Unification News for April 1997
The Unification Church and the Six O'Clock News Cult
"Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No! It's ANCHORMAN!"
I've been encouraged to write on the difference between the Unification Church and your average "cult." Before embarking upon this, I should advise that we should appreciate our society which allows freedom of religion and association, in spite of their occasional misuses. And, at the same time, we should be cautious of new and high-intensity groups. Reverend Moon himself said that in these days it is virtually impossible to distinguish truth from falsehood, good from evil. The sign of the true religion, he said, is that it will receive the most persecution.
Case in point: Recent media coverage of the Heaven's Gate mass suicide explored that group in great detail, but who received the persecution (i.e. undeserved attack)? The Unification Church, that's who. A major network featured a "cult expert" on several programs, who knows nothing about Heaven's Gate but went on and on warning about the dangers of the Unification Church! Meanwhile, Heaven's Gate is "accorded respectful media attention. Survivors of the Professor Applewhite's UFO cult have been solemnly interviewed by network television. No commentator laughs at or scorns their authoritative gibbering." (R. Emmett Tyrrell, "Spellbinding visions with the afterglow" Washington Times Weekly Edition, April 13, 1997, p. 30)
But what really is under attack here is religious faith itself.
Let's begin with a lay definition of religion: religion is the holy beliefs and practices by which I work out the answers to my basic questions: where did I come from? why am I here? how should I live? what does the future hold? why do bad things happen to good people (and vice-versa)?
There are all kinds of religions: high intensity, low intensity, emotional, intellectual, hierarchical, non-hierarchical, culturally- adjusted, culturally-maladjusted, etc. etc. The most generalized religion can be called "civil religion." Civil religion is the answers that a society-as-whole provides to the big questions. It is the common moral language by virtue of which people identify themselves as a nation.
Some nations have one religion taking care of that. Others do not have that option, because their people maintain competing religions. Such societies must find a set of beliefs which can include everyone, with their various religions; such a set of beliefs has been called civil religion. Until the 1960s, the American civil religion seemed water- tight. It combined Judeo-Christianity, the rule of law, self-reliance, the belief that the universe is just, confidence in historical progress, democracy and equality.
But by the mid-20th century cracks began appearing, major beliefs dripped out or were ripped out, and today American civil religion is a hollow shell. Judeo-Christianity, it turns out, is patriarchal, sexist and racist. Law is a means to power and there is no cosmic guarantee of justice. All that is left is the belief in progress through science and equality. (Turning science, progress and equality into a religion gives you secular humanism, which I will discuss momentarily.)
Two results have come from the demise of the American civil religion. One is the emergence of new religions. Two is the fear of new religions.
New religions emerge when old ones fail, because human beings are religious. We seek for and find the answers to the big questions, and these answers often gain luminosity. We are social creatures, so we like to assemble together to celebrate these answers and carry out their mandates.
Fear of new religions naturally follows on the part of those who feel threatened by them. Why would one feel threatened? Perhaps one fears that the new answers will expose inadequacy in the old answers, to which one would like to cling. Perhaps one is promoting another set of new answers, and desires to eliminate competitors.
This latter dynamic helps explain, to me at least, the behavior of the media in the USA in relation to religion. The Media Research Center has reported that between 1993 and 1996, about 1% of network news stories dealt with religion (Washington Times National Weekly Edition, April 6, 1997, p.1). This means that perhaps once every two weeks one will view a report on religion. This despite the fact that 95% of Americans believe in God (or something approximately God) and there are churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations literally on every street corner of our nation.
How can this be explained? The explanation is obvious, on one level: most people in the media are, by their own admission, not religious. But if we probe further, we find it is not that simple, because media people are just as religious as the rest of us. It's just that their religion is different. It tends to be part and parcel of this new religion called secular humanism.
Secular humanism developed out of the rationalist branch of the Reformation, matured through the so-called Enlightenment and appeared in America as Unitarianism and Universalism in the late 1700s. Its practitioners dropped all pretension and proclaimed it a godless religion with the Humanist Manifesto (circa 1930).
Secular humanists claimed their worldview is based upon reason. Thus, they take the position that religion based upon God is irrational. In fact, its plausibility depends upon this. So, for example, sociology, a good secular humanist project, has for one hundred years interpreted religion as the result of irrationality. To believe in God and Christianity, one had to be a fool, or brainwashed, or coerced, or a charlatan. No reasonable person would believe.
Note how this seems to shape the behavior of the people in mainstream media. They do not report the good of religion, i.e., the evidence that religion is a rational choice which benefits personal and corporate life. The fact that rational people are benefiting from religion everyday, doing wonderful works of charity and healing, is ignored. Why? because this fact disproves the hypothesis that religion is irrational.
But when we find an instance which proves the hypothesis, namely, an instance of truly irrational religiosity, the media feverishly researches, exposes, explains, photographs, video-tapes, discusses, analyzes, repeats and warns ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Hence the incredible coverage of Jonestown, and the Aum Sect, and the Branch Davidians, and Heaven's Gate. For the media, four obscure religious groups with no real significance represent all religion. Says the media: all religions are cults; don't let the big churches fool you. Look at those SUICIDES!! Get a real good close-up on them, Joe. See, we told you so: religion is irrational. Look at Jonestown. Look at Heaven's Gate. The media tries to give the impression that soon it will be the Catholic parish hall down the street full of suicides.
Now, why would significant parts of the media go to unreasonable lengths to make the irrational argument that the Unification Church is similar to Heaven's Gate? I think it is because Unificationism presents the most powerful alternative to secular humanism.
Secular humanism can defeat traditional Christianity, or at least drag it into a battle to the death, because secular humanism provides answers to questions Christianity cannot answer. That is, secular humanism is a Christian heresy which Christian cannot overcome. On the other hand, the Unification Church is a healthy providential development of Christianity which fills in the gaps of Christian understanding, and can and does critique and offer coherent counter- proposals to secular humanism. The fact that this is a good thing does not occur to those committed to an aggressive agenda to save the world, which is what secular humanism sets itself up to do.
Friends have suggested I write why the Unification Church is different from a group such as Heaven's Gate. Now, it is impossible, I think, for me to do this subject justice. But to make things simple, let's approach it this way: What is the difference between belief in God and belief in flying saucers? A cynic would find no difference: both are invisible, unproveable, desperate constructions of evidence for higher powers and intelligence, the object of irrationality, escapism and the search for a crutch. But we, not being cynics, will look a little more deeply.
It seems to me that this account of the differences between belief in flying saucers and belief in God is applicable to understanding the differences between the Unification Church and faulty religion (if you will allow me to use the term "faulty religion" in the place of the media's "destructive cult"). In fact, it would describe the difference between every religion which teaches goodness, and faulty religion. Perhaps most important is the fact that true religion places highest emphasis upon my personal responsibility to practice sacrificial love; faulty religion provides means to evade that responsibility.
But I would add one further distinguishing characteristic of the Unification Church theology. It affirms God-centered marriage and the three-generational family as the central paradigm for human life, for the human relationship with the divine, and for the order of creation. I believe Reverend Moon may be unique in this. And, while I may be biased, I believe that without such an understanding of truth, this world has no future.
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