Crazy for God: The Nightmare of Cult Life
Moonstruck: A Memoir of My Life in a Cult
Hostage to Heaven: Four Years in the Unification Church, by an Ex-Moonie and the Mother Who Fought to Free Her
Science, Sin, and Scholarship: The Politics of Reverend Moon and the Unification Church
He’d just graduated from Yale with straight A’s in philosophy but his girl-friend left him for an Iraqi Marxist. His career at college was academically brilliant and emotionally arid. He was “searching desperately for community.” Walking through the streets of Berkeley in the summer of 1975, Chris Edwards was approached by a young man his age who invited him to have dinner with “the family” he lived with, “a very loving, very idealistic group of young people.” He went to dinner. He was a little perplexed by his hosts’ affectionate, constant smiling; but their passionate interest in him seemed like an oasis after “the verbal jousts, the endless mocking and scorning” of his Ivy League life. He was touched by the affectionate way they piled brownies on his plate. They called themselves the Family. They had a country place in Boonville, ninety miles north of SanFrancisco.
“Since you enjoyed this evening so much, Chris, why don’t you join us for the weekend?”
That night they took Chris to the country in a yellow school bus the sides of which were painted with elephant faces. Plied with hot chocolate and marshmallows (“my boyhood favorite”), Chris continued to feel extraordinarily loved and appreciated during his weekend at the Family’s farm. His initial unease with their frequent God talk vanished during the strenuous program of singing, shouting, and group games the Family indulged in throughout the three days.
“Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah…. Put On a Happy Face…. Getting to Know You…. Happy Days Are Here Again….”
“Okay kids, let’s go for a dip in the brook, last one in is a monkey!”
Chris is never given a moment to be alone, he’s not even allowed to go to the bathroom by himself. He soon experiences “the ecstasy of merging into the mass, tasting the glorious pleasure that accompanies the loss of the ego.” Childhood fantasies—“images of chocolate-chip cookies and warm milk”—sway through Chris’s mind as he goes to sleep in a dormitory called the Chicken Palace; he runs his fingers across the top of his sleeping bag “just as I used to do with my blanket as a child.” No drugs, drink, sex, no problems or decisions. Chris signs up to stay for another week at the Family’s camp, and then he signs a pledge form for a three-week stay. “Here was the warmth and free acceptance for which I had been searching. How different from college, where you could share a bathroom or classroom all year…without truly bridging the gulf between two lonely people.”
Throughout these weeks Chris is never told that the Boonville farm is an indoctrination center for the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He only knows it as “a wonderful caring community.”
In between long group discussions about how the Family is going to help save mankind—“fulfill God’s plan for creation,” “create a world where there’ll be no crime or poverty”—continuous group activities, just like in summer camp: “Let’s all line up like good heavenly children for hot chocolate and brownies!”
There’s even a camp cheer: “Choo-choo-choo, choo-choo-choo. Yay, yay—Pow!”
Running like little children, giggling and laughing,…people high on each other…. I could feel myself getting high, high from this smiling group, this happy Family surrounding me….
The only cards he is allowed to write home have little designs of clowns and puppy dogs on them. The only time he is allowed to phone home one of the Family members keeps her ear close to Chris’s, listening in.
In college Chris Edwards was particularly fond of Kant, Husserl, “and above all Hegel.”
In the fourth week he gives the Family his “one oh-oh” (100 percent) and takes particular pride in indoctrinating newcomers to the love-and-brotherhood ethic of Boonville Camp. “God’s even here in the cookie dough,” he tells novices during kitchen tasks.
Barely six weeks after his first dinner with the Family Chris has been transferred to “city work” and is a full-time Moonie. Through his sincerity and obedience he has joined those of the elect who are allowed to know that God has sent a twentieth-century Messiah to earth in the form of a fifty-five-year-old Korean businessman called Sun Myung Moon. To participate in the task of redeeming mankind from the hold of Satan, Chris is lying his way through the streets of Berkeley, selling flowers whose proceeds he says are going to a fund for “deprived children.” In fact the hundreds of tax-free dollars that his flower team earns each day are immediately deposited into “Father” Moon’s numerous bank accounts in the Bay Area. Chris has been instructed in the doctrine of “heavenly deception.” It teaches that since all persons not redeemed by membership in Moon’s cult belong to the world of Satan there is no reason to respect their principles of honesty or truth.
Chris has also renounced his natural parents (who are tainted because they’re descendants of Adam and Eve’s sin) and has chosen as his True Parents Father Moon and his wife, the True Mother. On Sunday mornings he goes to a Prayer Meeting Ground consecrated by Reverend Moon himself and with hundreds of cult members recites the Children’s Oath, a long vow to overcome Lucifer and win the entire world over for the new Messiah. Scribbled in indelible ink on Chris’s knuckles are the slogans “No More Concepts” and “Smash Out Doubt.” He has become skilled at the technique of “love-bombing,” which Moonies are taught to practice upon their prospective recruits—flattery, a constant and loving smile, a gaze specifically aimed at two inches behind the subject’s eyes. His group leader has a PhD in behavioral psychology from Michigan and tells him to “actualize” when he’s not working hard enough.
Chris actualizes for seventeen-hour stretches recruiting new disciples or selling flowers in streets and late-night bars. At least three more hours of his waking day are dedicated to group chanting, group prayer, and indoctrination sessions from Master Speaks, a collection of Moon’s sayings. He is constantly exhausted by lack of sleep, often weakened by the malnutrition caused by his high carbohydrate diet, comes close to having his infected hand amputated when the cult refuses to let him see a doctor until it’s almost too late. Whenever he suffers a moment of doubt, exhaustion, hunger, nausea, homesickness, or sexual temptation (intercourse not specifically approved by Father Moon is considered “worse than murder”) he resorts to the inner chanting of an invocation against the Evil One. “Smash out Satan! Smash out Satan!”
The story of Chris Edwards’s seven-month stay in the Unification Church, of how this cult managed to turn a highly intelligent young American into a robot, ends with a different sort of terror: Chris returns to his natural parents only after being kidnapped at their behest by the “deprogrammer” Ted Patrick, whom he’s been indoctrinated to look upon as “Satan himself.” “The Impala pulled in back of the Holiday Inn…man opened door…ohmyGod, Heavenly Father, save me, save me! big men, two big men climbed in back…my arms pinned…doors slammed, car flew out of lot…futile chanting—SAVE ME, FATHER….”
The Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, which claims some 30,000 “followers” and 7,000 “hardcore members” in the United States, differs radically from the numerous other Eastern sects that have flourished in the United States in the past few decades. And in order to assess its particular dangers it must be seen for what it is, a new kind of cult which uses recent methods of behavior modification and corporate management techniques to achieve specific political and economic ends. Whereas other Oriental sects offer ancient Vedic meditations as a road to “higher consciousness,” the methods of Moon’s church are more akin to those used by twentieth-century totalitarian regimes to indoctrinate dissidents into cohesive loyalty—sleep deprivation, low-energy diets, withholding of information, frequent and disorienting shifts of living quarters, rigid schedules of group activities cleverly interspersed with brainwashing talk fests.
Mahara Ji and Hare Krishna appealed to the apolitical streak of the post-Vietnam war generation. Moon preaches a grandiosely detailed program of right-wing action which aspires to influence strongly our domestic and foreign policy; and which aims to unite all religions under his leadership into one world-wide theocracy by 1981 (Moon: “Separation between religion and politics is what Satan likes best”).
The other spiritual cafeterias of the early 1970s catered to that generation’s rebellion against the Protestant work ethic. Former members of the Unification Church report that they were exhorted to make a minimum of one hundred dollars a day for Moon to earn salvation, and Barbara Underwood, the author of one of the memoirs under review, boasts that she singlehandedly made one quarter of a million dollars for the cult in her four years of membership. (Samples from the Master’s Sayings: “We must reclaim all ownership of money and land from Satan’s stolen stockpile.” “Do you like to make green bills happy?…So many green bills are crying…they’re all destined to go to Father[Moon].”) Team cheers, kindergarten food, “bombing” with “love,” rose-selling crusades, Smiley Buttons, Children’s Oaths to a Heavenly Family, thirty “Boonville” youth camps spread throughout the United States—such sentimental imagery seems to appeal to a deeply infantile streak in many contemporary American adolescents, more than a few of whom come from exceptionally “well-educated” and “united” families.
During the past seven years the hard-selling activities of Moon’s flower-vending teams have helped him to do very good business. On the East Coast alone, his Church has been able to buy for a national headquarters the former Columbia University Club on West 44th Street (right opposite the Harvard Club and The Century Association), as well as the former New Yorker Hotel on West 34th Street, the Manhattan Center ten blocks down, and a two-million-dollar building of the Loft Candy Company in Queens. Moon has set up his own theological seminary in a monastery once owned by the Christian Brothers in upstate New York.1 He himself lives with his wife and seven children in the twenty-five-room mansion formerly owned by the Samuel Bronfman family in Tarrytown. He has also acquired a fifty-foot cabin cruiser, the New Hope, nearly succeeded in obtaining majority holding of the New Diplomat Bank in Washington, DC, and has purchased a vast complex of fishing fleets and fish-processing plants centered in Norfolk, Virginia, Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Bayou La Battre, Louisiana. These make Moon the leading exporter of untaxed fish in the United States, his so-called Church of Unification having the tax-exempt status of all religious institutions. The bluefin tuna caught in Gloucester, for instance, is shipped to the Orient under the pretense that it is a “gift” to his followers there, and is sold in Japan at $20a pound.2
There is a pragmatic mercantilism to Moon’s cult, a commercial genius for imitation and packaging. Moon came from a Protestant family in northern Korea, but was excommunicated from the Presbyterian Church in the 1950s after founding his own cult. According to a New York Times report he was arrested several times in Korea, although accounts differ whether the arrests were for political activities or “on moral charges…because of ‘purification’ rites with female initiates.”3 When he sent his first missionaries to the United States in the early 1960s, he made his sect ascetic for American export and Westernized its theology. Although the doctrine he teaches in Korea and Japan is based on Buddhism he has shrewdly marketed it for America in the form of a Christian Youth Crusade.
Marianne Lester, "Profits, Politics, Power," The Times Magazine (US Army Times), July 25, 1977.↩
This information is based on Tim Sullivan's excellent reports in The Gloucester Daily Times between 1976 and 1978.↩
Berkeley Rice, "The Pull of Moon," New York Times Magazine, May 30, 1976.↩