You Put It Where Your Mouth Is and It Talks

The following is a juxtaposition of two excerpts from two different NYTimes articles regarding North Korea. The first is about how freedom can be bought, the second is how freedom can be sold. In both cases, money and security plays its part in freedom and submission [emphasis mine]. The largest realization that I have made in the last few days is that no matter how wealthy we have become or where we are, our dilemma is no different:

In a country whose borders were sealed until a decade ago, defectors once risked not only their own lives but those of the family members they left behind, who were often thrown into harsh prison camps as retribution. Today, state security is no longer the main obstacle to fleeing, according to defectors, North Korean brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts. Now, it is cash.

Money now trumps ideology for an increasing number of North Koreans, and that has allowed this underground railroad to flourish,” said Peter M. Beck, the Northeast Asia project director in Seoul, South Korea, of the International Crisis Group, which has extensively researched the subject in several Asian countries and is publishing a report. “The biggest barrier to leaving North Korea is just money. If you have enough money, you can get out quite easily. It speaks to the marketization of North Korea, especially since economic reforms were implemented in 2002. Anything can be bought in the North now.”

Yet there are those who choose to leave lands of freedom and submit themselves to the communist government of North Korea. Why?

…Privilege is probably not the answer to understanding why Mr. Dresnok and the other American defectors decided to build their lives in North Korea; belief is. Three of the four American defectors, with the exception of Mr. Jenkins, came from broken homes, with missing or abusive fathers. They made homes in the most extreme totalitarian state in the world, where Kim Il-sung is portrayed at the ultimate father figure for the entire nation. Even though Mr. Dresnok has numerous health problems (mostly related to his smoking and drinking, which he refuses to stop), the North Korean government provides for him and his family.

Which leads into the second time Mr. Dresnok cries in the film. While talking about the North Korean famines of the 1990’s, he says that despite the hundreds of thousands who died, the North Koreans never cut his rations. “Why? Why do they let their own people starve to death to feed an American?” he asks as he tears up. “The Great Leader has given us a special solicitude. The government is going to take care of me until my dying day.”

Money talks. As a son of immigrants, I realize now that my parents worked very hard to provide for me. In many ways, they left behind their culture to ensure economic opportunities for me. I have seen that earning power and potential strike a deep chord in the immigrant psyche and how all the vestiges and trappings of success take on a deeper significance. It means victory and freedom: from fear, from insecurity, from death and disease to a good marriage, to a good education, to a good home, to prosperity, to excess, to forgetfulness.

I have come to see that few of us really feel the need to believe in God any more as long as there is a thing called money. It alleviates our fears and gives us worth at the same time it sets us free and binds us. It speaks a great deal more about where our faith lies than any other measurement, and I’m certain that in many cases, God is conveniently too abstract and the local church too shadowy of the kingdom of heaven to coax the green from our white knuckled grasp. In the first story, the redeemed will think that money saved him, and in the second, the dying will think that money was what laid his soul to sleep.

Where are the godly now? Have we pierced ourselves with many griefs? How much is enough for us? How can Christians sleep so well at night in their 300-thread count sheets and their SUVs, with their private schools and their gated communities? If our riches could buy us more time then perhaps we could make a case for hoarding it, but as it stands…it never sets us free, nor will it let us rest. O my brothers and sisters, let us rest — we have more than enough.

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