Koreans scramble for their tickets to heaven

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The Independent Online
AT MIDNIGHT - Korean time - on 28 October the world will end. Jesus Christ will return to earth and assemble 144,000 of the faithful, with whom he will ascend to heaven, according to the Tami Church. For the rest, well, it looks like much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Apparently the Second Coming is to be staged in Seoul and as the deadline approaches an increasing number of Koreans are taking it seriously and jettisoning their worldly goods to earn a ticket to heaven. Families are breaking up, businessmen are leaving their jobs and selling their assets. One women reportedly had an abortion because she was afraid she would be too heavy to ascend to heaven bearing a child.

Koreans are as fond of radical religions as of radical student politics and radical drinking. This is the home of the Unification Church, better known in the West as the Moonies. There are sects, both Buddhist and Christian, to satisfy the wildest yearnings. Traditionally Buddhist, Korea has been inundated with Christian missionaries, mostly American, over the past century. Today, some 12 million of South Korea's 42 million people are Christian. Some are attracted by Korean versions of the more imaginative creeds of US evangelism.

The Tami Church, a Korean abbreviation standing for 'prepare for the coming future', is a particularly imaginative sect. The 28 October message was originally propagated by one of its pastors, Lee Jang Lim. Now a number of copycat doomsday sects have set themselves up, with between 20,000 and 100,000 believers. All preach a surprisingly similar message: donation of one's assets to the church can only be an advantage when the final reckoning comes.