After the Moon sect: South Korea and indoctrination through the sacred game of football

n° 400 - March 2002


Since the missionaries came to Korea at the end of the 19th century, Christianity has blended with local religions and beliefs and has often been used to promote a strong sense of nationalism. The Unification Church was founded in the 1950s by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed messiah. This was during the Cold War, and the sect thrived in the economic and political climate of the time. It spread a message of anti-communism, which was very popular with political leaders and justified the presence of the U.S. military in South Korea. It further showed the country's superiority over North Korea. It success was based on a mixture of politics and religion.

In 1980, Jesus Morning Star (Jông Myông-Sôk) founded a dissident group, the Church of Providence, which in the place of promoting anti-communism, glorifies and celebrates the game of football (soccer). Its religious celebrations are held in university football stadiums and are centered on a match which takes on a character of sacredness. The Church of Providence won the support of government officials, since its message was in line with the image they wanted to project of South Korea: industrial superiority, readiness for the 1988 Olympic Games, etc.

The Church of Providence trains football players, who must be followers of the sect, and has built an enormous sports center. It has sanctified the status of an ordinary game. It conveys the same messages as a successful football team: applying individual efforts toward a greater goal, making sacrifices, tolerating pain, etc. The spectators at the game, who are members of the sect, give the matches a metaphorical dimension, enabling the sacred and the profane to co-exist. The church makes use of the collective emotional release of watching a match, transforming it into a religious celebration, glorifying competition, representing the triumph of capitalism over communism, South Korea over North Korea.

CNRS scholar Nathalie Luca of CEIFR ("Centre d'études interdisciplinaires des faits religieux") has analyzed the socio-cultural context in which the Church of Providence has developed and has written several works on the subject, including a book entitled "Le salut par le foot. Une ethnologue chez un messie coréen." Labor et Fides, Geneva, 1997.

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