Immortality: Reconsidering Unification Teaching on Eternal Life

By Jack LaValley

Jack LaValleyDivine Principle (DP) teaches all human beings are created to live forever in an invisible spirit world with God. In this article, I review Unification teaching on eternal life and suggest ways to improve it. This is important because the DP view of spiritual realities and how we can know about them is based on metaphysical assumptions no longer tenable in the modern/postmodern world. I make the case DP teaching on eternal life needs to be updated and offer points to consider to start this process.

Unification teaching demands no empirical evidence to verify its truth claims about eternal life. DP assumes when we die the same individual personality from earthly life continues in the spirit world:

“Our spirit self, or spirit, is a substantial yet incorporeal reality which can be apprehended only through the spiritual senses.  It is the subject partner to our physical self.  Our spirit can communicate directly with God and is meant to govern the incorporeal world, including the angels. In appearance, our spirit self matches our physical self.  After we shed the physical self, we enter the spirit world and live there for eternity (DP, p. 48).”

Based on the assumption human beings go to spirit world after bodily death and maintain the same personality embodied while living on earth, DP teaches the doctrine of returning resurrection. It explains how human beings living as spirit selves in spirit world “come down to earth” to exert influence over earthly people. During the 1980s and 1990s, two dramatic expressions of returning resurrection occurred in the Unification faith community, seeming to prove the existence of spirit world and spirit being interaction with earthly people (cf. 40 Years in America: An Intimate History of the Unification Movement, pp. 397-401; pp. 550-58).

Throughout his speaking ministry, Rev. Moon testified to the reality of a spiritual world, and often spoke to members on how to get cooperation from good spirits and avoid evil spirits.  In 1998, a two-volume set of books, Earthly Life and Spirit World, was published containing excerpts on spirit world gleaned from hundreds of Rev. Moon’s talks. Perhaps Rev. Moon’s most poignant testimony concerning spirit world is his spiritual encounter with Jesus as a teenager, while praying all night on a Korean mountainside (As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, pp. 49-50).

A key challenge facing Unification spiritual philosophy

DP teaching about eternal life is based on the  assumption there must exist an objective and independent world apart from all perception of it. Until the time of the Enlightenment, this view of the universe (“Great Chain of Being”) proved to be a superb way to interpret reality, while trying to account for God, the soul, heaven, the physical world, and mystical experience. From 1400-1800, this explanation of reality took a severe beating from which it never fully recovered.

Divine Principle points out European Renaissance and Enlightenment thought thoroughly undermined the premodern view of reality; especially in regard to religious dogma about heaven, hell and the afterlife:

“By the turn of the eighteenth century, the Cain-type view of life had broken down the verities enshrined by history and tradition. All matters in human life came to be judged by reason and empirical observation.  Anything deemed irrational or other-worldly, including belief in the God of the Bible, was thoroughly discredited (DP, p. 355).”

It can be argued either way as to the merits of the European scientific revolution, but what can’t be argued is individuals would no longer accept the traditional views of God and the afterlife  without some type of empirical verification and/or rational explanation.

The latter half of the 20th century introduced additional problems for traditional categories of metaphysics. American philosopher Ken Wilber speaks of a “great war” that took place in academia between the sciences and the humanities, involving the Subjectivists and Intersubjectivists:

“The Subjectivists included all those approaches to the humanities [including science] that indeed relied on introspection, subjectivity, consciousness, awareness, and interiority…. The second camp was the Intersubjectivists. Whatever their differences, they were united in an understanding that by the time consciousness delivers an object to awareness, said consciousness has been molded, shaped, created, and constructed by a vast network of impersonal systems and structures, foremost among which are linguistic systems, cultural backgrounds, and structures of consciousness.  None of these can be seen by consciousness itself; none of these can be seen by subjectivity; and thus subjectivity is exactly what has to be called into question — and in the final analysis, deconstructed… Thus, it is not by subjective introspection, but by understanding these intersubjective structures, that we come to know ourselves (Integral Spirituality, p. 278).”

In Wilber’s view, the Intersubjectivists currently rule the humanities, and as a result “spiritual studies are more or less dead in Western academic culture.”

Modern science is critical of truth claims failing to demonstrate some type of empirical verification or rational explanation.  Taken to the extreme, this view leads to the denial that any level of reality exists beyond what the five physical senses can verify (scientism). Naturally, trying to “prove” the existence of an invisible God or spirit world through the scientific method only is problematic. Since the Enlightenment, traditional religion struggles mightily under the weight of scientism, while trying to validate the existence of “that which cannot be seen with physical eyes.”

In the premodern worldview, levels and locations of trans-physical realities exist as objective things, just waiting to be discovered. It makes no difference what “the one perceiving” is thinking or believing about a given thing, because anyone who comes in contact with these preexisting realities “above” and “beyond” the physical world (supernatural) will see the same thing.  Yet, discoveries made in the modern and postmodern era clearly indicate before any object comes across our awareness — i.e., ultimate truth, God, spirit world, heaven, hell, Jesus — numerous impersonal systems operate in the background shaping how our consciousness perceives and interprets these objects.

SMM-Jesus

A depiction of Rev. Moon’s encounter as a teenager with Jesus.

In the case of DP, its claim to discovery of “the new, ultimate truth of God” via Sun Myung Moon’s introspection, prayer, and communication “with many saints and Jesus in Paradise,” does not hold up under modernity’s demand for objective evidence and postmodernity’s demand for intersubjective grounding. Asserting DP is the new truth because of tradition, or claiming it is true “because God personally told me so,” doesn’t help either.

Where do we go from here?

In general, human beings intuit higher dimensions to life other than what can be seen in the manifest world.  We sense in our hearts the existence of realities “transcendent of time and space.” When science is honest, it admits it is not equipped to answer questions of ultimate concern, such as: Why does the universe exist?  What is the meaning of my life? What happens after death?  What is love?  Why is there evil in the world? The great wisdom traditions are uniquely suited to grapple with and address these questions. At the same time, these traditions are laden with premodern assumptions about the nature of the universe.

Divine Principle contains elements of the great myths embedded in the wisdom traditions, like: Moses parts the Red Sea with his staff; God defends the defenseless; God cares for and protects His “chosen” people; God rewards the faithful with eternal life in Heaven; God rescues the human race from Hell by sending to earth His only begotten son; etc. Behind these great myths, profound wisdom and instruction unfolded down through the centuries to guide and encourage human beings how to live a life of goodness centering on love. At the same time, these myths need to be updated and reinterpreted, to make better sense (and be more credible) in our post-modern world.

DP teaching on eternal life needs to be updated. Here are some points to consider in moving forward with this process:

  • DP’s interpretation of trans-physical levels of reality relies too heavily on the premodern view of the universe, and fails to adequately integrate modernity’s demand for empirical verification of truth claims, and postmodernity’s demand for intersubjective grounding.
  • We can no longer simply claim our version of spiritual realities is “the way it is” for all peoples because “we have the highest truth (tradition),” or because “God told me so (personal experience).”
  • We now know there is no such thing as a purely “objective view” of any object or experience “above” and “beyond” the five physical senses, because such experiences are subject to hidden factors operating beyond our own conscious awareness, factors that “color” our interpretations and “meaning making” process.
  • The claim that Sun Myung Moon uncovered “all the secrets of heaven” and was chosen by God to “solve the fundamental problems of human life and the universe” rests on a premodern interpretation of reality and is badly in need of reinterpretation.

For decades, the Unification “truth paradigm” concerning eternal life rested on outdated assumptions about the nature of spiritual realities and how we acquire knowledge of those realities. It is not that our teaching on immortality is wrong or flawed.  It is about opening up to how Spirit is now trying to speak to us and “move us up” to the next level of consciousness to more fully embrace this incredible universe of diversity, wonder and possibility.

Divine Principle contains a rich narrative about life that is full of promise and hopeful expectations. However, it is incumbent on us to squarely face the outdated assumptions behind our view of spiritual realities and make any necessary adjustments.♦

Jack LaValley spent 20 years as part of a personal protection team for Rev. and Mrs. Moon and their family. He is the founder of true4ever and author of the book, Seven Secrets to Finding True Love. He received his M.S. Ed from the University of Bridgeport. Jack and his wife, Wha ja, are the proud parents of three grown children.

9 thoughts on “Immortality: Reconsidering Unification Teaching on Eternal Life

  1. When I was at Cheongpyeong Training Center years ago, I heard Dae Mo Nim say that an entire graduating class of spirit people, who had just completed a “Diving Principle” workshop, were being assigned to be “Spirit World guides.” I was left wondering whether we are all assigned missions/positions in Spirit World upon our arrival there, just as when True Father assigned graduating UTS classes to CARP, Ocean Church, etc. After all, you need some level of organization for so many spirits in such a big place. Hopefully, there is enough time off from assignments for spirits to participate in the process of Returning Resurrection so they can achieve individual perfection and fulfill the purpose of creation.

  2. Interesting stuff, Jack! Food for thought. One point of clarification, though, about DP. It claims that the Spirit World is not a separate reality, but exists right now as we pursue our “physical life.” In other words, we are in the Spirit World right now, and we don’t simply “go there” after physical death.

    Proof for this is that we certainly have an invisible reality right now. Emotions, thoughts, love, sadness, etc. Science has endeavored to talk about these things, but the discussions are thin at best, because science has not adequately explained these invisible aspects of humanity merely by impulses in brain cells.

    So I think that both science and Unificationism need to update their explanations. I welcome True Mother’s recent direction that the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) be revived. We just got done reading TF’s speeches from these programs in the 20th century. He said some amazing things.

    I appreciate your thought piece and hope it stimulates lots of discussion!

  3. Jack, this is a very important topic. Thanks for your contribution.

    I totally agree with you that the traditional metaphysics is no longer tenable and we need to revise our understanding of DP. However, I would argue that it is our interpretation of DP rather than DP itself that is the problem. Unification Thought now is a different story. The baggage we bring to DP from Christian thought colors how DP is interpreted rather than our understanding being directly derived from the ontology presented. To some extent, DP does dodge the issue and leaves gaps in explanation, but arguing from dual characteristics and relationship gives us a totally different view to traditional metaphysics — one that is compatible with a scientific worldview. I would say DP itself does not depend on traditional metaphysics.

    Also, yes, DP does assume the existence of a spirit world, but it is not beyond all perception. We can assume its existence only because experience of it is commonly reported throughout history. In the same way we assume, but cannot prove, the objective existence of the physical world, we assume the objective existence of the spirit world based on cumulative personal experience. There is no proof that can be offered outside of personal experience.

  4. I appreciate your article, and as others have said, it is thought-provoking and stimulates discussion.

    I agree with Henri Schauffler that both science and religion need to update their explanations.

    For various providential and cultural reasons, our founder expressed his original insights in a profoundly theological, primarily Christian, fashion. But, as a former atheist, I am convinced that a version of the DP can be taught without reference to the Bible. Due to its universality, the DP can be delivered in many ways, in accordance with the “internal” language of the audience. We are still a young movement, so these ways are evolving, and should continue to evolve going forward.

    But by “update” I am wary of “alteration.” In an effort to fit into the box “modernity” approves of, I hope we do not water down, or even abandon, our own core beliefs. To me, “Reconsidering Unification Teaching on Eternal Life” does not mean agreeing with modernists that there is no such thing. It means speaking about eternal life in a way modernists can tolerate.

    A few things I disagree with in this essay:

    “Unification teaching demands no empirical evidence to verify its truth claims about eternal life.” As a former teacher (lecturer) of Unificationism, I asked all of my students to go beyond blind belief, and achieve knowledge through experience. By doing so, I am sure I was not at odds with Unification teaching or our founder. Rev. Moon often implored members to find God substantially as a reality, not just a theory.

    “DP teaching about eternal life is based on the assumption there must exist an objective and independent world apart from all perception of it.” As Henri Schauffler points out above, DP teaches that the Spirit World can be perceived while we are in this world. In our natural (original, unfallen) state we would perceive the Spirit World intersecting with the Physical World, so we would not question its existence.

    Thank you again, Jack, for an excellent article.

    • Peter, you wrote: “… I am convinced that a version of the DP can be taught without reference to the Bible.” I agree with you, at least for what concerns the Ideal of Creation. My dream is to write a book explaining the Ideal of Creation through science; the progress the sciences have made during these last decades, in my opinion, tend to confirm and integrate the interpretation of the world by the DP.

      The DP book has been written in a special time, in which Christianity seemed to expand rapidly and in which the communist world needed to be fought; “proving” the truth of the DP with a Protestant/semi-fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible seemed the best choice for the 1950s and 1960s. Now our environment is totally different, and there’s a need to communicate the DP in a new way. But I am afraid all over the world we are still explaining the DP the same way we used to explain it 30-40 years ago. I mean, we still explain the verse: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” with the words “God was speaking to the angels.”

  5. I admit I had to read your article a few times to figure out what you are trying to say. I am assuming that you hope to initiate some kind of academic discussion that will address these concerns. That is an excellent idea. A couple of thoughts based on my own study of the Divine Principle:

    Even though you say that people in the modern world cannot accept traditional views of God and the afterlife without empirical verification, I believe you are failing to consider the vast numbers of those who have faith in God and his love for human beings as his children. The principle that a God of love would not let that love die after a mere 100 years of growing and expanding is fundamental to this faith that we see all over the world.

    I believe that the DP has provided a more enlightened faith than that which existed in, as you say, premodern times. Before the Enlightenment, blind faith was demanded of all believers. Now the DP gives us the “rational explanation” that you say is needed by modern human beings:
    • shows us what the purpose is for the creation of two worlds
    • satisfies the paradox of an all loving, forgiving God and an “eternal” place of punishment (there isn’t one, and it isn’t created by God anyway);
    • satisfies our longing (particularly in Eastern traditions) to be connected to our beloved ancestors;
    • explains why we have severe limitations in our perception of the spirit world, and suggests a time frame for when those senses will be restored (as Peter mentioned).

    I am also curious to know what you are thinking in terms of finding that “empirical” evidence. Are you suggesting a massive scientific experiment into “trans-physical realities”? Something that can be replicated by other scientists?

  6. Excellent article, Jack! It has definitely started discussions and raised an awareness that we all need to transcend our present spiritual growth and satisfy our original mind’s desire for greater and deeper truth.

    My response is short and simple. First, no one, including True Father, could offer enough explanations of God nor could anyone offer any substantial evidence of God that is in the present. We could only view either the end result of God’s direct work in one’s life (which was absolutely related to His Providence) or we could experience God directly inside of our spirit, mind and heart. Who can explain a spiritual experience and produce evidence? Since God is beyond invisible in the invisible world, likewise our experience of God is beyond invisible inside of our invisible mind and heart. Refer to Dr. Sang Hun Lee’s description of how God appeared as a spinning light in a room of spirits. It seems, according to both True Father and Dr. Lee, that God is beyond invisible in the invisible world but will manifest Himself/Herself so that we may “see” Him/Her with our own eyes.

    Second, though we need updated explanations to keep up with the changing world and changing Providence that is moving ever closer to making Heaven and Earth united, I believe True Father’s explanations through Cheon Seong Gyeong and all the speeches he ever made are the actual updates that we all need to realize is a beginning point of updates and empirical evidence. Our limitations have prevented us from total realization of these updates. Divine Principle was originally written as an explanation of God’s central Providential work until the present. However, that time was in the 1950’s and 60’s, and we are presently in the year 2016. Jack posits that it is time to update the explanations offered by the DP. I agree, yet no one should take away from what True Father has given us freely. This includes True Father’s challenge to us all to awaken our spiritual self so that we may also experience what he has experienced with God.

    My last comment is I disagree with Peter Reiner’s suggestion that a version of the Divine Principle can be taught without use of the Bible. The core teaching of the Divine Principle involves lineage, God’s lineage, which He was working to resurrect though the Jewish people. I can’t see how it is even possible to teach Divine Principle without including the central works of God through 4,000 Biblical years. It is possible to teach Chapter One without the Bible, but the Bible is a record of how God worked to recover His lineage up until the age of Jesus. To study God with empirical evidence should start with the historical records (which science has found through archaeology) in order to understand a history of what God has been through, which should draw us closer and closer to Him/Her in heart and ultimately as a reality.

  7. The eternal conundrum’s only constant is that it (remains or is) an eternal conundrum.

    I do really like how Henri refers to it as the “invisible reality right now.”

    On the “scientific” side of things, a “spirit world machine” has been proposed (by True Father – [W.R.I.S.T]) to bridge the gap or heighten our understanding/connection with the world beyond.

    Personally, I don’t think any technology is ever going to get us “there,” but efforts will continue, surely.

    In any case, questions of synergy, relatedness, etc., regarding our inner and outer world(s) have always fascinated. It would seem that constant “reconsidering” is not only necessary, but inevitable.

    I (too) “welcome True Mother’s recent direction that the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) be revived.” Thank you Henri for also noting that.

  8. I think what you actually mean is not that “individuals would no longer accept the traditional views of God and the after-life” but rather academics and those who will only recognise that which can be explained through the narrow, earthly empiric system. You make the mistake of projecting your own misconception onto others — a misconception which leads you to assume that science has authority over both philosophical and metaphysical questions (which it does not).

    Peppering an article with characterisations of something as being “pre-modern” and “out-dated” is no substitute for academic argument. This piece has flowery references to schools of thought but no actual counter-logic.

    The idea that people only arrive at surety in things when there is empiric evidence is just false.

    In fact, what actually establishes belief in things for people is not proof but rather, experience; and repeated experience drives the roots of that belief ever deeper.

    You have no proof that the elevator you step into is safe or the chemical a doctor injects into you is safe or the brakes of a car you get in is safe. What you have is repeated experience.

    When people engage in a relationship with God based on a theological teaching then if they find their internal life going through a revolution that transforms them into a deeply happy person then they do not need empirical evidence to feel sure that God exists. When they follow the teachings of Sun Myung Moon and also love him and as a result they experience Resurrection then their belief in him and what he has taught is not based on empirical evidence. It is based on direct experience.

    The purpose of the five physical senses is to engage with the physical world so that their physical bodies can grow and thrive and the purpose of their unified physical body is so they can live a life where their sixth organ of detection develops; our sixth sense organ is our emotional heart. With this, we become able to detect spiritual reality and especially the love of God.

    Someone who has developed their physical senses but not their spiritual heart and so is not able to detect the love of God can tell a person who has developed their five physical senses “and” their spiritual heart that there is nothing beyond the physical to detect but the person with a developed spiritual heart considers that which their heart detects to be every bit as real as that which their five physical senses detect.

    They are spiritual beings and with a developed spiritual heart they relate to spiritual reality. Telling them that they need to be able to detect spiritual reality with their five physical senses alone is as nonsensical as telling a person he should be able to see with his ears or hear with his eyes.

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