January 21, 2010

John Yoo

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I've always been deeply troubled by what I call the North Korean aspect of our culture. It's the part of being Korean that lends itself toward extremism, authoritarianism and to some degree, self nihilism. Think: Korean student suicide, Self-Immolation -perhaps most famously demonstrated by the soccer fan who set himself on fire on international TV. So when I heard years ago John Yoo, the lawyer who essentially authorized 'torture' under the Bush administration, I was not at all surprised he was a member from my home church in Philadelphia, Young-Sang Presbyterian.

Our church, like most Korean churches, is conservative - in large part because conservative evangelicalism coincides exactly with Confucian and Authoritarian mores. Obey your parents? Of course. Obey God without question? Of course. And who will tell you what God wants you to do? The Pastor. Treat the Pastor like a mini-pope even though it's not part of the Protestant movement? Yes! And so forth.

Still I expected to hate John Yoo when he came on the Jon Stewart show to promote his book. It was clear to me Jon Stewart felt even more so. But I think we were all surprised to find John Yoo was not this self-satisfied, smug right winger but he was sincere, and vulnerable, and seems genuinely and constantly surprised at the level of anger directed toward him. And it hit me while watching him, that he was this smart, driven kid - the pride and joy of his parents and community - who did what he was told, just as he had been raised. I think on some base level, he believes he was serving God.

This was the kind of thing that left the deepest marks on me. We were founding members of Young-Sang, now one of the largest Korean churches in the States, and to some degree it has become a kind of ghost following me around, because where I am from will always affect me - even when I actively choose different things. It also marks me as being unable to left-wing knee jerk against conservatives or the religious left. In Brooklyn, in New York, I can't think of a less popular, less understood thing that to say you are Christian, or go to a traditional church. And even I have a certain impatience with young evangelicals, especially when I see they what they are up against - a kind of naive, extreme faith that they use to create certainty in their lives. And for which they pay heavily. But still, I have this deep empathy and love for Korean churches, for Korean parents, for this next generation that have created a kind of American-Korean 2.0 version of the church they grew up in - it has it's place.

posted at 09:27 AM by jenn

Filed under: politics


02/01/10 11:37 PM

I deeply empathize with the dual attraction to left-wing mores and the sincere faith of so many Koreans, at the same time that I find the phenomena of Korean extremism, judgmentalism, perfectionism, violence -- all causes, surely of the high rate of suicide, mental illness and isolation? -- extremely troubling.

There are so many of us straddling the worlds of our Korean upbringing, religious educations, liberal academic backgrounds and current secular lifestyles. There's such a chasm between me and a Korean who chooses to stay immersed in Korean culture (for obvious instance, marrying Korean) and the Korean church, and yet there is an equal though unseen chasm between me and a non-Korean who scorns all religion or tradition.

I'm always astonished that there's not more (not any, really) discourse at this intersection of Korean culture and philosophy, politics and religion, so am happy to see you back to eggbop.

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