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Book Review - The Family and the Unification Church

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1988, Volume 5., Number 2, pages 249-251. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review  - The Family and the Unification Church.

Gene G. James (Ed.). Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, 1983. (Distributed by Rose of Sharon Press, Inc.)

As anyone who reads newspapers knows, the Unification Church has been embroiled in much controversy, including Sun Myung Moon's conviction for tax evasion. This controversy goes back at least ten years, when numerous parents of U.C. members began to protest what they felt was a crassly manipulative exploitation of their young adult children. This exploitation was said to be directed toward the accumulation of money and political power for the Church. Parental protests contributed to or resulted in several governmental investigations (including the Dole Committee hearings in the U.S. Senate and the Frazier Committee hearings in the House of Representatives), a flood of newspaper and magazine articles, a score of book-length analyses and personal accounts, legislative proposals designed to make it easier for parents to obtain conservatorships over adult children involved in cults, and, of course, involuntary deprogrammings, by which desperate parents attempted to restore their children's autonomy and critical thinking.

A number of academicians, including some who contribute to this volume, dubbed the protest the "anti-cult movement" and asserted that it was motivated by a desire to maintain parental control over their children. Much of the academicians' criticism focused on the questionable legality and ethics of deprogramming and restrictive legislative proposals. These academicians tended to describe their opponents' views in stereotypical terms (the same accusation they leveled at their opponents' criticisms of cults), and dismissed criticisms of cults as silly or prejudiced.

The general public and many other academicians and mental health professionals have not so readily dismissed the critical accounts of ex-cult members and parents. Too many independently reported instances of deception, high-pressure proselytizing, economic abuse, political machinations, and legal harassment have come to public attention. When countless former members (many of whom never knew each other) of the Unification Church state that they routinely lied to people (calling it "heavenly deception") in order to raise money for the UC, the credibility of that organization comes into question. When joined by reports of grand UC public relations ventures (e.g., the International Conference for the Unity of the Sciences) and the findings of governmental inquiries (e.g., Moon's link to the Korean CIA, tax evasion, etc.), the credibility of the Unification Church sinks even lower.

One can argue with an honest opponent. One can teach and learn from such a person. But one must constantly guard against being duped or exploited when one interacts with individuals who view discussion as simply another means of manipulation. This is what makes dialogue with the Unification Church so unappealing.

Hence, because the Moon Movement produced this volume, I could not help but approach it with considerable skepticism. This doesn't mean that I believe the contributors are necessarily being deceitful or manipulative. They may very well believe what they say (perhaps tempering their remarks out of "politeness" to the sponsor), for they could have been selected because their sympathetic views were known in advance.

That their views - with a few minor exceptions - are sympathetic to the Unification Church is obvious, even upon casual skimming. This one-sidedness is not necessarily grounds for rejection, for one-sided treatises can sometimes intelligently articulate a given perspective on an issue. But acknowledging and trying to rebut intelligent, opposing opinions enhances credibility.

I found no such acknowledgments in The Family and the Unification Church. The main criticisms against the UC - deception, extreme manipulativeness, economic and political abuses - are not dealt with, let alone challenged. In fact, the only recognized criticism of the UC occurs in the context of superficial "ad hominem" critiques of the "anti-cult movement" ("in its simplest form the anti-cult ideology constituted a classic illustration of a conspiracy theory" - p. 4) that create the impression that no valid criticism of the UC exists.

So what does the book offer? It offers fifteen essays grouped into four topic areas: conflict and commitment; contrasts and comparisons; responses to challenges (written by members of the UC); and theological and philosophical assessments.

In the first section, David Bromley and Anson Shupe restate their superficial "anti-anti-cult" "conflict theory," trying to show in this essay that the UC has been treated as the "archetypal cult" because of "(1) the pattern of conflict engendered with other powerful groups and (2) the organizational requisites of the anti-cult movement" (p. 2). Nowhere is any consideration given to the possibility that maybe - just maybe - the UC does things that deserve to be criticized.

Most of the authors appear to assume that people join the UC because they believe in and are attracted to its doctrine. Kenneth Ambrose (in "Function of the Family in the Process of Commitment Within the Unification Movement"), on the other hand, at least lightly touches upon the notion that noncognitive factors may influence commitment. He notes the importance of personal attachments and commitment actions, a view opposed by Frederick Sontag (in "Marriage and the Family in Unification Church Theology"), who contends that belief in the Divine Principle is the primary determinant in conversion to the UC.

Other articles suggest that somehow the Unification Church is pro-family, appearing "anti-family" because it spiritualizes the family in a nonspiritual world. In a sense this is true: if one accepts the UC definitions of "family" and "spiritual". But that's the rub. The vast majority of us who grew up in contemporary America don't see the family the same way the UC does. Confusion arises because people attach different meanings to the same word without admitting that others see it differently.

In short, if one wants to know how the Unification Church would like itself to be seen, one can find much of interest in the book: it does reveal something about how the UC sees the "family." If, however, one wants to understand the "family" (according to the word's meaning in western culture) and the Unification Church, one will do better to look elsewhere.

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.,Director of Research and Education, 

American Family Foundation

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1988