In response to:
The Heavenly Deception from the October 25, 1979 issue
To the Editors:
As a longtime fan of Francine Gray I was disappointed to read her review of four recent tracts against the Moonies [NYR, October 25]. While I have many misgivings about Moonism and don’t always take what its adherents say at face value, I have exactly the same problems with persons who have been subjected to or who participate in the brainwashing called deprogramming. In her review, Gray seems to be uncritically accepting of what the antimoonists say; in my experience, anyone who has been through the harrowing experience of deprogramming cannot be trusted to have a fair perspective. Conversion under pressure, whether into or out of a movement, impairs one’s ability to think straight.
Gray describes Moonism as “a hodgepodge of heretic Christianity, rabid civil religion, and human potential movement practices,” and brands it claptrap. I agree. But if people are not to be allowed to believe in claptrap of whatever sort, then a lot more religions than the Moonies are in deep trouble. Orthodox Christianity demands belief in the divinity of a Palestinian carpenter who walked on water; is that really a lot easier to believe than the proposition that another messiah has come, this time in the guise of a Korean electrical engineer?
In their psychological handling of prospective converts the Moonies are on thin ethical ice. Their use of behavior modification is disgusting, although I think that the real issue is behavior modification itself, not just the use of it by one group. In fact it seems to be within the ground rules of First Amendment free exercise of religion to use psychological pressure to gain converts; if not, then untold thousands of Protestant and Catholic youth meetings are outside the pale when they pressure teenagers for “decisions for Christ” under the threat of an eternity in hell.
The intellectual community in America has long held an antipathy toward organized religion in whole or in part. Why the Unification Church has lately been singled out and subjected to hysterical denunciation, however, escapes me. If the Moonies are as crazy as we are told they are, should we really fear them as much as we do? Movements tend to flourish when persecuted; they tend to die when ignored.
Department of Religious Studies
The University of Kansas
April 3, 1980