Unification News for April / May 1999

Before Absolute Faith and Obedience: A Case for the Primacy of Conscience

Dan Fefferman -- Washington, DC

"Absolute faith, absolute love, absolute obedience…" --Family Pledge, # 8
"Conscience before teacher, conscience before parents, conscience before God." --Rev. Sun Myung Moon, True God’s Day Message, 1996

Both of the above slogans represent important aspects of the thought of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. On the surface, these two sayings seem to contradict each other. Can they be reconciled?

The answer may be very significant for the future of Unification Theology. If "absolute obedience" means the subservience of the conscience to religious authority and "absolute faith" results in blind commitment, then Unificationism will fail in its attempt to present itself to contemporary audiences. As Dr. Young Oon Kim stated in her introduction to Divine Principles and Their Application, "A blind faith has no attraction or authority over the mind of modern men." (Young Oon Kim, Divine Principles and Their Application, p. iv.) On the other hand, if individual conscience takes precedence over loyalty to God and True Parents, then the pledge of absolute faith and obedience seems empty. Is there a way to unify these seemingly opposite approaches?

The phrase "absolute faith, absolute love, absolute obedience" comes from the "Family Pledge," recited by Unificationists the world over at 5:00 a.m. every Sunday and often daily at 6:00 a.m. as part of the Hoon Dok Hwe (speech reading) movement. The theme is also repeated in many of Reverend Moon’s speeches. In the context of the Family Pledge, it is read as follows:

Our family pledges, as we enter the Completed Testament Era, to achieve the ideal oneness of God and humankind in love through practicing absolute faith, absolute love, and absolute obedience, thereby perfecting the realm of liberation of the Kingdom of God on Earth and in Heaven by centering on true love.

"Conscience before teacher, conscience before parents, conscience before God" was a common theme in Reverend Moon’s speeches in the period 1994-1996. It was a central part of his True God’s Day message of January 1, 1996. In speeches to members, he sometimes led the congregation in chanting this slogan for several minutes. The theme of the primacy of conscience was also emphasized in Reverend Moon’s teachings to thousands of Japanese women in a series of workshops in Chae Joo Island, Korea during the same period. The following is an excerpt from one of the speeches in which the slogan was introduced:

Conscience is higher even than parents. Please recite this, yangshim eun boomonim boda apsuh yitda. That means, conscience exists ahead of True Parents. Please repeat one more time. [Conscience exists ahead of True Parents.] Again. [Conscience exists ahead of True Parents.] The second is, yangshim eun seuseung boda apsuh yitda. Now repeat this, the conscience exists before the teacher himself. [Conscience exists before the teacher himself.] Again. [Conscience exists before the teacher.] This means that the conscience is ahead of the teacher. The third, yangshim eun hananim boda apsuh yitda. Conscience exists ahead of God. Please repeat. [Conscience exists ahead of God.] Again. [Conscience exists ahead of God.] One more time. [Conscience exists ahead of God.] ("Let Us Find Our True Self," December 4, 1994, Belvedere International Training Center, Translator: Sang Kil Han.)

What Is Conscience?

In Divine Principle, there are two concepts of what is commonly called conscience, known as "original mind," and "conscience."

The part of the human mind which corresponds to character and always directs man toward the absolute standard of goodness is called the "original mind," and that which corresponds to form is called the "conscience." …(if man) sets up a standard of goodness different from that of the original nature of creation, the human conscience directs toward that standard; however the original mind rejects it and tries to turn the direction of the conscience toward the standard of the original mind…" (Divine Principle, second edition, page 64)

Another way of distinguishing between these two concepts is to say that original mind is "vertical conscience" and conscience is "horizontal conscience."

In the slogan about "conscience before parents," Reverend Moon uses the term yangshim (conscience) -- rather than ponshim (original mind). Nevertheless, the contextual meaning of the term is closer to ponshim, in that it represents an absolute standard beyond changing values. This is demonstrated by the following:

Did we inherit our conscience at our birth? No. It was before life. It has always been with God. The conscience remains the same constantly. ("Let Us Find Our True Self," op. cit.)

Clearly, this use of the word "conscience" (yangshim) is closer to Divine Principle’s "original mind" (ponshim) than to the changeable "conscience."

Stages of Faith and Obedience

Reverend Moon does not encouraged forced obedience or blind faith, but a mature faith and enlightened obedience to an absolute subject, namely God. The concept of obedience, to Reverend Moon, is not one dimensional. He has taught that there are three kinds of obedience, corresponding to the three stages of human development.

There are three types of obedience. One is just to obey whatever is told you. The next type is to obey while always seeking to know God, Truth and the why of things. The third type is obedience after knowing the heart of God. (Leaders Address of 5-1-65 in Way of Tradition, Vol. II, page 137.)

Doing whatever one is told without questioning is a necessary stage of development. If a child does not obey unquestioningly the warning voice of his parent, he puts himself at risk. If, for example, he keeps walking across the street when his mother shouts, "Stop!" he could be killed. His intellect is not yet capable of understanding the reason why he must stop, so he must depend on his parent’s wisdom. This is formation stage obedience -- children’s obedience, or unquestioning obedience. But children’s obedience is not complete, not "absolute obedience."

The second type of obedience is the type which questions, but still obeys. It asks, "Why should I not eat the fruit? Will I ever be able to eat this fruit? Why did God put this fruit tree in the middle of the garden if I am not to eat it?" But it still obeys the commandment not to eat. This is growth stage obedience -- adolescent obedience. This questioning stage also is a necessary in the development of mature obedience, but it is still not complete or absolute obedience.

The final stage of obedience is obedience that knows the heart of the Father. This is completion stage obedience -- parental obedience. This is the type of obedience that acts intuitively without even waiting to be told -- the obedience that anticipates God, or even goes beyond God’s expectations. What would be an example of the type of obedience based on "knowing the heart of the Father?"

No knowledge, no position, no wealth…nothing can please Father except your heart of love for God alone, which will make him cry -- that alone can ease His heart…. If you are ready to die, if you cry out to God… "I am ready to die in the place of other people for the sake of Your cause," and if you really dash to that point, ready to sacrifice yourself, then God may be able to trust you. (Our Determination to Win 3-1-73 in Way of Tradition Vol. 1 page 47.)

I believe the key to reconciling "conscience" and "absolute obedience" can be found in understanding the distinction Rev. Moon makes between children’s obedience (unquestioning obedience) and parental obedience (absolute obedience). Unquestioning obedience is the formation stage, questioning obedience is the growth stage, and obedience that identifies with the heart of God is the completion stage. Absolute obedience is neither blind obedience nor questioning obedience, but obedience that understands intuitively, beyond the need for questions. In other words, absolute obedience is obedience united with "vertical conscience."

Conscience and Religious Authority

Another way of reconciling "absolute obedience" and "conscience" would be to assert that any impulse of conscience that contradicts the instructions of religious authority does not come from the "true" conscience (original mind) but from the horizontal conscience that is affected by changeable cultural norms. In other words, if your conscience tells you something is wrong but your religious leader tells you it is right, you should follow your religious leader’s opinion since he is more likely to be connected to God.

One teacher adopted this approach to absolute faith and obedience when he asked: "If Father holds up a white card and says it is a red card, what color is the card?" The correct answer, this teacher said, is "red card." Since Reverend Moon is God’s representative, and we are fallen human beings, we need to unite with his opinion and trust it absolutely, even if our own senses tell us otherwise.

But is this the interpretation of absolute obedience we should adopt? I believe there is ample evidence from Reverend Moon’s own teachings -- let alone moral philosophy and epistemology -- to suggest we should not. To deny reason and experience in the name of religious authority is precisely "blind faith." But Reverend Moon categorically rejects blind faith.

There has to be a scientific, logical explanation because now is not the time for blind faith. You have to have a logical, scientific explanation of the truth and that alone will be able to penetrate this twentieth century world. Blind faith…will not work anymore. (True Parents and the Creation of the Ideal Family, February 15, 1994, World Mission Center, NYC. Interpreter: Dr. Bo Hi Pak.)

If absolute faith is not blind faith, then what is it? It must be mature faith, complete faith or perfected faith. Faith, like obedience, passes through stages. Formation stage faith is unquestioning faith. Growth stage faith wrestles with difficult questions but continues on the faithful path. Completion stage faith has gone beyond questioning to the realm of intuition, of knowing the heart of the Father.

The Fallibility Question

Clearly, Unification Church leaders are human beings who sometimes commit moral errors. Does absolute obedience mean a member should follow a leader into moral error? Surely no one would want to argue that a member should follow a leader who commands him to violate God’s will. History has rendered a clear verdict on this question: "following orders" is no excuse for moral irresponsibility. Whether one is an officer in the German army during WWII or a fundraising member on an MFT team, one cannot use the excuse that "I was only following orders" to justify moral error.

So it should be clear that conscience has priority over obedience and faith as pertains to fallible persons and institutions. But what about Reverend Moon himself? Does he make mistakes? If not, then it could be argued that one is always safe in following his opinion. However, to my knowledge, Reverend Moon does not claim to be infallible. He does say that he seeks with complete sincerity to know and follow God’s will. But he also says he is a human being capable of error.

Do you trust me? (Yes!) Do you trust me? (Yes!!!!) Do you REALLY trust me? (Yes, Father!!!!!) You should not trust me so much. I am a man, and I can make mistakes. When you make a mistake, it is not such a big thing. But if I make a mistake, the entire providence may be affected. Instead of just trusting me, you should be praying for me, asking God that he will be able to guide me. (Unpublished speech to CARP leaders, 1981, author’s notes.)

Moreover, even if Reverend Moon himself were infallible, the question remains as to whom "absolute obedience" is due. Since, in Reverend Moon’s teaching, "conscience is before parents, teacher and God," it can only be concluded that absolute obedience is due to first to conscience and not to any outside authority. Even in relation to God, it must be to one’s inner sense of God’s will that obedience is due, rather than to any external power speaking in God’s name.

Resolving the Dilemma

There may be those who say that because Reverend Moon has fulfilled his messianic task by establishing the True Parents and True Family, the tension between conscience and obedience is now over. Such persons might argue: "From now on, we must simply obey True Parents. This is the highest form of conscience, because they are the visible manifestation of God." However, I believe it is not too bold to assert that even a direct instruction from Reverend or Mrs. Moon may hypothetically need to be resisted. Those who argue otherwise ignore the following statement from Reverend Moon:

The day and the moment will come when even God seems to be saying 'I don't know you.' At that time you will feel that you are utterly alone in all the universe. If under those conditions you still do not give up, but insist, 'No matter what God thinks or what True Parents say to me, no matter how unsympathetic the church members are, this is the right way and I will go on anyway.' Then at that moment you are elevating yourself to the highest level of faith. Once you reach that level you can be trusted unconditionally by God and by me, and eventually the whole world. (The Desire of All Things 6-17-77 in Way of Tradition Vol. III page 267.)

So, according to Reverend Moon, the "highest level of faith" is to persist in going the way one knows to be right, no matter what God, True Parents or church members say. In other words, "absolute faith" is synonymous with putting one’s conscience before any other authority, including even Reverend Moon and God. In fact, Reverend Moon seems to be saying that the way to be fully trusted by God is precisely by demonstrating that one holds the authority of one’s own conscience -- not God, True Parents or church members -- to be paramount.

Reverend Moon tells us that he himself followed such a course. In a well known story, he relates that God and Jesus initially denied Reverend Moon’s interpretation of the Fall. Only after insisting that he was correct despite their adamant disagreement did Reverend Moon eventually gain their assent.

When one looks at the Unification Church members whom Reverend Moon thinks highly of, a similar character is demonstrated. Take Rev. Chong Goo "Tiger" Park for example, or the American UC martyr, Lee Shapiro. Both of the were known for their passion and determination to finish what they started, even if their superiors directed them otherwise.

Other providential religious leaders have gone through a similar course. In the Bible, the prophet Elisha inherited the mantle and mission of his master Elijah only after disobeying him three times. (2 Kings 2: 1-11 NIV) Job wins God’s praise not by his unquestioning faith, but by his willingness to probe and question where others were unwilling. And of course, Jacob won his new name of "Victor" by being faithful to his father and obeying the rules, but by "striving with God and with man."

In holding that it may be necessary at times to resist even Godly authorities in order to follow one’s conscience and receive God’s ultimate trust and blessing, I do not mean to demean the value of strict obedience and unquestioning faith. Even for adults there may be moments when unquestioning faith is called for, and there are many times when the authority of a strong leader such as Reverend Moon is needed to encourage us to overcome our self-centeredness. At such time, the "horizontal conscience" becomes aligned with the "vertical conscience" through unquestioning faith and obedience. Yet, this is not always the case. As Reverend Moon points out, when one knows the heart of the Father "no power under the sun can deter it."

It is not easy to maintain internal unity with one’s teacher while having to resist his instructions in order to follow one’s conscience. However, we cannot escape the conclusion that, in the final analysis, true "absolute faith and absolute obedience" may sometimes involve contesting the direct orders even of one’s spiritual master. "Conscience before teacher, conscience before parents, conscience before God" is the sine qua non of absolute faith and obedience.

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