Neo-Confucian Principle(s) in the Thought of Sun Myung Moon


by Thomas Selover

2014-04-23 15.01.09 croppedReverend Moon was arguably one of the most influential of modern Koreans, and certainly one of the most controversial. In order to better understand his thought, it is natural and helpful to pay attention to Korean cultural influences, including Confucian and Neo-Confucian content, which have helped to shape the patterns of his thinking.

In his autobiography, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, Rev. Moon recounts his early childhood in an environment where fervent Christian revivalism was spreading in a society deeply imbued with Confucian patterns of life and thought. He noted,

When I turned ten, my father had me attend a traditional school in our village, where an old man taught Chinese classics… At school, we read the Analects of Confucius and the works of Mencius, and we were taught Chinese characters.

Through this education, he developed a life-long love of Chinese characters, and he delighted in expounding new insights from the form of the characters. This article explores some family resemblances between Neo-Confucian thought and Unification thought in four areas, hoping to shed some intriguing light in both directions.

Li  理 as “Principle”

The first evidence of Neo-Confucian content is in the phrase “Divine Principle” or “The Principle,” used in ordinary Unification parlance as shorthand for Rev. Moon’s teachings, particularly insofar as those teachings are understood to be revelatory. Because the Divine Principle (DP) text relies on biblical quotations to advance its philosophical and theological points, it has generally been  viewed in relation to Christian theology. However, the background for many of the ideas contained in the DP book, including the title itself, can be traced to Confucian and Neo-Confucian themes instead.

In Neo-Confucian thought, li (principle) signifies the inherent principles of the natural world, as well as our human ability to understand those principles (intelligibility). For Neo-Confucian thought, li are immanent in the world of experience, rather than being primarily conceptual or formulaic.

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