Right-wing ‘Messiah,’ ex-con Sun Myung Moon dies at 92

Korean religious leader Sun Myung Moon — a self-proclaimed Messiah, conservative political donor, and owner of a media and real-estate empire — has died at the age of 92.

Daniel Burke of Religion News Service sketches Moon’s odd rise, his views and his legacy.

Steve Hassan describes how life once looked to him from inside Moon’s Unification Church.

Emma Brown has a long obituary in The Washington Post:

His stated ambition was to rule the world and replace Christianity with his own faith, which blended elements of Christianity, Confucianism and Korean folk religions. A leading symbol of the 1970s cult wars in America, he attracted a great deal of attention and ridicule for holding mass weddings for Unificationist couples whom he had paired, often without the prospective partners ever having met.

But his success in business and involvement in American politics “demanded that people who could care less about his peculiar doctrinal views pay attention to him,” said James Beverley, a professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto who has studied Mr. Moon’s church since the late 1970s.

… To much of the outside world, Mr. Moon undercut his credibility with grandiose statements. “God is living in me and I am the incarnation of himself,” he said, according to sermon excerpts printed in Time magazine in 1976. “The whole world is in my hand, and I will conquer and subjugate the world.”

He never did conquer and subjugate the world, but he did make a ton of money with a global business empire that exploited the free labor provided by his faithful followers.

So he was an exploitative megalomaniac and he supported right-wing politics — but I guess that’s redundant.

One of the more interesting responses comes from Ellen Barker, who says Moon’s death “marks the end of an era”:

Moon was the last surviving charismatic leader of the wave of movements that spread throughout California and the rest of the West in the 1970s and ’80s — other examples included L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, David Berg’s Children of God and Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna movement.

Prabhupada, the ISKCON founder, strikes me as a separate breed from those others — more of a religious figure than a megalomaniacal huckster like Moon or Hubbard. But Barker’s general point again stands: Moon is dead, and they don’t make ‘em like him anymore.

I think that’s true mainly because there’s no longer any need to follow that path if you’re trying to attain what Moon sought: money, power and deference.

Moon certainly succeeded on the first two points, but the broader respect he always craved eluded him. He had to settle instead for a more concentrated, stovepiped version of it. He was the object of awed worship and reverence from his followers, but the object of scorn, ridicule and mockery from the wider world.

That’s the downside of this cult game. And that downside, I think, is why Moon is the last of his kind.

Today, there are many easier paths to the same goals — more respectable and potentially more lucrative means to the same ends.

Consider Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ken Ham or Ralph Reed. They’re chasing the same dreams as Moon chased — money, power, deference. But they’ve found a way to do it that doesn’t result in their being shunned by the powerful people they long to cozy up to. They have carved out a niche that lets them exploit their followers and still maintain the veneer of respectability that let’s them have their pictures taken with presidents and governors.

Moon declared himself a god and a Messiah, but it’s far easier just to recast God and the Messiah in your own image and then go from there. It takes too much work to recruit tens of thousands of followers who will give you every penny they earn. It’s far easier just to maintain a database of tens of millions of “supporters” who can be relied on to send small checks to help you stop the Satanic baby-killers, the godless evolutionists, the Gay menace, and the socialist agenda of the Antichrist’s coming one-world government.

No need to start a new religion when you can just piggy-back onto an existing one and change it to meet your needs, serving your quest for money, power and deference.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I am reminded a bit of Pastor Richards.  

  • Monala

    In other news, Michael Clarke Duncan also died today. RIP to a talented actor and decent human being.

  • Lori

    I just saw that. It’s always so sad when someone dies at such a relatively young age.

    May his memory be a blessing.

  • J Neo Marvin

    He was the object of awed worship and reverence from his followers,
    but the object of scorn, ridicule and mockery from the wider world.

    That’s the downside of this cult game.

    Maybe, but I’m sure owning your own newspaper that actually gets taken seriously goes a lot toward healing that ego bruise.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Jesus. He lived this long?

    It’s always scary how hucksters and con artists and other flim-flammers in general seem to live such long lives.

  • Lori

    There’s a reason “only the good die young” is a cliche.

  • MikeJ

    How long will the Moonie Times stay in business?  Who else wants to run a right wing rag at a loss of million per year just to be allowed to suck up to people that are afraid of teabaggers?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One of the more interesting responses comes from Ellen Barker, who says Moon’s death “marks the end of an era”:

    This.

    If you read all the books about cults, you’ll find most of them were printed in the late 1970s. In fact the most recent one *I* have is from like 1993.

    One thing that all the books underlined as a common factor to the cult movement was the perception of rapid social instability and the loss of a clear “sense” of social place, particularly among young people. Given that the 1960s and 1970s were a period of intense social change and upheaval, this is not surprising.

    Any time there is a cultural shift, scam artists come out of the woodwork to take advantage of it and offer seeming security at the expense of personal self-worth and identity.

    It’s telling that the apparent restoration of normality, by means of the great right-wing shift under Ronald Reagan who hearkened back to an idyll bolstered by his vision of less government and more military, was accompanied by a decline in cultism.

    Even though Reagan’s cultural shift has not been permanent, it did paper over the social fissures in the USA long enough to create the perception of stability and a sunny “Morning in America” which added to the collapse of the Soviet Union to further blunt the importance and perceived danger of cults, since such movements do not thrive well in a nation imbued with truimphalist feelings amid fighting a splendid little war (Gulf War I) and with the ascension of a personally charismatic President.

    I would not be surprised, though, if cults are making a resurgence along with the militia/survivalist movement owing to the aftermath of 9/11 and the recent economic crisis.

  • Matri

    Superman:
    Why is it that good villains never die?

    Batman:
    Clark, what the hell are “good villains”?

    - Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

  • Onetoncat

    Serious question – why did you put “ex-con” in the title?

  • reynard61

    “it’s always scary how hucksters and con artists and other flim-flammers in general seem to live such long lives.”

    How long has FRED F**KIN’ PHELPS been with us? (Actually, when I heard that an infamous cult leader had died, I wondered if ol’ Brain-Dead Fred had finally kicked it…)

  • Mrs Grimble

    “Serious question – why did you put “ex-con” in the title?”
    From one of the links that Fred posted:

    Moon himself resided for a time on an 22-acre estate in Tarrytown, N.Y.
    He served 13 months in federal prison in 1983-84 for tax evasion and
    conspiracy to obstruct justice.

  • Diona the Lurker

    So I’m curious – does Superman ever explain who and what these “good villians” are?

  • Carstonio

    The phrase probably doesn’t make sense out of context. In the story, the Kryptonite-powered villain Metallo had just finished turning both heroes into hamburger, and they’re struggling to keep each other awake and alert long enough to get to the Batcave and Alfred’s medical care. Superman asks whatever happened to Magpie, the first villain the two ever caught together (see Byrne’s Man of Steel), and Batman said that she died. That’s when Superman makes the “good villains” joke – the likely point is that as villains go, Magpie wasn’t fit to clean Lex Luthor’s Armani suit or wash The Joker’s vials of venom.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I think I know someone (online) who was married by that guy.

  • rmwilliamsjr

    you made ken ham’s facebook page today 
    https://www.facebook.com/aigkenham/posts/425761947460905
    congratulations!

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    There’s a lot of derp in those Facebook comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/agni.ashwin Agni Ashwin

    Rev. Moon spent time in jail.

  • dongisselbeck

    I had to sully my computer by clicking that link, I should go back to good clean fun (like watching explosions on youtube ).

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    I don’t think Ken Ham is insincere and just in it for the money. The money came later. I was a young-earth creationist once myself. I was sincere. It’s the moderate Christians still hugging the Bible too tightly in my opinion, who have to claim ulterior motives to fundamentalists, like greed. I think the real motive is obvious. The fundamentalist is hoodwinked by his own Bible and wants to please God so much that he resists considering that Jesus was mistaken when he spoke about Adam,  Even, Noah, the flood, etc.  But a moderate believes Jesus entertained  incorrect beliefs as man, but knew the truth as God–but the God part of Jesus just could not get it through the man part’s skull as to how false or even ridiculous such beliefs were, and didn’t even give a second’s thought as to how many billion Christians in the future would be fighting so ferociously against science because of what the man part of Jesus said.  Oops. The Bible is like nuclear waste in that respect, full of radioactive toxins lying around inside it, that will never be edited out, generating confusion and controversies for endless ages. 

  • pagansister

    Wonder how many of those couples he married are still “married”?     

  • Matri

    Nope. It was just the tail end of some light banter.

    I heartily recommend the movie, if you haven’t already watched it. Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy & Clancy Brown. Over an hour of why the universe fears these two heroes.

  • Nicestep

    I was involved in the Hare Krishna movement in the late 1970s and I guess I feel pleased that you don’t lump Prabhupada in with the others.  Having said that, HK was definitely a cult back then although it is more mainstream now.  Prabhupada was already dead when I joined up, but his appointed successors had the attributes of cult leaders.

  • http://charlesfrith.blogspot.com/ Charles Frith

    Worth pointing out that Moon was in the drug trafficking business with George H.W. Bush

  • Lee Destiny

    I believe in GOD, and I believe that Lord Jesus is GOD himself in a human form. Jesus, a Holy man who walked in earth, ate with us and suffered with us.
    But those who claimed to be Second coming were/are so wealthy, and their living life style is unbelievable. I DO NOT or NEVER Believe those who claimed to be Messiah, especially this man named Moon.

  • Lee Destin

     I believe in GOD, and I believe that Lord Jesus is GOD himself in a
    human form. Jesus, a Holy man who walked on earth, ate with us and
    suffered with us.
    But those who claimed to be Second coming were/are
    so wealthy, and their living life style is unbelievable. I DO NOT or
    NEVER Believe those who claimed to be Messiah, especially this man named
    Moon.


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