5X5 Episode 90

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5X5 Episode 90
Unification Church
29th June 2010

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5X5 89 5X5 91
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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The Unification Church[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.


S: This is the SGU 5X5 and tonight we're talking about the Unification Church or the cult founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, which is colloquially called "The Moonies" in the United States and other parts of the world. The Unification Church is one of the largest cults in the world that is truly international with millions of members, billions of dollars to their name, and yet it is still considered to be one of the more destructive cults that are out there.

E: Yeah, Moon was born in 1920 in what is now North Korea. And this future cult leader was raised by his parents and stressed to Confucian-style of education; that was opposed to a more western-style of education. The Moon parents superstitiously believed it would lead to their son's premature death if he was raised with a western-style of education. But when Moon was 10, he and his family converted to Christianity and by 16, Moon became a Sunday School teacher and he claimed to have a divine vision while praying atop a mountain in which Jesus asked him to complete the unfinished task of establishing God's kingdom on Earth and bring peace to the world. So Moon accepted this divine order. Around the time of the Korean War, Moon was imprisoned by North Korean communists. He was freed by United Nations troops when they liberated the prison, and then by 1954, his Unification Church was formally and legally established. Moon moved to the US in 1971 and took full advantage of the hippie-like atmosphere of peace, love, anti-war and experimental spiritualism that was pervasive at the time. From New York to San Francisco, Moon was regularly spreading his message to large audiences, some tens of thousands strong. And the Moonie movement was in full swing in the 1970s. Moon is still alive today; he's in retirement in South Korea, but he still oversees his empire from his home while his dozens or so children and their grandchildren run the day-to-day operations of his churches and businesses all over the world. [Moon died in 2012.]

B: I tried to find out some of their most cherished beliefs and practices. Primarily they believe in a universal God of "heart and love", as they describe it, and they also believe in the universal salvation of all people, whether you're good or evil, living or dead. Sun Myung Moon is regarded by believers as a messiah, the second coming of Christ. And Moon himself claims that he's come not to do away with the Old and New Testament but to fulfill or complete them. Now, they believe they're here to create a kingdom of God on Earth. Now, to achieve this kingdom, they believe that it requires, among other things, world peace, which can be attained only really by creating "true families", as they call it, in which all members love each other. Now, related to this belief is their primary religious practice called the "blessing ceremony", which many people would recognize as mass weddings. During these ceremonies, Moon has been known to bless or marry hundreds or even thousands of couples at the same time.

S: Now, while they are ostensibly Christian, it is a messiah cult. I mean, Moon believes that he is the messiah. To my knowledge, one unique aspect of this—there are many, many messiah cults—but he believes or professes that the mantle of messiah can be inherited. And therefore his son or one of his children will replace him as messiah once he passes away. Usually with many messiah cults, once the messiah dies the cult ends. In this case, that won't necessarily happen.

One of the more controversial aspects of the Unification Church is the allegations of sexual rituals and strange sexual behavior. One feature that is common among many insular cults is that the cult leaders are often accused of sexually preying upon their female members, and the Unification Church is no exception. There is an exposé of this practice; a book called The Tragedy of the Six Marys, which explains the fact that the Reverend Moon believes or professes that he needs to purify mankind by having sex with six married women, called the Six Marys—that act will purify them, purify their blood. They will have to then go out and have sex with men other than their husband, which would purify them, and this would start a chain reaction, which would eventually purify the blood of all of mankind, of all of humanity. But over time the six Marys turned into sixty and the sort of revolving door of different women that he is alleged to have had sex with all under this justification—justification that he is doing his job of purifying their blood. He claims that, essentially, his sleeping around is providential and inspired by God.

J: In 1974, during the Watergate scandal, Moon asked his followers to pray for Nixon because Nixon was in a boat-load of trouble at that time. And because of this, Nixon publicly thanked them and officially received Moon, basically giving Moon street cred at the time. And this gave the church widespread media attention and also helped increase numbers. In 1977, South Korea used the church members as agents who worked as volunteers in congressional offices in the United States government. In 1982, Moon established The Washington Times newspaper in Washington D.C. In 1984, the church founded the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, a Washington D.C. think-tank. In 2000, Moon founded the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO), which describes itself as "a global organization whose mission is to serve its member organizations, strengthen and encourage the non-governmental sector as a whole, increase public understanding of the non-governmental community and provide the mechanism and support needed for NGOs to connect, partner and multiply their contributions to solve humanity's basic problems." However, it's been criticized for promoting right-wing ideologies and undermining some of the ideals of the United Nations. And finally in 2003, Korean Unification Church members started a political party in South Korea. So his religion has been very much infused with influencing governments.

S: Certainly the staunchest critics of the Unification Church say, "you know, you really can't understand its operations as a cult or as a religion; it really is a multinational conglomeration" and he has his hands in a lot of things: many many businesses, many investments; there are accusations of lots of shady, even criminal dealings; maybe even drug dealing. Often spending billions of dollars to influence politics in the United States is ostensibly about providing just political cover, so that he can, you know, be untouchable, as it were. You know, once you get a few presidents speaking nicely about you it kinda does give you some protection. He's put three billion dollars, by some estimates, into The Washington Times, so that they can be essentially a propaganda organ to promote right-wing politics. And it's not necessarily even clear that that's his ideology; it's just that that's a political maneuvering in order to peddle influence. Influence that he can use to then carry out the nefarious business of this multinational conglomeration. So if you believe the worst criticisms of the church, it really is just a front. It's not so much that these businesses are a front for the church so much as the church is a front for these multinational businesses. And it must be successful in that Moon has billions of dollars to throw around. So clearly, that end of things has been tremendously successful. But still in the minds of many people it's this obscure cult called "The Moonies" and it seems to be very benign. But when you dig deep, there's a lot that is not benign at all about the kind of activities that they engage in.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.


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