Monday, September 3, 2012

Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012)

I can't claim any special authority as a Moon biographer since I'm about to cite things directly from Wikipedia. But his biography nicely illustrates the principle that religion is a form of rhetoric that's dishonest, but given our cognitive foibles as a a species, it helps you convince people to do what you want. Business and political leaders have all kinds of tricks to get people to pay attention, and this is just one more. Strip out the claims of supernatural authority and Moon comes across as a businessperson whose brand was himself, kind of like the David Lee Roth of religion. And it worked, from the standpoint of profit:
The Unification Church's business holdings include the UPI, The Washington Times,[115] and the Tongil Group, one of the largest South Korean business groups or chaebol with business interests world-wide. The church is the largest owner of U.S. sushi restaurants and in the Kodiak region of Alaska, it is the area's largest employer.[116][117] The church owns the only automobile manufacturing plant in North Korea, Pyeonghwa Motors, and is the second largest exporter of Korean goods.[118][119][120][121]

In 1989, Moon became the largest foreign investor in China[122][123] In 1989, Moon founded Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma,[124] the most successful soccer club in Korean football, having won a record 7 league titles, 2 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, and 2 AFC Champions League titles.

In the 1990s Moon's ownership of major business enterprises, including The Washington Times, the United Press International, and Pyeonghwa Motors was noted in the media. A small sampling of Moon's possessions included computers and religious icons in Japan, seafood in Alaska and ginseng in Korea, huge tracts of land in South America, a recording studio and travel agency in Manhattan, a horse farm in Texas, and a golf course in California.[125]
It continues in this vein.

He was also smart enough to announce himself an anti-communist - and again, there's nothing wrong with that, but his vocal allegiance was a bit too similar to every third-world dictator's. (After 1990 it was the drug war; now it's terrorism. "I say the right things! Now prop up my regime or international institution!")   Again, he comes across as a savvy operator, which is nothing new and certainly not inherently bad, but his claims of supernatural inspiration shield him from criticism.  And what's even more interesting: the informal mutual assistance treaties that holy men seem to have for each other throughout history. No matter how their Pure Messages From God might differ from each other, as soon as there's a legal decision affecting the business strategies of these megachurches, they all circle the wagons, like Falwell and Lowery did here.

There's nothing wrong with selling yourself, as long as people know what they're getting. It's the claims of divine protection and blessing that lead people to make dubious decisions in their lives; for example, getting people to marry each other when they don't even speak each other's language. While many of Moon's intentions seem to be good ones (spreading peace and tolerance), you don't have to B.S. people this way to spread your message. 

Moon could have gone down as one of the most successful businesspeople of the twentieth century, but because of the path he chose, instead he'll be remembered as a con man and a quack.

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