Unity In Diversity - Essays in religion by members of the faculty of the Unification Theological Seminary - Edited by Henry O. Thompson - 1984
Few movements of any kind in recent American history have provoked more consternation than the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Ever since his arrival from Korea to take up residence in New York in 1972, Rev. Moon has succeeded in alienating just about everybody. The political left cannot tolerate his unabashed anticommunism, and some of its leaders accuse Moon of having close ties to the Korean CIA through his principal interpreter, Col. Bo Hi Pak. These same individuals also charge him with being a selfish, authoritarian demagogue because of the strict, simple lifestyle he demands of his young followers who often sleep on the floor in communal "centers" while Moon and his family enjoy the comforts of a spacious mansion in Tarrytown and an obedient household staff. They cite the movement's "fund-raising" techniques, by which perhaps 800-1000 youthful adherents sell flowers and candy on city streets in the U S. for up to 18 hours per day, seven days a week. And they note the fact that Unification fundraisers average about $100 each day -- with some making as much as $500 or more -- only to see most of the money wind up in New York church bank accounts.
Fundamentalist Christians look at Rev. Moon as a false messiah -- anti-Christ, even -- bent on seducing their children into a deceptive belief system leading straight to hell. More moderate Christians view him as a dangerous heretic with "another gospel." The Jewish community discerns in Moon another Hitler, courting intellectuals and religious leaders, and converting young Jews to a sinister ideology and "new family it sees as anti-Semitic to the core. Many academics who are invited to the Korean evangelist's lavish International Conferences on the Unity of the Sciences and other gatherings of scholars accuse him of wanting to use their names and presence to legitimize his movement, "buying them off by offering to pay all their travel and accommodation expenses -- and an honorarium, if the situation so warrants -- even if they live halfway around the world.
Certain members of the mental health profession have asserted that Rev. Moon and his lieutenants employ deceptive means to recruit potential converts and subject them -- once they can't easily get away -- to "mind control" and "brainwashing" techniques to keep them in line. Some perceive "glazed eyes" and a "zombie look" on Unification fundraisers and their inability (so it would seem) to listen to "reason" when told what their leader's real intentions are. The secular and religious media, understandably, have sided with the majority in criticizing and protesting against Rev. Moon and the Unification Church.
Ever since Ted Patrick accomplished his first successful "deprogramming" of cult adherents in 1971, there has grown up a large and influential anti-cult movement aimed at crushing all high-commitment religious groups charged with limiting personal freedom. Deprogramming, incidentally, has become a rather lucrative business, especially since Jonestown. Distraught parents may pay up to $40,000 to have a child "rescued" from a cult. One major function of this anti-cult movement has been to provide the media with convincing deprogrammed cultists to tell their stories, always sensational. And it is interesting to note that, by and large, the media have not attempted to find and interview the much larger number of former members who have left the Unification Church and similar groups voluntarily. Nor have they taken much time to talk to active members of these movements and others -- positive parents, objectively critical academics, and the like -- who have a different story to tell.
Finally, there are those white Americans who see in Rev. Moon and the Unification Church a new "yellow peril," ready to engulf the U. S. at any moment with waves of Asian nationals. When Korean and Japanese Unification missionaries came to the U.S. in force with a new message, they also brought with them their own cultural baggage in the same way white American missionaries took Christianity to Japan and Korea entangled in the American way of life. When the norms of one culture are imposed on another for any reason, there is going to be trouble.
By the prevailing social and cultural norms of American life, Rev. Moon and his movement deserve some of the aforementioned criticisms. Others, however, are reminiscent of the unfounded attacks commonly levied against every "new" religious movement by the establishment, be it political, academic or religious. It took centuries for the Jesuits to be accepted in American life. The Mormons suffered persecution for decades, not to mention the Quakers and Jehovah's Witnesses. And the now chic, born-again, tongue-speaking Pentecostals -- Pat Boone, Bob Dylan, and Ruth Carter Stapleton among them -- were denounced relentlessly and termed "holy rollers" for almost three quarters of a century after the founding of the Pentecostal movement in 1901.
This is all merely to suggest that if the informed, fair-minded outsider examines the Unification Church and its ideology cross-culturally, in the context of its Korean origins, he still may not like what he discovers. But he will almost certainly come up with a far different assessment of the man and the movement than has heretofore been made by the popular mass media and the anti-cult folk.
Despite the fact that Korea today is 85 percent Buddhist, Christianity has had a far greater impact there than in Japan or China. The world's largest Pentecostal assembly and Presbyterian congregation are both located in Seoul. But Korean Christianity has also been highly eclectic from the beginning. Many Christians in Korea still affirm some of the basic tenets of Buddhism, Taoism, Korean folk religion -- including shamanism -- and Confucianism. Confucian ethics, especially, are often practiced within Korean Christianity. Most important in that ethical system are the strong emphases on jen ("human-heartedness") and on the Five Great Relationships: kindness in the father, filial piety in the son; gentleness in the elder brother, humility and deference in the younger; righteous behavior in the husband, obedience in the wife; humane regard in elders, reverence in juniors; and benevolence in rulers, loyalty in subjects.
A powerful nationalistic spirit has also pervaded Christianity in Korea. Because of the numerous invasions and occupations perpetrated by its neighbors, "messianic" expectations were already present in Korean culture long before the arrival of Christianity. A national leader would arise and liberate his people from foreign oppression. When Christianity was brought to Korea, with its belief in the second coming of Christ, some Christians came to feel that God was going to make it up to Korea by sending Christ back to their land. The messiah would return to earth in Korea, not Jerusalem.
Sun Myung Moon was born in a rural town in North Korea in 1920. The details of his early life related by followers are so hagiographic in character that it is difficult to discern the true facts. Moon himself has said very little about this period publicly, at least, and so inquirers are left with only a minimal amount of reliable information. It is known that Rev. Moon's parents converted to Christianity when he was ten and reared him in a Presbyterian home. Sun Myung Moon was a sensitive youth. On Easter morning, 1936, while praying on a Korean hillside, Moon had a vision of Jesus who told him to finish his still uncompleted mission. And for the next nine years Moon studied the Bible, prayed intensely, and -- like the early Christian hermits in the desert -- had spiritual battles with the cosmic forces of evil. In course of time he discovered the Principle, the basis of the Unification Church's "inspired interpretation" of the Bible.
In 1938, Sun Myung Moon matriculated at Waseda University in Japan to study electrical engineering, but he continued his strict spiritual discipline while a student and worked with the Korean underground in Japan who were seeking to liberate Korea from Japanese occupation. In 1946, he moved to Pyongyang in Russian-occupied North Korea and began his ministry by preaching from the Bible in the streets, gathering disciples. After a few short years, in 1948, Moon was arrested by the Russian-dominated communist authorities -- apparently because of the stir his preaching caused -- and sent to a labor camp.
During this time in Korea the charismatic street preacher became associated with a variety of eclectic Pentecostal and other enthusiastic Christian sects looking toward the second coming. The main teacher in one group, a peasant woman, came to believe that the promised messiah would return to earth, not glorified "on the clouds" (as in traditional Christianity), and not in Jerusalem, but rather as a baby again, born of woman, in Korea. This was confirmed to her, so the story goes, by the shaking of her belly whenever she preached or taught this doctrine. The "inside the belly church," as it was called, eventually died out, but the present Mrs. Moon was raised with that community.
After United Nations intervention in the Korean War, Moon was liberated by UN forces in 1950. Immediately thereafter, he found two remaining disciples, moved south to the refugee town of Pusan in 1951, and began to preach the Principle there. He and a small group of followers lived together in a shack they built from cardboard, while each supported himself by working -- Moon, as a laborer on the docks.
In 1954, expelled from the Presbyterian Church for heresy, and self-ordained, Rev. Sun Myung Moon and four disciples (only one of whom still survives) organized the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, still the Unification Church's official name, and he began his ministry once again. The movement grew slowly. By 1955 it had attracted its first theologian, Young Oon Kim, a professor at Ehwa University in Seoul, and a Methodist with strong Swedenborg Ian leanings. Miss Kim later became the first Unification missionary to the U.S. in 1959, preceded a year earlier by Moon's first missionary to Japan. In 1960, Sun Myung Moon was married (the second time) to Hak Ja Han and started his promised family which, his followers believe, is the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Unlike most other new religious movements, the Unification Church already has a highly complex theological and philosophical system, still, however, in the process of formation. Because of its belief in "new revelation" (or "new insight" to the Asian mind), Unification -- in contrast with traditional Christianity -- accepts the possibility of change, even in its own doctrinal formulations. The Unification system itself is based largely on an allegorical, rather than literal, interpretation of the Bible, informed by Taoism, Buddhism, Confucian ethics and elements of Korean folk religion. Furthermore, the movement's goal is the unification (a popular word in Korea, despite the Korean tendency toward factionalism) not only of fractured Christianity, but also of world religions on the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
According to the emerging generation of theologically-educated Unificationists, the "Principle" their leader discovered during his early ministry is really an entity within God himself, a metaphysical truth. The book, Divine Principle (named by an Australian Pentecostal missionary), did not exist when Moon began preaching. First published in Korea in 1957, it was merely an attempt to systematize his exegesis and interpretation of Scripture, and was written down as a textbook or guide for followers who wanted to communicate Rev. Moon's insights to others. These "discourses on the Principle" were later revised, translated and published in several editions. The present "brown book," the normative edition for now, was published in English in 1973, but it too is currently being revised. This edition is an extremely poor English translation, with some striking historical inaccuracies. It contains some strong anti-Church polemics, responding to a major fundamentalist attack on Unificationists in Korea in 1957, which are inconsistent with current church attitudes and stated goals. And it employs phraseology that the Jewish community interprets as anti-Semitic, inconsistent with both the movement's belief and practice. Recent study guides to the Principle, notably the standard Outline of the Principle Level 4 (published in 1980) have shown sensitivity to this issue and removed the most objectionable language. According to the Principle, Judaism, as all religions, continues as a valid path to God up to the present day.
Briefly, the Principle teaches that God is personal and eternal, creator of heaven and earth, whose deepest nature is "heart" and love, and who combines both masculinity and femininity. Man, woman and the universe reflect God's personality, nature and purpose. God created Adam and Eve to respond to his love and thus give him joy; sharing in his creativity.
God's will in calling man and woman into being was that they fulfill "the three blessings": Be fruitful, multiply and have dominion (Genesis 1:28). That is, (1) grow to maturity (i.e. "perfection"), with mind and body united in harmony centered on God's love. Then, (2) when -- and only when -- maturity is reached, be united as husband and wife, giving birth to children free of original sin (Unification's stress on the primacy of the family derives, in part, from its Korean origins). Finally, (3) take care of the created world by setting up a loving dominion of reciprocal give-and-take with it.
But Adam and Eve, before they had attained maturity; were tempted into illicit love (usually explained as an adulterous "sexual" relationship between Eve and Lucifer, then a "premature" sexual union between Adam and Eve). Thus our first parents turned away from God's will and purpose for them and brought themselves, through this original sin, into spiritual death -- and with them, the whole human race. As a result of the Fall, Satan usurped the position of humanity's "true father," so that thereafter all people of Satan's lineage are born in sin and have a sinful propensity.
In due course, however, God sent Jesus Christ, his own son, as the second Adam to become the head of the human race, replacing our first sinful parents. Born without sin as God's messiah, Jesus was to grow to maturity, marry, establish a family and initiate God's intended kingdom of heaven on earth (for which he asked in the Lord's Prayer). But people -- Jews and Romans -- did not accept him. Rather, the Romans put him to death, making it impossible for Jesus to complete his mission, to initiate the new God-centered, sinless lineage that would restore the world and bring in the kingdom. Nevertheless, by his sacrifice and resurrection, Christ was victorious over Satan, and so made possible "spiritual salvation" (i.e., salvation of the soul) for those "reborn" through him and the Holy Spirit. "Physical salvation," however -- the kingdom of heaven on earth -- must await the Lord of the Second Advent, the third Adam, who will marry, have children, and begin God's long-delayed but promised reign.
The Lord of the Second Advent, whom most Unificationists see as Rev. Moon, with Mrs. Moon, will become the "true parents" of all humanity. By following and obeying them as Father and Mother (without rejecting one's biological parents, however), original sin will be eliminated, and humanity will eventually become perfect. The spreading of true families over the globe, then, will fulfill God's purpose for creation and bring in the kingdom -- establishing proper moral standards, uniting all peoples and races, resolving the tension between religion and science, righting all forms of social and economic injustice and overcoming God-denying ideologies such as Marxism-Leninism. In Unification thought, all society will ultimately be organized on the model of these "ideal families" and their loving relationship to God, each other, and the world.
Yet restoration (or salvation) of the world is not easily attained. Those who join the Unification Church must sacrifice, pay "indemnity" for their sins, if not for those of their ancestors (cf. Hebrews 11:39, 40). Indemnity can be understood as a Christianized version of karma, and many Unificationists define it simply as "paying your dues." Since in Unification theology -- as in the Social Gospel -- self-centeredness lies at the root of all sin, followers of Rev. Moon must lead God-centered lives, expressed "horizontally" by living for others. And because God himself has been suffering ever since the Fall, man and woman's first responsibility is to alleviate God's suffering, give him joy, and in so doing, receive joy for themselves -- loving God with all their heart, soul and mind, and loving their neighbor as much as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). But fleshing out this love, making it operative in the lives of believers, is an extremely hard task in the Unification Church. Self-centeredness can be defeated only by self-sacrifice, and the course of this self-sacrifice in the lives of Unificationists is a major reason for the sharp criticisms directed at the movement.
It should be remembered at this point that Unification is an indigenous Asian form of Christianity. Founded and led by a Korean, and utilizing an Asian system of philosophy to express and live out the Christian gospel, the movement is still strongest in Japan and Korea. In fact, only a fraction of its total membership are westerners.
Since its establishment in 1954, the Unification Church in Korea, according to highly inflated official church estimates, has grown to nearly 300,000 members. It has forsaken much of its early spontaneity and communitarianism there in favor of a course that is already rather staid and "organized" and more compatible with traditional Korean family life and culture. In other countries the movement is still made up largely of young people in their 20s and early 30s, the individuals able and willing to fulfill the arduous lifestyle requirements imposed by local and national leaders at this time. But in Korea, with the inevitable routinization and bureaucratization characteristic of an "older" religious movement, the Unification Church now spans all generations. In addition, the Korean church owns and operates a number of highly successful businesses, including Il Hwa Pharmaceutical Co., producers of some of the world's costliest ginseng tea. These businesses, obviously, make the more demanding fund-raising practices unnecessary. Despite moderating trends, however, the Unification movement in Korea is still bitterly opposed, especially by traditional Christians.
In Japan, Sun Myung Moon's church is looked upon, more or less, as just another one of the country's growing "new religions." Membership here (again, according to inflated official church statistics) is in the neighborhood of 400,000, and the Japanese Unification movement -- with its increasingly successful business enterprises -- shares the growth psychology of the rest of the population. In fact, the church is the key to the financial growth of the movement worldwide. Often it will underwrite costly projects taken on by the church in other countries, or expensive ventures conceived elsewhere that would benefit the movement as a whole. Until Moon himself took up residence in the U.S. in 1972, his American movement had been tiny and unnoticed. The Unification Church, under a variety of different names, has existed in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1960. During the late 60s and early 70s it fit well into the Berkeley-San Francisco ethos, blooming with a multitude of other "new-age" religious movements. But things changed dramatically when Rev. Moon, who had visited the U.S. on whirlwind tours before, settled in New York and decided to focus his ministry on America. Opposition mounted quickly for reasons having little to do with the essence of Unification theology itself. Rather, it was the curious blend of Moon's own flamboyant Korean messianism and certain cultural traditions -- appropriate in the East, perhaps, but scandalous in the West -- brought with his Japanese and Korean followers, that constituted the root cause of the opposition soon to arise.
For example, the Japanese introduced new fund-raising techniques to the U.S. church in 1973, and, because of their success, they took over most of the money-raising activities of the movement in America. What appears to casual travelers and shoppers as a sporadic effort by young adults to sell candy or flowers in major shopping centers and airports is actually part of a highly developed computerized national network of Mobile Fundraising Teams (MFT), working key areas of major cities out of vans. Fund-raisers are driven by their captains to the appointed locations methodically, dropped off in the morning and picked up late at night. It has not been uncommon, moreover, for American Unificationists to work three or four years on MFT. While this kind of workaholic drive and commitment which grossed $20 million in 1979 in the U.S. alone is no big deal in Japan, white Americans are horrified when they hear of their children's activities in this regard.
Then the Japanese and Korean followers of Rev. Moon brought another cultural "problem" with them to the U.S., readily apparent both in fund-raising and in membership recruitment. In the Japanese hierarchy of values, loyalty is a far more important principle than honesty. "Heavenly deception" is the term used by opponents to describe Unification evangelistic and money-raising techniques. In the face of harassment and opposition, it has been very common for Moonies not to admit their church affiliation both in fund-raising and in "witnessing." In the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, they used to invite people on the street to a "workshop" sponsored by the "Creative Community Project," with no indication -- in the beginning, at least -- that this was an arm of the Unification Church. Today, however, full disclosure is more common.
Sun Myung Moon's church in America is made up, at the present time, almost entirely of highly idealistic young people in their 20s and 30s. According to surveys taken by J. Stillson Judah of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley in 1976, almost 70 percent of these "full-time volunteers" had completed at least two years of college before joining; 10 percent had been to graduate school. Many are former Marxists, and a high percentage come from a Roman Catholic background. Relatively few are from Jewish homes (less than 5 percent). With all the attention given the Unification Church by the mass media over the last several years, one envisions a rapidly growing American movement "capturing" hundreds of thousands of new adherents. Not so. In fact, 4,000 full-time "core" members in the U.S. might be too high an estimate. It isn't easy to be a Moonie.
"If you follow me, I will make you saints." So goes a line from one of Rev. Moon's rarely quoted in-house speeches. The course of Unification discipleship is much like that followed by novitiates in a strict Catholic order, at least for the first several years. One joins the church simply by accepting the Principle, not by swearing allegiance to the movement's leader. But living the Principle is hard work and demands continual self-sacrifice.
Becoming a full-fledged member of the Unification Family, wherever that occurs, usually requires absolute submission to the "parental authority" of the church's leaders and an arduous spiritual and physical discipline. Intense prayer and multiple days of fasting are common practices in the movement as a whole. The reborn Unificationist starts out as a "servant of servants." That usually means fundraising for at least a year, if not two or three. Moon believes that raising money on the streets is itself a spiritual discipline that builds character by demanding humility. Unification fund-raisers can deal with anyone.
At the present time most young Moonies sleep on the floor (no problem for the Japanese) in coed centers, often in university towns. With their brothers and sisters, they share in normal household duties, including meal preparation, cleanup, laundry and maintenance. Although most movement leaders encourage six hours of sleep nightly, many Unificationists get by on less than that. "Sleep deprivation," when it occurs, is usually self-imposed.
The road to maturity -- perfection -- and marriage is a long one in the Unification Church. But each stage along the way is marked by more freedom and more responsibility. A fund-raiser may soon become an MFT captain, then a center director, state leader and so on up the line. After three years of driving a van, a Moonie may be sent to graduate school on a full fellowship, or asked to start a business -- on his own. The greater the responsibility, the greater the creature comforts he may enjoy. Everything the Unificationist does, however, is looked upon as preparation for the divinely appointed role of "true parenthood." (There is a democratization of messiahship in the Unification Church, in that the goal of all Moonies is to become true parents just like Rev. and Mrs. Moon, rearing children without the sinful propensity of fallen nature.)
Marriage can take place within the movement only after a period of preparation lasting at least three years. During this time Moonies live together as "brothers and sisters" and practice celibacy. Yet celibacy and singleness are but temporary norms, for only in "blessed marriage" can man and woman know and serve God fully and fulfill God's purpose of creation. Marriages in the movement are "arranged" by Rev. Moon personally and intuitively. On the Mother's Day weekend 1979, he "matched" 705 couples in New York in 16 hours, and, on the last weekend in 1980, another 843. These "engaged" or betrothed couples will remain apart on their separate missions until the next formal "mass wedding" of perhaps 10,000 couples takes place, probably in 1982. Most blessed couples move into their own apartments, raise their families, and enjoy the independence and responsibility that go with parenthood in the Unification Church. But even in marriage, followers of Rev. Moon must not be self-serving. Marriage itself is not merely for the sake of the partners or their children, it is for the world. Husband and wife, even with small children, are often sent on different missions for extended periods of time, while other Family members take care of the kids. Furthermore, the hospitality practiced by married couples in the Unification Church sometimes exceeds that even of the young singles living in a communal center. There is very little room for privatism in this movement.
Hospitality is the preeminent expression of Christian maturity in the Unification style of life. Even the Moons' mansion in Tarrytown, besides being the home of their twelve children, and a number of administrative and household staff, is a gathering place for church officials and other invited guests throughout the year. The same is true of the other elegant homes presided over by state leaders. Ironically, it is the Unification ideal of self-denial and hospitality -- sometimes carried to an extreme -- that results in the frequent charge that Moonies "love-bomb" potential converts for some sinister purpose. How could anyone, of their own free will, the critics ask, be so self-sacrificing and so hospitable without having an ulterior motive? There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Of course, hospitality -- in true Korean fashion -- is the first step in the Unification Church's recruitment process. But apart from the intensity of this hospitality, the movement's evangelistic techniques are essentially no different from those used by many of the more established churches (especially those in the evangelical tradition) -- and the courts agree. Guests are invited, initially to dinner and an evening lecture on the Principle. Persons whose interest is kindled here are then invited, generally speaking, to three-, seven- and 21-day workshops in succession (Biblical numerology is very popular among the Moonies.) After this, they may or may not join the church. The lecturing technique itself, another frequent target of criticism, was developed to a high degree in Japan. Lectures are long and, for many people, quite boring. This is why the Northern California movement, the church's most successful recruiting arm, has integrated human potential methods into a greatly simplified lecture program. Thus a complex system of belief, centered more on right action than on correct doctrine anyway, is made understandable. Still, what usually attracts alienated youthful idealists to the Unification Church -- at first, anyway -- is not just the ideology itself, simplified or in its full complexity. Rather, it is the praxis of the community of faith in which the Principle is taught that impresses the hearer, love expressed by hospitality.
"Impossible" is a dirty word in the Unification vocabulary. In her extensive study of the British Family, Eileen Barker of the London School of Economics and Political Science found that members, new and old, are anything but the "mindless robots" described by their critics. In her words:
Each member is given considerable responsibility for his work and for other people and often finds that he can do things he would have thought impossible to do before joining the Family. By being thrown in at the deep end with the assurance that he can do it if he trusts in God, the erstwhile introvert is told to go up to complete strangers in the street to ask them about their belief in God or to give a public lecture; the erstwhile city dweller will find himself having to discover how to milk a herd of cows; the erstwhile plumber finds himself in charge of running a large farm and a youth who was never considered responsible enough to be a prefect at school is told to organize a large function involving hundreds of people. And they do it.
Small wonder, then, that the confidence members experience in discovering new capabilities within themselves has enabled them to found and run the movement's numerous enterprises, not only in Korea and Japan, but in America as well. Through fund-raising, the Unification Church has bought a large number of expensive properties in the U.S. during the last several years, including the old New Yorker Hotel in midtown Manhattan, now used as the movement's World Mission Center and as the home of hundreds of Moonies in New York City (where church members also publish two daily newspapers, The New York Tribune and Noticias del Mundo). A growing fishing industry, with operations in Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Alaska and elsewhere, has been established, with the movement designing and building its own boats; and the church owns restaurants as well, including one of the best Jewish delicatessens in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Since 1975, the Unification movement has operated a graduate theological seminary in Barrytown, New York, enrolling about 120 students who represent the church's crème de la crème, 45 percent of whom are women. All but one of the seminary's regularly appointed teaching faculty (Young Oon Kim being that one) are non-Unificationists. Among these are an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox church historian, an evangelical New Testament scholar, a United Methodist professor of preaching and a Korean Confucian philosopher. The school allows a high degree of academic freedom for its faculty, and more than three dozen of its best graduates are now pursuing advanced theological studies at some of America's leading universities and schools of theology, including Harvard, Yale, Chicago and Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Like the membership of the movement in the U.S. as a whole, a large percentage of students at Unification Theological Seminary come from a Roman Catholic background. The dean herself is a former Catholic nun.
Most controversial of all Unification institutions created during the last decade has been the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS), held annually in major hotels in the U.S. and abroad. Sponsored and funded entirely by Moon's International Cultural Foundation, these four-day conferences -- begun in 1972 with 20 academics -- have now grown to large gatherings of more than 850 regular participants, with a number of Nobel laureates among them. Each year physical, biological and social scientists come together with a smattering of philosophers and theologians to discuss world problems from the perspective of their own disciplines. Critics of the church in academic circles are not entirely wrong when they accuse Moon of "courting the intellectuals" through these very posh conferences that cost up to $2.5 million or more (though the same critics are generally silent when the Vatican or the World Council of Churches sponsors similar gatherings).
In the traditional Confucian manner of honoring noted scholars (the concept of "honor" barely exists in the West any more), and with almost unbelievable hospitality, the Unification Church does treat these academics well. Many of the church's seminarians and graduate students in the U S. and Canada are flown out to help coordinate the proceedings and act as hosts for the guests. And it is probably the case that professors who attend ICUS once wish to return year after year more because of the hospitality shown them and the comradery that develops in the process than because of the interest generated by the papers presented.
Rev. Moon sees himself and his movement as providing a forum, not only for the "search for absolute values" in general -- the ICUS theme -- but also for the eventual resolution of the longstanding controversy between science and religion. Although ICUS has not yet produced any notable results in this regard, it still remains just about the only place where nuclear scientists and theologians can get together on a regular basis to talk about common concerns. Moon, unlike many other contemporary church leaders, does believe that intellectuals are important. If the mass media constitute the major influence on people's attitudes m the short run, he insists, it is still the intellectuals who will be responsible for changing those attitudes in the long run.
The growing popularity of ICUS -- and of the large number of "theologians' conferences" sponsored by the church-funded New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA) each year -- may well seem odd in view of Rev. Moon's avowed anticommunism, because the vast majority of academics who attend are anything but anticommunist. Some of them, in fact, are committed Marxists. It can be argued that intellectuals are often gullible. But such an assertion does not adequately explain the situation, because Moon's brand of anticommunism is not quite so simplistic and reactionary as it may seem from the outside.
Unificationists are against communism because of its godlessness and its lack of human-heartedness, not because they want to keep the "fat cats" on top and the poor on the bottom. The alternative to Marxism-Leninism offered by Divine Principle is not laissez-faire capitalism. Rather, the Unification counterproposal to communism is "theocratic socialism." And that is a problem, because theocratic -- "God-centered" -- socialism is hard to translate into a workable form in the present order of things. Moonies do believe in hard work, self-sacrifice, and the inherent dignity of the individual -- as a child of God -- but they are not rugged individualists in the stereotyped American sense of that term. Instead, Unificationists can be described more adequately as the "new puritans," who believe that the U.S. -- together with Korea and Japan -- has been called by God to be a light unto the nations, a city set on a hill. Many Koreans, in the early days of the movement, accused the Unification Church of being "Neo-communist" because of its communitarian practices and its social idealism. Even Moon's blatant pro-Nixon stance during the Watergate scandal, his followers insist, simply reflects the Korean (and Japanese) reverence for persons in the position of authority. But more than that, Moon's followers say, his statement was an attempt to call all Americans -- including Richard Nixon himself -- to repent, forgive, and unite. This is not to argue that there aren't Reagan Republicans -- many of them -- in the Unification Church, just as in almost every other church in the U.S. Nevertheless, unlike most conservatives, Moonies have no interest in preserving the status quo. And those who really know Unification theology and the movement's young intelligentsia who are working that theology out also know that Unification is essentially more compatible with the political left than the right.
In an American society dominated by narcissism, where bestsellers read by young and old go by the title Looking Out for # I, Winning Through Intimidation, and The Virtue of Selfishness, Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church does appear as a threat to the dominant culture and its hedonistic and materialistic values. Self-centeredness is not new. What is new is the up-front attempt to make it respectable, to celebrate it as a virtue, and to package and sell it as a new-found cure-all. The Moonies try hard to challenge this narcissism by living lives, by sacrificing all, for others -- even if they do it in Asian ways not always appreciated by white, middle-class Americans. Modern American young people, and a few older ones too, join the Unification Church to concretize their frustrated idealism, not a little of which many of them first learned in Sunday or Sabbath school as children -- in the same churches and synagogues that persecute them now for trying to do something about it. Right or wrong, the Moonies want to change the world. Because of this determination, news headliners and occasionally courts have wondered whether Moon's movement is not really religious but has political goals. The Unification Church is undoubtedly a religion -- a religion showing concern for state affairs, but only as these are a background for the spread of religious and familial life or, all too often, a background hostile to new religions. It is easily understandable why the textbook, Divine Principle, strongly favors a democratic, pluralistic political environment. The book exalts as the ideal pattern of society "the constitutional political system" of distinct, co-equal legislative, administrative and judicial bodies. Idealistically it looks to the day when these will not be rivals but will work together for the common good. Correspondingly, this doctrinal book speaks against totalitarianism, noting that modern democracy arose precisely to prevent the concentration of power "in a specific individual or organization."
In a review of history, in Divine Principle, God is said to have promoted the development of religious, political, economic and scientific freedoms through such developments as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the American and French revolutions, the trend toward socialism, the World Wars and emancipation of colonies, and the contemporary struggles for dignity, rights and equality. Political forms are evaluated "from God's viewpoint," the focal value being freedom of religion.
In addition to seeing America as God's blessed land of opportunity and protection for the new messianic movement, Moonies revere Korea as their "holy land." Surprisingly, Divine Principle after its prolonged commentary on Biblical and Western history has no reference to political personalities, regimes or events in post-World War II Korea or America (the only contemporary political leader mentioned being Joseph Stalin). Many cultural reasons are adduced why Korea was essentially prepared for the start of the messianic work, and one ideological reason -- Koreas division between the forces of religion and of anti-religion in an already existing "Third World War" between the ideas of "democracy" and "communism." In its religious crusade against communism, Unification urges initiatives only of love, truth and justice in the face of impending violence.
The Moonies claim as their messianic mission the spreading of Godly families. The subsidiary revolutionary goal is for religionists to get together and persuade Marxists and all other materialistic people to bank on spiritual exchange as the only basis for economic prosperity with justice, and for political harmony. Unification seeks a utopia where each person is completely satisfied, living in a loving family with material abundance, and having input into the decisions which affect his or her life. Where else, other than Marxism, can such dedicated idealists go in our society today? Who else really wants them? Jonathan Wells, a Ph.D. student in religious studies at Yale, a veteran Berkeley radical -- incarcerated for a year at Leavenworth for draft resistance -- and an Unificationist, told his story in the Yale Daily News in 1978. His concluding remarks in that article sum up quite adequately the reasons why intelligent and idealistic white American young people are attracted to and follow a "slant-eyed" Korean evangelist with a vision of the kingdom of heaven on earth:
It's not easy to follow Rev. Moon. In the past four years, I've experienced enough verbal abuse, police harassment, and physical assault to make the time I spent at Leavenworth seem like a vacation. But it's often the case that the best way is not the easiest. When I went to prison, that seemed the best way to uphold high ideals in a messed-up world. I still have high ideals. The times have changed, but the dream has not diminished.
Reprinted by permission from New Conversations 6 No. 3 (Spr 82)