According to one academic, South Korea is the ninth most atheistic country in the world. It struck me as a surprising conclusion, until I realised that the strict definition of atheism used excluded Buddhism, although it still begged the question of why Thailand - currently 94.6% Buddhist according to the CIA World Factbook didn't appear in the top 50, or why North Korea came 33rd considering since the idea that 85% of North Koreans believe in God is contrary to the reality of life there.
In fact though, surveys do suggest that half the population don't identify themselves as Christians or Buddhists, so perhaps they really are aetheists, although it seems more likely many of them are more likely to be agnostic. To my mind, South Korea - a land full of temples, churches and background Confucianism, is a significantly spiritual society.
We were at a hospital when a Buddhist monk came in. Monks are not an uncommon sight in our area of Busan, but what happened next was a little out of the ordinary. As a nurse finished treating him he suddenly stopped and told her "you must be careful of water", which seemed to result in stunned silence on her part. And then he was on his way, meanwhile it's possible the nurse may never go swimming again.
Scratch the surface of Korean society and I suspect there's quite a lot of this kind of thing going on, and even my life has been subject to such advice and insights - either directly or through third parties with whom my existence has come up in discussions with psychics of various kinds. And while no-one has told me to be careful of water, I fear the day a mere sentence from a respected spiritual person launches me into a whole new world of paranoia. Perhaps I can choose not to believe, but this is Korea, and maybe sooner or later it gets to you in a way you can't ignore.
Korean tags: 종교, 불교, 기독교, 물