North Korea displays all the trappings of a fundamentalist theocracy (Tellis, Wills. 2007). It has long been established that the North Korean culture of government has taken the shape of a leadership cult with special reverence for its founder Kim Il-sung. This worship became particularly apparent in the 1990s when its founder – the first in the current trinity of Kims – passed away.
‘Under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Korean people will hold the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung in high esteem as the eternal President of the Republic and carry the revolutionary cause of Juche through to completion by defending and carrying forward the idea and achievements of Comrade Kim Il Sung.’
– Preamble to the Constitution of North Korea (1972, revised 1998)
In 1998, four years after the death of the so-called beloved and dear leader, it was established that Kim Il-sung would hold the office of President of the Republic for the rest of time.
Subsequent North Korean leaders (a hereditary privilege of the Kim family since the founding of the state) have been made head of the party and of supreme commander of the army, but the office of president is still held by the man who died in 1994. This makes North Korea the only state in the world with a dead president; effectively, the only necrocracy in the world.
‘Clearly, it is time we learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous. We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity— birth, marriage, death—without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality. Only then will the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish be widely recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.
I have no doubt that your acceptance of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in your life. Perhaps you now love other people in a way that you never imagined possible. You may even experience feelings of bliss while praying. I do not wish to denigrate any of these experiences. I would point out, however, that billions of other human beings, in every time and place, have had similar experiences—but they had them while thinking about Krishna, or Allah, or the Buddha, while making art or music, or while contemplating the beauty of Nature. There is no question that it is possible for people to have profoundly transformative experiences. And there is no question that it is possible for them to misinterpret these experiences, and to further delude themselves about the nature of reality.
You are, of course, right to believe that there is more to life than simply understanding the structure and contents of the universe. But this does not make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about its structure and contents any more respectable.’
‘All complex life on earth has developed from simpler life forms over billions of years. This is a fact that no longer admits of intelligent dispute. If you doubt that human beings evolved from prior species, you may as well doubt that the sun is a star. Granted, the sun doesn’t seem like an ordinary star, but we know that it is a star that just happens to be relatively close to the earth. Imagine your potential for embarrassment if your religious faith rested on the presumption that the sun was not a star at all. Imagine millions of Christians in the United States spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to battle the godless astronomers and astrophysicists on this point.
Imagine them working passionately to get their unfounded notions about the sun taught in our nation’s schools. This is exactly the situation you are now in with respect to evolution.
Christians who doubt the truth of evolution are apt to say things like “Evolution is just a theory, not a fact.” Such statements betray a serious misunderstanding of the way the term “theory” is used in scientific discourse. In science, facts must be explained with reference to other facts. These larger explanatory models are “theories.” Theories make predictions and can, in principle, be tested. The phrase “the theory of evolution” does not in the least suggest that evolution is not a fact. One can speak about “the germ theory of disease” or “the theory of gravitation” without casting doubt upon disease or gravity as facts of nature.
It is also worth noting that one can obtain a Ph.D. in any branch of science for no other purpose than to make cynical use of scientific language in an effort to rationalize the glaring inadequacies of the Bible. A handful of Christians appear to have done this; some have even obtained their degrees from reputable universities. No doubt, others will follow in their footsteps. While such people are technically “scientists,” they are not behaving like scientists. They simply are not engaged in an honest inquiry into the nature of the universe. And their proclamations about God and the failures of Darwinism do not in the least signify that there is a legitimate scientific controversy about evolution. In 2005, a survey was conducted in thirty four countries measuring the percentage of adults who accept evolution. The United States ranked thirty third, just above Turkey. Meanwhile, high school students in the United States test below those of every European and Asian nation in their understanding of science and math. These data are unequivocal: we are building a civilization of ignorance.’
‘I come now to the definition of “knowledge.” As in the cases of “belief” and “truth,” there is a certain inevitable vagueness and inexactitude in the conception. Failure to realize this has led, it seems to me, to important errors in the theory of knowledge. Nevertheless, it is well to be as precise as possible about the unavoidable lack of precision in the definition of which we are in search.
It is clear that knowledge is a sub-class of true beliefs: every case of knowledge is a case of true belief, but not vice versa. It is very easy to give examples of true beliefs that are not knowledge. There is the man who looks at a clock which is not going, though he thinks it is, and who happens to look at it at the moment when it is right; this man acquires a true belief as to the time of day, but cannot be said to have knowledge. There is the man who believes, truly, that the last name of the Prime Minister in 1906 began with a B, but who believes this because he thinks that Balfour was Prime Minister then, whereas in fact it was Campbell-Bannerman. There is the lucky optimist who, having bought a ticket for a lottery, has an unshakeable conviction that he will win, and, being lucky, does win. Such instances can be multiplied indefinitely, and show that you cannot claim to have known merely because you turned out to be right.’
‘Consider, for instance, the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is now the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The virus infects over half the American population and causes nearly five thousand women to die each year from cervical cancer; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than two hundred thousand die worldwide. We now have a vaccine for HPV that appears to be both safe and effective. The vaccine produced 100 percent immunity in the six thousand women who received it as part of a clinical trial. And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex. These pious men and women want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence, even if it sacrifices the lives of thousands of women each year.
There is nothing wrong with encouraging teens to abstain from having sex. But we know, beyond any doubt, that teaching abstinence alone is not a good way to curb teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted disease. In fact, kids who are taught abstinence alone are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex, as many of them inevitably will. One study found that teen “virginity pledges” postpone intercourse for eighteen months on average—while, in the meantime, these virgin teens were more likely than their peers to engage in oral and anal sex. American teenagers engage in about as much sex as teenagers in the rest of the developed world, but American girls are four to five times more likely to become pregnant, to have a baby, or to get an abortion. Young Americans are also far more likely to be infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rate of gonorrhea among American teens is seventy times higher than it is among their peers in the Netherlands and France. The fact that 30 percent of our sex-education programs teach abstinence only (at a cost of more than $200 million a year) surely has something to do with this.
The problem is that Christians like yourself are not principally concerned about teen pregnancy and the spread of disease. That is, you are not worried about the suffering caused by sex; you are worried about sex. As if this fact needed further corroboration, Reginald Finger, an Evangelical member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recently announced that he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine—thereby condemning millions of men and women to die unnecessarily from AIDS each year—because such a vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky. This is one of many points on which your religious beliefs become genuinely lethal.’