Sun Myung Moon, The Early Years, 1920-53

By Michael Breen


Sun myung Moon has been imprisoned six times in four countries, declared a heretic from pulpits all over his home country of Korea, vilified in his adopted home, the United States, and barred at various times from Japan, Britain, France, Germany and several other European countries.

A 1982 conviction in America for tax evasion notwithstanding, governments and media in these countries do not suggest that Moon is a criminal and certainly not a terrorist. Yet they treat him as if he belongs in such company. Why? The Communist regime in north Korea probably provided the most straightforward answer in 1948 when it found Moon guilty of, among other things, of "bringing disorder to society." As the founder of a new religious movement, Moon, like other such religious figures, disturbs society. The north Korean response was to sentence him to five years in a labor camp. conditions in the prison were so severe that hundreds died of exhaustion and starvation. Describing this period, Moon has said that his constant prayer was, "God, don't worry about me." His sense was that, if God could free him, he would. Since God couldn't, to remind God of his suffering and plead for help would cause God anguish.

And so there are two Sun myung Moons, the widely known disturber of society, and the man who doesn't want to hurt God's feelings. This book is about the lesser known man And it should be, for if religious leaders are remembered, it is for their faith, their convictions and how these were expressed in their life and in the lives of their followers, not for the people they upset.

It is my conviction that, when the dust has settled, Sun myung Moon win be remembered primarily for one lesson That is, that God has passion. Moon's views are premised on a belief that God is not the comatose creator or thoughtful intellectual of some modern belief, nor the brute of ancient faiths. His God feels, acutely, and longs for a full and independent relationship with each person While this view may not be original, Moon is unique in the way he has brought it to center stage in his personal spirituality. Since his late teens, he has pursued to


the point of obsession one overriding goal: to free God from what he perceives to be a cosmic agony, caused by his wayward creation, humankind. Moon has sought to mend God's broken heart, to be his devoted child, and his healer. His message is, of course, that we should endeavor to be the same. Until we are, God is miserable, he believes.

This book does not seek to persuade the reader of this notion . Rather, it was conceived to explore how Moon's views of God developed and were given expression in the earlier period of his life before the founding of the Unification Church in 1954.

It is an unauthorized work. Stories among Unificationists that Moon had once taken a hammer to a statuette made of him by a follower, and declined to cooperate with a request by a Japanese follower to do a biography, convinced me not to seek any input from the subject. Thus, both the official biography and the full story of this period of Moon's life remain to be written.

In the early stages of research, I ignored written Unificationist sources, because most of the material about Moon is in the form of transcripts of speeches by leading followers. As these were given for the purpose of uplifting or converting audiences, they are suspect as history.

The information in this book is based mainly on interviews, which were conducted over several years. The sources included Moon's family members, fellow prisoners, and early followers, some of whom are still with him and some who later opposed him. All the sources were primary. In other words, I took no account of commentators who did not have first hand experience of what they were testifying about. Primary sources, of course, present their own set of problems. One is dishonesty. Some sought to exaggerate their importance in Moon's life or to understandably minimize incidents which placed them or their family members in a poor light. One frustration was that some who had left Moon had forgotten the details of incidents which were significant for our story, but which now meant little to them.

I should note that personal recollections, especially of events which took place decades earlier, do not submit to precision. In some cases, sources contradicted each other. The judgment on relative credibility is mine and, where I am unsure, the differences are explained in endnotes. Where sources were unavailable, the text relies on previously published information, as indicated by endnotes.


Early on in the research, one elderly Korean follower expressed polite irritation at my insistence on detail, and proposed that I pay closer attention to the meaning of Sun myung Moon's experience. I am aware that some Unificationists may consider that, in ignoring this advice and presenting the details with a minimum of comment, the narrative may detract from the meaningfulness of Moon's life. To this, I can only say that this is the work of a journalist. It was not written with a conscious view to making Moon's spirituality more accessible to his followers. However, it does occur to me in my own defense that the ordinary details do make a spiritual man human, and that his humanity makes him accessible. Having said that, I apologize if any should take offence at any part of this book, for none is intended. While I have striven to maintain objectivity in order to avoid hagiography, I am not required to remain neutral. This book is conceived as a friendly biography about an extraordinary man.

At the same time, I am also aware that many non Unificationist readers have serious and genuinely held concerns about the impact of Moon's teachings. I will have failed in my task if these readers find that my approach comes across as hagiography in thin disguise. While I would not claim to have produced a comprehensive interpretation of Moon, I do hope that this work sheds at least partial light on the formative and least known part of his life, in a way that will help readers in making their own assessment.


September 1997


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