by S. Mark Helm
Mr. Helm is a doctoral student in the Andover Newton- Boston College joint program in theology.
This article appeared in the Christian Century May 11, 1977, p. 448. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. . Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
There is something wildly ironic about Christians’ protesting that the Unification Church’s demands that members turn over all worldly goods to the church are sinister, and that its members must be unbalanced to comply. Sun Myung Moon’s revelation calls forth real commitment, but commitment to a messiah without a cross who confirms us in our cultural predilections.
Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church has captured the transient attention and imagination which we in America devote to the pop culture of religion. Recently denounced by both the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Churches, the movement has seldom been out of the public eye, whether at its own instance as in the blitz of pro-Nixon demonstrations which effectively introduced the group to the U.S., or as the target of lawsuits, legislative investigations, and parent-employed “deprogrammers.”
For the most part, the charges leveled against the Unification Church focus on “mind control” and “brainwashing.” Such charges serve the dual function of both disparaging the group’s techniques and effectively discounting the dedicated and selfless behavior of its initiates. Whether or not there is substance to these charges beyond what might be the case with, say, a traditional Jesuit seminary or a charismatic community remains to be conclusively demonstrated.
But the vehemence of the charges themselves reflects the threat posed by changed lives and real commitment. There is something wildly ironic about Christians’ protesting that the Unification Church’s demands that members turn over all worldly goods to the church are sinister, and that its members must be unbalanced to comply. Why this compulsive desire to devalue the devotion of “Moonies” as nothing more than the product of manipulation? It is as if we are so convinced of the irrelevance of theology and of “right belief” that we know no other test of religion but its sincerity and fervor. The urgency with which aspersions are cast upon the fact of real conversion and devotion to cults derives partly from the notion that once such devotion is acknowledged as real, then no ground for discrimination remains. What elicits true response must be true.
Surely we should know better. Empirical verification knows less crude forms. The ideologies that have called forth true sacrifice and virtue among their adherents form a vast and anomalous assemblage. The theological question is not what ideas may possibly serve as lightning rods to discharge the longing for commitment in a particular cultural atmosphere, but what formulations support and shape, over time and in full face of the complexity of life, meaningful sacrifice and commitment.
The charge of “mind control” can be prosecuted in concert with secular sensibilities. Everyone can agree that people ought not to be turned into zombies. But this alliance may bring Christians perilously close to hypocrisy and contradiction if in the end it is radical commitment per se which is attacked as pathological.
In Vermont, when a legislative committee proposed to investigate the Unification Church, an official of the state Ecumenical Council finally opposed the effort as a disturbing precedent. The state surely has the right to pursue criminal justice even when illegal activities, are taking place under the cover of a religious organization. And the political philosophy and impact of a group like the Unification Church (or any church) is open to public discussion and censure. But the heart of the movement to investigate this group seems to have been the distaste and alarm expressed by parents and friends at the conversion of a young person. Unless such a commitment has clearly been coerced, it is in itself neither criminal nor pathological. Should Christian churches have been brought before legislative committees for fostering commitments that divided families over the issue of civil rights, over the Vietnam war?
The objection to the Unification Church, for Christians, must be primarily theological. The principal error of Unification belief is not that it is somehow “unreal” belief, but what this belief contains as substance.
Divine Principle is the 536-page “Bible” of the Unification Church, consisting of the revelation which Sun Myung Moon has transcribed for his followers and constituting the theological basis of the movement. Despite the bizarre impression which Divine Principle leaves with a Christian reader, its claim to being “based upon Christian beliefs and ideology” is accurate. Indeed, though the editor’s note in the edition I read spoke of the document as “encompassing the profound thought of the orient,” and though the church touts its ideology as the unification of world religions, Divine Principle makes hardly a cursory attempt at syncretism. It offers itself as a variation on Christianity destined to supersede Christianity, or, to put it in traditional though precise terms, as a Christian heresy.
Though it hardly reaches, at least in translation, the plane of inspirational literature, and though it is so jargon-ridden that it often reads like a doctoral dissertation, the Principle is not without its fascination. Like the texts of many other fringe groups, it is based upon a system of procrustean symmetry, ordering history, spiritual life and social relationships in simple schemes. The Principle evinces an alert sense of contemporary intellectual and cultural currents with which it aligns itself superficially, even when these are in contradiction.
Its treatment of the Bible is a case in point. Divine Principle often sounds as though it is expounding a historical-critical approach to the Bible, but its own exegesis alternates between a more-than-strict literalism and an unfettered allegorizing. Its explanation of the Fall expresses a more rabid supernaturalism than biblical literalists would recognize, locating Eve’s sin in her sexual intercourse with an archangel. The fact of Eve’s seduction is verified by noting the acceptance in ancient Jewish literature of the idea that angels could have sexual relations with human beings.
On the other hand, many pages are spent divesting the biblical picture of the Second Coming of any taint of supernaturalism. The supposition that Christ will come again “on clouds” seems especially worrisome to Divine Principle; it is dismissed as belonging to a premodern age, then explained allegorically as signifying that the Lord of the Second Advent will come among his devout followers. The concern is understandable, since the Second Advent is maintained to be entirely earthly in character, and so congruent with Sun Myung Moon’s earthly career. The use of the Bible swings between these two poles: at times veering toward the fundamentalist, not to say occult, and at other times exhibiting a kind of campy “higher criticism.
In the name of further revelation, the Bible is tailored to fit a typology in which two philosophies of life, the “Abel-type” and the “Cain-type,” struggle in cyclical battles throughout history, each struggle building upon the previous success of the Abel-type and so ascending toward a complete restoration of the individual, the family, the nation and the world. The prophets, interestingly enough, are not in evidence in Divine Principle. Its whole scheme of history is built around the concept of “indemnity” — that is, around humanity’s struggle to fulfill its portion of reparation for the Fall. The debt humanity owes God cannot be paid in full. But if an individual can, through complete devotion, discharge 5 per cent of his or her portion of the debt, God will wipe out the rest.
The Lord of the Second Advent
God’s plan of restoration for fallen humanity centers on the “four-position foundation” of Divine Principle, which has three successive forms or “bases.” This scheme can most easily be grasped as a simple form of Hegelianism. The four positions’ first base consists of an individual’s mind and body which, when their “give and take” are centered on God, produce as the fourth component a perfect individual and thus a stable configuration. At the family level, a man and a woman centered on God produce a child. Finally the perfected individual in “give and take” with creation, centered on God, produces as the fourth component the Kingdom of God on earth. These three bases correspond to the three blessings given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: be fruitful (unite with God), multiply (unite with each other), and have dominion (unite with creation).
Within each of these positions are three stages of development: formation, growth and perfection. History is the story of steady progress toward completion of the foundation for perfect individuals, perfect families and perfect societies. This clockwork model is further ornamented by the idea that Satan resists this progress by setting up opposite numbers to the “heavenly side” at each level of restoration. These must be defeated in the course of God’s plan. Stalin arose to lead communism as the “symbolic representation of the Lord of the Second Advent on the Satanic side.”
Thus, while the two world wars may appear from a human point of view to have been evil, from the point of view of God’s plan for restoration they were good and necessary. The defeat of the “satanic side” in each case cleared the path for a more nearly complete foundation for the Kingdom of God. These two cataclysmic conflagrations of our century, which broke the back of the liberal Protestant faith in progress, do not appear to trouble the adherents of Divine Principle, by and large members of a generation conveniently undistressed by stark memories of those ‘triumphs” for the heavenly side. This sanguine schematization of the Holocaust has not, understandably, reassured Jewish critics of the movement.
There remains, of course, one final conflict, the resolution of which will provide the worldwide unity upon which the last four-position foundation can be perfected. This is the struggle between “Abeltype” democracy and “Cain-type” communism. Divine Principle is indecisive at this point. It may not be necessary for democracy to destroy communism (the sole bearer, in its view, of a “materialistic” philosophy) by force. It may be accomplished in a battle of ideology. The Unification Church seeks to forge the necessary ideology while at the same time supporting a militarily supreme West, just in case. This final conflict is imminent, for the Lord of the Second Advent has appeared in Sun Myung Moon, and the atheistic communist system is the “Antichrist” of the final days.
This historical scheme is consonant with Divine Principle’s attitude toward Jesus. The church’s interpretation of the Principle makes it clear that the Lord of the Second Advent is not Jesus of Nazareth come again but a new figure who will accomplish what Jesus could not do. Though scrupulously concerned not to attribute Jesus’ “failure” in any way to his own shortcomings, the Principle does not hesitate to blame the Jewish people’s unbelief, John the Baptist’s cowardice, and Judas’ betrayal as the causes of the crucifixion, which was an ignominious setback for God’s plan. Jesus was able to achieve only “spiritual salvation,” and consequently Christians have been limited to spiritual salvation.
This failure is demonstrated in the inability of Christians to produce sinless children. The relevance of the cross for the present life, like the relevance of the prophets, is denied. Worldly triumph is the expectation, and according to the neat diagram of world history which Divine Principle provides, the victory over communism and the subsequent consummation cannot be much further away than the year 2000. Apparently Moon and his second wife are already considered the true parents of the new humanity, fulfilling the prophesied marriage of the lamb in Revelation 19.
The genius of Divine Principle lies not so much in what it teaches as in what it allows. It provides religious legitimization for a multitude of desires in which we fondly wish to be confirmed. It offers a kind of refuge from prophetic religion. We want to love our country above others, and Divine Principle assures us it is the “heavenly side,” the very flagship of restoration. Its enemies, and ours, are satanic. We long to believe in progress, in the goodness of the technology that supports our good life. The Principle teaches that the rise of technology and science is a sign not only of inexorable progress but also of the dawning of the Kingdom.
There are no nasty words here about denial or “less is more.” We want to put our own lives and our families (though not always our parents, with the demands and responsibilities they place on us) first — and quite properly so, we are told, for the avenue to social change lies in our perfect children. Is there a softness for the occult, the extrasensory? Principle argues for the reality of the spiritual world and of evil spirits. Lest this frighten anyone, we are assured that hell, such as it is, is systematically emptied as these spirits work off their remaining indemnity. There is no judgment one need worry about.
The two unequivocal denials which Divine Principle utters are directed at communism and adultery. In other words, the single striking instance in which it sets itself against prevailing mores and wishes is in the case of sexual liberty — a case which is perhaps dubious if it is true that a substantial proportion of the generations which have grown up in the sexual revolution may harbor a secret desire for that “No.”
Christianity as Impediment
Despite the Unification Church’s ambiguous self-designation as “Christian” and its desire to unify all religions under a single ideology which it also designates as in some sense Christian, Principle finally sees Christianity itself as an impediment to the work of the Lord of the Second Advent. Christians of today,
who are captives to scriptural words, will surely criticize the words and conduct of the Lord of the Second Advent, according to the limits of what the New Testament words literally state. So it is only too clear that they can be expected to persecute him and brand him a heretic [Divine Principle, p. 535].
Christianity, which has hitherto been treated as the supreme religion, is seen to be the faithless Israel of the latter days, from which God is removing all guidance. The leaders of Christianity, like the chief priests and rabbis of Jesus’ time, are “unfortunately” headed to hell. As is the case in most fringe sects, there is a prosaic clairvoyance which foresees a less-than-enthusiastic response from the church at large.
Indeed, many of the Unification Church’s characteristics and techniques faithfully correspond to those traditional in fringe groups of Christianity — from the buttonholing solicitors with their repertoire of causes to the authoritarian structure, from the dedicated young people to the financial solvency. Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and many before them have walked this path. There does not seem yet any reason to regard these features as especially sinister in the Unification Church. In fact Moon’s adherents differ from previous fringe groups in their quite early and expensive pursuit of respectability, as evidenced by the scientific conventions they have sponsored in England and the U.S. and the seminary they have established in Barrytown, New York, whose faculty is composed not of their own group members but rather of respected Christian scholars.
Rabid harassment, which only confirms the movement’s conviction that it is persecuted, is hardly becoming to our own convictions. There is space, however, for the qualifying “yet,” because the suspicion that the movement might in some way be involved in the work of the Korean CIA or Korean agents in the U.S. is a troubling one. In this matter it is perhaps the group’s own secrecy which is its primary liability. There is no doubt of the church’s support of the South Korean government. South Korea is extolled in Divine Principle as a land “close to God’s heart” where many receive revelations of the coming Kingdom. But ironically, in South Korea Christians are jailed for espousing democracy and human rights, apparently without protest from the Unification Church.
Above all, there is no doubt that Divine Principle must be rejected on theological grounds. God’s hand in the world cannot be bound to “democracy” or invoked as heavenly aid in a war, even a war of ideology, for world dominion. For Christians the cross must remain central, not only as a full rather than inadvertent revelation of God’s love and nature but also as a sign of the Christian life. The Christian Christ with his cross calls us to sacrifice not just for those things which serve our ends, but in the service of God’s purpose, which runs far beyond and at times counter to those ends.