Oppressing Christians Around the World, and Obama on North Korea

“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville and I might quibble about definitions of democracy and socialism a bit, and I would likely lose as he is Alexis de Tocqueville and I am not (yes, I know one cannot debate Tocqueville – he died in 1859). I like the general theme of the quote though. There is a system that tends toward freedom, and it grants each man equal value and allows each man to become himself (to become what he was created to be). There are also many systems, captured here under the heading of “socialism” that enslave men. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, and despite all of the re-use and re-definition of common terms like “equality,”  those political systems which restrict freedom do so to subjugate men and enslave them.

Open Doors just released it’s latest World Watch List for the 50 worst persecutors of Christians around the world. The list can be found here. The American Spectator has a related article here. The list focuses on persecution of Christians, which is a subject near and dear to the hearts of free Christians here in America. In a broad sense we also find that religious persecution is linked inextricably with restrictions on freedom. If a man or woman is not free to worship God, what exactly is he free to do, how exactly is he to express his life, and who is the ultimate object of his worship?

At the top, as always, is North Korea. It is illegal to be a Christian in North Korea. If discovered, you will likely be sent to the work camps … which is to say “death” camps. And yet, in the midst of persecution and certain death if discovered, there is a church in North Korea, with between 200,000 and 400,000 faithful (figures from the American Spectator article). Many of them are already in the camps, the rest are deep underground.

Think of that for a second. Here in America churches (and by that I mean the organizational enterprises) work hard to present themselves as open and appealing in the hopes of drawing people in (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all). In North Korea Christians meet in houses, under the threat of death if discovered to have faith in someone other than the ruling trinity of Juche (not sure how that will hold up now that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are both dead). There aren’t any “invite a coworker” Sundays there.

Also in the top 10: (2) Afghanistan, (3) Saudi Arabia, (8) Yemen, (9) Iraq, (10) Pakistan. These are, of course, U.S. allies. Ask yourself this – just how much of your hard work today, your production, will go to support oppressive regimes? I’m sure if we pulled the full 50 country list down we’d find that a significant number receive foreign aid. (Yes, even North Korea receives aid from the U.S.)

When questioned about an alliance with Stalin during WWII, Winston Churchill responded famously that if Hitler invaded hell he’d try to say a few nice things about the devil. The point was obvious: when you’re fighting a BIG enemy you may find yourself having to tolerate less-than-honorable allies to topple the bad guys. It was a principle that Reagan certainly carried through the Cold War, tolerating third-world dictatorships in his drive to contain and ultimately defeat communism. Question: what enemy, what threat to national security are we striving so hard to contain and defeat that we spend our blood and treasure to prop up these oppressive regimes?

Most of the persecution countries are Islamic, with a few communist relics thrown in. There are a few others though, like India, where Christians are largely free from a state standpoint, but run into significant persecution for their opposition to the caste system. (Not to mention their belief in the inherent value of women – but don’t get me started.) Also in the non-Islamic-non-communist camp would be Columbia, where persecution takes the form of drug cartel control over vast areas of the countryside.

Also in the news, the president recently made a trip to South Korea, where he participated in the age-old presidential tradition of looking through binoculars into North Korea (the #1 state oppressor of Christians). He expressed disbelief at the backwardness and unsuccessfulness of the regime (story here):

“If a country can’t feed its people effectively, if it can’t make anything of any use to anybody, if it has no exports other than weapons and even those aren’t ones that in any way would be considered state of the art. If it can’t deliver on any indicators of well-being… for its people… then you’d think you’d want to try something different. There are certain things that just don’t work and what they are doing doesn’t work.” [note that the ellipses were in the original story – I didn’t engage in heavy editing of the president’s remarks.]

Well yes and no. The system obviously hasn’t delivered prosperity and hope to its people – but presuming this is bad also presumes that prosperity and hope was ever the goal. Only academic relics still believe (a) communism can work or (b) the goal of communism is somehow utopian in nature. The system works quite well at oppressing the population and centralizing power in the hands of the ruling elite, which is exactly the goal. (Just as it is the goal of theocracies.)

What’s more frightening about the Obama statements is the implicit (and brazen) “it’s different this time” sentiment. There are only two ways of it. You can give the people freedom, or you can control the people. Whether you call that control communism, socialism, fascism, or theocracy is of little difference to me. The ability of men to enforce control over the lives of other men leads only to bad results. North Korea is an example nearly 60 years in the making. (The Soviet Union followed a similar path, and lasted all of 69 years, ending in a similarly backward economically and religiously oppressive state.)

North Korea and the Soviet Union are simply the logical ends of centralized control. Even if you don’t start out to oppress the people and stifle freedom, you will soon find that dissent arises, and “for the good of the country” it must be put down … you know, in the name of progress. You may not start out to put Christianity under thumb, but you will soon realize that Christians are loyal to someone other than the central planners – to a kingdom not of this world – an idea that is dangerous to the success of the programs put forth in the name of progress. (And, by the way, if your preferred form of government is “christian” theocracy, you may soon find that some Christians disagree with your theology, and you’d have to restrict their freedom – you know, for the good of the people who could be led astray.)

The idea of Obama (and more forthrightly Howard Dean) that here it is different, here we can make it work, and we must have some combination of freedom and restriction of freedom (or socialism) is absurd. These ideas are antithetical to one another. Your restrictions on freedom for the sake of the whole invariably leads to the oppression and enslavement men.

So we remember the Christians in North Korea today, and in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and all the rest. Those of us who are free today also remember the generations that came before and sacrificed to give us freedom … and we hope that the generations to follow will not look back on our time and lament that we didn’t pass freedom to them as well.

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