Do You Believe Jesus Christ?

I swear, there’s a punchline to this post, but it comes right at the end.

The other day at work, some people were complaining about how some Korean taxi drivers sometimes have nudie pictures (sometimes attached to a calendar) up in their cab. This is an extremely rare phenomenon, though.

What I encounter far more often is the evangelical cabbie. The taxi driver who has sticks of gum set out, on a donation basis, with the cash going to charity. With laminated religious tracts attached to the backs of the front seats in the cab. With an electronically lit-up picture of the Nazarene on the dashboard.

The cabbie who turns to look at you when stopped at a red light, and the only thing he has to say in Korean or English is, “Do you believe [in] Jesus Christ?” I mean, how presumptuous is that, when a taxi driver who doesn’t know you from Adam, and who doesn’t even bother to get to know you even a little, immediately tries to convert you in his cab?

And for that matter, you meet people like this outside of cabs, too. Just the other day, I was cycling downtown to go to the Film Festival that’s running in Jeonju, and as I proceeded up the crest of a hill, cars whizzing past me, this smug guy in a suit looks me right in the eye, and as I pass him, he says, “Jee-juss Keu-ra-yee-seu-teu.” Yeah, thanks buddy, that’s what I was thinking when that bus nearly clipped me ten seconds ago, too. And when I arrived at the festival, this woman runs up to me, and says, “I want you to read this!” What did she have? Some Creationist pamphlet with “What’s happened to movies?” written on the front.

I just said no thanks, but you know what I wanted to say? I wanted to say something like this:

What’s happened to movies, honey? Have you seen some old movies? Do you think Birth of a Nation could get made now, in any Hollywood studio? What do you think is worse on the big screen: apartheid and racially-motivated murders (designed as racist propaganda for the KKK), or a little sex in a hotel? Sure, films have all kinds of sex and violence. Human stories always have some kind of sex and violence. But wait, wasn’t the most violent movie of 2004 that little Mel Gibson snuff-flick The Passion of Christ? Violence and sex sell tickets, and they have always sold tickets. This is nothing new, sweetheart, this is human nature you’re fighting against. And here’s a clue: you’re never gonna win, because there are much more important fights to win. Poverty. Sexual equality. Human rights. Corporate exploitation. Why aren’t you spending your time fighting for those things? If you do that, people will see you’re all about good things. They’re join up with you happily. You won’t have to go knocking on doors. Hell, when I see Christians fighting as hard to solve those problems as they are to gain converts, I’ll start listening to them more closely, and working with them.

But I don’t think she would have listened. When someone is convinced she is “right”, no criticism will get through the skull and membranes to the brain.

Because really, that’s what most of the Korean Christians I have knowingly met here are all about: getting converts. Proselytizing. I’m not saying all Korean Christians are like this, mind you: I’m quite sure it’s the minority, really. It’s just that this minority is the bulk of the Christians you knowingly meet. It’s the first and the last thing they bring up when meeting you. They have a one-track mind, really.

The other day Lime said, “You know, many Koreans think that the word ‘different’ and the word ‘wrong’… they think they’re the same meaning.” Is that what fuels the evangelism? Is it the desire to have other people stop being “wrong”? Is it a feeling of having been proven “right” because one has converted another? Because with some of these people, it seems like some kind of very direct sublimation of the sexual impulse (which makes sense, considering the one-track mindedness of it). (*) Rather than going about procreating willy-nilly, they’re going about attempting to convert anyone who’ll listen.

Well, the other day I tried out this response with Lime (who is a Catholic, by the way, but not a presumptuous fisher of men). I think we heard someone say something about “Do you believe Jesus?” and I said, “I should always use the same response. Uh… 내. 우주 비행선에서 만났어서 믿어요.“(**) She laughed really hard and said it was a great response and I should use it when asked the question. I can’t wait to try it out on my next evangelical cabbie.

[UPDATE: Proof against misreading:
(*) I realize some may think I’m inferring this process of sexual sublimation to obsessive evangelization is a particularly Korean trait, or, in a particularly skewed reading of what I’ve written, some might think I’m suggesting Koreans have a stronger sex drive than other people. Hogwash! Sublimation of sexual impulses is, to some degree, a normal and necessary human thing, for anyone living in a society—if we didn’t do it, we’d never get much of anything done.

Though I don’t buy into Freud in general, I think the idea that humans, as encultured beings, of course sublimate their mammalian instincts. Some people fantasize about sex a lot. Some people get into art or writing and release those energies that way. And others replace the however-many-times-a-minute thoughts of sex with thoughts of religion. All of that it perfectly normal across cultures.

I also don’t see it particularly as a religious thing. One sees it in politics, especially in a place like America. One sees with with morality in a conservative place like the prairies. The parallel between procreation of a human child and the conversion of a person—the propagation of the religious, political, aesthetic, or other ideas in others’ minds—certainly invites some kind of comparison, to me.

What seems different to me about Korea is how much more allowable in public, towards total strangers, such proselytizing seems to be; to the point where not just the odd cabbie, but a good minority of them, will try to convince you to adopt their religion, even in the absence of a common language in which to discuss the issue. Sometimes, it seems in fact that Korean Protestants have sublimated those impulses not even to thoughts of religion itself, but to thoughts of converting other people to their religion. (Something we sometimes see among Americans, too, though I think it’s a little less overt.) ]

(**) 내. 우주 비행선에서 만났어서 믿어요, translates as, “Yes. I met him on the spaceship, so I believe in him.”

2 thoughts on “Do You Believe Jesus Christ?

  1. You fail to make note of the phonological similarity between ‘different’ and ‘wrong.’ I don’t see any more to this mis-usage by native speakers of Korean than I do to English speakers who say such gems as ‘I could care less.’

  2. I honestly don’t think she meant it that way. I don’t think she meant the phonological similarity, I think she meant that a lot of Koreans (especially in our area, which is quite country) seem to equate difference with wrongness.

    It wasn’t a linguistic nitpick, because as you point out, people in every language do this. The number of times I’ve seen “web sight” in English, for “website”, is astonishing and embarrassing.

    But it was, I suspect, a nitpick about conservativism. And strangely enough, I have heard from a lot of people that Kyongsangdo is more conservative than Jeollado, but I am starting to think that Jeonbuk, at least, in its own backwater way, is also very conservative. Kyongsangdo might be more conservative in the sense that most suburbs are, but Jeonbuk is very much like Montana or Colorado. I am becoming more and more aware all the time that my sense of Korea as a place has been far too strongly defined by the fact that I personally live in a backwater area. It’s be like judging Canada on the basis of living in Yellowknife, I think, or maybe Red Deer.

    Anyway, Lime would be the person to further clarify the comment. But as for me, I meant basically that many people where I live seem reflexively to regard difference negatively, or suspiciously, and only warm up to it after some time passes.

    And perhaps I am sensitive to that since that is also my own natural disposition and something I don’t like about myself.


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