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Cults in South Korea on the rise

Cults in South Korea on the rise

[January 15, 1999]

Cults in South Korea are notorious for their involvement in swindling scandals, sexual abuse charges, dismemberment of their victims, slave labor, and extortion of money. Despite these alarming practices, cults are making a comeback in South Korea. Faith in doomsday sects waned when the most controversial among them, the Yongsaeng (Everlasting Life) cult, was disbanded in 1994 on charges of swindling their followers.

This year, however, cult experts fear predictors of Armageddon are making a comeback. According to many estimations, aided by the economic crisis in their country, a rash of new cults continue to spring up while older ones revive. Approximately 100 cult leaders currently claim to be gods or messiahs. "They are flourishing again by taking advantage of the country's economic crisis," warned Tak Ji-Won, 31, who opened a hot-line service in 1994 after his father, a prominent anti-cult activist, was killed by cult members. "My office is busy again with calls by the victims of doomsday sects which have recruited followers with a sermon that the end of the world is imminent," said Ji-Won according to Agence France Presse [January 14, 1999].

Ji-Won estimates the number of "dangerous" doomsday sect members awaiting the end of the world this year is climbing into the thousands. Estimates of cult membership in Korea alone, provided by the Korean National Council of Churches in 1997, was 200,000 in 1997. "I believe the number is now much higher as many cults are gaining power through clandestine door-to-door propagation. I'm not concerned about figures, but about possible mass suicide. Some violent sect members regard suicide as martyrdom to be free from sin. They die to find an eternal life in heaven, misguided by their leaders," Ji-Won concluded, as reported by Agence France Presse.

He pointed out that tragic incidents -- such as a suicide that took place last October when seven members of a Bible-based cult burned themselves to death in a van -- actually increase cult membership. That suicide, combined with doomsday references to the decline of the local and national economy, sparked intensive recruiting efforts among hundreds of fringe religions and messianic cults, who successfully broadened their influence and increased their membership.

Experts and anti-cult activists point to the ancient seer Nostradamus and his end-of-the-world predictions as one of the sources of apocalyptic cult philosophy. "My group is closely monitoring one cult who claims the end of the world will come on September 9 this year," said Park Chan-Sung at the Christian Council of Korea. He predicts Nostradamus' prophesies will be widely recited this year in newspapers, magazines, and even website chatters.

"Since 1994, troubled cults have kept a low profile. But their number began multiplying at the turn of the century," he said, adding South Korea has been home to some 200 detrimental cults. "In the past, doomsday followers were mostly uneducated. Now the sects draw even intellectuals such as college professors," he concluded, as quoted by Agence France Presse.

Source: Agence France Presse, January 14, 1999

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