Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

Religion and Society in Unificationism -- David F. Kelly

The hermeneutics of religion and society in Unificationism can be understood in two ways. First, in the more obvious sense, there is the way in which Unificationism, as religion, interprets society. The second sense is more subtle, and is the process by which Unificationism uses society as an internal principle of interpretation for its own theological self-creation. The following remarks are intended as starting points for the dialogue needed to develop these issues.


According to Unificationism, at the time of the final restoration, the physical world and temporal society will not end (Divine Principle. pp. 111-12).* Unificationism sees society as an essential dimension of God's providence, and proposes characteristics for a perfect, restored society. From a study of this "perfect society" (we might prefer to call it a "just society" or a "better society" if we reject the possibility of a perfect society in finite time and space), we can sense the direction of societal change envisioned and desired by Unification theology.

Formally, the perfect society is loving and just according to the Principle. Persons are unable to harm their neighbors because of a mutual societal feeling among them (Divine Principle, pp. 101-12). Equality will be a feature of this society (Divine Principle, pp. 121, 443-46; UT, p. 296), though there is some question as to the desirability of perfect economic equality (UT, p. 232).

The most important unit in the restored society is the family (Divine Principle, p. 39). Here the man stands in the subject position of giving love, the woman in the object position of returning beauty (Divine Principle, pp. 48-49), thus enabling the establishment of the four position foundation beyond the perfected individual, the first blessing, outward to society and ultimately to creation as a whole, the third blessing, through the physical and spiritual generation of blessed children under the power of God, the second blessing (Divine Principle, pp. 43-46). For this reason there is an emphasis on sexual sins in the present fallen world. Sexual expression is limited to monogamous marriage; procreation is central; adultery is the greatest sin (Divine Principle, pp. 7, 75; NW, p. 115).

The restored society is highly technological; science is respected and advanced (Divine Principle, pp. 102, 108-09, 127-29). Human ambitions and desires are in themselves good and a part of the original Principle (Divine Principle, p. 86), since humankind is intended by God to dominate all creation (Divine Principle, pp. 44-46). Thus human "nature" includes techne which enables the human. Restoration is to God's plan, notro man's original primitive condition in Eden, from which he would quickly have advanced himself had he not fallen (Divine Principle, pp. 101-2,128). It is true that in our present state we may lose our sense of direction through overemphasis on technology and science (UT, p. xiii), but this critical theme is less stressed than is the optimistic vision of technology.

God intends society to be comfortable, not ascetic; rich, not poor (Divine Principle, p. 102; N W generally). Though asceticism is necessary for indemnification (Divine Principle, pp. 180,185-86, Part Two generally), poverty is not a value in itself. Jesus would have preferred to make disciples of the educated and influential rather than of poor fishermen to build up his kingdom (Divine Principle, p. 160). Material wealth is good, not evil, provided it is used for the building of the perfect (just) society (NW, esp. pp. 79, 90, 104, 118). Korea and America play central roles in this (Divine Principle, pp. 516-32; NW, pp. 118-120).

The just society is socialist (Divine Principle, pp. 443-46; UT. pp. 292-96). This is neither communist (UT, p. 293) nor Marxist (not explicit in Divine Principle or UT, but clear from Unificationism's general approach). Socialism resembles what is usually called reformed capitalism. It explicitly includes "democratic socialism, Catholic socialism, Protestant socialism, neo-capitalism, nationalistic capitalism and the welfare state" (UT, p. 292) and, specifically, "Keyne's {sic} revised capitalism" (UT, p. 295). Though it is stated that these forms of socialism are not the final form (UT, p. 296), an openness to "free enterprise" (NW, p. 118) and approval of Ford, IBM, and the Marshall Plan as improving prosperity for all (NW. pp. 70, 79, 90) indicate that socialism resembles reformed capitalism more than a Marxist approach to capital and labor (UT, p. 254). Individuals are called to sacrifice themselves for the common good (NW. p. 118 generally), but the Marxist emphasis on classes and groups is denied in favor of a stress on individual leaders (UT, pp. 256-57).

The just society is democratic (Divine Principle, pp. 490-93 and generally in Part Two, Chapters Four and Five; UT, pp. 284-88), though there is some indication that democracy, like socialism, will be replaced by the "tricoistic society of co-life, co-prosperity and co-justice" (UT, p. 285), the details of which are not yet determined (UT, p. 296).

Unificationism's interpretation of contemporary society is generally optimistic. This is consistent with its description of the kingdom of God on earth. Contemporary society is moving from lower stages of political and economic organization to higher ones: from monarchy to democracy, from imperialistic to advanced technological prosperity (Divine Principle, pp. 119-29, 443-44, 474). Even the World Wars have been part of God's providence in laying the foundation necessary for the restoration (Divine Principle, pp. 475-90). History is progressive; its movement is spiral (UT, pp. 99-107, 247). God's plan can be thwarted by man's refusal to fulfill his portion of responsibility, but contemporary developments suggest that the moment is at hand for the restoration. One final struggle is needed between the Abel-type forces of democracy and the Cain-type forces of communism, a struggle which can be carried out by weapons or by ideology (Divine Principle, pp. 490-96). Victory of the Third World War and the establishment of the four position foundation on the basis of the family will prepare for the coming of the Lord of the Second Advent. By revealing truth in scientific language meaningful to modern intellects, Unificationism will help in accomplishing the individual and societal foundation needed for the restoration (Divine Principle, pp. 9-16,19,131; UT, pp. xiv-xv).

Since Unificationism does not determine precisely the meaning of much of its language, a serious hermeneutical problem arises at the outset. There is a sense in which Unification language is slippery. It may mean what it says -- then again it may not. One example of this is Unificationism's failure to describe adequately if and how the ultimate society of perfected man would differ from the democratic and socialistic societies envisioned as progressive. Are they the same? Similar? The kingdom of God on earth is perfect, yet finite in time and space. It is completed, yet it develops. Does it need a government? Does it need an economic system? Is it automatically just? Is technology immediately perfect in the kingdom, or will we have to work at it? If we have to work at it, then is there a failure of perfect co-prosperity? These definitional problems -- these confusions in the mode and form of language -- are not limited to Unificationism among religions or among social theories. But Unificationism explicitly intends to reveal hidden truth in scientific language understandable to modern intellects. This demands greater clarity and logic. Despite the difficulties posed by this hermeneutical problem, a few points of evaluation of Unificationism's views of society will be helpful.

At first glance, Unification thought does not seem to emphasize structural societal change. There are no critiques of the governmental and economic structures of contemporary society similar to those found in certain schools of Christian social ethics, particularly in liberation theology. There is a strong emphasis on the family unit, and at least the implication that by multiplying perfect children at the family level, restoration on the global level will be automatically achieved.

A more careful study, however, suggests that Unificationism does have a social theology, though it is as yet not fully developed. The problem may be more that this social theology differs from contemporary liberation approaches than that it is lacking. Unificationism's view of society is, as we have seen, pro-technological, pro-"progress," optimistic, anti-communist, non-Marxist, and growth-oriented. In contrast, much of contemporary Christian writing on social justice can correctly, if somewhat superficially, be characterized as "no-growth redistribution-ism." The not-poor must lower their material standards in order that the poor may raise theirs. Unificationism suggests the possibility of a "growth-redistributionism" which resembles the older Keynesian-Roosevelt vision of a growing economic prosperity for the people in general rather than the liberationist view of class struggle within a more or less limited economic future. In its positive, even optimistic, evaluation of technology as enabling the human under God's original providence, Unificationism's social theology resembles Gabriel Vahanian's radical eschaton and rejects Jacques Ellul's pessimistic radical critique.

There are problems with both of these approaches. The debate among economists and among people of good will and social conscience is not ended. Though I am thoroughly persuaded that liberation theology is right in decrying social injustice and human poverty, and in insisting that social and structural issues are central theological concerns, I am not persuaded that the direction it suggests for solution will benefit the people. Anti-technological redistribution may well result in equal poverty rather than equal prosperity. Perhaps it is for this reason, together with the fact that Roman Catholicism has a tradition of social ethics compatible with the Keynesian vision of reformed capitalism, that I do not object to these aspects of Unificationism's approach to social ethics. I do think, though, that it brings with it the all too universal danger of assuming that what benefits oneself also benefits other races, nations, and classes.

The strongest objection I have concerning Unificationism's interpretation of society is that it tends too quickly to identify the heavenly side and the satanic side. Though there are indeed struggles between forces of relative good and forces of relative evil, human history does not admit of easy separations of absolute good and absolute evil incarnate in social systems or political divisions. The simplistic division of human wars and of political and social controversies into Cain and Abel types, culminating in the war to end all wars between absolutely good democracy (us) and absolutely evil communism (them) is unacceptable ethics and simply false history. I agree with Unificationism's abhorrence of modern communism and praise for political and economic democracy. But its dichotomous view of history tends too much toward a sense of manifest destiny for Korea and America, a kind of grand plan which could easily trample people in its ideological crusade. Unification's view of the three world wars as inevitable and even progressive parts of God's providence is particularly objectionable.

The emphasis on the family, together with the implication never made explicit in Divine Principle, that the perfect society will be created by the physical generation of blessed children, is apt to lead to the relative disvaluing of other modes of human generativity and creativity. The sterile and the unmarried may find themselves victims of discrimination. Unificationism's exaggerated emphasis on sins of sex, when coupled with the central value of procreation, will almost inevitably lead to prejudice against homosexuals. Structural racism may be insufficiently considered or thought to be eliminated merely by interracial marriage.

One final criticism concerns sexism in Unificationist theory. Though there may be some question as to the specific policies needed for achieving social justice, justice precludes any theoretical discrimination which might form an anthropological or a divine-will basis for the exclusion of a particular race or nation or sex from human equality. This theoretical basis is present in Unification thought for the repression of women. Divine Principle is by no means consistently sexist. Often it argues for participational, equal give-and-take relationships between women and men. Nonetheless, the identification of subject with God and object with man (human being) on the one hand, and of subject with male and object with female on the other introduces into the very structure of Unification thought a theme which implies the essential inferiority of the female to the male. This may well be carried over into the ecclesiological and lifestyle aspects of Unificationism, and members ought to guard against its practical implications. And to the extent that it is part of the central ontology and anthropology of Unificationism, a re-interpretation or re-translation or even a re-creation may be necessary in this regard.

Unificationism explicitly envisions a society which reconciles science and religion, which harmonizes Eastern and Western traditions, which invites the co-participation of female and male, and which seeks to eliminate social injustice. I do not believe that Unificationism either as a theological system or as ecclesiological or societal movement will accomplish this goal, and I find, especially in its thematic rejection of female equality, structural elements which actually oppose these unifications. But I believe that Unificationism has correctly identified the central dimensions which must characterize the religious and societal mythos and ethos of the twenty-first century, and has attempted, however inadequately, to weave them explicitly into its own complex structure. The result is a flawed, but fascinating, religious and societal vision.


In addition to Unification's interpretation of society, there is a second hermeneutical dimension, less obvious but essential for an understanding of Unification theology. Not only does Unificationism see society as something which it must interpret, criticize, and change, but Unificationism has made of society something essential to its own internal creation as religion. Unificationism depends on its vision and version of society for its own structure, and this to a degree not usually found in theologies. "Society," within the Unificationist system, becomes an operative principle for the furthering of Unificationism itself, tor its self-creation as religion.

Society is thus intrinsic to Unificationism in an explicit way. Not only is society related to Unificationism ideologically, as a Marxian/ Mannheimian analysis would disclose -- its ideational superstructure rests on and comes from and tends to defend a specific set of economic and cultural infrastructures (probably Western and mainly middle class) -- but society is related to this religion structurally. In some ways this suggests parallels with liberation theology, despite their important differences, since both see societal issues as essential to proper rheology. But Unificationism has actually woven specific societal forms, structures, systems, and events into its core in a cryptic, structurally complex manner.

This is most apparent in Divine Principle Part II, especially in chapters 3, 4, and 5. The non-Unificationist will find this section unintelligible, even silly, and will doubtless be bored with its detail. But the idea is fascinating: a complex interweaving of societal developments and mathematics and historical events in a supposedly scientific (modern? logical?) but actually arcane and my stagogic mosaic which forms the theoretical core of Unificationist thought. Unificationism has based its own self-creation on its view of societal interrelationships to a degree nor found in traditional Christian theologies. An understanding of how this works will be essential to an understanding of Unification thought. This is primarily a hermeneutical task.


* Divine Principle is Divine Principle (New York, The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1973); UT is Unification Thought (New York, Unification Thought Institute, 1978); NW is New World: Toward Our Third Century (Barrytown, N.Y: Unification Theological Seminary, 1976). 

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