Two weeks ago, another grand old master of purported religious unification died, age 92: the self-proclaimed Korean Messiah and big business tycoon Reverend Sun Myung Moon succumbed to complications of pneumonia. In a great send-off today, Moon was interred in a marble tomb, following a grand media spectacle eerily akin to Sathya Sai Baba’s send-off last year, in the Kulwant Hall, Puttaparthi.
The similarities between Sai Baba, his family and his Trust and Moon, his following and Trust, go far beyond their death. Like Sai Baba, Moon led a sectarian, cultlike movement for nearly six decades. Like Sai Baba, Moon was from a humble rural background. Like Sai Baba, Moon claimed a pivotal change took place at a very young age (SB at 14, Moon at 15), after which he started his mission of unifying the world and establishing world peace, believing to be The Second Coming of Christ. Like Sai Baba, Moon was a deeply narcissistic man, who reveled in mass adoration and was in dire need of constant and singular attention, claiming to be a special spiritual entity who, if accepted as a personal master, protected you from harm and opened up the gates of Heaven to his true followers. Like Sai Baba, Moon brainwashed his ‘Moonies’ into believing the most abstruse and far-fetched ‘truths’, and made them give away millions of dollars to ‘charity’. As Moon’s church rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, spreading to the United States, it spawned a business empire encompassing construction, food, education, the media and even a professional football club. Like Sai Baba, Moon grew immensely rich, owning a business empire as impressive as Sai Baba’s, including press agency UPI and the Washington Times. Like Sai Baba, throughout his life, Moon assiduously courted political leaders in what critics said was a bid to lend legitimacy to his Unification Church, which has been condemned as heretical by some Christian organisations. Like Sai Baba, Moon and his organisation vastly exaggerated the number of followers. Like Sai Baba, the cult was so deeply personality based, that without Moon’s unifying presence, some experts see potential for conflict between his sons who control the church’s religious and business arms and who do not command the same loyalty as their father from overseas chapters.
For those interested in the kind of mindset a cult like this creates, the following video is quite informative:
Ex-Moonie Diane Benscoter talks from personal experience about some of the changes a ‘disciple’ went through. She mentions an interesting viral-memetic process through which you get infected with circular thinking, ‘gain’ an endless capacity to rationalize each and every doubt away, and alienate yourself from family and the world at large, having found simple answers to complex issues.
Esteemed expose writer on Sathya Sai Baba, Robert Priddy, has published extensively on this same subject matter, see e.g. this post: The Culture of Cults: a serious analysis.