Blanchard Wants Undue ‘Respect’ for Rev. Moon

Kate Blanchard, a non-believing religious studies professor at Alma College, not far from where I live, writes at Religion Dispatches about the death of the recently deceased Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Unfortunately, she seems to think that the man, and his corrupt “church,” deserves some vague “respect” merely because he has managed to fool a lot of people. She quotes this statement from Doug Mataconis after Moon’s death:

“As for Moon himself, he was clearly a charlatan, and there have been plenty of stories from people who have testified to the cult-like techniques that his church engaged in, and the world has long been familiar with some of there [sic] more bizarre practices such as mass marriages of people who’ve never actually met each other. Given that it was largely a cult of personality, though, one has to think it won’t survive long past his death. After all, messiahs don’t generally die unless they’re going to rise three days later.”

All of this is 100% accurate, but Blanchard apparently thinks it is merely an a priori “reductive dimissal” of Moon:

While this may express a common reaction, it deserves interrogation. Moon did not invent arranged marriages; it is impossible to know what he believed; every new religion faces critique from older religions; and many social scientists now admit that any distinction between “cult-like techniques” like so-called mind-control, “coercive persuasion,” and other more “normal” sorts of education or socialization, is in the eye of the beholder. In short, the Unification Church’s beginnings are not particularly radical when compared to other religions’ beginnings. So while it is certainly convenient (and mentally satisfying) to ridicule and dismiss, it also prematurely shuts down any meaningful reflection or conversation between different worldviews.

Our other choice—and, I think, a better choice—is to accept, even respect, others’ experiences as their experiences, even if they don’t make sense in our own world.

This isn’t easy, I’ll admit; Moon’s unbelievable autobiography, his later congressional coronation, questionable business practices, and family squabbles all put my posture of respect to the test, to say the least. (The Catholic Church and the Westboro Baptist Church do the same.) But ultimately I have decided to assume he was working in good faith. Not dismissing him as a charlatan doesn’t mean I agree with his teachings on sexuality or his economic behaviors; it doesn’t mean I believe he was anointed by God to do any particular salvific work on my behalf. It simply means that I must take Moon seriously, as if he were, well, an actual human being who tried to pursue happiness and avoid suffering, and who probably succeeded and failed at both in equal measure. I can empathize with him at that most basic level; I’ve never claimed to be God’s anointed, but I certainly say and do plenty of things that others question or that I later regret.

But believing — pretending, really — that Moon was anything but a money- and power-hungry charlatan requires ignoring a mountain of incontrovertible evidence. Moon’s “church” was really just an ever-changing series of non-profit and for-profit organizations that comprised a vast criminal enterprise, as I and others have been documenting for many years. Moon and his minions bilked widows in Japan out of huge amounts of money, violated environmental and tax laws in the United States, made money through business deals with the North Korean dictatorship, illegally shipped weapons around the world and much more. One would have to almost delusional to believe he was operating in “good faith” in any respect.

Comments

  1. raven says

    I’ll respect a divorced, excon Korean who calls himself Jesus Christ II when…well, who knows?

    Maybe if he shares some of his vast fortune with me.

  2. d cwilson says

    Blanchard’s argument seems to be that because Moon didn’t invent the con, we should respect him for being so good at it.

    Um, what?

  3. Randomfactor says

    In short, the Unification Church’s beginnings are not particularly radical when compared to other religions’ beginnings.

    That’s an indictment of other religions, not an endorsement of the Moonies.

  4. raven says

    This happened at a well known university.

    Two grad students are supposed to show up for fall quarter. They are a couple, engaged.

    The girl goes first and is supposed to find an apartment for them.

    She disappears suddenly.

    Guy is distraught. It’s thought that she was inducted into a cult, probably the Scientologists because they were around campus a lot.

    Turns out the Moonies got her. Guy never saw her again. I suppose one could say he was better off if she was that flighty. But who knows, really?

  5. says

    …every new religion faces critique from older religions…

    That’s a one-size-fits-all excuse to avoid ALL criticism of ANY religion. And that could be the author’s intent.

    So while it is certainly convenient (and mentally satisfying) to ridicule and dismiss, it also prematurely shuts down any meaningful reflection or conversation between different worldviews.

    Bringing facts to a conversation shuts down the conversation? This guy is starting to sound like either a Moon apologist or a religious apologist in general.

  6. says

    I guess this is why there’s been so little public attention to Moon’s death: too many apologists trying to avoid the ugly truth of what Moon was, and what they did to make themselves part of the problem. (I wonder if Paul Ryan was in on that “coronation” ceremony on Capitol Hill…)

  7. Red-Green in Blue says

    Kate Blanchard writes:

    and many social scientists now admit that any distinction between “cult-like techniques” like so-called mind-control, “coercive persuasion,” and other more “normal” sorts of education or socialization, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Really? Any distinction between the two is just subjective?

    Now I know that the power of socialisation is strong. The vast majority of the time I don’t have to consciously work out how to behave in a socially-acceptable manner, and this itself could be an indication of the success of some nefarious mind-control techniques used on me in nursery, school, Cubs, etc. In that case, we’re all stuffed, including Kate Blanchard, and there’s absolutely no reason to trust anything she or anyone else says.

    But for the life of me, I can’t remember any teacher, group leader or other respected adult during my childhood using “mind-control”, “coercive persuasion”, or any other of the techniques that cults employ. No authority figure I can remember ever tried to isolate me from my family, abandon independent thought and my own goals in life, drive me to compulsively proselytise, or give all my money to their organisation. No-one forced me to engage in repetitive rituals to bolster my belief in the face of the evidence… OK, I suppose church attendance counts, but then when I stopped going, no-one shunned me or tried character assassination. The worst I experienced was my mother expressing vague disappointment and saying I might rethink my disbelief as I grew older, and one heated argument with my grandmother (who in all respects behaved like the member of an earlier generation that she was).

    Basically, this statement by Kate Blanchard looks prima facie like a load of rubbish. However, I’d be most interested to read what any social scientists here have to say…

  8. raven says

    Moon did do one huge service to humankind.

    He showed us where religions come from.

    It’s obvious he just made it all up as he went along.

    Kate Blanchard, a non-believing religious studies professor at Alma College,..

    If Kate Blanchard, the self described religious studies professor really wants to do something constructive, she could use Moonie-ism as an example of religionogenesis. And toss in the Mormons and Scientologists as well.

  9. marcus says

    Clueless Blanchard re: Moon “…it is impossible to know what he believed…” Wait… what? We have multitudes of sermons, interviews, and witnesses; he even wrote an autobiography and “…it is impossible to know what he believed…” do people even bother to proof-read the bullshit they write? Jeebus!

  10. yoav says

    To sum up her argument, Moon was an evil scumbag but we must show him respect because he managed to get a lot of people to buy into his cult of personality.
    Must fight urge to godwin thread…..

  11. raven says

    To sum up her argument, Moon was an evil scumbag but we must show him respect because he managed to get a lot of people to buy into his cult of personality.

    Must fight urge to godwin thread…..

    That’s OK.

    Just mention Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saint Reagan, and the ruling god kings of North Korea instead.

  12. DaveL says

    and many social scientists now admit that any distinction between “cult-like techniques” like so-called mind-control, “coercive persuasion,” and other more “normal” sorts of education or socialization, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Just because a distinction involves a certain irreducible subjectivity doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even attempt to make it. When Ms. Blanchard spices her food, I’m sure she doesn’t dismiss the distinction between “zesty” and “five-alarm suicide hot” as being “in the eye of the beholder.”

  13. raven says

    and many social scientists now admit that any distinction between “cult-like techniques” like so-called mind-control, “coercive persuasion,” and other more “normal” sorts of education or socialization, is in the eye of the beholder.

    It’s a variant of the slippery slope fallacy.

    The fact is most of the time for most of our lives, we draw lines on slippery slopes. Whether we like it or not.

  14. Chiroptera says

    raven, #16:

    Yeah, there isn’t a strict dividing line between daytime and nighttime, either. Yet I somehow manage to turn on a light before it gets so dark I trip over the sofa.

  15. Sastra says

    Even being charitable and assuming for the sake of argument that Moon was sincere and actually believed in all his bullshit (on at least some level) still doesn’t negate hard, swift, and brutal criticism. Just because something is a “deeply-held belief” doesn’t make it sacrosanct. Most evil, wicked, harmful ideas are ideas that are sincerely held by people who earnestly consider them virtuous.

    If anything, granting Moon honesty just makes him worse. Instead of being cunning and clever he is self-deluded to the point of idiocy? This is an improvement?

    If Moon were genuinely handicapped by mental illness or cognitive impairment then sure, there’s a common agreement to tip-toe delicately around the poor man’s condition. But he didn’t appear to meet that sort of clinical criteria. Fair game.

  16. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Moon’s unbelievable autobiography, his later congressional coronation, questionable business practices, and family squabbles all put my posture of respect to the test, to say the least. (The Catholic Church and the Westboro Baptist Church do the same.) But ultimately I have decided to assume he was working in good faith.

    Dear Professor Blanchard,

    I am the adopted son of the late Colonel Gaddafi. My adoptive father placed $2,000,000,000 in a Swiss bank account, and…

    What do you mean? Why can’t you assume I’m working in good faith?

  17. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    And social “scientists” wonder why we laugh at them. – Marcus Ranum

    No, “we” are not all stupid and ignorant enough to dismiss an entire set of disciplines because one proponent of one of them is clearly an idiot.

  18. escuerd says

    Blanchard:

    Not dismissing him as a charlatan [...] simply means that I must take Moon seriously, as if he were, well, an actual human being who tried to pursue happiness and avoid suffering, and who probably succeeded and failed at both in equal measure.

    Ugh, what vacuous drivel. What does being a charlatan have to do with being an actual human being who pursues happiness and avoids suffering. As I understand it, it’s quite usual for con artists to pursue happiness by acquiring victims’ money, and to avoid the pain of incarceration.

    And this bit about succeeding and failing in equal measure? What the fuck kind of stupid assertion is that? Where does she even get that notion from? It smells like the a priori assumption of someone enamored with the middle ground fallacy, albeit applied in a bizarre manner.

  19. abear says

    and many social scientists now admit that any distinction between “cult-like techniques” like so-called mind-control, “coercive persuasion,” and other more “normal” sorts of education or socialization, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Possibly the writer meant anti-social scientologists and not social scientists.

  20. Freodin says

    Well, you can be an asshole in good faith.

    And thus the Mightly Reverend Moon has to be respected… as a glorious example of a faithfull asshole!

    Can anyone find a good example why we should respect this Professor Blanchard?

  21. slc1 says

    Re raven @ 14

    Just mention Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saint Reagan, and the ruling god kings of North Korea instead.

    Oh come on. Putting Ronnie the rat in the same sentence with mass murderers like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Kim il Sung pere and fils is totally over the top. Reagan was a lot of things, contrary to Heath, most of them bad, but in no way, shape, form, or regard was he in their category.

  22. Ichthyic says

    I’ve never claimed to be God’s anointed, but I certainly say and do plenty of things that others question or that I later regret.

    like, for instance, this very missive?

  23. Michael Heath says

    slc1 writes:

    Reagan was a lot of things, contrary to Heath, most of them bad, but in no way, shape, form, or regard was he in their category.

    President Reagan’s actual legacy has nothing to do with me, but the history reported by economists and historians – which you deny – just like YECS do with what science understands. Thanks for continuing to illustrate and help validate the observation I made the other day, that some liberals act out just like YECs when the topic of Ronald Reagan is raised.

  24. Midnight Rambler says

    marcus @12:

    Clueless Blanchard re: Moon “…it is impossible to know what he believed…” Wait… what? We have multitudes of sermons, interviews, and witnesses; he even wrote an autobiography and “…it is impossible to know what he believed…” do people even bother to proof-read the bullshit they write? Jeebus!

    I have to wonder if this is a bit of a tell from Blanchard. My feeling is that it is impossible to know what he really believed, because he was such a consistent fraud that he was probably lying most of the time even about his own beliefs. For all her “assumptions” of good faith, I wonder if she thinks that too. Of course, it’s impossible to know what she believes…

  25. corkscrew says

    Moon did do one huge service to humankind.

    He showed us where religions come from.

    There’s a quote that springs to mind here (I don’t know the source). The difference between a cult and a religion is that, in a cult, there’s one person who knows the whole thing is a fraud.

    In a religion, that person is dead.

  26. slc1 says

    Re Heath @ #27

    I just can’t catch a break from ole Heath. Even when I defend Ronnie the rat, he criticizes me.

    How about Iran/Contra Heath? Selling arms to the terrorist regime in Iran and then using the money to support drug dealers in Nicaragua?

  27. Michael Heath says

    slc1 writes:

    How about Iran/Contra Heath? Selling arms to the terrorist regime in Iran and then using the money to support drug dealers in Nicaragua?

    When looking at the totality of a president’s record relative to how it’s impacted the country in the long-term, that’s a pretty trivial defect. As opposed to say,
    a) LBJ getting us into a full-scale war in Viet Nam,
    b) W. Bush’s: tax cuts, war in Iraq, and turning the GOP into a monolithic denier of climate change,
    c) Carter’s failed reaction on the recession in spite of having a Congress willing to work with him and having the benefit of a competent Chairman of the Fed (meaning it was possible for federal fiscal policy to complement, rather than work against, monetary policy).

    I’d argue the Iran/Contra fiasco, which justifiably hurt the Reagan administration plenty at the time though largely because there was no other massive harm being suffered on the populace (something executives rarely get credit for though Clinton rightly does), is in the long run, not nearly as harmful to the U.S. as President Ford pardoning Nixon or President Obama not prosecuting the Bush Administration for its torture policies and both Administrations’ attack on the 4th and 5th Amendments. That’s because those two defects will have long-lasting increasingly harmful effects.

    Raising Iran/Contra as if that alone can recover one’s defense of an entire Administration’s record reminds me of YEC-like thinking liberals countering Reagan’s record of being actively resistant towards war and his enormous success in the Cold War bringing up the, yawn, invasion of Grenada as “proof” Reagan was really a war-monger. Uh no, LBJ and W. Bush – that’s real war-mongering.

  28. slc1 says

    Re Michael Heath @ #31

    I will say this for Ronnie the rat. He got off one of the better one liners when asked during a news conference why he hadn’t met with Soviet leaders. His response was, “they kept dying on me”.

  29. says

    Sorry, but the Likudnik chickenhawk is right on this one: I don’t have to be a Republican of any stripe, or agree with anytyhing Reagan did, to know that he did not deserve to be equated with Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot.

  30. says

    Michael Heath:

    Reagan’s actions vis-a-vis the Mujahideen and his campaign’s actions (alleged) vis-a-vis the Iranian hostage situation set the stage for the Sandanista/Contra Nicaragua civil war and the protracted “Vietnamization” of the Afghan/Soviet conlict.

    It also emboldened the nationalists in numerous places to engage in terrorism in the name of (if not the spirit) Islam, leading to the conflicts currently occurring in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, The Phillipines, Malaysia, parts of China and the former SSR’s. This is no mean feat.

  31. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    Reagan’s actions vis-a-vis the Mujahideen and his campaign’s actions (alleged) vis-a-vis the Iranian hostage situation set the stage for the Sandanista/Contra Nicaragua civil war and the protracted “Vietnamization” of the Afghan/Soviet conlict.

    It also emboldened the nationalists in numerous places to engage in terrorism in the name of (if not the spirit) Islam, leading to the conflicts currently occurring in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, The Phillipines, Malaysia, parts of China and the former SSR’s. This is no mean feat.

    I think you give the Reagan Administration far too much credit for the conflagrations in those areas. I perceive the root causes that are most impactful going back centuries through the mid-1900s.

    You also need to balance the negatives with the good to get a sufficiently framed conclusion. This last point is my major beef with some liberals who, contra historians, can’t accept any success stories coming out of the Reagan Administration, they cherry-pick and overly amplify those supposed failures while ignoring all the successes – some of which had a major beneficial impact on humanity.

    Consider Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, where he reports how violence continues to decrease, including conflicts involving militaries. When you reconcile his findings with the totality of America’s policies in the 1980s and 1990s, I find there is no question that the Reagan Administration contributed to this trend in a major way, as did Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Where I think Mr. Gorbachev’s contributions were bigger than President Reagan’s; in spite of the relatively new findings which find some reprehensible behavior from him in regards to his administration of USSR WMD programs first reported in The Dead Hand. That author had access to USSR documents previous historians weren’t able to access. He then shared those documents with ex-USSR officials to provide a more enlightening perspective on what was going on in the USSR during the last part of the Cold War. But as a net, all three were leaders at a time that had the USSR quietly imploding (relatively speaking) rather than leading to WWIII.

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