New Internationalist 330 December 2000
Sun Myung Moon
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon is boss of the Unification Church, more commonly known as the 'Moonies'. Now into his eighties, the South Korean sage proclaims that the Virgin Mary was not a virgin and that he and his wife - the 'True Mother' - are Christ's heirs, on earth to finish off the job and unite all Christian churches into his. He has also done time in a US penitentiary for tax evasion.
Moon's real name is Young Myung Mun, but the adaptation to 'Sun' and 'Moon' proved too tempting to resist when he Americanized it during the Korean War - a formative experience in his youth.
The really strange thing about Moon, however, is how on earth his 'church' is regularly able to induce 20,000, sometimes 40,000, young people to fill a sports stadium and marry someone they have never met. From his base in New York, Moon personally matches the couples from snapshots and then flies them off to their weddings.
'They're not ding-a-lings,' Gene Davis told a reporter from the Mobile Register in the US in July 1997. 'The spiel they put out is good. Somebody who's disappointed in the way the world is going, he's going to fall for it very easily. I know, son, I did.' Davis spent ten years in the Unification Church.
The Western obsession with 'cults', and the inexplicable vulnerability of pampered Western youth to their lure - Moon has never made much headway in South Korea itself - routinely attracts a certain kind of sensationalist media attention to the Moonies. Claims that the Moonies have two million members worldwide are impossible to verify.
The main plank of their belief-system, laid down in Moon's Divine Principle, is that you can help people after they die. So recruits are encouraged to buy expensive trinkets from the church that, they are told, will assist loved-ones who are suffering deprivations in the afterlife. A settlement of $150 million was made to former members of the Unification Church in Japan who claimed that undue pressure had been exerted on them to buy the otherwise worthless artefacts.
This determinedly materialist approach to the spirit world may help to explain some of Moon's other activities. His business interests began in South Korea in the 1960s with the establishment of Tong II Heavy Industries, which produced rifles and guns for tanks under contract to the then dictator Park Chung Hee - contracts which are still operative today.
Moon's involvement in the arms industry tied in neatly with his missionary anti-communist zeal, which made him a lot of powerful allies. In 1982 Moon, with his associate Pak Bo Hee, founded the notorious Washington Times newspaper, a mouthpiece for the reactionary Right in the US that was much favoured by President Ronald Reagan. President George Bush also endorsed it as 'a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington DC'. Moon regularly claims credit for getting George Bush elected President of the US.
Four years after losing to Clinton, Bush was flown off to Montevideo, Uruguay, to inaugurate a seminary training 4,200 young Japanese women to spread the word of Moon throughout Latin America. The Washington Post reported that Bush was paid $100,000 for his trouble. Uruguay became a base for the Moonies when the country was under the heel of one of the most vicious military regimes in the region during the 1970s. They acquired the one luxury hotel in Montevideo, the Victoria Plaza, as well as its largest printing works and a number of prominent local publications.
Moon has expanded his empire elsewhere in the world, too. A strong supporter of Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Unification Church is now busy setting up a vast new project in Brazil, near the border with Paraguay, where his 'New Hope' ranch covers 60,000 acres and is intended to replicate the Garden of Eden. Something in the region of $100 million is said to have been spent on it already.
Undoubtedly Moon's brush with the tax authorities in the US punctured his self-declared divinity, as the Asian economic crash did for his bank balance, putting his Tong II group of some 16 companies into receivership, reputedly owing $1.7 billion.
But Moon is indomitable. He recently staged a 'World Culture and Sports Festival' in Seoul, South Korea. The star guest was Al Hague, former US Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff to President Nixon. Hague introduced Moon as 'a leading force for inter-religious dialogue and understanding between peoples of all backgrounds'.
On the face of it, the combination of fanatical belief with unquestioning obedience and international big business is unique to Moon's Unification Church. But then, when you come to think of it, that's hardly so different from your average transnational corporation.
Sources: Jean-François Boyer, El imperio Moon, (Planeta, Buenos Aires, 1986);
If infamous or not-so-famous big shots are beating up
This article is from
the December 2000 issue
of New Internationalist.
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