My Experience In The Unification Church
(and what it taught me)
by Todd Harvey
~My name is Todd Harvey. For six years, from 1974 to 1980, ages twenty to twenty six, I was a member of Moon's Unification Church. I appreciate the chance to relate my experience. I hope this will be instructive. As you can see, it happened some time ago. The UC likes to claim it has changed since then - based on what I've seen, I remain a little skeptical. I will leave it to you to decide how relevant my story is to the issue of the UC today. I have tried to be as honest and objective as possible.
I want to first give you a brief personal background, and then a short chronology of my experience in the group. After that I will highlight some of the main points I concluded from that experience.
My upbringing and childhood was more or less unremarkable. I am the eldest of three. We grew up in rural/suburban Minnesota, west of Minneapolis. I guess I was always something of a loner. I might have been a little more introspective than many of my peers, concerned about social issues, especially the environment, at an early age. Socially, however, I was what you call a late bloomer, "young for my age". Kind of like a "nerd", without the brains. Also, being the shortest kid in the class, I was always conscious of being a little different. My biggest childhood crises came when I was 15 years old, when my Dad announced to us kids that he would no longer be staying with us, but starting a new life with someone other than our Mom. Being from a "broken" home is not the most traumatic thing kids experience, but I was ill equipped to deal with such a sudden change in my little world. I remember taking it hard.
I had a relaxed religious upbringing. We went to a Presbyterian Sunday school when I was young, and sometime around junior high we started going to a Unitarian Church. I wasn't pushed one way or the other in beliefs about God or Jesus. I went through a period of agnosticism/atheism in high school. Sometimes, though, I think the real reason for this was so that I could argue evolution versus creation with my best friend, who was a "born again" Jesus freak. He was always bringing me to those meetings where you are asked to step forward and "accept the Lord as your personal savior". I always felt manipulated, and always resisted.
At some point in college, I began to develop some faith or belief in a higher power or spiritual realm. I was feeling real good about life, and the wonder and mystery of it all, and actively searching different beliefs. I took long walks in the beautiful countryside around Duluth and the north shore of Lake Superior. I listened to all of Cat Stevens songs, and I read books like Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Autobiography of a Yogi. I went to lectures on campus about "Transcendental Meditation". I went to a meeting sponsored by the local "Campus Crusade for Christ", where I finally did have one of those born again experiences. ( I cried a lot, anyway! I was still somewhat put off by the "Jesus people" and their claim to "One Way".)
In the Spring of 1974, I ran into the UC. A sincere young lady introduced me to some of the main points of the doctrine. It seemed interesting - you couldn't argue with most of it - basic stuff about "God's ideal" and the "purpose of creation". I was given the distinct impression, though, that this group had something - some secret, some "special truth" - that underscored everything they were about. During Summer break, I was invited to a "weekend workshop" and a chance to meet more of the members. I said why not, took a bus to the south Minneapolis center, where we all loaded up in a van and headed to Spirit Lake, Iowa.
The "workshop" was really more of a very intense, highly structured seminar, where we were completely immersed in the teachings and culture of the group. Times for meals, breaks, lectures, discussions and sleeping were all strictly orchestrated. Potential recruits were always accompanied by a member and had little time to reflect by themselves or talk to other guests alone. Highly charged lectures on Gods ideal, the purpose of creation, the fall of man, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the second coming of Christ contributed to the emotional pressure. During discussions, group leaders would ask leading questions about our lives, these times, and what if the messiah really did walk on the Earth. I didn't think too much about how the workshop was run - if anything, only that the members were a little "quirky". They seemed so sincere, enthusiastic and motivated that it was all a little contagious, I guess. And there was a simple "logic" to so much that was presented. The universe started to "make sense". Complex mysteries and paradoxes of the Christian religion were "explained". God's hand was "shown clearly" on Earth to shape human history. Profound religious sentiments and emotions were evident in the prayers and songs of the members. Having a simple faith that God does work to guide one in life, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not this was it, this is what I'd been looking for.
During the last lecture, the "conclusion" lecture, it was shown how this was the age of the new messiah. How he was going to come as a human, walking the Earth, from an Eastern country, specifically Korea. How he would bring a new truth and solve the problem of sin and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth in this time. How he wouldn't be understood or recognized, and would be terribly persecuted. As I listened to the speaker, I looked up at a picture of Moon on the wall at the front of the lecture hall. Suddenly, everything fell into place. Everything was clear. Of course, of course - he's the one! He's what this has all been about! It's so obvious - why didn't I see it before? I was overcome with emotion - joy, wonder, gratitude, awe, and even grief. I cried and cried as I assimilated the amazing truth that the Messiah is on the Earth now - he's been here my whole life! He's already 54 years old and so few people know of him! And I've been chosen, I've been called to help with the work! We can end war, violence, hunger, poverty, pollution. We can build a world of love and peace. What could I do but drop everything and answer the call? I was "born again" into the age of new hope.
I quit my summer job, quit college, and moved into the local center. I was sent to several longer training sessions for new members before I was put on the "International One World Crusade" to promote Moon's upcoming public appearance at Madison Square Garden. We invaded and occupied Manhattan, handing out leaflets to every person who went by as if there life depended on attending. Pounding the sidewalks morning to night, week after week, sleeping on the floor in rented motel rooms and eating bagged meals gave us the feeling of working on a Heavenly crusade, making cosmic history in this crucial time in the "providence of restoration". The rejection and hard feelings of the besieged locals was proof of Satan's grip on the fallen world, causing us to work even harder. The actual event was something of a fiasco, but it was deemed a " victory in the spirit world", and then it was on to the next crusade.
I was sent to the " mobile fund raising team", or MFT, where I spent two years living out of vans, motels and local UC centers in the upper Midwest . We'd hawk flowers, candy, candles and other goodies in parking lots, office buildings, industrial parks, business strips, and door to door. At night we would go "blitzing" (as in blitzkrieg) the bars and restaurants, moving in and out with lightning speed, so as not to get caught and kicked out! A good fund raiser could make $200 a day or more on $20 worth of product and $10 worth of fast food. It was a very strenuous mission, and we often worked 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks at a time. We also had "competitions" that were a reason to work even harder. The winners, or people who made a certain dollar average, would get some special gift from the leaders like a signed picture of "True Parents" (Mr. and Mrs. Moon). We considered it the "front line" in the battle against Satan, and we were a proud elite. We were totally at the disposal of the leaders above us, and as a true, dedicated member, our only attitude was eager willingness to do whatever we were told. We had no expectations for our own except to serve. We didn't know if we would be fund raising for 10 days or 10 years - whatever what God wanted. If we weren't happy with that, we were having "spiritual problems", in need of overcoming our "fallen nature".
In 1976, I went from MFT to the performing arts department, because I could play a musical instrument. The "Go-World Brass Band" was a wind ensemble that was formed by Moon as a means to promote his speaking tours and other UC activities. Nothing like a bunch of musicians making a lot of noise on the street corner to get the attention of passersby! For the next 4 years I lived in UC centers in Manhattan, Boston, Brooklyn, and back to Manhattan, doing all the main duties of membership - fund raising, recruiting, participating in workshops, selling UC newspapers, etc., as well as performing in the band for church functions in public, and "in house".
In 1979, things started to change for me, if just a little, in the group. Maybe I stopped running away from serious questions about doctrine. Maybe I was bothered by the disparity between the UC public relations lines about the group, and what I knew for a fact about the group. Maybe I was more and more bothered by the recruiting practices we were told to adopt from the Oakland center (Booneville) of Onie and Mose Durst, which were particularly deceptive and childish. (Mose Durst was soon to be made the president of the American church.) It might have been the budding feelings of emotional closeness I was slowly becoming aware of for a Japanese "sister" I had worked closely with for many months. Church doctrine taught us in no uncertain terms that these feeling were absolutely evil, and that they had to be suppressed. Yet I didn't feel evil. Even so, just to be safe, I did "cold shower conditions" to "separate from Satan", but they didn't seem to do much to change my feelings. I was in a weird space - a committed believer, yet aware of some serious discontent. I hung in there and kept on going.
In May of 1979, I came back to Minnesota to visit my family. It was only the third time since 1974 that I had done that. Trips home were highly discouraged, if not forbidden. As "children of the True Parents" , we understood that God needed us more on the front line in the battle against Satan, and anything which took us away from our mission, even if only for a few days, was self indulgent. We usually justified them by saying we could use the opportunity to "witness" to our family - that is, try to get them to join.
Well, there is nothing more unreasonable or unpleasant than an absolutely committed, completely sure believer, with all of life's answers at his fingertips, anxious to get you to see the light. I'm sure I was as obnoxious as ever! I didn't realize it, but my family had become increasingly concerned about my involvement, seeing the change that had taken place in my mentality, and the degree to which I seemed dependent on the group for direction in my life, and they sensed it wasn't healthy. ( At first, they were tolerant and supportive, if not a little confused. ("Todd, how did you get so religious?") I can remember my Dad asking me once, if I was really free to leave if I wanted to, saying that was his main concern. I assured him that of course I was, but I remember being struck by the question, and I knew deep down what the answer was.) On the second day of my two day visit, we were sitting around the living room in the home of one of my Dad's friends. I hadn't understood why we had come out to this place, and something just didn't seem right. There was a peculiar tension in the air, and my Dad, his voice shaking with emotion, told me that I needed help, that I wouldn't be going back to New York that evening, but staying here for a few days to talk to some people who knew a lot about cults. I was in store for a "deprogramming".
Of course, we had heard all about deprogramming, Satan's latest strategy to get us to betray True Parents, and had been instructed to do whatever it took to get away. Anything was better than the spiritual death and an eternity of accusation by the spirit world that would be the consequence of leaving the messiah. I had even heard that some leaders were advising suicide rather than succumbing, but I never heard that directly myself. I had always wondered what the big fuss was about, though. After all, we had the Truth. We had all of the good spirit world on our side. We had True Parents guiding us. How could hearing a bunch of negativity and lies be that big a threat? Was our faith really so fragile? I was not worried. I knew I could get through this. Still, I couldn't help but feel very nervous and confused. I remember the first night, before the deprogrammers got there, lying in my bed and looking out the window at the peaceful country scenery and wondering what the heck is going on. I commented to my Mom that so much is at stake, and she agreed with me.
I was determined, however, not to lose faith. I was also very anxious to get back to New York, because I knew that a "matching ceremony" was imminent. This is a pivotal point in a members spiritual life, when Moon chooses your eternal spouse, and I was eligible to participate. But I knew I was outnumbered for now, and escape seemed unlikely to succeed. I just had to go along with their attempt to break my faith. After two days of confrontation, arguing, yelling, and putting my fist into a door (fortunately a hollow core door, otherwise I'm sure I would have broken my hand), I realized that I would never get out unless I convinced them that I had seen the light, that I realized the folly of my ways. I was able to manage this, and was soon moved into a "half way house". The next morning, I got up early, went into the bathroom, locked the door, turned on the water in the sink for "camouflage noise", opened the window, and jumped out. I ran to the nearest phone and called the Minneapolis center, and they came out and picked me up. I was soon back in Manhattan.
Virtually within hours, I was in a room with hundreds of other members who were being matched up by Moon, most often with a complete stranger. I went into that room full of excitement and happiness, but by the time I came out , I was one very confused boy. I saw all sorts of strange, pragmatic, and very unspiritual considerations, like leadership position, special considerations for favorites of the higher ups, and even visa status being taken into account in Moon's decisions. He was supposed to be able to look at you and see you aura and ancestry, (this is how he determined who would be a good match for you), yet he had to ask members what their nationalities were. I saw him strike a girl in the head with his fist when she dared suggest someone. We were told to take some time with our match to talk things over and come to an agreement about it, yet Moon angrily berated members in front of the whole assembly when they rejected his pick. He matched one talented, outgoing, intelligent and pretty girl in the rock group "Sunburst" with a poor guy who obviously had some mental impairment that kept him operating at a fourth grade level. I watched as my special friend was matched to someone else, and I wasn't even in the considerations, as the Japanese sisters, being so few, were matched first to the MFT "commanders". Moon didn't match any one together if the girl was taller than the boy, so when he paired me and my match up, he had us stand together to make sure. As we were standing there, it occurred to me that if she is just 1/2 inch taller than me, we will go on our separate ways, but if not, we will spend the rest of our lives together. In the speech he gave to us after the matching, he made the emphatic statement that "From now on, the most important thing is ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE!", chopping the air with his hands for emphasis. And through it all I saw a lot of other confused, dazed members giving it their best fake it smile as they pretended happiness. But again, I buried my doubts, and went along with it. I didn't even consider rejecting my match, because I knew that good members didn't do that.
By now, I'm in a really, really weird space. I don't know what challenged my faith more, the deprogramming, or the matching. It's hard to describe the emotional and psychological turmoil of those days. You see, the dilemma of someone considering leaving, someone having a deep "crisis of faith" in such a group is very complex. It's even more difficult in the UC, due to the fact that you are not following just another guru, but the messiah himself. Someone on the outside says, "Look at what he does, look at how he operates - how can that be God's love, how can that be the messiah?". But if you really believe first that he is the messiah, then almost anything can be rationalized and accepted. It's like a "catch-22". And think about it - if Jesus were here now, would you second guess how he operated? Wouldn't you do anything at all he told you to do?
So, a struggling member is completely and absolutely all alone. I couldn't turn to anyone on the outside - family, friends, authorities, - because they just didn't understand. And I couldn't turn to anyone on the inside - after all, that was the whole question. They all had an agenda, and wanted something from me. I couldn't even turn to my own prayers, for once again, that was the whole question. Had all those prayers during the previous 6 years of membership been a mistake? Had I not been open to what God's will was? Was I doing God's will by staying, or leaving? No matter how hard I prayed, the answer to this dilemma wasn't clearly given to me. In the end, I just had to trust myself - my thoughts, my feelings, and my own gut instincts. That's all I could do.
It took another year of struggle and unhappiness until June, 1980, when I walked away from the group on my own, with a little more help from family and "exit counselors" whom I voluntarily met with. The day that I left was one of the most stressful days of my life. (Being stuck in Manhattan rush hour traffic and late for the plane flight didn't help!) Earlier in the day I had honored the request of my "match" to go talk to Mose Durst about my questions concerning the group. That did not go well. I found him to be manipulative and arrogant. He seemed unable to speak in anything but PR cliches, and we quickly came to blows, figuratively. His parting shot was that if I got on that plane, my "spiritual life was in danger", his exact quote. In the New Yorker hotel, the performing arts director, Mr. Pak, did his best to pressure me not to leave. I told him my intent was simply to go home for a while and think about things. I wasn't completely repudiating the group at that time, and in my mind I was still unsure what I was going to do, long term. But he still insisted I stay. When he realized that I wasn't going to be persuaded, he put his nose up in the air, turned and walked away without another word. No goodbye and best wishes, no thank you for the six years of hard work, no please stay in touch and call me anytime, nothing. I had ceased to matter to him. (This proved to be the pattern for my contacts with almost all the people I knew in the group. My "spiritual mother", my "spiritual children", and many others never contacted me after I got out, even though I contacted members of the band for at least a year, and anybody could have obtained my address and phone. In the ensuing years, I have concluded that members, for the most part, are reluctant to talk with former members.)
Of course, you don't just walk away from something as fundamental to your identity as that and just forget it happened. I spent a lot of time over the next years reading about the cult phenomena, writing reflections about my experience, and examining the doctrine from a new perspective, all in an effort to understand myself and find some peace inside. I felt like I was actually rewiring my brain. ( This was an expression I remember hearing Moon use, telling us members what we needed to do to become good members).
What I'd like to do now is highlight a few of the main things I've distilled of concluded about all of this. I don't claim that all of the following insights are 100% my own, and I thank all the people whose work on cults and totalistic belief systems has lead to a deeper understanding of this extreme manifestation of religious faith, and also basic human nature.
The first thing that people usually ask me when they hear of my involvement is "Why did you join, how did you get involved?". Who joins cults? (The real answer is that no one joins a cult, they join a "spiritual community" or "religious organization", that turns out to be a cult. Some people don't even make the decision to join, they simply get immersed in the cult environment that step by step takes away the option of leaving . But this is getting to the issue of mind control, which I will discuss later.) I don't think you can easily pigeonhole or characterize the typical member. I saw quite a cross section of character types, life histories, and backgrounds in the UC. But if I had to, I would offer these sweeping generalities about the typical recruit:
- 1. They would be young, concerned, idealistic people who think about the world and want to make it better. Few people who join are older than 25 - what you would call "Peace Corps" types.
- 2. By definition, they would be open minded, willing to entertain new ideas, perhaps searching for answers, meaning, clarity - what you would call "seekers".
- 3. Often, they would be sheltered, naive, and trusting, not what you would call "street smart". Basic middle class suburban kids.
- 4. Maybe they would be at a crossroads in their life - perhaps they are at a moment of personal crises, maybe they lost a loved one or a job, or recently broke up a relationship, and are lonely, vulnerable, in need of acceptance and support.
It's ironic to note that it is often very virtuous qualities that make a person susceptible to cult recruitment - the desire to do good, to change the world, to know the truth. Another ironic thing is that by definition, a naive person won't understand that quality in him or her self. That was my problem for sure - I was naive, and I didn't know it!
Once again, these are very sweeping generalities, and I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions. I do very clearly remember, however, the direction of the leaders, to look for what we called "prepared people" in our recruiting efforts, people with these qualities. The lone, young backpacker in the park didn't stand a chance! We'd practically fight over them! And if this person seemed friendly, open and divulged that he or she was concerned about the world and thinking about what they were going to do with their life, (and happened to have the weekend open), we'd be in witnessing heaven! We'd have them chalked up as spiritual children before they even made it to the center. Of course, we would do the indemnity prayer conditions anyway, just to make sure.
The second thing I'd like to touch on is the whole issue of "mind control". It's a concept which is still somewhat controversial, and deals with basic philosophical questions of free will, the complex workings of the mind, the nature of religious experience, and other questions of human motivations and behavior.
In 1960, sociologist Robert Lifton wrote a book called "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism". In it, he documents his studies of Chinese efforts during the Korean war and later to "brainwash" American POW's and shape the behavior of people in their society to conform to the "party line". In the book, he identifies eight specific techniques used to achieve this. I'm not going to go through and explain every one of them now, but they do include things like the control of communication (internal as well as external - in the UC we called this "cutting off give and take with negativity"), the demand for purity, the need for public confession of our sins and unworthiness, holding the doctrine as a "sacred science" above question or scrutiny, loading the language with buzz words and jargon (which helped cement group identity, clarify the distinction between insiders and outsiders, and tended to stifle critical thinking), etc. What is important to note is that the book by Lifton was written long before the cult phenomena became an issue in this country, and that every one of the eight techniques outlined was used by the UC to gain and keep members. It was quite an eye opener.
Now, I'm not claiming that mind control is some sort of "voodoo magic", that the cult can turn anyone into a "brainwashed zombie" just by getting them into the cult environment. We can only speculate how much mind control contributes to the conversion process. But I do believe strongly that it is a very real, very effective force in shaping behavior and obtaining conformity, much more than is generally recognized. I look at my mentality and behavior, the things I did, what I believed, what I rationalized in the group, and compare that to how I was before I joined, and since leaving, and I know that this radical change in my behavior can't be explained away by some new found "love of God". I read the letters I wrote home when I was a member, and it is very foreign to me, almost embarrassing - "I actually wrote that?!" Very strong psychological forces were working on me that I had no understanding of. I know I wasn't acting or thinking with real, independent freedom of mind or conscience. I believe there were times when I would have done just about anything I was told to do. In fact, absolute obedience and the willingness to do anything was the standard of faith for which we were trained. We were always reminded of the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, and asked "Would you be willing to sacrifice your Isaac?".
Of all the theologians, sociologists or cult apologists who have dismissed the notion of mind control, I have seen none offer an explanation as to how a Jonestown or a Waco could happen without allowing for some extreme form of coercion and control. People just don't do that kind of thing with intact faculties.
The third thing I'd like to address is the doctrine of the UC. Now, it is important to note that it is not my intent to belittle any ones beliefs here. If someone wants to believe in subject/object, Cain/Abel, the "fall of man", that Moon is the messiah, etc.etc., that is their business. I do think it is silly and detrimental to our spiritual growth to believe something without thinking, and I am bothered by religious people's insistence that you can't say anything which might challenge or reinterpret those beliefs. Contrary to the claim that opposition to groups like the UC is religious bigotry and persecution, most people's objection to cults is not based on cult belief, but cult practice. In this case, however, the doctrine can reasonably be seen as an important tool in the effort to shape the behavior of the members, and obtain conformity and obedience.
The UC "Bible", the new truth that Moon is said to have brought, is called the "Divine Principle". In the first chapter, it talks about things like the nature of the universe and God's purpose of creation. It speaks of dualities of internal and external, spirit world and physical world, subject and object. We hear of God's heart of love, and how the ideal of His creation was for the purpose of love. Also, that man has a "portion of responsibility" to complete in order for the ideal, the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, to come about.
The second chapter deals with the "fall of man", or what went wrong, why we don't have the ideal now. It interprets the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in sexual terms. A literal Adam and Eve, the first two humans, were "growing to perfection" in the Garden. They had a responsibility to fulfill to reach this perfection. Lucifer, an archangel who was helping God in the upbringing of the two, (the original au pair?!) "left his proper position" and seduced Eve out of a desire for love. Eve then seduced Adam before they had "grown to perfection" and were qualified to have this union. They had failed to fulfill their "portion of responsibility". The first "true family" was not established, and in it's place a "tainted lineage" of false love under Satan's (fallen Lucifer's) dominion was established. This transgression is the reason for all the troubles of the world.
As a "result of the fall," humankind has sin. Each person has not only the "original sin" of Adam and Eve on his head, but also "collective sin", which is the sin of his clan or people, "inherited sin", the sin of his ancestors, and "individual sin", a person's own wrong actions. Some unscrupulous religious leaders have historically used guilt about our "sinfulness" to manipulate the flock, but four different kinds of sin has to be a record!
Another "result of the fall" is that humankind has "four fallen natures": 1) "failure to take God's point of view" 2) "leaving proper position" 3) "reversal of dominion" 4) "multiplication of evil". These are arrived at by looking at what happened between Eve and Lucifer, then Adam and Eve, the so called "motivation and process of the fall". But if we look at these "fallen natures" and what they are really communicating to a member, they are simply another way of saying disbelief (fallen nature #1) and disobedience (#2, 3 and 4).
A third result of the fall, is that God is also suffering, grieving over the plight of man. This is seen as the deepest, most profound "truth" that Moon has brought to the world. On one hand, there is some logic to the conclusion that if God is a personal God of love, the plight of this world must be very distressing indeed. On the other hand, I'm just not sure it's reasonable to limit God, to define God's reality in terms of our limited understanding and perspective. After all, if God perceives time as we do, and God"s happiness and joy is fulfilled in relationship with man, you have to wonder what He was doing for those billions of years before humans were on the scene. But you can see how powerful a motivation this emotional appeal is for a member who believes that the only way to comfort God's heart is to fulfill the mission of building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. (Bring in those members and make that money.)
As a result of these teachings on the "fall", the UC, along with many other fundamentalist ideologies, tends to define morality very heavily in terms of sexual behavior (or more appropriately, the lack of sexual behavior!). This notion of the "weakness of the flesh" is taken to extremes in the UC, when Moon said that eating, sleeping, and sex are all weaknesses that must be overcome. And further, not only is sexual desire to be completely suppressed (at least until Moon says it is OK , with the person he chose for you), but any romantic emotions toward another person are absolutely evil, the nature of the fall itself.
I believe that focusing on sexual conduct serves many purposes for someone trying to maintain control over members of a totalistic group. By turning natural biological and emotional drives into something shameful, it creates guilt, confusion, self doubt, and a sense of sinfulness, which in turn creates a need for salvation and a dependence on your savior, usually the group leader. It diverts attention away from other conduct in the group which might be seen as immoral such as deception, emotional abuse, exploitation, etc. It also serves to create a sense of self righteousness in the members - after all, if they are not "doing it", they can view themselves as superior, pure and "undefiled". It serves the group to channel that sexual energy into the "mission". This was the case in George Orwell's "1984", where the authoritarian police state had it's "chastity patrol". In fact, it could be argued that a totalistic group must control it's members sex and love life, for their compelling and powerful nature make them the biggest threat to the groups control over the members lives.
The third chapter in the DP talks about God's "providence of restoration" and His efforts to restore the fallen world. It purports to show how history (that is, Judeo-Christian history) is a record of this effort. The main principle by which this happens is called "restoration through the Cain - Abel relationship." To undo the fall, God divided Adam and Eve's family into relative good (Abel camp) and relative evil (Cain camp). Cain was supposed to come back to God's side through Abel by submitting and humbling himself to him. Instead, of course, Cain killed Abel. Most of "providential history" is seen as a repetition and variation of this basic dynamic, on different levels. A belief like this serves to set up a direct hierarchy in the group, leading up to Moon himself. Everyone in the group has someone in the "Abel" position over him or her, through which you receive God's direction and your restoration.
There is also a "principle of restoration" called "indemnity". Basically, this principle states that bad deeds, " bad conditions", have to be undone, or restored to their original "good condition". It is kind of a spin on "karma", with notions of spiritual merit and spiritual debt in some cosmic balance book. You gain merit by paying indemnity through acts of devotion and attendance to God and the messiah. It often involves hardship, suffering, and sacrifice. The Biblical code of "an eye for an eye" was seen as an example of the principle of indemnity. Accidents, sickness, and other unfortunate situations were routinely interpreted as "paying indemnity" for some perceived sin. A practical result of this doctrine is that members expect that bad things will happen if they provide the "right conditions", that is, deviate in some way from correct behavior.
By now, you may be saying to yourself, "How could anyone buy into this stuff?" You must remember that I'm presenting it to you with the benefit of hindsight and experience. A new recruit is exposed to deeper and deeper levels of "understanding" in a step by step process that seems logical. And frankly, some aspects of the teaching are very reasonable. They are also good at poking holes in many traditional Christian beliefs. But in the totalistic cults, you don't have the option of picking and choosing what you want to believe - you have to buy the whole package.
Now, to give you an idea of the kind of mentality that such a belief system fosters, to get a glimpse into the mind of a true believer, I want to quote some passages from a recent UC public speech called "True Parents and the Completed Testament Age", copyright 1993:
- "Due to the fall this present world is far from the good world of God's ideal. In fact, today's world is a "false" world, in that it is flooded with self-centered love. This came about because Adam and Eve became false parents based on false and self-centered love with Satan. They multiplied evil rather than goodness, creating a false family and passing on false life and false lineage to their descendants. Thus, false clans, false nations, and a false world came into being...
- "It is not by chance that self-centered individualism has become the dominant way of life in these last days. People feel increasingly alienated from those around them, and bear little sense of responsibility for the well-being of the country, society or even their own families. Rising divorce statistics indicate husbands and wives feel little responsibility toward their marriages; parents do not take proper responsibility for their children...
- "America has seen such phenomena at work beginning with the youth movement of the sixties. Idealistic youth rejected the materialism around them in order to seek love and peace, but in the process, they also abandoned morality and responsibility. Unable to attain the true love they sought, many disillusioned young people resorted to suicide, drug abuse, and free sex.
- "Of all these, what pains God most is free sex. A world of free sex is absolutely contrary to the Will of God and the ideal of family. Love comes from stimulation of unblemished emotion, but free sex is totally devoid of purity and true emotion. How many of us have been touched by the cruelty of infidelity and divorce? Where is God in all the one night stands? What about the nightmare of children who are sexually abused by a parent? Is free sex worth the price of a broken child?
- "Equally alarming is the policy of giving school children condoms, teaching the illusion of safe sex, surrendering to the assumption that premarital sex is inevitable. Indeed, where there is homosexuality, free sex, drugs and alcoholism, the world of true love is far away.
- "In this world, Satan openly tells people, "Drink! Smoke! Take drugs! Have sex!" Those who do God's Will, on the other hand, live a lifestyle that is 180 degrees different from this...
- "There are those who continue to oppose the Unification Church, spreading wild rumors or trying to prevent our teachings from being heard. Again, Satan's way is always to attack that which is most precious to God..."
It goes on and on like this. The first thing to note is the very simplistic, distorted, and black and white world view they have. Everything is either good or evil, God or Satan. There is no dealing with ambiguity or any shades of gray. All the world's love is false, no parents feel responsibility for their families, if you believe in "free sex", you must be a child molester, etc. They as much as come right out and say that if you oppose the UC, you must be working for Satan. Another thing to note is the great extent to which they equate morality with sexuality. To state that "free sex" pains God more than suicide or drug abuse "makes sense" within the constructs of the ideologically rigid true believer, yet is astounding to the average person.
So, you can begin to get a picture of how the doctrine exerts it's influence. You start with the idealistic vision of a world without pain, suffering, or loneliness, a virtual Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. You point out that this world is obviously not the ideal, that something is terribly wrong. Something is wrong with our love. You persuade people that their love is imperfect, and their natural biological urges for love and pleasure are self-centered, evil, Satanic. You show that people have four "fallen natures", which in essence boil down to disbelief and disobedience. Burden people with the guilt of not one but four kinds of sin. Create deep feelings of unworthiness and a need for salvation, and a sense that their is no hope without the messiah. Tell people of a suffering, broken hearted God who has been disappointed for thousands of years of providential history at mankind's repeated failures. Then, you offer a way, a new truth, a new hope for mankind. Show how this is the greatest moment in history, this is the time of fulfillment. All you have to do to comfort God's heart, solve your deep sin, and restore Heaven on Earth, is to unite with the new messiah. Offer your life to him. Attend him. This time has cosmic significance. Nothing else you could be doing with your life is as important as this. Expect to suffer and sacrifice everything that is that is important to you. Follow your Abel figure with absolute obedience. This is the course of the saints. This is the course of glory.
Start with a doctrine like this. Combine religious insights and inspirations that resonate strongly with our deepest spiritual longings for Truth, Love, God. Present it in an environment that is engineered to break down barriers of resistance and faculties of critical evaluation, to someone who is searching for answers, trusting, and vulnerable. You can begin to see, I hope, how a person gets involved, what their mentality is like, and why it is so hard to leave. You can understand how a person can feel literally responsible for saving the world. How someone can give everything they possibly could - their mind, body and soul, their past present and future, their family and friends, their sincere hard work for seven days a week for years on end - all the while lavishing love and praise on the revered leader, all the while being told it isn't enough, that they aren't accomplishing what God expects, that they aren't worthy of the blessings the leader is bestowing on them, all the while believing in their heart that it is true, repenting with tears.
You can begin to understand how the mothers and fathers of Jonestown held their children in their arms as they gave them the poison that would take their lives, and then drink it themselves. How the cult members in Waco perished in a raging inferno, when all they had to do was walk away.
Having said all that, I feel it is important to point out that I am by no means saying that all members of all cults or new religions exhibit all this fervor and zeal all the time. I think that between different groups, between members within one group, and within the life of a member over time, there is a spectrum, a continuum, of behaviors which range from very benign to very destructive, and the line between what is reasonable and what is not is often very fuzzy. When a 20 year old college student goes to a UC workshop like I described, it is recognized as manipulative, unhealthy, cultish. But when a 17 year old high school student is persuaded to go to a Christian bible camp, where he or she will experience many similar pressures to be "born again in Jesus", all of a sudden it becomes different - "wait a minute - we have freedom of religion in this country"! When Moon found himself in court facing charges of tax violations, he had many allies in mainstream churches defending him in the name of "religious freedom", crying persecution. I've often wondered whether the fact that we seem unwilling to curb the actions of the really exploitive, destructive cults has less to do with respect for religious diversity, and more to do with fear of confronting our own religious beliefs and practices. There was a great and unrecognized irony in the "Heavens Gate" tragedy of 1997. The whole country was amazed by the silly things these people actually believed - that there was an alien spaceship behind the comet's tail, and when they died, their spirit bodies would rise up into space to join the aliens for a journey to their next realm. This happened right before Easter, when the entire Christian community celebrated the most important holiday of the Christian religion, marking the physical resurrection of Christ . Think about it.
So, in order to help you to draw the line between "valid" religious expression and destructive exploitation, I would like to suggest a few criteria, a few questions which you could ask someone who is giving you a "spiel".
Questions for the proselytizer:
- 1). What do you want from me? How much of my time and money would you take from me? Do you want me to move in with the group?
- 2). How are decisions made in the group? If I joined, would I retain the right to decide the course of my life? How much of my autonomy would I be asked to forego? How much of the personal lives of the members is controlled by the group?
- 3). What do you know about your leaders past? His or her lifestyle? How are leaders supported financially? What is their budget for personal things - cars, houses, etc.? Are the books open to the members? Is there an air of secrecy to the workings of the leader and the "inner circle"?
- 4). Is your leader regarded as infallible? Does he or she have supernatural powers? Do they exercise absolute control? Is there a system of checks balances? Do the leaders demand absolute obedience?
- 5). If your group were to obtain real power - in the government, police, military, schools, etc. - what kind of society would they build? What specific structure would they establish - democracy, theocracy, etc.?
- 6). Have you ever stifled or suppressed serious doubts or questions about the groups doctrine, practices, or leader? Are you completely free to honestly examine everything? Would you take some time to talk to someone who openly challenges the group, or do you shy away from interaction with skeptics?
- 7). Are you familiar with the techniques of mind control? Would it bother you if many or all of these techniques were being used by your group to gain and keep members?
Of course, a cult member isn't likely to give straightforward answers to many of these questions. But you will probably be able to tell if they are being evasive or oblique. Outright lies can be expected if you catch them on some sensitive point - remember, when someone feels responsible for your spiritual salvation, a lot can be rationalized.
By now, you are probably concluding that I am one bitter, cynical guy. I don't know - I like to think that's not true. I do believe I have put this experience in the past. I still maintain a personal faith that the universe is much more than what we perceive in these three dimensions through our five physical senses. That there is a guiding force, and underlying purpose, that is working in our lives for the sake of growth, and ultimately love. However, my experiences have necessarily led me to the conclusion that there is nothing that is holy, righteous, or pure about blind, totalistic faith. God gave us a brain, and I suspect it is our responsibility to use it. Any faith which asks us to ignore reason, common sense, or what we feel deep in our heart, any world view or mentality that loses the distinction between what we know for a fact and what we accept on faith, and any system of religion which demands absolute, unquestioning obedience is contrary to our higher nature and detrimental to our spiritual growth.
So, as the say - be careful out there. Beware of the true believer - the come in many degrees and disguises, under many different political banners or religious creeds. They can be very slick, and absolutely determined, in their efforts to build a world that you or I would not want to live in. Remember that mind control is real - don't underestimate the power, and the vulnerability, of the human brain. Don't be surprised at the silly, crazy, or horrendous things that are justified in the name of heaven. But also try to find compassion and understanding in your heart for those on the fringe, knowing that to a great extent, they too are victims, caught in something they don't understand.
© 2000 Todd Harvey