• U.S.

Religion: Mad About Moon

5 minute read
TIME

“I will conquer and subjugate the world,” says Sun Myung Moon. “I am your brain.” The latter statement is quite literally true for a growing coterie of young American converts, who regard the South Korean cult leader (TIME, Sept. 30, 1974) as the second Christ. Asking no questions, they obediently hawk candy and flowers, raising millions to spread the faith. They exist on a shoestring, while Moon, 55, lives in lordly fashion in a 25-room mansion in New York’s Westchester County.

His Unification Church’s national budget alone is $11 million, not counting the expenses of 120 local branches and affiliates. The cult grows steadily and currently claims 30,000 members, 7,000 of whom live in Moon communities. All believe that a “Lord of the Second Advent” (Moon, though this is not stated publicly) will redeem mankind physically by fathering a perfect family. A blend of Christian terminology, occultism and dualism is taught in Moon’s scripture, The Divine Principle.

Flared Up. While Moon’s converts are unquestioning, others are not. In recent months, many Moon disputes have flared up. The Unification Church is in court to regain a tax exemption for an estate in the town of Greenburgh, N.Y., where it has purchased $9 million worth of properties since 1972. In New York City the church, which regards itself as a Christian sect, is suing for the right to join the local council of churches after becoming the first applicant ever rejected by the council. With criticism of

Moon growing, Buckminster Fuller, Norman Cousins and others have withdrawn as advisers for a meeting of eminent world scholars Nov. 27-30 in Manhattan, organized by a Moon front.

The growing opposition to the Moon cult focuses primarily on worries about what it is doing to the minds of its young converts. In Dutchess County, N.Y., District Attorney Albert Rosenblatt is investigating complaints from parents that their children have been “brainwashed” in high-pressure courses at the church’s Barrytown training center. Rosenblatt also wonders why so many Moon cultists require emergency-room treatment at a local hospital.

Around the country, hundreds of parents have been driven to near hysteria by changes in their convert children’s behavior and by reports of brainwashing. They are filing suits and banding into anti-Moon groups. Some parents have even resorted to abduction. In many cases they use “Deprogrammer” Ted Patrick, who for a fee conducts counter brain washing of cultists.

One typical worried parent is New Jersey’s state insurance commissioner James Sheeran, three of whose daughters—Vicki, 25, Jaime, 24, and Josette, 21—are Moon converts. He wants laws to protect people from “cruel and exotic entrapment of their minds, souls and bodies.” Late one night last August, Sheeran decided to act when Josette, normally compassionate, showed little interest upon learning that her grandmother was in the hospital. He, his wife and a son drove to Moon’s school to seek Josette. Fifteen Moon men materialized, a scuffle ensued, and state police arrived amid mutual charges of assault.

Last week Sheeran and 500 other parents met at a Westchester County synagogue whose rabbi, Maurice Davis, heads a 500-family national anti-Moon organization called Citizens Engaged in Reuniting Families. Some 20 young defectors from the Moon cult were present; several urged their elders to drive up to Barrytown and rescue their children. Distraught parents gave one another moral support.

Fervent Foes. The most fervent Moon foes are ex-devotees. Three of them have just started another group, International Foundation for Individual Freedom (I.F.I.F.), to attack Moonism and other cults such as the Children of God, Divine Light Mission and Hare Krishna. One of I.F.I.F.’s founders is Denise Peskin, 20, who spent 8% weeks in Moon training and was later “deprogrammed” by Patrick. Like many converts, she thought she was joining a secular social-reform movement. Only later, at Moon’s “New Ideal City Ranch” north of San Francisco, did she encounter the religious cult aspects, which Moon groups sometimes conceal at first to avoid turning off prospective recruits. The program included weeks of nonstop indoctrination, yelling and punching by instructors and little sleep. One graduate of the farm calls its treatment “psychological abuse,” another “subliminal fascism.” To all, the frightening aspect was the psychological coercion they underwent when they tried to leave. Harvard Psychiatrist John Clark Jr. recently testified in District of Columbia Superior Court that the ex-Moonies he had examined seemed physically and emotionally exhausted; a few were psychotic.

Moon has left it to disciples to reply to the attacks. At Barrytown, where 176 devotees are currently enrolled in short-term courses and a new seminary, Director of Training Joe Tully is indignant. He told TIME’s Eileen Shields that dropouts lack moral “will power” and feel they have to justify themselves. Tully agrees that converts undergo a dramatic transformation but denies that Moon people use any sinister methods.

The most intriguing unanswered question about Moonism is why young people from well-to-do families are attracted to it. Moon converts seem to have had little attachment to other religions and appear to be grasping for a sense of stability and morality. Says Defector Paula Mazur, a New York University senior: “They impress on you how to live a very idealistic life, how to really change the world. All the people I met were moralistic at a time when morals are going down the drain.” Whatever the morals of Moonism, Jack Kerry, the Moon watcher in the California attorney general’s office, sees the movement as “extremely dangerous” and adds: “I think this whole situation is going to really explode.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com