Commentary Magazine


Cults

To the Editor:

In his review of Moonstruck: A Memoir of My Life in a Cult by Allen Tate Wood [Books in Review, December 1979], Robert Richman describes the author as holding “the second highest rank in Moon’s U.S. organization,” controlling the “Church’s political unit, the Freedom Leadership Foundation.” As the current head of the Freedom. Leadership Foundation, Mr. Wood’s successor of sorts, I would like to challenge the usefulness of Mr. Richman’s review.

It is, for one thing, full of factual errors, some simply repeating Mr. Wood’s accusations and others of his own making. Surely a reviewer should be required to maintain a critical attitude not only toward the author of a book under review, but also toward the subject matter and factual basis of the book.

For example, Mr. Richman repeats and seems to accept at face value the allegation that the Freedom Leadership Foundation is the “political arm of the Unification Church” engaged in lobbying and the like. The allegation ignores the findings of the IRS which, after two years of intensive investigation of the Freedom Leadership Foundation, renewed its tax-exempt, non-profit status. . . .

It is not my intention here, however, to dispute the allegations presented by Mr. Wood. Enough material has been generated by the Unification Church in its own defense and is easily available to anyone who cares to check. Rather, I wish to defend my own reputation and the good character of my friends and colleagues in the Unification Church which Mr. Richman in his review so lightly treads upon. My complaint is this: what seems to be the issue in question—whether we, the members of the Unification Church, are as weak and foolish as Wood alleges—is assumed by Mr. Richman, rather than argued.

Mr. Richman’s premises are very clear. He criticizes Wood for failing to “investigate the impulses and motivation that make the pathology he describes so widespread among his generation.” Further, Mr. Richman chronicles Wood’s personal and literary shortcomings: “absence of inquiry,” “purposeless misbehavior,” escapism, and “self-destructive tendencies.” Rather than calling into question the moral and philosophical judgments Wood makes in his book, these failings, says Mr. Rich-man, “made Wood the perfect inductee into Moon’s cult.”

But not all “Moonies” are, as Mr. Richman says Wood was, drugged-out drop-outs in search of bliss and a place to lay their heads. I have been a member of the Unification Church for eight years, since I was seventeen. . . . At the time I joined I was attending George Washington University on a full debate scholarship. I had been at the top of my class and a national championship debator. I did, however, display one of the symptoms termed pathological by Mr. Richman, “spiritual hunger,” which I would have at that time called “intellectual curiosity” since I wasn’t really religiously inclined. And, of course, I was still “idealistic.” But the only despair I experienced was an occasional qualm that I was fated to end up as so many of my colleagues and acquaintances from the world of debate—a graduate of Yale or Harvard Law School. Intellect without soul! Ego without grace! I assured myself, however, that there were worse fates.

My recruitment into the church was insidiously simple. I was asked if I wanted to hear a good idea. . . . I found the “idea” logically consistent, comprehensive, philosophically and theologically profound, reasonable, moral, applicable, and alive. I admit I was also attracted by the sense of shared commitment and community, which is an element of the Unification Church member’s way of life; but frankly it was a secondary consideration. I studied the “idea” for six months before joining. And although I have ever since retained a critical attitude toward both the beliefs and practices of my church, not even three years at Brown University (where, on my own, paid for by me, I finished my education, lived two years in a college dormitory, and achieved a 3.9 grade-point average) could shake my faith. Certainly no one accused me of “purposeless misbehavior” there.

Nor do I consider myself unique. Indeed, among the things which led me to join the Unification Church was the superior company I found in it: people of rounded characters, open minds, rationality, and moral sensibilities. Many of them are now at Harvard, Yale, or Chicago Divinity Schools, or pursuing careers in journalism, education, or the arts. All of them shared similar trials, made similar sacrifices, and traveled the same road of doubt and discovery. Our movement is still young, and I cannot point to any grand accomplishments by its members (although one of them recently conducted the Bolshoi ballet). To our doubters and critics, therefore, I can only say: wait ten years.

Mr. Richman bemoans the circumstances that led a person like Allen Wood, a descendant of such “adventuresome” and “rigorous” forebears as writer Allen Tate and explorer Meriwether Lewis, to join the Unification Church. I cannot say for certain, but I suspect it was the spark of that spirit still alive in Mr. Wood that led him to join at all. I find my own life in the church, at least, one of constant challenge, intellectual and spiritual adventure, and purposive action. . . .

Gerard Willis
Secretary General
Freedom Leadership Foundation
Washington, D.C.

_____________

 

Robert Richman writes:

Not being privy to the inner workings of the Unification Church, I could only attempt to report Allen Tate Wood’s “accusations” neutrally. My job consisted, in part, in gleaning Wood’s attitude from the details he gives (family life, schooling, etc.), and in determining how his attitude may have been responsible for certain decisions he made. I consistently found feebleness of will, a lack of resilience, and a poor quality in judgment. I felt perfectly justified, therefore, in saying that Wood’s decision to join Moon was insecure and weakly felt. Furthermore, this evidence of insecurity and confusion throughout Wood’s life led me to the not far-fetched conclusion that the Unification Church quite possibly is a haven for such numb sensibilities (whose numbers ballooned in the 60′s and 70′s, as did the numbers in Moon’s church).

I fear that Gerard Willis’s personal history has little bearing on my review. I congratulate him on his fine academic record and the large sacrifices he seems to have made. But with success comes responsibility. To abandon one’s will and forgo responsibility in favor of a brutal and sadistic man like the Reverend Moon doesn’t seem to me to be the answer. There is something desperate about the easy solution Moon offers and Mr. Willis promotes—precisely the same desperation, in fact, that separates “spiritual hunger” from intellectual curiosity and idealism. It is this crucial distinction that Mr. Willis tellingly refuses to perceive.

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