Explorations in Unificationism edited by Theodore T. Shimmyo and David A. Carlson
The following brief essay seeks to contextualize the Unification proposal for inter-religious relations among theories within the interfaith movement at large. It is argued that two divergent starting points have tended to define the playing field for interfaith proposals for the last century or so. These are proposals reflecting Asian unitism (as with the great interfaith pioneer Vivekananda), and Western Democratic presuppositions coming from the many Christian and secular or "non-aligned" interfaith theorists. I argue that Unificationism represents a different starting point and set of presuppositions, and then present in outline form the essential elements of that position. This essay lacks too much to be thought of as anything other than preliminary and introductory thoughts. Both the critique of extant systems and the presentation of Unification theory are underdeveloped. A proper presentation of a Unification theory of interfaith dialogue would require a far more extensive unpacking, or development of the core elements introduced and would also require careful historical study of the vast interfaith investment generated by the Unification movement over the years.
Assumptions underlying the desirability, and the why and how of interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of inter-religious harmony, like everything else in human affairs, proceed from the worldview and ideological tendencies of the person thinking, speaking or acting. There is no neutral position from which to think, speak or act, although it is entirely possible to engage in these activities with no conscious awareness of one's position or starting point. The errant notion still held by many (even highly educated people), that it is possible to be "objective" is a characteristic of the Modern worldview, following Descartes, Boyle, Newton and others. This long dominant assumption about the nature of things has lost currency. Now, "rather than being regarded as the norm for human society toward which all history has been aiming and into which all societies should be ushered -- forcibly if necessary -- [the Modern worldview] is instead increasingly seen as an aberration." [Griffin: ix, Holland: 11-12] Despite this gradual awakening of the philosophical and theological avant garde, however, "so powerful [is] this modern vision that today it has become the only way many of us can conceive of reality." [Holland: 11] Although this view has been fully superseded by both deconstructive or eliminative post-modernism and constructive postmodernism it lives much like a beheaded chicken in many circles of human activity.
The easily identifiable watershed for the increasingly popular advocacy of interfaith dialogue is the 1893 Chicago Parliament of the World's Religions, with special emphasis on the discourse of the Hindu Swami Vivekananda. It must be acknowledged therefore, that a great many of the pioneers in interfaith reflection and action carried out their advances imbued with the assumptions of modernity which was already in full swing in the West by 1893 and continued to hold sway for much of the century which followed. These interfaith leaders from the "Christian West," who contributed half to the formation of early interfaith thought and activity did so under the influence of Modernism. Contributors of the other half were those grounded in Asian-based unitive worldviews as exemplified by Swami Vivekananda and plenty of other Hindus and Buddhists who have contributed and continue to contribute important insights to interfaith development. Thus two dominant strains vie for ascendancy in defining the means and the end of inter-religious relations. They also contribute to and modify one another. These are namely models related in some approximation to the notion of democracy (a political ideal and structure co-evolutionary with Protestant and post-Reformation, Catholic Christianity), and models related to some more or less non-dualistic view of the whole of reality, rooted in Asian religious worldviews.
To date, the non-dualist oriented contributors have tended to be more self-aware of the source for their assumptions and tend to cite more explicitly that which generates their prescriptions, whether it be Hinduism [Rambachan: 9-18, Devananda: 139-149, K.L.S. Rao: 127-139], Jainism [G.C. Jain: 163-167], Buddhism [Losel: 191-199, Dhondup: 211-217, Rhi: 119-127], or Shintoism [Komori: 89-101].
Western contributors, on the other hand have tended to be both less studied in the foundations of their own presuppositions, and naturally thus less explicit in identifying the sources which generate their interfaith proposals. There are many reasons for this. One is that the West has dominated the rest of the world lately (for at least 300 or so years) and in the present day people in the West assume that everyone in the world desires human and institutional relations to be structured like Western Democracies. This non-declared starting point for many Western inter faith leaders derives from the culture bound assumption that, "everyone already knows how desirable Western Democracy is. There is hardly any need therefore, to identify that which underlies recommendations for interfaith models reflecting this 'universally desirable' ideal."
While Unificationism, the worldview generated from the Divine Principle, acknowledges valuable insights from these impulses, it conforms neither to Asian unitism, Western democratism, nor does it consciously seek to harmonize these impulses through philosophical enterprise. By claiming to represent a position rooted in neither, a critique of these views is naturally implied.
A first step in approaching and assessing interfaith proposals, is to look at the more generic question of conflict itself. In certain important ways discord among the world's religions is the same as any other form of discord. It is simply another manifestation of the fact that people seem not to be able to get along. Any proposal for improvement of this age-old situation necessarily stems from what is understood to be the origin or source of conflict. The first question one must ask then, when examining interfaith proposals, is "how does the author account for the existence of discord and conflict?"
Causes for discord and conflict can be placed on a spectrum between two poles: A: It can be seen as part of the natural order of things, namely either God created both good and evil from the beginning, or its non-creationist partner, "evil" (or ignorance or whatever one identifies to be the cause of discord and conflict), is a natural by-product of the intermingling of spirit and matter. The other position, B: is that God created the cosmos as all good and full of peace, and discord and conflict came to pass due to willful disobedience of the first human ancestors.
We can find examples of position A in certain streams of Judaism. For example, we can read in the Talmud "My Children! I created within you the Evil Inclination but I created the Law as an antidote." [Talmud: Kiddushin 30b] Buddhist and Jaina positions also express this position but without the affirmation of a Creator God; "evil" (conflict) arises "because of the tendency of living beings to separate the forms and names and become attached to them." [Won-Hyo (b. 617, d. 686) in the Vajrasamahisutra] The Jaina position is expressed more radically, "all living beings from the smallest creature to the human being, have their inherent power of soul crippled by association with karmic matter." [Jain: 164] The other view (B), that a world full of peace and harmony was disrupted by the "Fall," is found in conventional (or conservative) interpretations of Genesis and the Qur'an.
How one finally accounts for the irrefutable fact that people cannot seem to get along influences subsequent proposed antidotes. This is true, regardless of whether the problem is manifest between Vietnamese and Burmese, Catholics and Protestants, Maoists and Trotskyites, or the Hatfields and the McCoys. The existence of proposed antidotes raises the second distinguishing characteristic of competing interfaith theories and programs, namely that which has to do not with origins but with end results. Here again two poles on a spectrum may be readily identified. The first position, A, concludes, "there will always be conflict, that is just the way things are." A corollary position holds that "there will always be discord and conflict under the conditions of time and space as we know it," allowing for the possibility of peace but not under the conditions of reality as we know it. The opposite position, B, affirms that peace and harmony are somehow possible in this world.
To summarize thus far, interfaith perspectives may start with a created universe, or an eternally existing universe. They may start with an original peace and harmony that was lost or broken, or with reality which is originally or eternally imbued with what appears to be discord and conflict. Secondly, these perspectives may believe that it is possible to achieve peace and harmony in our present, natural reality, or that the nature of reality is such that an ideal is simply not possible, ever.
Curiously, the belief that the establishment of a peaceful world is not possible (either due to the natural order of things or because of a certain otherworldly eschatology) has no necessary relationship with whether or not one participates in peace efforts and advocacy. There are a number of ways to live for peace despite presuming that its attainment is not possible. One is to simply embrace self-contradictory ways of thinking, speaking and acting. This capacity is common even among highly educated people. Because of this possibility, it is not uncommon to find people engaged in interfaith activity without ever having reflected on whether they believe the achievement of their pursuits is possible according to the philosophical or theological implications of their worldview.
Another variation stems from a type of religious individualism, a view of religion (or the doing of good), which says something like, "there will always be conflict and discord in this world but if even one life can be saved or if even one soul can be enlightened... and so forth." This may be seen as a Bodhisattva-like, or passing-the-time mission to liberate souls one by one, a sort of existentialism of goodness. No one can deny that this is a valuable way to spend one's time and is a valuable advocacy in which to be involved. Proposals for interfaith relations, however, should acknowledge explicitly whether the author believes that enduring, global peace and harmony is possible.
Interestingly, religious or philosophical systems which suggest that "evil" or conflict comes with creation or embodiment (as in the Jaina and Talmudic passages cited above) do not necessarily presume that the cosmos must remain eternally in conflict. These people do believe in the actual attainment of that for which they labor. The interfaith work of such people is not rooted in self-contradiction or in one-equals-the-whole positions. These systems, rather, have embedded in the mythology a ground for faith in progress or evolution perpetrated by some cosmic force either spiritual, cultural or material (this includes the religion of scientistic-progressivism). Here the belief is that sooner or later good can overcome the evil, the intuition of harmony can displace the illusion of division. In such systems the possibility that people be enlightened one by one has the additional possibility that the frequency of enlightenment can intensify, expanding to more and more people, until at some point it overwhelms everyone.
Thus seeing an admixture of good and evil (or spirit and matter, or knowledge and ignorance) in the original design of things does not necessitate either that things must stay like that forever, or that the best we can hope for is a steady bubbling forth through interior mysticism, of special ones, either hidden or known who see that all is really one, despite the anxieties and mis-perceptions of we clumsy ones down here. These progressivist / evolutionist views can call for education, consciousness-raising, political activism, or even increasing observance of religious rites and laws, as the means to eventually, permanently, overcome conflict. These positions can be held and advocated with full and reasonable confidence that some day conflict (including inter-religious discord and conflict) will be no more.
The "willful disobedience" or "Fall" views on the origin of "evil" also may stand in at least two camps. One draws from fundamentalist apocalypticism which sees no peace on earth "this side of time." Another which also presumes the necessity for radical, Divine intervention differs only insofar as it is believed that God (by whatever name) can set up His/Her ideal reality under the conditions of time and space in this world. While either of these positions, associated with conservative renderings of the Abrahamic faiths, may include some element of progress in their schemes, the necessity for Divine intervention of some sort or another precludes the possibility of thoroughgoing progressivism to exist in such systems.
From among all these possibilities I think it is important for the thinker or the activist to be conscious of, and willing to explain if he or she participates in a philosophical or theological system in which the establishment of enduring peace is intrinsic to and consistent with the system as a whole. Once this is established there is a second important element which must be identified: that is whether the proposal stems from progressivist / evolutionist presuppositions, or from Loss of Eden worldviews characteristic of conservative or classical interpretations of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Combinations should also be acknowledged. For example, "I am a Christian who believes that peace on earth is only possible at the time of the second coming of Christ, but I also believe, although I do not really know why, that peace can be achieved through post-enlightenment rationalism insofar as it is associated with establishing democratic systems of human and institutional relations."
Once the assumptions and basic elements constituting one's position on peace in general are established the next important element of interfaith proposals concerns the related question, "Is inter-religious discord somehow a unique form of discord? Does the solution to religious discord require something different than, say, what the United Nations has so pathetically attempted to do among nations?" If the writer or actor believes that inter-religious discord is somehow distinct, or unique among the plentiful manifestations of discord in the world I think it is important for that person to explain the difference and furthermore to explain how inter-religious discord is related to all the other conflictual phenomena which abound.
One must ask, are religions more likely to harmonize than everything else, so that some day we may see all religious people getting along happily while, say, secular Blacks and Mexicans still murder each other as a matter of daily life in downtown L.A., or while Sony executives still spend their days trying to destroy Disney executives? Or is it the other way around? That religions are less prone to harmonize, so that Rabin and Arafat can successfully forge enduring peace with absolutely no reference to the religious convictions of the people they represent and who have been fighting for 2,500 years. Or Perhaps Bill Clinton can trade peacefully with Deng Xiao Ping, but Rev. Jesse Jackson continues to loath Rev. Jerry Falwell, or French Catholics continue to abhor the Muslims in their country. Thus the second major aspect of interfaith thought or action, I believe, is to contextualize one's work in the larger theater of human affairs.
For example, if a person offers an interfaith schema grounded in the increasingly dominant language of rights [Clark: 2, Sturm: 7] which has come to characterize the rapidly fragmenting and deteriorating Western democracies, I feel it befalls that person to explain why this would work in the world of religions and religious believers, when it is obviously failing to sustain social cohesion in prosperous societies and has utterly failed to inspire a cooperative community of nations. The same is necessary for proposals that would unite religious institutions under the leadership of individuals enlightened to the unity which underlies the appearance of distinction. Authors offering models for interfaith relations based on Western Democratic models, or Asian unitive worldviews, should explain if the proposal would also work to create peace in general. If not, what is it about the nature of religions that would allow schemes which have failed for centuries, and in some cases for millennia to create peace in general, to suddenly succeed because it is being applied to religion?
Interfaith proposals need to explain clearly how they can work among religious institutions and religious believers when they have never worked among the same people in all other of their dealings. Additionally such proposals should explain the relationship between interfaith harmony and the larger question of war and peace in human affairs. Having pointed this out, however, it must be noted that these two differing approaches have led the pack and pioneered the way thus far. They have contributed tremendously to advance the cause of interfaith dialogue, and insofar as they have succeeded have brought us incrementally closer to world peace. Furthermore, it is sure that future developments will continue to depend on input from these perspectives. It should be noted though, that the Eastern view currently may have greater influence over progress in inter-religious relations until which time democratic foundations are infused with spiritual wisdom drawn explicitly from identifiable religions. Presently, far too often it is severed from particular religion and too deeply grounded in enlightenment rationalism.
Unificationism, I submit, represents a clear program for the establishment of harmonious inter-religious relations. It sufficiently meets these two criteria, speaking both to the generic issue of conflict, as well as to the contextualization of religious discord in the larger theater of human affairs.
On the question of the original nature of reality, Unificationism affirms unequivocally that God's original ideal of creation was a thoroughly harmonious world and cosmos and that discord came to exist solely due to willful disobedience of the original human ancestors. It is very specific in describing the original ideal of harmony as rooted in True Love (namely that God and everything in the cosmos, exists for the sake of others). The loss of this ideal of harmony caused by the "Fall" (or the act of willful disobedience of the first human ancestors) was precisely the violation of True Love. Thus the restoration of the original ideal of harmony (including inter-religious harmony) consists of restoring True Love.
Herein lies the essence of the Unification proposal for the establishment of inter-religious harmony, namely the conviction that the only truly harmonious relations are those characterized by True Love. Harmony, according to Unification theory, cannot be established through "scrupulous defense of the rights of others" [Clark: 2] or out of respect for the "other-ness" of the other [Sturm: 1-20]. Both of these positions, one litigious-democratism, the other deconstructive democratism, express the ultra-modern thought systems which currently abound in the fraying and disintegration of late twentieth century Western Democratic societies. Unificationism also critiques the position that interpersonal and institutional harmony can be established through proselytizing for advaita-based cosmologies. [Vivekananda and others] The Unification theory of interfaith is not one that seeks an ever-more water-tight set of legal formulations under which equality and justice are enforced and guaranteed nor is it one that promotes consciousness raising in either classical or pseudo-scientific formulations through which conscientious partners come increasingly to the enlightened awareness that what appears as "other-ness" is nothing other than the illusions characteristic of lower consciousness. The Unification foundation for interfaith theory and action is one that prescribes the restoration of True Love through revealed principles and through accessing the True God (or True Absolute) by the humble, faithful and intense practice of one's own religion: Buddhists through the practice of Buddhism, Christians through the practice of Christianity, etc. [Kwak: xiii]
Inter-religious discord is simply one version of malformed relationships. Through the practice of True Love, it will be possible to reconstruct healthy and functional relations among the world's religions. According to Unification theory, all relationships, from individual to global, derive from an original microcosm of all possible True Love relationships. These are parents and children, brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives. When we speak of harmony or discord (even among nations or religions) it corresponds to an extension of one of these basic foundations for relationships in general. The Unification position understands the origin of discord as a five step process: 1) The separation of the Human Being from the "Word of God"; 2) separation of the body from the mind or spirit (inner discord); 3) separation of the woman from the man (couple's discord); 4) separation of the children from the parents (family discord); and 5) separation of the elder sibling from the younger (siblings' discord). The restoration of the original harmony and the establishment of enduring peace is achieved by following this pattern in reverse. The two siblings uniting is a condition for uniting with the mother. The unity of these three is a condition for unity of the parents and the unity of the family is the condition for re-unification with God (or the Word or the Absolute). The means by which to restore harmony at each of these levels is brought about without exception through the practice of True Love, namely living for the sake of others. This history of war and peace is a history of the attempt to move from the outer level of siblings to the inner level of parents and God. The highest ideals embodied in human institutions to date have been that of the Son and of the Bride. There had not yet appeared prior to Unificationism, the parental ideal in the pursuit of harmony.
The Unification theory of interfaith applies this theory about the original harmony, the loss of the original harmony and the permanent restoration as follows: God (or the Absolute) is the one that lives absolutely and unconditionally for others. Since each religion claims to be the direct expression of the One True God or the True Absolute, then it must be the case (and is the case) that followers are to reflect God's ideal in their lives. The call to live unconditionally for the sake of others is only possible for those who follow their own religion intensely enough to reach to the root of their religion. Therein lies the source of True Love, the only force able to bring about enduring (inter-religious) harmony. Religions and religious believers should therefore urge and help one another intensify their commitment to each one's respective religion. Once the capacity for True Love is thus achieved through coming into contact with the One True God (the Absolute Ideal), religions can restore enduring peace, the original ideal of harmony by then traversing together the reverse course by which harmony and True Love were lost. This, then, addresses the generic question of discord and the restoration of harmony.
The second issue by which I proposed that a comprehensive theory of interfaith should be considered concerns the matter of assessing the role of religion in the larger arena of human affairs. How does disharmony among religious believers relate to other manifestations of social and interpersonal fragmentation?
Again Unification is explicit and systematic in this regard. According to Unificationism the first responsibility of the human being is to unite mind (or spirit) and body centering on the Word of God (or the truth of the Absolute Ideal). The mind corresponds to the inner world of spirit and the eternal destiny of the soul. The physical body, on the other hand was originally created with the purpose to cooperate with and support the achievement of this glorious "God-given" destiny for each person. Because of the Fall (namely the severing of the human spirit from its connection to its glorious, original and eternal responsibility and destiny), religion became necessary as an educative and restorative regimen to re-establish that original union between mind and body and all subsequent relationships.
Thus religion corresponds to the world of the spirit and all ideals, whereas science (including politics and economics) corresponds to the body or physical life in this world. Religion thus has a twofold mission. Not only is it to re-connect the human spirit to its original glorious responsibility and destiny, but furthermore it has the mission to restore to the spiritual side its original position of subject or authority. This means that harmony among the world's religions is not merely one component of world peace, it is the first, necessary condition for the establishment of world peace. In other words, without harmony among religions, no other enduring peaceful relations in human affairs are possible. Religious harmony is the origin, source and subject of all other harmony including a positive and beneficial direction for the sciences and the academy as well as peaceful international, economic, political and intercultural relations.
The practical application of this Unification theory can be examined through the forty-year program of inter-religious harmony carried out by institutions founded by Sun Myung Moon. These range from the Supra-Denominational Movement, founded in South Korea in the 1950s to the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace (IRFWP) inaugurated in 1991 with headquarters in New York. Through the years Unificationists have lived sacrificially in order to sponsor literally thousands of religious leaders and scholars to participate in programs promoting inter-religious harmony1 Furthermore this inter-religious work has been carried out in relation to other peace foundations of equal or greater magnitude.
In conclusion it may be said that Unificationism is a program revealing the procedure for the restoration of God's original ideal of harmony. It explains that it is possible to restore eternal harmony through following in reverse the pattern by which the original ideal of harmony was defiled and lost. To do so requires the consistent and thorough practice of True Love (living for the sake of others), which can only be accomplished by those who come into contact with the origin of True Love. This means that a sincere and conscientious adherence to the wisdom and teachings of one's own religion is an indispensable component to the accomplishment of interfaith harmony. The role of religion and the pursuit of harmonious inter-religious relations is specifically contextualized as occupying the "subject" or authority position in relation to the larger mission of establishing an enduring world of peace and harmony reflecting God's Original Ideal of True Love.
1. The International Religious Foundation is one such interfaith organization. It was founded in 1983.
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