A Challenge for the Divine Principle in the Postmodern Era

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Keisuke Noda, Professor of Philosophy, Barrytown College of UTS

Keisuke_NodaCan the Divine Principle be attractive to others in the 21st century, or at least for the next 10 or 20 years as our Church’s 2020 goals envision? In Unificationist communities, that question has sparked the development of practical or technological methods of communication/presentation. People have created and re-crafted charts, slides, and PowerPoint presentations and will continue to do so.

The development of these materials is certainly a worthy endeavor, but another way to pose this question is to ask how the Principle answers the questions of the era or the “spirit of the time” (Zeitgeist). Although believers claim that religious teachings reflect truth that is eternal, ideas affirm their validity by responding to the questions of the era. Leading ideas must in fact “lead” the time by demonstrating their validity to people who are desperately trying to find their way. Thus, Unificationists must understand the intellectual climate that we live in if the Principle is to become a leading idea.

During the late 20th century, the United States and other developed countries underwent a major shift rooted in the comprehensive critique of modernity. It is imperative for any intellectual to understand this shift and the intellectual horizons that frame the climate today, known as postmodernism.

What Is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism is a concept that describes a general intellectual stance or tendency towards modernity. As the term post (“after”) modernism indicates, postmodernism is a departure from modernism based on a critical assessment of modernity. It is, in essence, skepticism towards basic assumptions of modernity. Postmodernism is a broad term which encompasses all social cultural spheres including architecture, art, literature, literary criticism, business, management, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and others. It is a term that can be seen as describing the spirit of the age (Zeitgeist). Postmodernism is distinguished from being just a “trend” because of its lasting and penetrating effects on all spheres of life.

Modernity, as postmodernists see it, is a social, cultural, political wave that lasted for centuries, from the Enlightenment to the late 20th century. Despite the diverse views and ideas encompassed within modernity, modernity was based on certain assumptions that postmodernists later questioned.  Postmodern thinkers have taken a variety of approaches, but the following are a few basic criticisms of modernity by Jean-François Lyotard, a French philosopher.

1. Questioning the Grand Narrative

The grand narrative or meta-narrative is a totalizing discourse that attempts to explain everything with one set of principles. For example, Marxism was presented as an all-encompassing theory of emancipation to liberate humanity. This grand theory was presented as a one-size-fits-all comprehensive theory and was claimed to be applicable to all regions, past and present, regardless of time and place. This utopian narrative quickly captured the minds of people and swept the world, but its narrative was rudely interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Postmodernists have taken a skeptical stance towards such grand narratives as totalizing, centralized, and hierarchical. Postmodernists characterized modernity as an era when people sought an all-encompassing belief system, starting with the ideas of the Enlightenment and lasting through the late 20th century. These systems of thought have been institutionalized and legitimized, and perpetuated by power. Be it Marxism, Hegelianism, or other all-encompassing systems of thought, postmodern thinkers have been skeptical of such grand narratives.

2. Anti-foundationalism

Modern discourse can be also characterized as the attempt to “ground” ideas in a certain “foundation,” for example, universal truth, reason, language, science, and others. In order to legitimize knowledge, people attempted to “ground” their claims in some foundation that was unquestioned. Rather than question the foundation of certain ideas, people directed their efforts to building knowledge on the foundation of these unquestioned bases. The institutionalization of an unquestioned foundation thus established the “authority” of knowledge, and any attempt to question the grounds of knowledge was suppressed.  Postmodernists questioned this type of discourse and the legitimacy of a “foundation” of knowledge.

Intellectual Climates in and after Postmodernism

The postmodernist critique of modernity generated a different type of discourse. People began to seek local, workable truths rather than a grandiose truth, and contextualized specific solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all universal solution.

While developing countries are still seeking to modernize, people in developed countries have been seeking an alternative discourse. The Divine Principle had appeal in the late 20th century when people still sought a grand theory. After these changes in the intellectual climate, how can Unificationists respond to the challenges of postmodernism?

The Future of the Principle for the Present

There are two ways to respond to these challenges.  One is to ignore them, hold on to the Principle, and wait for the world to change.  This option is not a viable one.  The second option is to take these challenges seriously and examine how the Principle can solve specific issues and problems in different social and cultural contexts. This approach requires Unificationists to test each and every truth claim in the Principle and show why and how it works as applied in a specific field.

For example, in the area of conflict resolution, the confrontation between two superpowers is over. Today we face numerous regional conflicts rooted in religious, racial, and cultural differences along the axes of political and economic interests.  Victory Over Communism (VOC) theory was an effective application of the Principle during the Cold War.  Today, however, we need to address the new landscape of localized, regional conflicts. Unificationism must be able to answer the questions of why and how faith-based conflict resolution is an effective approach and provide specific, case-based evidence.  This analysis can then be extended to the comprehensive approach that Unificationism can provide with its holistic outlook, in particular through the interreligious, intercultural, and international Marriage Blessing.

Rebellion of Thought is a video that examines postmodern thinking and its impact on the Christian church. It is intended as resource material for emerging churches, purpose driven churches, and connecting with the unchurched who embrace postmodern thinking.

In the area of faith and spirituality, the postmodern tendency to decentralize has manifested itself in the way people depart from organized religion and pursue spirituality in various alternative forms.  In this light, it is interesting to note that Rev. Moon’s philosophy can be seen as having radical, postmodern dimensions.  For example, Rev. Moon has asked members to not pray in the name of an authority, such as Christ or the True Parents, but to pray in one’s own name.  Once a couple receives the Blessing, that couple is asked to pray to God under their own authority as a Blessed Couple.  The Blessed Couple no longer needs any meditative authority in communicating with God; the absolute authority and autonomy of the Blessed Couple imply that a couple is responsible for its own salvation. Rev. Moon has also transformed the traditional concept of the Messiah as a single person in history and extended it to include numerous Tribal Messiahs, roles that Blessed Couples are asked to take on with respect to their own families and communities.  This kind of de-centralization of authority reflects a postmodern decentralization of traditional religious institutions.

In the area of marriage and family, the primacy of heterosexual monogamy, one of the core theses of Unificationism, is challenged by the claims of diverse forms of marriage, especially same-sex marriage. Unificationism must strengthen its position beyond simple religious belief and an appeal to common sense naturalism — what is “natural” for people is changing.  Thus, a thorough and comprehensive analysis of sexuality is necessary, including critical analyses of perspectives rooted in the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, and others. The critical analysis of sexuality in turn demands critical self-reflection, which includes an empirical assessment of the Blessing of Marriage in Unificationism and the analyses of its corresponding sociological and psychological implications.

The challenge of postmodernism presents the opportunity to re-examine our own framework of interpretation; this re-examination requires the continuous application and study of the Divine Principle.  The comprehensiveness of a theory is not a disadvantage by itself, but in this era of particulars, the battleground is in addressing specific issues.  The validation of the Principle as a grand theory that is applicable and appealing for all people may be possible only after, and by continuing, this process of examination and application.♦

Dr. Keisuke Noda has been teaching courses in philosophy, ethics and Unification Thought at UTS since 1996. Previously he taught Unification Thought as a senior lecturer at the Unification Thought Institute both in the U.S. and Japan.

9 thoughts on “A Challenge for the Divine Principle in the Postmodern Era

  1. Richard Tarnas traces the evolution of thought from the early Greeks to the current time in his two great books, The Passion of the Western Mind and Cosmos and Psyche, and places the origin of our dilemma in cosmology, particularly in the Copernican displacement of the earth from its central location. Thus since the rise of modern science, instead of humans existing within a meaningful environment, as part of nature, humans have had to see themselves as the only source of meaning within a vast and purposeless universe. Nature has essentially been desacralized, even commoditized, within this scheme, and humans can create at best a small localized sphere of meaning.

    However, he sees this time as the resacralization of nature, the reclaiming of ourselves as part of nature, and the reclaiming of meaning and internal purpose within all things, including the universe itself. In order for this to happen, though, we are required to deal with exactly the origins of our dilemma, with cosmology itself. Our understanding of the universe is in flux right now, due to observations outstripping the power of our models to absorb. We must look to the heavens in more ways then one.

    I don’t think he feels that the postmodern dilemma is irreversible; I think he feels rather that an overarching scheme that enables us to revision our role is possible, if we deal with cosmology. And certainly many scientists today are looking at theoretical physics and seeing epicycles made of strings!

    To my mind, the revealing of the spirit world within physics is imminent and will indeed change everything. We just have to figure out how to reveal it via science. All the parts are there to bring about a major change in our worldview, such as Quantum Entanglement, Margulis’ symbiogenesis, Sheldrake’s morphogenesis, etc., but we need cosmologists to allow us to transcend the materialistic, subliminal restrictions they have placed on us.

  2. Dr. Noda,

    With the proviso that I am not a trained theologian, and with an apology if I step on any toes or go over old ground, I found your article to be informative and important.

    Having said that, I would like to address your questions in approximately the same order you posed them: Ultimately the issue is how to make the Divine Principle, and by extension, Unificationists, relevant in today’s intellectual and social milieu. I would argue that the rise of postmodernity itself is, in fact, largely a reactive movement, much like the rise of unions were a reaction to the massive power and corruption of the corporate entities of the day. As such, there are inherent weaknesses to such a movement. I do not think that it is coincidental that the rise of postmodern thought was parallel to the social upheaval and displacement that America and the world have experienced since 1920.

    Certainly the postmodern movement is closely aligned with the rise of science, technology and the relative freedom and affluence created in the last 300 years; I think that part of the answer to how we should approach this challenge can be found in those very facts. I find it telling that the culture of postmodernism arose in the relatively wealthy West. I like to refer to the resultant type of thinking as “fish thinking”. This means that many unconsciousness assumptions are made that have their root in the very affluence of the society proposing the “new” viewpoint (hence, like a fish swimming in, but unaware of, the water it swims in). This can be compared to teenagers decrying loudly about how “tough”and “poor” their lives are while they struggle about how they are going to get to the mall.

    A very good presentation of this emerging discussion can be found on YouTube by Rupert Sheldrake, in a TedTalk called “The Science Delusion”. It can also be found by referencing the “banned TedTalk”. The banning of his talk has created quite a controversy and has highlighted a growing body of work that is dealing with the reality of spirit as a quantifiable body of research, contrasted with certain limitations of beliefs promulgated by materialistic advocates of a non-spiritual world. Without a doubt, there were real needs being addressed by the authors of many of the postmodern works, but without a larger framework to contrast those needs to, such thought inevitably leaves society feeling much like the young person who abandons family and friends for a “life on the town”, just to find that at the end of the day, he’s addicted to the needs of the moment and life has become an empty shell.

    To sum it up, the rejection of grand narratives becomes itself a grand narrative that must be rejected as extreme. This leads us to the concept of anti-foundationalism. As I alluded to before, the last several hundred years has certainly included quite a number of grand narratives that accomplished much; sometimes great good, sometimes great evil, sometimes both at once. Whereas all structures benefit from an occasional housecleaning, it is rarely a good idea to demolish the house in the process. I believe that one of the unique elements of the Unificationist worldview would be of great help at this juncture: I refer to the fusion of Eastern and Western thought into a holistic oneness. The concept of dualism would be particularly appropriate here. The idea that grand narratives of the past, based on worldviews of the past, needing to be deconstructed is not an incompatible point of view with the concept that such changes need to be within a larger and more comprehensive grand narrative, which we could possibly call “neo-foundational”.

    This is self-evident, for someone not swimming in the waters of affluent intellectualism. All people want to “fit in” to something. The question is, what is the value of the “something”? Everyone seeks a grand narrative that they are part of, whether it is the villager in the outback, or the ultra-sophisticate in the largest city on earth. How can we connect with the villager and the sophisticate? The grand narrative we develop — and we are in dire need of developing that narrative — needs to be based on the commonalities inherent in all human situations. The genius of Father Moon was that he always took the seemingly disparate life experiences of humanity to the bedrock principles inherent in all of those experiences.

    To develop a couple of them: The common denominator of all humanity (although certain forces are trying desperately to change this) is that of the family. As the saying goes: “The only institution God created was the family”. Although we are, as Unificationists, also struggling to understand and apply universal principles to our families as well, the concept of a blessed family is unique in the world. Not only is the salvation unit redefined as a couple (and even as the family and extended family), but through the concept of the Three Kingships, we actually have a working, practical explanation as to the purpose and value of the family God created within the structure of our physical life.

    This single concept itself has the power to develop a world that would be radically different than the broken world we all experience today. This single concept can reinvigorate the UC movement as well. Add to that the concept of the couple as a divine being and I believe we would have the basis of a new metanarrative that can change the world.

    The last idea I will put forth is the crucial necessity of promoting and understanding the concept that God is the unified being of masculinity and femininity. The only possible way to address the rise of the homosexual culture is through understanding that fact and understanding that “marriage” is just a prelude to the blessing which is the coming together of the two halves of a divine being. The Bible says that “without vision, the people perish”. The reverse is also just as true: “with vision, the people prosper”. We in this time of the horizontalization of the Principle need to understand that vision ourselves before we can take it to the world. When we do, though, the whole world will come to God through us. Witnessing will not be an issue; just logistics will be the issue.

  3. The Principle is neither theology nor an organization where people look for jobs. The Principle is a way of life for all humankind to live by and the Principle must/should be incorporated in all spheres of human life. The Principle without works is dead. The providence can only be alive when Unificationists live and practice the Principle.

  4. One can readily observe that the Divine Principle worldview is steeped in metaphysical assertions: angels, the devil, two teenagers having sex millions of years ago without “God’s permission” causing the cosmic plan of the Creator to have failed, one’s individual conscious survival after physical “death” in a “spiritual body” that goes to an unknown location and “lives” in an unknown way eternally, only the “messiah” can deliver “God’s truth” to all humanity, etc. Divine Principle claims it contains the framework to “unite science and religion” for the first time in human history. A careful review of our numerous metaphysical assertions, coupled with the courage to jettison those that cannot be verified, is necessary. How to do this and still keep the wisdom and insights embedded within Divine Principle will be a task of profound creativity.

  5. I enjoyed the post, but I have my doubts about defining modernity as being simply Postmodern. The term is often conflated with the deconstructionists such as Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault and others. Major trends from the turn of the last century might be just as easily defined as Quantum, Integral or Panpsychic. Regarding these typologies we might look at A N Whitehead and C G Jung who both deal with quantum theory in a similar fashion creating a ground for looking at the archetypal universe and the idea of proto-consciousness in UC Thought. Both these thinkers lie very close to elements of the Principle and Unification thought as do consciousness and integral studies. Many supply a grand narrative for the times. Additionally there is a dynamic move in philosophy to reconcile Western thought with Oriental thinking. For one I would mention work already done with AN whitehead and Chu Hsi, where process thinking, held in common, relates one to another. Kant and personhood, the self as a moral agency, likewise compares favorably to Confucian ethics.

    Alison Wakelin in the above post above, mentions Tarnas. He along with Kieron Le Grice, Brian Henning, David Skribina and others represents what I believe is the emergent and central world of Panpsychic philosophies. These are all relevant to quantum thought and to the idea that mind participates in a conscious universe. Moreover much of their work is often well substantiated by recent advances in the sciences revealing to us that a single and isolated discipline no longer serves us well. The notion of interactive or cross-discipline studies is in fact taught as a methodology in schools as I write.

    Regarding Freud: Freud’s psychological theories were not the first on the scene, however his postulates were countered by Jung’s psychology and philosophy of mind (archetypal theory challenges isolated epistemology).

    Freud is rooted in Darwinist evolutionary thinking and set up a contained and mechanistic model of the self which evolved over 5 million years. He posited instinctual and libidinous drives, (sexual energy) which he traced to primitive instinctual life forms. He also hypothesizes the Ego, a later development, which fought to control these primitive mechanistic drives, allowing them expression disguised in a civilized and sublimated form. This view of self and culture is commonly viewed as a theory of pessimism and conflict. One could go on about the evolutionary animal instincts embedded in the unconscious of mankind but lets move to Freud’s disciples.

    Melanie Klein and Hanna Segal noticed, within the Freudian model, that there was also clinical evidence of symbolization – creativity. This pointed to creative processes not dissimilar to Jung’s model of the self which he based on the imago Dei. This was the image of God found in Genesis, but this psychology of the self is also viewed as the Logos nature of Christ. Jung essentially proposed an idea of the true self here, which he universalized as basic patterns inhering potentially to all. Post-Freudian symbolization began to approach such ideas of archetype and symbol. Therefore Freud’s theory was unravelling even within his own lifetime. The roots of a synthesis began to form potentially within his lifetime.

    Freudian psychology therefore begins to be assimilated into a larger and broader psychological tradition particularly through the work of Erik Erikson. 

In the book, Individuation and Narcissism by Mario Jacoby much more has been done to specifically integrate Freud with the Jungian tradition.

    In contemporary studies Freud’s letters reveal evidence of his own childhood sexual assault thus adding ‘reasons’ for his particular and overtly sexual view. In consciousness studies, neuroscientific advances, REM work, quantum proposals, and in the new biology of the porous and intelligent cell, Freud’s closed and evolutionary model is rapidly falling out of favor. He is nevertheless not entirely irrelevant to contemporary culture. Sublimation, and disguised perversions continually surface and are all too common to the cultural landscape.

    From the 60‘s and 70’s, self became defined by relationships, attachments and networked theories akin to the idea of the connected body mentioned in Principle. What emerged from this was also a clear definition of a true and false self and a notion of protoaesthetics; virtues formed within the family matrix at early infant stages. Self became a relational concern. The true self was seen to emerge from holistic parenting. Recent clinical work defines this true and creative self not simply powered by sexual energy rather by a general elan vital. These processes of integration and resolution strongly support solving what lies before us in the Integral and Principled age. There are details which need to be taken care of but current advances across the board would seem to be supplying many solutions of their own.

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