Ritual torture, for Jesus!

Well, here’s a story to read while you’re sitting down. And ideally while you’re not in the middle of a meal, just about to eat, or just finished eating.

SEOUL — A South Korean taxi driver said to have extreme religious views has been found dead on a crucifix after an apparent attempt to emulate the death of Christ, police said Wednesday.

The body of the 58-year-old surnamed Kim was found on Sunday on a wooden cross in an abandoned quarry in the central city of Mungyeong, with nails on the cross protruding through holes in his hands and feet.

Local police said the man, wearing only underpants and a crown of thorns, had a stab wound to his right waist and several whip marks in an apparent reconstruction of Christ’s death.

Really. After several days of investigation, the police determined that it was a suicide. More on that here. I don’t want to get into all the uber-gory details — follow the link if you have the stomach for it — but since this is the part that perplexed me most I will say here that the man drilled holes in his hands and then slipped them over the nails.

Clearly, Mr. Kim was mentally and emotionally disturbed, and extreme devotion to Christianity was just the way that his instabilities manifested themselves. Crazy people are going to do crazy things, regardless of what religion they are, and whether religion exists or not.

But just as I was getting ready to stop thinking about this story, someone pointed out to me that the same thing happens annually, though not fatally, in the Philippines on Good Friday with large groups of people. (Follow that link to the BBC for some pictures, if you’re so inclined.) Yes, it really happened last month. Local church leaders object, but the people love it — “When I’m up there on the cross, I feel very close to God,” Ruben Enaje told the AP — and it brings thousands of tourists to the area every year.

This is mainstream in these regions, not the work of some isolated crazy person. Perhaps we should say that it is the work of a group of crazy people, all together. It makes it pretty hard to draw a bright line between “normal” religious worship and self-destructive insanity … which, in my mind, says something important about the nature of religion.

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  1. Imagine the outcry if this person were imitating a movie or a video game or some other piece of non-revered fiction.

  2. Actually, Landon makes a good point. If the guy had done something one-tenth this horrible because he was trying to emulate Marilyn Manson, the country would go insane. But religious torture stories are obviously part of something good, which people just take a bit too far sometimes.

  3. Oh, for sure. And just imagine what would happen if an entire town decided to make an annual ritual based on Grand Theft Auto.

  4. Ritual flagellation is more gruesome than the non-fatal crucifixions in the Philippines. I’ve seen them walk the streets, and it’s sick.

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