Infallibility: Reflections from Roman Catholicism

By Franco Famularo

Should we be guided by our conscience or obey authority? Should one be loyal to the leader or be honest and straightforward? Both? Such questions have troubled human beings since antiquity.

Unificationists have at times been asked if they would obey the Founders without question with queries such as: “Would you do anything Rev. Moon asks of you?” or “Do you believe Reverend and Mrs. Moon are infallible?” After all, “absolute obedience” is a term found in the pledge regularly recited by Unificationists.

Recently, an article on this site by Dr. Michael Mickler discussing a Unificationist position on birth control referenced the 1968 papal encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae and its impact on the Roman Catholic world. As is widely known, Roman Catholics generally do not strictly follow church teachings on birth control and other matters.

Mickler’s article also demonstrated that Unificationists also apply church teachings differently on a variety of issues, including birth control. It can further be assumed that given the international nature of Unificationism, responses to authority vary depending on culture, ethnicity, upbringing, and a variety of other factors.

Regardless of theological differences, it may be helpful to study how Roman Catholics relate to papal statements on matters of faith. This article briefly explores the dogma of infallibility and how it is viewed within Catholicism, and offers some reflections in the hope of stimulating discussion about Unificationism’s relationship to conscience, culture and authority.

It has been almost 150 years since the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed on July 18, 1870. During the final public gathering of Vatican I, a bishop received from Pope Pius IX’s hand the document defining “Papal Infallibility.” Pastor Aeternus contains the following statement that has been the subject of intense debate to this day:

“The Roman Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when he discharges his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals, that is to be held by the universal Church, through the Divine assistance promised him in St. Peter, exercises that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed to endow his church.”

The dogma of infallibility has profoundly influenced Catholic behavior and responses to issues such as abortion, contraception, the rights of women, and economic policy. In spite of the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s, the doctrine remains intact. Pius IX held the papal chair longer than any other pope before or since and his role in the institution of infallibility was significant.

Two other consequential acts of Pius IX, without the support of the Vatican council, were his definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in 1854, which provided a powerful stimulus to Marian devotion, and the issuance of the “Syllabus of Errors” in 1864 — a condemnation of 80 contemporary philosophical and theological propositions. Interestingly, the 80th “error” read:

“That the Roman pontiff can and should be reconciled with, and agree to progress, liberalism and modern civilization.”

The above, along with the dogma of infallibility, put Catholicism squarely against modernization and virtually petrified the church.

View of Apologists

Everyone talks about the infallibility of the Pope, but how many understand what it really means? This does not mean that the Pope can tell “infallible jokes” or “sneeze infallibly.” The Catholic Church does not insist that the Pope is infallible in each and every statement, piece of action, or item of daily conduct.” (Francis Sugrue, Popes in the Modern World)

A prominent Catholic view emphasizes that the pope is considered infallible only when he speaks ex cathedra, i.e., from the episcopal throne, and this means only when he is speaking as shepherd and teacher of all Christians and defines a doctrine of faith or morals to be upheld by the church, a privilege the pope does not exercise often.

The following five conditions summarize Papal Infallibility:

  1. The Pope must be in union with the faith of the Church, and he must be acting as the expresser of the faith.
  2. He must be acting in his capacity of chief shepherd and teacher of all the faithful and not just as the bishop of Rome or in some lesser capacity.
  3. He must be utilizing his supreme apostolic authority.
  4. He must be teaching a revealed doctrine of faith or morals.
  5. He must be binding definitively all the faithful.

View of Opponents

Two Catholic opponents of the infallibility dogma were the late Catholic historian, August Bernhard Hasler (1937-80), and systematic theologian Hans Küng.

For some, the dogma of infallibility originates in early Christianity while for others it is a recent development.  Hasler claimed that although Jesus himself never spoke of his infallibility, the issue of authority has been a critical one in Christianity’s development. He claims a major turning point took place with the merger of church and state during the 4th century reign of Constantine. Without ecclesiastical consensus, the emperor’s infallibility was at issue and thus not only was the church’s cohesion at risk but also the stability of the state.

Hasler claimed the dogma of papal infallibility was an ideology and that the definition was largely effected through papal pressure that made the Vatican I Council unfree.

Küng, in his monumental book Infallible? An Inquiry, attacks what he calls “a priori infallibility,” which means that church officials are made immune from error prior to the utterance of certain kinds of doctrinal decisions.  This immunity from error supposedly derives from the special assistance of the Holy Spirit and ensues whenever the holders of ecclesiastical office desire and pray for it. Küng opposes the dogma’s absolutist element since it leads to an inflexible church unable to adapt to new circumstances.

Reflections

From a Unificationist perspective, Pius IX was going against the flow of history which was moving toward democratic forms of government. This act caused the church and societies it influenced to be hindered in their progress. Fortunately, Roman Catholic experience in America and the horrors of Nazism and fascism in Europe helped the process of curing the church of its fear of democracy and eventually led to its support for religious freedom.

Unification teaching views the period from 1789 until 1914 as the era of the maturation of politics, economy and ideology, and Pius IX falls within this time. In Divine Principle, we read:

“…[T]he society centering on the pope turned out to be the society of absolute monarchy on the Satanic side… The society of absolute monarchy which fettered freedom of faith under Christian democracy since the Religious Reformation, went contrary to the attainment of the purpose of the Abel-type view of life.” (pp. 465-66)

As the papacy was losing its temporal power, Pius IX insisted on reaffirming his power in religious matters by making a desperate effort to secure his position and preserve an ideology of the past. However, the era of absolute monarchy had passed and thus infallibility caused stagnation in Catholic realms influenced by the church.

What can Unificationists learn from the Catholic experience? The possibilities are endless. A focus on the following can be a start:

  • Theological
  • Cultural
  • Role of conscience

Unification Christology differs from traditional Christian theology in that Christ is seen as a mediator between God and humanity and not the Creator. Although Unification teaching emphasizes the spiritual authority of the Messianic couple, it does not support a doctrine of infallibility in the Catholic sense.

Another factor is the international and intercultural nature of the Unification Movement that is similar to the Catholic Church. Analyzing cultural differences in Europe and elsewhere and the various responses to doctrines such as infallibility can be helpful. Unificationist experience demonstrates that Koreans, Japanese, Africans, Europeans, and Americans view and process statements by the Founders very differently.

Try telling a joke using British idioms to an audience that is primarily Asian or sharing Spanish anecdotes with a unilingual English-speaking American. Someone not familiar with the cultural expressions and colloquialisms of a given language will not easily understand its nuances.

Sociologist Victor J. Willi’s comments in a late 1970s article in a Swiss-German newspaper on cultural and sociological aspects of infallibility struck a chord given my own heritage. He argues that infallibility is one thing north of the Alps and another to denizens of southern Mediterranean regions:

“Italians typically make no connection between recognizing an authority as such and obeying it unconditionally or, still less, identifying themselves totally with it. There are many indications that southern Europeans have never taken the Church’s doctrinal opinions as seriously as Northerners are forever doing.… In the final analysis, however, this is a battle between the spirit of authority and the spirit of freedom – which is why so many Catholics have gotten so heated over it. They see danger threatening the principle of authority and consequently, the foundations of their own inner security as well. For the same reason even Protestants may be seen as supporting each other’s authoritarian system.”

Some Italians may not share the above view because it may be an over-generalization, yet it leaves us with something to ponder.

Most Unificationists have noticed the profound differences between the way things are said and done in the East as compared to the West. The Unification Movement has strong roots in Korea and Japan and it is no secret that there are profound differences between Europeans, Americans, Africans, etc., in the way doctrines and dogmas are interpreted.

For Unificationists, the Founders are considered God’s representatives on earth and their authority is generally not challenged. There may be differences of opinions and tactical disagreements as testimonials from many Unificationist elders demonstrate, but ultimately their authority is accepted. There are concerns, however, about preserving authority once the Founders have passed.

Will the Unification Movement adopt a more authoritarian approach to governance or a more collegial and democratic form guided by councils that will exercise ultimate authority? Clear guidelines are imperative.

Some Unificationists emphasize that one’s conscience is supreme. Translating conscientious behavior into forms of governance provides for even greater challenges – not to mention abiding by a constitution.

Rev. Moon did share some thoughts on all of the above over 40 years ago:

“Human lies are everywhere because lies are very convenient. Without lies, commercial people practically couldn’t continue in business. What about God? He does not lie, and does not hear lies because He knows they are lies. He sees through them. Often we listen to lies without knowing it, but not God. We are exposed as we really are before God because our lies cannot hide anything from Him. This means you cannot even trust me 100%. I have human weaknesses. That’s an honest and frank statement. However, I am introducing you to a person you can trust 100%: God.” (January 2, 1977)

He clearly emphasized that our trust should be in God. Such a statement does not provide a simple solution, however it does provide an impetus for further research and study. And although the dogma of infallibility as found in Roman Catholicism differs from the trust Unificationists place in the authority of the Founders, there is still much to learn.♦

Rev. Franco Famularo (UTS Class of 1994) lives in Montreal, Canada, and serves as FFWPU National Leader of Canada. He is also Chair of the Board of Trustees of Unification Theological Seminary.

Graphic at top: A depiction of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

26 thoughts on “Infallibility: Reflections from Roman Catholicism

  1. Franco,

    I really enjoyed your article. True Father did say, as I recall, that the conscience comes before God.

    I am more sympathetic with the Syllabus of Errors 80th statement than you are. I certainly don’t believe I personally “can and should be reconciled with, and agree to progress, liberalism and modern civilization,” and I think the Pope and every religious leader should have the same freedom.

    Tyler

    • Tyler,

      You raise very good points. Of course, progress, modern and liberal, had a different meaning in mid-19th century Europe from what it might currently mean in the 21st century USA. The existing debate between various protagonists of modernism or liberality continues to perplex and confuse many. Hopefully, free-thinkers, religious and otherwise, including scholars, can provide clarity and not add to the confusion.

  2. Franco,

    You wrote: “He clearly emphasized that our trust should be in God. Such a statement does not provide a simple solution.” I completely agree with this. What it really means is that the responsibility is now totally ours. As “grown” children, that is how it should be. However that does not mean that it’s easy.

    If all we had to do is follow blindly and unconditionally, what would our merit be? That is the stage little children are in toward their parents but eventually grow out of it, as they are destined to do.

    This topic reminds me of what Dan Fefferman wrote a few years ago on absolute obedience and conscience.

    • Doris,

      Thanks for referencing Dan Fefferman’s article. Recommended reading for anyone interested in spiritual growth.

  3. Thanks, Franco. The Catholic Church is a good illustration of this problem, and Unificationists can learn a lot by studying their experience.

    Doris is right that obedience means different things depending on one’s level of development. I have always thought True Father summarized obedience well when he spoke of three types of obedience:

    “There are three types of obedience. One is just to obey whatever is told you. The next type is to obey while always seeking to know God, Truth and the why of things. The third type is obedience after knowing the heart of the Father.” (Leaders’ Address, 5-1-65, The Way of Tradition, Vol. II, p. 137)

    “Blind obedience” is both the behavior of young children and also the demand of tyrants. “Faith seeking understanding” is the age of youth, school, and the spiritual journey. It is supported by the good parent and leader (like True Father founding UTS). Finally, a mature “obedience to conscience” is taking responsibility based on one’s own connection to the heart of God. This is the ideal nature of a responsible adult.

    We have all levels going on at all times in any society. We all start out at level one, “blind obedience,” but hopefully all reach the third level that motivates us to take responsibility on behalf of God.

    • Thank you, Gordon, for pointing out that conscience can too easily be misunderstood. As responsible adults, our task is to align our conscience with God’s original mind and nature. Trusting an immature or undeveloped conscience can be problematic.

      • The choice among obedience, non-obedience and disobedience to a directive is given to a member of a project as object-partner to the project’s leader(s) as the subject-partner. In view of a subject’s qualities of verticality (concerning time), internality (depth), etc., it is almost always wise, as well as practical, to obey a directive. If conscience is understood as a standard for conduct consciously determined according to one’s understanding, then the failure to obey a directive indicates lack of faith in the subject-partner, a departure from one’s position, but, hopefully, not a decision to multiply. If, on the other hand, conscience means the original mind and/or the formation of a will determined by the force inherent in the principle (True Mother said in Madison Square Garden that God gave the human ancestors “the principle of creation” — preferably translated as ”the creation principle” — for their responsibility period), and obedience is felt to be violation of conscience, then the member should inform the subject-partner of this. Normally, one joins a project understanding and expecting to accord with its rules. Failure to obey a directive should lead to a reevaluation of continued participation in the project.

        I intend to elaborate on this, in the context of Unificationist projects, in future comment(s).

  4. This is a very important topic, especially in light of the 8th pledge added in 1998 which concerns absolute faith, absolute love and absolute obedience.

    Ultimately we seek to resonate perfectly with God — 100%. This would be what we call “direct dominion” where God can rejoice in all that we think, say or do, and where we naturally seek out our Heavenly Father for advice as our greatest counselor, friend and loving Parent. But, our membership has often been heavily influenced by an Old Testament-style culture which stresses obedience to the leader — i.e., “unite with the central figure”. But this phrase actually is derived from one and only one central figure of the age — Father in our era, Moses coming out of Egypt, Joshua in Canaan, and Jesus in his time. Interestingly, only Joshua could enter his Canaan; Moses and Jesus could not enter theirs. Even Father had said “even I cannot enter Heaven myself — Satan has to open the gate for me to enter”. So, obedience doesn’t seem to be the primary means to the goal — it is getting not only God’s vote, but Satan’s vote for each of us to advance forward. And that is a matter of total love.

    America and the West are Christian in nature, and manifest an emphasis on love and forgiveness and, in the Protestant vein, a personal relationship with God, while in the Catholic vein, it is the priest, bishop and pope as intercessors. A time long ago on MFT, many of us were taught to actually “see the sky as green if the captain says it is green”. This was largely derived from what a Japanese leader at the time lamented as his “greatest mistake … to try and Japan-ize the American movement”. Japanese culture has little history of New Testament ideas. Obedience to the shogun is the nature of the culture, and your local leader is the shogun, and Father is the ultimate shogun. It is a big mental and spiritual barrier to surmount. Yet we must “go over” (remember the Washington Monument cry) both the Old Testament obedience to a leader (Moses, a shogun, or parents — e.g., Father or Mother) and the New Testament love of siblings, to mature into the ideal man and woman of love like Father and Mother desire. We must, through our growth as sons and daughters of God, and always centered on “heart” — the desire to love and be loved — resonate more and more deeply with higher and higher levels of heart, with our spouses, children, and grandchildren, thereby growing our resonance with God Himself. In this way, we graduate from “Moonies” (Old Testament as followers), to “Sunnies” (New Testament lovers of mankind) to “Kingies” (Completed Testament true teachers, true parents, true owners).

    Yet, according to the Pledge, we must have absolute obedience. To whom? To God. But, in growing toward God, we must be very careful not to leave the path of responsibiity that we must take relative to True Parents. And within True Parents, Father said even Mother must be absolutely obedient to him. Otherwise, she could not achieve her responsibility and perfect herself properly (e.g., “Mother must be perfected by June 16, 2013” – 7 years after the entrance into the Royal Palace on June 16, 2006). And if it goes for Mother, so it goes for us. Since Father is no longer with us physically, educating ourselves with Father’s words will help us to develop obedience to the will, to resonate with God, and develop according to our conscience which is, in some sense, a “proxy” for God — it is not God personally, but it knows all we do and will report to and gain the attention of God personally. So, even if Father or Mother requires obedience in some issue, we must be sure our conscience, heart, reason, and understanding are consistent, otherwise, we will find contradictions and divisions within ourselves and a lack of resonance with Father and God, which will cause paralysis in our actions and plans. Through all of this, we always seek God’s point of view, lest we stumble on the path.

    Thankfully, the words Father left us help us understand God’s thinking which will guide us and help us on our path, in this world and the next, as we grow our resonance with God personally while giving and receiving His love — with Him, with each other, and with creation. And so we must not just read, but study and “become” those words. It is really up to each one of us, as members of the Royal Family, to become, step-by-step, day-by-day, action-by-action, and thought-by-thought, the great sons and daughters God has hoped to see, and ultimately by virtue of our greatest obedience — the obedience to heart — our innermost need to love and be loved.

  5. Thank you, Franco, for this reflection about the lessons we can learn from Catholicism.

    I like your quote from TF which implies that “absolute obedience” should be given only to God and Principles and not interpreted as a mandate for absolute obedience to a person, because no one is infallible.

    Rev. Moon has stated that “even God practices absolute obedience”, and as he explained, it means: “obedience to an absolute standard.” (“Glorious True Family,” August 9, 1998)

    Even though, a Unificationist can agree to obey all the directions and commands of True Parents, such obedience should be given voluntarily with the absolute approval of our conscience first. Therefore, the implementation of a “doctrine” that demands absolute obedience, oaths and personal allegiances, needs to be reconsidered in principle, because in practical and future organizational terms will give rise to “forced obedience” and the eventual abuse of power.

    • Jesus,

      Thankfully, we now have more freedom than at any time in human history. Our continued vigilance and conscientious efforts will spare us from tyranny and provide future generations with the tools to build institutions that are better than what we have observed until now.

  6. In Pennsylvania, where I reside, a bombshell report on clerical abuse came out revealing that over 300 priests had violated over 1,000 minors in the state and the Catholic Church leadership hid these abuses. So for me, no organization deserves absolute obedience.

    We also attended a Mass for a neighbor and friend this past Friday and the priest had a very wonderful sermon and the entire process was very uplifting. So, I can trust leaders.

    I recall Neil Salonen explaining how he reconciled the goal and the process or methodology of how he tried to follow True Father. Basically, he said, “You have to choose the goal or the process, depending upon the situation.” If the leader or organization chooses the process, then they can only suggest a goal. And if the goal is chosen, the method, within ethical standards, should be in the purview of the follower. There are many people I would trust more than my own judgment on many issues. I associate myself with them as part of my team or board of directors. I am on the team or board for others as well.

    Good leaders earn and retain the trust of those they lead. Organizations do this by becoming ones that learn and grow along with those that participate. I trust organizations that help me see and set goals larger than myself and yet encourage me to find my own personal way to pursue them. Ones that try to set goals and the process, rarely amount to much.

    • Interesting distinctions, Rob. The principles you mention above can be applied broadly — to family, community, business, government, and more.

  7. Franco, thank you for this. We need this type of discussion.

    One additional area that infallibility touches on is scriptural. In Unificationism, we have often been at odds with literal interpretations of the Bible based on perceptions of its infallibility. Yet now as a movement we seem to moving toward a similar position with respect to Divine Principle and Father’s words. That is to ascribe infallibility to Father’s words even though Father did not himself claim it.

    It is interesting that you equate adopting a doctrine of papal infallibility with retarding development in Catholic countries. I completely agree, and would suggest that adopting scriptural infallibility similarly retards development — including within Unificationism.

    • David,

      It seems we both read from the same book which states in the introduction that “the Bible (or Scripture) is not truth itself, but a textbook teaching the truth.”

  8. The late UTS Emeritus President Dr. David S.C. Kim, who our Founder deemed as the first to enter the Garden of Eden in the spiritual realm, often said of “Absolute Faith, Absolute Obedience…[he would then stop]… We need Absolute Creativity!” Along that line, a more unknown speech given in 1972 by Father Moon (translated by K. Noda in Japan), entitled “Believe in Yourself,” shared how the “True Abel” could have the courage to do his/her mission without needing the direction or approval of a leader. In this case, he explained, an individual may perceive that a leader was limited or “tainted with the archangel.” Then, that individual should believe in himself/herself and act from the original mind and relationship with God.

  9. I find resonance with Gordon Anderson’s reference to True Father’s discourse on types of obedience. These three types of obedience seem to reflect the natural process of inner (spiritual) growth, which, as Dr. Anderson points out, are experienced in all societies at all times. By contrast, those who favour an ultimate or fixed authority of either scripture or ecclesia or council will have to live with the results of imperfections inherent in human institutions. Finally, I agree with True Father’s statement, quoted by Rev. Famularo, that you can believe only God 100%, which leads us back to our conscience — above the parents, above the teacher, above even God – and to our own responsibility.

  10. The human conscience is concoction of a little good and a lot of evil. Therefore it is not a good idea to follow the conscience; rather we should follow the law of God, always, even at the cost of our conscience. For this reason, Sun Myung Moon once said that he is the king of obedience.

    • Very interesting point, Charles.

      We must become pure for our conscience to be a good guide. Our conscience is that proxy that, when pure, will resonate with God. And to the extent you become the word, is the extent you build your common base with Him, and thus resonate with Him. I’m sure that is the context Father was speaking from when he says to “follow your conscience”. The law itself is “Old Testament” level of “obedience to the law”; and, our love, thought and action must be within the Law. But often our conscience will help us when things are not clearly defined in given situations. However, if one sins and sins and sins, the conscience becomes less and less sensitive – it is blocked by deeper and deeper layers of guilt and fear.

      Obviously, we seek to be cleansed of guilt and fear (e.g., through the Blessing, salvation and so on) and then we can more naturally develop our love in our families and friendships. Father once spoke to members and asked “should you follow me or your conscience?” and members responded “You Father!” and Father replied “No! You must follow your conscience” and then he talked about “gut feelings” and asked “should you follow your conscience or follow your gut?” members responded “your conscience!” and he said “No … you must follow your gut, because it tells you what to do”. We have three major energy centers – the top (crown, 3rd eye, and throat), the heart, and the gut (solar plexus, the umbilical area and sex organs).

      And beyond Father’s words or other sources of wisdom, through these centers we can gain direct information and connection with others and the environment. For example, at times I’ve been directed to do something by a boss, but my gut manifested an anxiety or a negative feeling. When this feeling was followed, it turned out to be a wise course, when it wasn’t it turned out to be unwise. So, one must cleanse oneself, and more and more your conscience and gut will become a better and better guide.

  11. Thank you, Charles and Andrew, for your insights. There is so much to learn.

    In speaking of conscience, it appears the terms original mind and conscience were used interchangeably when rendered into English. Original mind is the part of our being that is with God. Conscience, on the other hand, is the part of our being that is cultivated over time. The conscience becomes more in tune with the original mind and God the more we relate to God, truth, wisdom, and all the Divine attributes that help us to become like God. In this sense, it is quite dangerous to simply follow our conscience, especially if our conscience is not cultivated. Some criminals have confessed that they were following their conscience when committing a crime!

    Doris Crompton, in a comment above, mentioned Dan Fefferman’s article and I am pasting part of it here since he explains it quite well:

    “In Divine Principle, there are two concepts of what is commonly called conscience. The part of the human mind which corresponds to character and always directs man toward the absolute standard of goodness is called the ‘original mind,’ and that which corresponds to form is called the ‘conscience.'”

    “…(if man) sets up a standard of goodness different from that of the original nature of creation, the human conscience directs toward that standard; however the original mind rejects it and tries to turn the direction of the conscience toward the standard of the original mind…” (Divine Principle, 2nd ed., p. 64)

    Another way of distinguishing between these two concepts is to say that original mind is “vertical conscience” and conscience is “horizontal conscience.” The original mind is that aspect of conscience that leads human beings back toward the absolute standard of truth, beauty and goodness. The horizontal conscience is that aspect of the human mind that leads him toward truth, beauty and goodness as he currently understands it.

    In the slogan about “conscience before parents,” Reverend Moon uses the term yangshim (conscience) — rather than ponshim (original mind). Nevertheless, the contextual meaning of the term is closer to ponshim, in that it represents an absolute standard beyond changing values. This is demonstrated by the following:

    “Did we inherit our conscience at our birth? No. It was before life. It has always been with God. The conscience remains the same constantly.” (“Let Us Find Our True Self,” Dec. 4, 1994)

    Clearly, this use of the word “conscience” (yangshim) is closer to Divine Principle’s “original mind” (ponshim) than to the changeable “conscience.” Thus, when Rev. Moon speaks of conscience being even higher than parents, teacher or God, he refers to the intuitive sense within human beings that identifies with absolute truth, beauty and goodness.

    The word translated as “before,” is the Korean word apso (apsuh). In some translations, the word has been rendered “prior to.” It does carry the meaning of being prior in time. However, it could just as well be translated “in front of,” “superior to,” “higher than,” “ahead of,” or “precedent over.”

    Dan does a good job of distinguishing between “original mind” and conscience. Conscience is constantly changing. Conscience is influenced by the level of truth we are engaged with and is affected by our environment, education and more.

  12. I think Rev. Moon often used “conscience” and “original mind” interchangeably, but DP makes a clear distinction between them.

    Nevertheless, as I argued in the piece mentioned above, “According to Reverend Moon, the ‘highest level of faith’ is to persist in going the way one knows to be right, ‘no matter what God, True Parents or church members say.’ In other words, ‘absolute faith’ is synonymous with putting conscience before any other authority. Blind faith in religious or parental authority is immature faith, while mature faith, ultimately, is faith in conscience.”

    • And to Dan’s reference, it would seem to me, that there is at least some inference there, by our founder, that religion (all of it) has been (and remains) a very limited exercise, at best. God needs human beings as much as human beings need God. How many religions does God follow? How many messiahs/true parents does God desire? Etc.

  13. I think it is cool to live a life based on your own consciousness and following your intuition by living, giving and sharing true love to everyone you come into contact with.

  14. We cannot view the conscience other than within the context of the Principle. The measure of our obedience to our conscience is our manifestation of unselfish love within the Principle framework, which is to “become the substantial perfection of the ideal children, ideal brother and sister, ideal husband and wife and ideal parents that exist within God’s heart.” (I refer here to Father’s discourse on the conscience found in Pyeong Hwa Gyeong, pp. 91-92.) I dare say that the conscience is a master more terrible than the guards at Heungnam, and to obey it nothing short of being Christ-like.

  15. I have tried to deal with this issue in a number of things I wrote over the past several decades.

    One is the tension between religious exclusivism and religious pluralism. It is available online at this link:

    Another dealt with the question whether, in order to be the messiah (with specific reference to Sun Myung Moon) the messianic figure needs to be infallible and morally flawless. (My answer is an emphatic no.) This article is available here:

    Over the past 40 years or so I have thought a lot about God and the question of the nature of God, with specific reference to the problem of theodicy. Jesus is reported (Matthew 5:48, part of the Sermon on the Mount) as having said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (RSV) But even if Jesus said that God is perfect, does that necessarily mean it is true? I think the answer is no. And, in connection with this remark by Jesus, note the tacit suggestion that Jesus may not have been perfect.

    With reference to the problem of theodicy, the issue, I think, ultimately comes down to the question whether even God is perfect, i.e., fully good. My considered answer to this question too is no; that even God is imperfect and not fully good. In other words, even God is not infallible. One place where this discussion/argument is given is here.

  16. And as to the “fully good” characterization, it would seem to me that such “just is and will always be” — if one discards the pretext of God’s omniscience and omnipotence.

  17. Rev. Famularo,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article. We do well to study deeply about such content.

    You wrote:

    “After all, ‘absolute obedience’ is a term found in the pledge regularly recited by Unificationists.”

    I do understand this term in two ways:

    1) Absolute obedience is necessary in our growth to obtain our objective, namely perfection. (Perhaps it would have been interesting how you view infallibility in comparison) Sometimes I miss this term in our discussions, but isn’t it one of the great promises of our faith? (Matt. 5:48)

    2) In relation to our Heavenly Parent in terms of being totally receptive, trusting 100%, etc., in the infallibility of DP. True Parents are the first to do this and as such are the manifestation of the ideal of creation.

    You wrote:

    “Try telling a joke using British idioms to an audience that is primarily Asian or sharing Spanish anecdotes with a unilingual English-speaking American. Someone not familiar with the cultural expressions and colloquialisms of a given language will not easily understand its nuances.”

    Actually I am born Catholic and my wife comes from a Buddhist and Shinto background. I asked her recently how she understood about God before she met our church. “Well, I felt there is something,” she replied to me. I was so interested, because our views are so identical nowadays. Of course, we are from different cultures, but everybody has parents and every child loves them more than anything else. It is quite simple but that is how True Parents are able to unite the world in a short time. After all, the differences in culture are to enrich our life instead of being an obstacle. I witness this each time visiting Japan with my wife.

    Nowadays, we witness a strong link of the Christian heritage of our True Mother. It is amazing to learn how she includes about Jesus, Christianity, and keeps up with Christian traditions such as Christmas and teaches us about the missing elements of Jesus life in a most natural and logical way.

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