Kim Jong Un is the current leader of North Korea, holding the titles of Supreme Leader of North Korea and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces since 2011. He succeeded his father Kim Jong Il, following his death.
As the leader of the isolated and secretive country of North Korea, not much is known definitively about Kim Jong Un’s personal life and beliefs, including his religion.
However, there are some clues from his upbringing, policies, and practices that provide insight into what religion Kim Jong Un likely follows.
What is the official religion of North Korea?
North Korea is officially an atheist state where the public practice of religion is discouraged. The government promotes the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family instead of religion.
Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and founder of North Korea, established Juche, or self-reliance, as the guiding philosophy of the country. Despite official atheism, some religious activities are tolerated by the government, but they are strictly monitored and controlled.
Religions in North Korea
While North Korea officially has no state religion, some religious practices are permitted in the country:
- Cheondoism – Also known as Chendogyo, it draws elements from Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Catholicism. It originated in Korea and has a small presence in North Korea.
- Buddhism – Korean Buddhism has a long history on the peninsula. Some North Koreans are allowed to practice Buddhism, but under tight regulations.
- Confucianism – The philosophy and belief system is accepted by the government as it encourages loyalty to the state.
- Chondoist Chongu Party – The government-approved party representing Cheondoists in North Korea.
- Korean Christian Federation – The state-controlled party representing Christians in the country.
So while religious practice is extremely limited, some North Koreans are permitted to engage in certain state-sanctioned religious activities.
Was Kim Jong Un raised atheist?
Yes, Kim Jong Un was raised atheist in officially atheist North Korea. As the son of Kim Jong Il and grandson of founder Kim Il Sung, he was groomed from birth to become the next leader of North Korea and the inheritor of their philosophy of Juche.
Religion was likely discouraged in his upbringing as the Kim family maintained its cult of personality and totalitarian control over the country. He attended Kim Il Sung Military University, named after his grandfather, rather than receive a religious education.
So while the details of his early life are obscured, it is believed he was raised without religion in preparation for leadership.
Does Kim Jong Un have religious beliefs?
Due to the secrecy of the regime, it is difficult to definitively say what Kim Jong Un’s personal religious beliefs may be. However, there are some indications that he may adhere to some traditional Korean religious practices:
- Ancestral worship – Veneration of deceased ancestors is a common practice in Korean culture, including in the traditionally atheist North. Kim Jong Un has maintained the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleums of his grandfather and father, suggesting he may privately practice ancestral worship.
- Nature worship – Many Koreans believe that spirits inhabit nature, like mountains and trees. Kim Jong Un may engage in nature worship through visits to sacred mountains and trees.
- Folk religion – Shamanism and fortune telling are parts of Korean folk religion. While forbidden, there are reports of secret shamanistic rituals being performed for the Kim family to gain good fortune.
So while atheism is the official stance, Kim Jong Un may indulge in select traditional practices in private. But overall, any religious beliefs likely play a minimal role in his governance of North Korea compared to the supreme leadership philosophy.
Does North Korea have freedom of religion?
No, North Korea does not have freedom of religion. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion on paper, but in practice the government represses religious activities through executions, torture, arrests and imprisonment at labor camps.
Only small religious groups supervised by the state are permitted, and proselytizing is illegal. Ownership of religious materials is banned. Those practicing religions secretly risk severe punishments if discovered.
Many trying to escape persecution have defected from the country. So in reality, North Korea is one of the most anti-religious and oppressive environments in the world.
What religions are banned in North Korea?
The North Korean government bans religious groups not sanctioned by the state. Prohibited religious groups and activities include:
- Christianity – Christian missionaries introduced Christianity to Korea over a century ago. But today, underground Christians in North Korea are harshly persecuted if discovered.
- Illegal religious gatherings – Prayer meetings, Bible studies, or worship services held without state approval are strictly forbidden.
- Proselytizing – Sharing religious beliefs to convert others is illegal. Bibles and other religious materials are banned.
- Fortune telling – Considered superstition and not sanctioned by the government, fortune telling is prohibited.
- Cults of personality – Veneration of leaders besides the Kim family, like religious cults of personality, are not permitted.
- Occultism – Practices like witchcraft and divination outside of state-sanctioned traditions are banned.
The government claims religious freedom but in reality harshly suppresses any independent religious practice or organization.
Punishments for Religious Activities
North Koreans caught engaging in illegal religious activities face severe punishments:
- Labor camps
- Forced labor
- Interrogations using violence
Family members of religious offenders are also often punished under the principle of “guilt by association”. The government uses fear and violence to stamp out religious influence seen as undermining their total control.
Has Kim Jong Un persecuted religious groups?
Yes, under Kim Jong Un’s leadership there continues to be intense persecution of religious groups not sanctioned by the government. A United Nations report in 2014 found:
- Between 80,000-120,000 political prisoners in labor camps, many imprisoned for religious reasons.
- Government policies to eradicate all religious activities not approved by the state.
- Executions, torture, imprisonment, kidnappings of religious believers.
- Targeting of Christians practicing secretly.
- Crackdowns on people possessing religious items like Bibles.
Additionally, the Commission for International Religious Freedom has designated North Korea as a “country of particular concern” for its systematic religious oppression since 2001. So although details are scarce, Kim Jong Un is believed to have sustained harsh policies against religious independence.
Did Kim Jong Un order the execution of Christians?
Due to limited transparency, there are no confirmed reports that Kim Jong Un directly ordered the execution of Christians. However, under his leadership, Christians have faced imprisonment in labor camps, torture, and execution. In 2020, a report by South Korean NGO the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights found:
- 63 Christians were imprisoned in North Korea for their faith that year.
- 3 Christians were executed for possessing Bibles.
- Over 3,700 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps.
Additionally, the US State Department and Commission for International Religious Freedom have accused the regime of detaining and executing religious believers during Kim Jong Un’s rule. So while no specific order has been found, extreme persecution and violence against Christians have continued under Kim Jong Un.
What are some differences between Juche and religion?
There are some key differences between the guiding philosophy of North Korea, Juche, and religion:
|Based on principles of self-reliance and absolute loyalty to the state.
|Based on theology, spirituality, and faith.
|Does not worship spiritual beings or deities.
|Worships deities or supernatural forces.
|Created by Kim Il Sung as a political philosophy.
|Evolves over centuries as a belief system.
|Focuses on ideological indoctrination of the populace.
|Focuses on individual faith, morals, and afterlife.
|No religious texts or materials.
|Relies on religious scriptures and writings.
|Rituals and ceremonies focus on the Kim family and Juche.
|Rituals and ceremonies have spiritual meaning.
So while Juche has some cult-like qualities, at its foundation it is an atheist political ideology rather than a religion. It revolves around reverence for the Kim family line rather than any deity.
What are some ways Kim Jong Un violates religious freedom?
Kim Jong Un violates religious freedom in North Korea through:
- Repression of unauthorized religious groups – Any religious practices or organizations outside state-controlled churches are suppressed. Christians and other groups worshiping secretly face punishment if caught.
- Ban on proselytizing – Sharing religious beliefs to convert others is illegal under Kim Jong Un. Distributing religious materials like Bibles to proselytize is forbidden.
- Imprisonment of religious believers – Christians and other religious followers are sent to brutal labor camps for their faith under Kim Jong Un’s rule.
- Restricted access to places of worship – It is forbidden to build unauthorized churches or temples, and access to accepted places of worship is restricted through government surveillance and limitations on activities.
- Crackdown on religious leaders – Religious leaders who do not submit to state control face arrest, violence, and execution for undermining the regime.
- Punishment of repatriated religious believers – North Koreans repatriated from abroad face interrogation on possible religious influence, with punishment for practicing foreign religions.
So through violence, intimidation, and restrictions on access, Kim Jong Un denies North Koreans the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
In conclusion, Kim Jong Un was raised in officially atheist North Korea, where religion is heavily suppressed in favor of the cult of personality around the Kim family. While his personal beliefs cannot be definitively known due to the secrecy of the totalitarian regime, he shows no outward signs of true religious devotion.
Under his leadership, persecution of Christians and unauthorized religious groups has continued through imprisonment, torture, and execution. Kim Jong Un sustains his family’s philosophy of Juche self-reliance as the guiding force of the country rather than religion. The result is one of the most closed, anti-religious societies in the world with virtually no religious freedom under his authoritarian rule.
However, some indications suggest he may privately hold certain traditional Korean religious practices related to nature, spirits, and ancestors. Ultimately, the state policies and cult of personality cultivated by his grandfather Kim Il Sung remain the overarching belief system of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Kim Jong Un allow any churches in North Korea?
Kim Jong Un allows only a small number of state-controlled churches. The Korean Christian Federation is the state-run Protestant church, while Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in Pyongyang are also permitted under strict monitoring.
However, these churches mainly exist as propaganda tools to provide the illusion of religious freedom. Real Christian worship behind these churches is prohibited.
What happens if you are caught with a Bible in North Korea?
Being caught with a Bible or other religious materials in North Korea can result in severe punishment under Kim Jong Un, including imprisonment, torture, being sent to a labor camp, or potentially execution.
The regime cracks down harshly on religious proselytizing and outside religious influence as undermining their control.
Why did Kim Jong Un execute his uncle Jang Song Thaek?
In 2013 Kim Jong Un notoriously executed his uncle Jang Song Thaek, calling him a traitor who plotted against the government. While not confirmed, some reports suggest Kim Jong Un may have viewed his uncle’s growing power and foreign ties as enabling the spread of foreign religions like Christianity, undermining Juche ideology.
Does Kim Jong Un prescribe to any personal spiritual beliefs?
Due to secrecy, Kim Jong Un’s personal spiritual beliefs are unknown. The ideology of Juche developed by his grandfather revolves around absolute loyalty to the Kim dynasty rather than spirituality. Kim Jong Un shows no outward signs of adhering to a formal religion, though he may hold some traditional Korean beliefs privately.
What is the state philosophy of North Korea?
Juche, or self-reliance, is the official state philosophy and guiding ideology of North Korea. Developed by Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, Juche promotes independence, nationalism, militarism, and veneration of the Kim family in a cult of personality. All aspects of society are centered around Juche rather than religion.
Can you be openly Christian in North Korea?
No, you cannot openly practice Christianity in North Korea. There are state-run Christian churches in Pyongyang that exist for propaganda purposes, but real Christian activities like Bible studies or unauthorized prayer services are strictly forbidden. Practicing Christianity openly would result in severe punishment under Kim Jong Un.
Does Kim Jong Un follow any spiritual leaders?
No, Kim Jong Un does not have any known spiritual leaders he follows. As the totalitarian leader of North Korea, he portrays himself as the supreme authority on ideological and spiritual matters. Spiritual leaders outside the state apparatus that could undermine his authority by promoting religion are suppressed.
What percentage of North Koreans follow traditional religions?
It is difficult to determine accurately, but the U.S. State Department estimates that around 16% of North Koreans secretly adhere to traditional Korean religions like Cheondoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. However, they cannot practice openly under Kim Jong Un without facing punishment. The vast majority outwardly profess loyalty to Juche and the Kim family.
Are ancestral gravesites maintained in North Korea?
Yes, the ancestral graves of the Kim family are maintained, as veneration of ancestors is a cultural tradition. Kim Jong Un has continued commemorating his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung at their grand mausoleums. But for average citizens, traditional grave rituals and burials are restricted by laws limiting freedom of religion and assembly.