Contemplating Unification Thought

by Dr. Jennifer P. Tanabe



The goal of a theory of ethics is to determine what is good, both for the individual and for the society as a whole. Philosophers have taken different positions in defining what is good, on how to deal with conflicting priorities of individuals versus the whole, over the universality of ethical principles versus "situation ethics" in which what is right depends upon the circumstances rather than on some general law, and over whether goodness is determined by the results of the action or the means by which results are achieved.

The Unification Thought theory of Ethics claims to solve these problems, providing a model of an ethical society based on the God-centered family. While philosophers have struggled to formulate ethical models based on various standards of goodness, such as duty, the greatest material happiness for the greatest number, or "what works," Unification Thought is clear that the purpose of life is joy obtained through love. Therefore, Unification Thought Ethics is based on the standard of true joy and true happiness through true love.

Unification Thought Ethics is based on the understanding that "God's love is manifested more completely through a family rather than through an individual. Therefore, God's ideal of creation is to actualize God's love through the family." (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.204). This is a very powerful statement. And, in these days of family breakdown, a very controversial one.

The bottom line here is that Unification Thought is claiming that ethics should be based on the four position-base model of the family: three generations, parents who consist of a man and a woman who remain faithful to each other, and children. There are two issues here: first, that the family is the foundation of societal ethics; and second, that the family has this particular structure. And, on a deeper level, Unification Thought is saying that there is an absolute foundation for ethics. In these days of relativism, such foundationalism is not received easily.

Let's look at this issue of foundationalism versus relativism for a moment. It seems that people today are afraid of absolutes, afraid of being controlled by someone or something that imposes values or restrictions or laws on them, afraid of losing their freedom, their free will. Now, I can sympathize with that to a certain extent, but should we be so concerned that we lose our freedom if there are laws and principles guiding our lives?

In the sciences we are used to finding laws and principles that govern the way atoms, molecules, celestial bodies, etc. move and interact with each other. In my chemistry classes I was constantly amazed at how the Periodic Table showed how each element would behave depending on its position in the table. In my physics classes I tended to be more confused about how different bodies would behave under different conditions, but I did get the main point that there were laws that could be expressed in the form of equations and if you could just figure out which numbers to plug in where you could predict what was supposed to happen. And, in simple, every day terms that my three year-old daughter understands, the sun shines in the day and the moon at night.

The physical universe operates according to laws. Break a law, suffer the consequences.

Human Laws?

But, you may say, human beings are different. Or are they? Take the example of driving a car. Now it is true that you are not free to drive on any side of the street you choose, the law in this country says you should drive on the right-hand side (a point which both I coming from Britain and my husband coming from Japan sometimes forget!). But if we were all free to choose to drive on whichever side we chose, would we really be free to drive at all? Try it, and suffer the consequences.

Back to ethics. Do we need a foundation for ethics? I think so. If there are laws and principles that guide human behavior then we will suffer the consequences if we break them. Look at our society today. We have gone against the principles of family relationships both in society as a whole and within families themselves. And where has it got us? Hell, I would call it. So I say to those who think we don't need foundationalism. There are laws and principles that guide this world, and if you break them you suffer the consequences. Now we have AIDS, what else do you want? We've tried everything human beings can think of to be "free." Now it's time to try God's way, the way of Unification Thought Ethics.

Why don't we do it? Well, one problem that I have heard expressed often, and this comes equally from within the Unification ranks and from outside, is that the Ethics chapter is too idealistic, and does not deal realistically with the situation of the world today. Several times I have heard the suggestion that we need an "interim ethics" to help us move from the fallen society into the ideal ethical society described by Unification Thought. It is just hard for people to imagine a world in which "the human relationships in society are a projection of the relationships among family members at home" (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.208).

There are two reasons for this: first, most of us have never experienced family relationships that we would want to see projected into the larger society, especially considering the large numbers of people whose parents are divorced, who have suffered child abuse, etc.; and second, even if we can imagine ideal family relationships, at least for those of us living in the United States, it is difficult to imagine a whole society that is like an extended family, perhaps we need to study Korean culture more. In any case, we have a problem imagining how a society can function based on family relationships. But that doesn't make it wrong; it just shows our own limitations.

So, is the solution to develop an interim ethic for those of us who are not ready to live in the ideal world? Well, I like Dr. Thomas Walsh's answer, given at the 1992 ICUS conference in response to Dr. John Kelsay's excellent review of Unification Ethics. He began by agreeing that Unification Thought does emphasize the absolute ideal, and the Ethics chapter reflects the eschatological perspective of Unificationism; in other words, that the interim is over and we live in the Last Days. He then goes on to mention that the Ethics of Restoration are in fact dealt with in the chapter on History, where laws of Creation and Restoration are described at great length.

Move into Heaven

Dr. Walsh suggests that the appropriate context for Unification Thought Ethics is found in the chapter on History and that our publications should draw attention to this. My conclusion: if you are ready to move out of the interim and into the new heaven and new earth, follow what it says in the chapter on Ethics. If you are struggling with the feasibility of this, check out the laws of history and work out some more restoration first. Good luck!

The distinction between "ethics" and "morality" in the theory of ethics presented in Unification Thought has drawn some criticism. In Unification Thought "morality" is defined as the norm for the inner four-position base, or the norm for the human being as an individual truth body, while "ethics" is defined as the norm for the outer four-position base, or the norm for the human being as a connected body (Essentials of Unification Thought, p.206). This distinction is not made by other scholars in the field. Now, it is true that I also find it frustrating when each writer takes it upon him or herself to find new uses for words. However, in this case, I find the distinction quite illuminating. Since most scholars have a problem in dealing with the human being as an individual and also in relation to others, it is not surprising to me that they did not realize the importance of distinguishing morality and ethics in this way.

Indeed, at a symposium I attended recently on "Knowledge and Values" it was clear to me that an understanding of this distinction would help them greatly in their formulations of psychological models. Unification Ontology provides the basis for understanding how human beings are both individuals and beings in relation to others. We must recognize the value of this understanding and apply it, as Unification Thought Ethics does in distinguishing between morality and ethics.

Another criticism concerns the nature of brotherly and sisterly love. Several Unificationists who are familiar with the four-position base have noted that the twelve relationships constitute only three types of divisional love: parental to children (vertical), conjugal (horizontal) and children to parents (vertical). They argue that horizontal relationships between children are not included, and have suggested that Unification Thought Ethics is not consistent with Divine Principle. However, for those who have heard Reverend or Mrs. Moon speak recently, for example the speech "True Parents and the Completed Testament Age," will know that there are four types of love, or four realms or spheres of heart. And, the fourth type of love is between brothers and sisters, exactly as stated in the Unification Thought Ethics chapter! Well, I guess that problem is solved now.


Another concern that I have heard expressed, for example by Dr. Gene James at the 1992 ICUS, is that Unification Thought ignores environmental issues. His criticism is that Unification Thought is too anthropocentric, valuing human beings so much more highly than the rest of creation. He suggested that since Unification Thought takes the Three Blessings in Genesis 1:28 as foundational, it might do well to develop more fully an environmental ethics based on the Third Blessing.

In this age of environmental concern and crisis, I can only agree that Unification Thought has much to offer. While we should not lose sight of the need to fulfill the First and Second Blessings in order to be qualified to have loving dominion over all creation, we must also not lose sight of the need to fulfill that Third Blessing.

The creation sure needs some loving dominion these days! It's a funny time we live in when my three year-old daughter won't go in the long grass behind our house in Barrytown, because "the tick will get me!" Dutchess County, New York, where we live, has possibly the highest incidence of Lyme Disease in the nation, and it comes from being bitten by deer ticks. I hope she will be able to appreciate the long grass and the deer more some day, but for now perhaps the interim ethic of "the tick will get you" still applies.

So, beyond these criticisms, what does the Unification Thought theory of Ethics offer us today? Well, as mentioned above, the bottom line is that the family which manifests God's love is the foundation for an ethical society. And, as Dr. Thomas Ward pointed out at the Unification Thought Symposium held in Tokyo in 1990, this is because the family is the place where people learn to relate to their fellow human beings on every level.

This is not a new understanding. It is obvious to many that what we learn in the family influences how we relate to other people in society. The problem is what we learn in the family. As Susan Moller Okin, a professor at Stanford University, has pointed out, how can children learn the norms of society from their mothers if those mothers are not part of the society but rather relegated to being housewife and baby-sitter? And, if children have two women or two men as "parents," or a succession of men fathering their brothers and sisters, what do they learn about conjugal relationships?

Children do learn from their parents. So if we want our children to become good members of society we had better be good role models for them. Unification Thought is entirely consistent in this message. In its chapters on Original Human Nature, Education, and Ethics, the message is the same: parents are the primary teachers of their children. The future of our society lies in our children and in what they learn from us. If we know what is right and good, and we want them to do what is right and good, then we had better do what is right and good.

The theory is very simple, very clear, very true. The practice is up to us.


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