    It is as incorrect to identify the DPRK as a right-wing society as it would be to call Cher a folk-singer. She may share some outward attributes, but that does not define her as such.

  • Larry

    You are both wrong.

    You are applying very American-centric or outright obsolete political notions to a country which for all intents and purposes defies traditional categories.

    The “right wing” line was not accurate but neither is claiming it is “left wing”. What made it more idiotic was going through the ridiculous process of associating American political spheres to North Korea in an attempt to tar and feather the other in a partisan fashion.

    North Korea is a totalitarian state. One of maybe 5 left in the world. There is no ideology to speak of beyond, “follow the leader”. Their economy and political structure has more in common with Feudalism than Communism (extreme left wing) or Oligarchy (extreme right wing). They have even revived serfdom and divine right rulership!

  • Jon

    Brace, relying on data is not “making broad stereotypes”. Data shows repeatedly that those referring to themselves as “Tea Party” and as “evanglical” overlap quite a bit.

    For instance:
    “A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Tea Party supporters tend to have conservative opinions not just about economic matters, but also about social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In addition, they are much more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that their religion is the most important factor in determining their opinions on these social issues.2 And they draw disproportionate support from the ranks of white evangelical Protestants.”


    And there are more data showing the same thing that are available if you’d like.

    It seems we’ve come across another example of the tea party aversion to evidence…..

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  • Jason

    The only real religion in NK is veneration of the leaders, especially Kim Il Sung. If there’s any residual religion there, it would be Confucianism, which promotes veneration of forebears/fathers. Sweeney seems to get the leader-worship part, but otherwise his understanding of the country and its ”death cult” (his term) population is embarrassingly shallow for a purported journalist. His interraction with actual locals has been zero, apart from interviews with refugees, who by definition provide a very particular view. Moreover, the short trip he took there by no means qualified him to write an entire book about the place. But, as they say, it’s not what you know – and this is the proof.