I, like possibly many of you, had remained largely ignorant of the actual beliefs and practices of the Moonies. I mostly knew of them thanks to their famous mass weddings. The Moonies believe that the only way to get to Heaven is through the creation of “sinless marriage,” which can only happen if such a union is blessed by the “True Parents,” Sun Myung Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han Moon. I don’t know how they plan on blessing these marriages now that the Head Blesser is dead, but I’m sure they’ll find some workaround. Religions always seem to handle those things pretty well.
In reading about the Moonies and the history of this very, very young religion (founded in 1954), I wasn’t actually struck by the general weirdness of its history… rather, I was struck by how fantastically ordinary and familiar it sounded to anyone who has studied other major religions.
The Moonies base their beliefs in Christianity. However, according to Moon, Jesus never completed his mission of redeeming mankind because of his crucifixion. To remedy this, God sent Moon to be the messiah — to lead people into enlightenment and heaven. This very closely parallels the story of Muhammad, who also claimed to be the true messiah of God while recognizing Jesus as a prophet.
Moonies have also been accused of including unsuspecting non-members in their practices:
Marriage, not membership, was the passport to the Kingdom of Heaven. But marriage did not necessarily involve participating in the mass Blessing ceremony: the key requirement was to imbibe the Holy Wine used at such events. There were various ways in which non-members could be persuaded inadvertently to consume it. Some members distributed candy bars containing minute quantities of the wine, and one member even put a small amount into a local reservoir, thus securing the Blessing of quite a large community.
It appears that the death of Sun Myung Moon will offer us yet another reminder that religions are the same show with different costumes: a schism.
Moon’s family problems have inevitably created a problem about succession. In 2008 Moon decided to appoint his youngest son, Hyung Jin (also known by his western name, Sean), and formally handed over the FFWPU presidency to him. Sean, 33, is suave and confident, and speaks fluent English (his first language), unlike his father, who never learnt English, but when required either communicated through a translator or read speeches that others had written for him.
Sean obtained an MBA degree from Harvard, and during his student days became a Zen practitioner, shaving his hair and wearing Zen priest’s robes. His supporters welcome his wider spiritual background, and think he may bring some innovative ideas.
Meanwhile, Sean is at odds with his eldest surviving brother, Hyun Jin (aka Preston), who has his own following, and the two are locked in a legal dispute over property ownership. The dispute is so acrimonious that Hyun Jin’s siblings asked him to leave when he came to visit his dying father.
I once again find myself wondering how religious people view these kinds of news items. Eventually, it must trickle in that most religions have histories that are not only embarrasingly non-holy, but also remarkably similar to one another.
How can you see such histories and avoid asking the question: “What makes my religion special?”