UNIFICATIONISM AND CATHOLICS:
UNIFICATIONISM AND CATHOLICS:
A Catholic perspective on Unificationism, by the late Jesuit sociologist of religion, Fr. Joseph Fichter.
The following is an article written for the Jesuit magazine America about the Unification Church.
Father Fichter went on to make a thorough study of the Unification Church which he published in his book The Holy Family of Father Moon. The following article is one chapter in that book.
Father Fichter's Conclusion about Unificationism
Whatever else one may say in criticism of the Unification Church as a social and religious movement, one has to recognize its systematic program for the restoration of “old-fashioned” morality, its emphasis on chastity before marriage, prayerful preparation for marriage, a readiness to accept guidance in the choice of a partner, marital love reflective of love of God, and transmission of spiritual perfection to children. There has been much comment and criticism of the theological, political and economic aspects of the Unification Church, but very little has been said about the positive value implications in regard to marriage and family.
Marriage, Family and Sun Myung Moon
By Joseph Fichter, S.J.
America, October 27, 1979
By some odd coincidence the majority of young Moonies with whom I have spoken used to be Roman Catholics. I met them here and there, but mainly at the annual conferences sponsored by the International Cultural Foundation, and I always asked them where they came from and why they joined the Unification Church. The young women and men told me their religious beliefs do not pretend to represent a cross section of the membership, but they were chosen to meet and host the conference participants. They are alert, articulate, enthusiastic and, above all, they have a strong sense of vocation.
The comments I present here are limited to a central aspect of their spiritual calling: their vocation to godly marriage and family. For a deeper understanding of their religious commitment I searched the “revealed scripture,” Divine Principle. In the fast-growing literature about the movement, I studied Young Oon Kim’s comparison of Unification Theology and Christian Thought, Frederick Sontag’s sympathetic book Sun Myung Moon and the UnificationChurch and the dire warnings of Irving Louis Horowitz in Science, Sin and Scholarship.
There is also a “bad press” on the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s influence over young Americans, which began even before the Jonestown tragedy triggered hysteria about religious cults,. The main criticism centered around the “brainwashing” of the conversion process, based on the assumption that people willingly join other churches but have to be tricked and coerced into membership in the Unification Church. Barbara Hargrove says that parents and ministers tend to suspect “sinister means” at work among those who succeed (where they have failed) to instill filial piety and religious zeal among young people.
The process of becoming a full-fledged member of the Unification Church is in some ways similar to that which a Catholic experiences on entering the novitiate of a religious order. Life there is regulated, disciplined and goal-oriented. You give up your worldly goods and commit yourself to the ideals of the organization., No drugs, no alcohol, no sex, no money, few decisions and few worries. You put yourself under spiritual direction and you develop a loyalty to the religious congregation, its programs, its philosophy, its leaders.In both cases the individuals feel a call to a deeper spirituality, a closer union with God and a more meaningful prayer life than they had previously experienced. They also develop an enthusiasm for the church’s teachings that encourages them to share the good news of salvation with others. Catholics who have converted to the Unification Church feel that their new religion has a universal concern, a program for embracing the whole mass of humanity, while they think that Catholicism tends to focus its spirituality on a predominantly personal relationship with God. One of them, who likes ecumenical jargon, said that the Catholic Church is “culture bound” and doesn’t make much progress with non-Europeans and non-Westerners.
From the point of view of a prospective lifelong vocation, the big difference is that the Catholic religious order is guiding you to a career of permanent celibacy. Personal holiness lies in that direction. In contrast, the totally committed member of the Unification community is being prepared for marriage and family. The individual is spiritually incomplete until joined to a spouse in holy matrimony, and in participating in a blessed family. Single person who are converted to the church—most of them are in their mid-20’s—soon learn the theological and spiritual importance of family life, for which they are destined. With rare exception, there is not much future for a celibate in the Unification Church.
Young people who “join the family” take up residence in a Unification center with other male or female members, strictly segregated by sex. Frederick Sontag calls it a “coed monasticism.” They develop family relationships looking across sex lines at brothers and sisters and not at potential marriage partners. There is spiritual kinship, close-knit camaraderie and group support within the residence. Selfishness is a serious personal fault. Christian love is the key word, and this collective relationship can be harmonious only if it is God-centered.
One of the more inflammatory charges against the Unification community is that membership is disruptive of family life. The new convert leaves home and family, brothers and sisters, to dedicate himself entirely to the religious calling. Parents sometimes charge that their children have been “brainwashed.” Similar charges have been made about Catholic religious orders that lured a daughter to the convent or a son to the seminary. God’s call must be obeyed even in parents are in opposition. Some Catholic parents have forbidden their teen-age children to attend charismatic prayer meetings lest they be drawn too frequently out of the family circle. The fact is that the great majority of Moonies continue to maintain cordial relations with their parents and family.
The marriage chances for a Moonies are limited in one direction and expanded in another. The member is not permitted to marry outside the family, that is, the spouse must be a fellow member of the movement. This is the same strict rule that governs the marriage of Salvation Army officers and the mate selection of Israeli Jews. It was the same rule against mixed marriages which has gradually lost its effectiveness in the Catholic Church. Any member who wants to marry outside the Unification community has obviously misunderstood the central significance of sharing religious values in lifelong fidelity.
On the other hand, there is a broadening of marriage opportunities in the Unification approval of “mixed” marriages across ethnic and racial lines. The conventional American pattern of marrying someone of your nationality, and especially of your own race, is widely disregarded in this movement. At the most recent engagement ceremony, about one third of the couples were interracial. The large Oriental membership, especially of Japanese and Koreans, makes available to Caucasians a prospect of marriage partners that they would not ordinarily have. Sharing the same religious convictions and practices provides a value that transcends racial preferences.
The Unification Church does not allow teen-age marriages among its members and thus avoids what seems to be one of the main stumbling blocks to marriage stability. Members must wait until they are 25 years old to marry, and the preference is that they delay even longer. The stages of formation and growth precede the stage of perfection. It is clear that Moonies do not rush into marriage, but then there is no need to hurry. The female members do not have to be anxious and nervous if they are not engaged before the age of 30. Their religious calling is marriage, and Mr. Moon will find a spouse for them and preserve them from living out their lives as old mains.
Marriage is a serious and holy sacrament for which lengthy preparation is requires, and one of the notable aspects is the willingness of the members to have Mr. Moon pick their life partners for them. The concept of “arranged” marriages is alien to young Americans although it has been an accepted pattern for most of humanity during most of history. This is not a compulsory arrangement. Members are urged to express their preferences, but they do have a deep trust in Mr. Moon as the voice of God for them. One recently engaged man remarked: “You try to have confidence in your prayer life that god knows what is best for you, but that He will work through Reverend Moon to suggest the proper match for you.”
Preoccupation with the dating game, the hazards of flirty infatuation and the excitement of romantic love are avoided in the custom of arranged marriages. The attraction to each other is spiritually motivated and spiritually sustained. They are putting God’s will, as expressed to them by their religious leader, before their own. As in everything else they do, the primary motive in preparing for marriage is to follow the will of God. “We both love God more than we love each other; and that’s the way it ought to be, and it’s the only way we can hope to have a God-centered family.
The secular and contemporary way of “getting engaged” is a very private agreement in which parents, relatives and friends must not dare to interfere. There may be a party celebrated, and even some gift-garnering “showers” after the announcement has been made. The custom of a religious and solemn engagement before friends and in the presence of a priest was in vogue among Catholics for a while when the liturgical movement was young. The engagement ceremony for members of the Unification Church is a sacred and public event, and it is celebrated by numerous couples simultaneously. When the couple shares a cup of win on that occasion they are establishing a spiritual lineage.
The engagement that is blessed by God and approved by the church is not primarily of the flesh. It allows no liberties of a sexual nature; premarital intercourse is completely prohibited. The whole notion of “living together” before marriage is abhorred as sinful, lascivious conduct. Even after marriage the couple may abstain from sex for some period of time. They may be sent on separate missions to different parts of the world before settling down to the consummation of their marriage.
The primary purpose of marriage is to give joy and glory and honor to God, and the primary purpose of sexual coition is the procreation of children,. The biblical injunction tin increase and multiply is taken serious by members of the church. Spiritual perfection cannot be achieved in self-centered and lonely celibacy. It comes through experiencing the three stages of love in the God-centered family: the mutual love and wife and husband, the love of parents for children, and the love of children for parents. The family is the foundation for understanding the love of God. To become “true parents” and to populate the earth with spiritually perfect individuals is to help create the kingdom of God and to bring salvation to a sinful world.
Unification theology provides the rationale for the emphasis on family life. God created Adam and Eve with a potential to both spiritual and physical perfection. “The purpose of creation is to give joy to God,” writes the theologian Herbert Richardson. The first great joy for our original parents was meant to be the experience of God’s love and the attainment of individual perfection. The establishment of a saintly family meant that God’s love would be shared in the second great joy. Ultimately, then, the sharing of God’s love with the whole universe fulfills God’s plan for His Kingdom on earth.
According to the theology of Divine Principle, the revealed scripture of the Unification Church, God intended Adam and Eve to marry and have perfect children who would populate His physical and spiritual kingdom. This intention was frustrated when Eve was sexually seduced by the archangel Lucifer, committing the original sin of adultery and causing the spiritual fall of mankind. Her impurity was passed on in premature and illicit intercourse with Adam, causing the physical fall of man. Later, God sent Jesus to redeem mankind from sin. He accomplished His spiritual mission, but He was killed before He could marry and father a new race of perfect children. Our first parents threw away God’s love; Jesus was prevented from completing the redemptive mission on which His heavenly Father had sent him.
The time has now come for the members of the Unification Church to establish perfect families in love and justice and unity, which in turn will unify all races, all nations, all religions. The divine scheme of love and family is laid out in the “four-position foundation,” which appears to be a cumbersome theological and relational formula. The four positions are: God, husband, wife and child. The pure and perfect relationship with God helps to establish the perfect relationship between husband and wife, and then between parents and children. The spiritual and physical kingdom of God, the total salvation that god intended by sending the Messiah, will be achieved by the ever expanding network of such God-centered families.
Conventional Christian theologians find these teachings rampant with heresy, but a pragmatic sociologist is likely to say that the Moonies have come upon a family program that works. While marriage counselors and parish priests are wringing their hands over the breakdown of family life, the Unification Church is doing something about it. The God-centered family is not merely a nice slogan or a spiritual ideal suggested by the church leaders. It is the essential core of community among the faithful of the church. It is also a deeply motivated system for restoring marital fidelity and family stability to modern society.
One need not be an expert moral theologian to recognize the notable shift that has been occurring in the marital and family values of American society. Many secularists see this change as an expression of personal freedom an opportunity for self-actualization. Spiritually sensitive people see it as a decline in personal morality as well as a disregard for community needs and values. In either case, these changing patterns of behavior reflect a significant restructuring of the family system that has long been integral to Western civilization.
Some families are in trouble because of social factors that call for collective attention: inflation, poverty and discrimination in housing and employment. These social causes may combine with personal causes in influencing the shifting value sin marriage and family. The evidence is drawn from fairly reliable statistics on human behavior and attitudes: premarital sex, venereal disease, teen-age pregnancies, pornography, infidelity, divorce. These are all symptoms of the strain and stress that affect the home life of many Americans.
The religious values of the Judeo-Christian tradition have generally been supportive of marital fidelity and family stability. Church leaders, pastors and preachers often express concern that these values are being destroyed. Yet in some instances the churches have “relaxed” their values and doctrines to accommodate the behavior patterns and preferences of their adherents. Moral concessions have been made in the matter of divorce, birth prevention and even abortion. Organized religion in the mainline churches has been relatively unsuccessful in stemming the downward curve.
Whatever else one may say in criticism of the Unification Church as a social and religious movement, one has to recognize its systematic program for the restoration of “old-fashioned” morality, its emphasis on chastity before marriage, prayerful preparation for marriage, a readiness to accept guidance in the choice of a partner, marital love reflective of love of God, transmission of spiritual perfection to children. There has been much comment and criticism of the theological, political and economic aspects of the Unification Church, but very little has been said about the positive value implications in regard to marriage and family.
When Catholics talked about “having a vocation” they almost always meant the kind of life that required permanent celibacy, whether in the diocesan or religious priesthood, as well as among religious sisters and brothers. This was the “more perfect” spiritual path to one’s own salvation and also in the ministry to all other people. There was always room, of course, for the vocation of marriage, but it was at best a second-level and risky pathway to God. The Moon people have turned this around. If you really want to do God’s will, if you want the higher vocation, if you want the life of spiritual perfection, you marry and have children.
It is a commonplace observation that the family is the moral basis of society, and that religion constitutes the moral bond of family solidarity. Slogans about in praise of family life. The family that prays together stays together. The moral level of a community reflects the moral level of its families. The Unification ideology emphasizes the centrality of the family in maintaining a religious culture and in transmitting a spiritual tradition. We may we conclude here with the remark by Harvey Cox: “Here is a movement which manages to combine religious universalism, pentecostal immediacy, a warmly supportive family and a program for allegedly building the kingdom of God on earth. Such a potent admixture cannot be dismissed lightly.”
Joseph H. Fichter, S.J., was a sociologist at Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana, US.