Religion as a Dream World and the Next Century of Unificationism

By Incheol Son

According to Chinese tradition, a sage named Chuang-tzu (莊子) once had a dream of a butterfly. In it, he became a butterfly flying over a garden and enjoyed the beautiful scenery:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang-tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

This story reminds me of the movie, “Inception,” where the people of reality become significantly confused from cyberspace. People need the “kick,” the only way to show whether the world one belongs to is physical reality or cyber reality. In particular, what impressed me was the scene full of the poor lying on beds in a dark room, connected to a device that enables them to “live” a happy cyber-life. Watching the movie in a dark theater, I was confused after it ended, wondering whether I held the kick in my pocket to return to reality.

Sigmund Freud discussed in his book, Dream Psychology, the will to remain in a dream. When the desire to remain in a dream is so strong, the dream itself twists all the physical senses caught into a dreamer. Light, sound, smell, and touch are transformed into properties in a dreamy scene.

That’s why, for example, we often experience in our dream that a thirsty character that represents me, the dreamer, suddenly appears in a dream and desperately looks for a cup of water when we, with physical bodies, ate salty food the night before.

These stories and the interpretation show that there are oftentimes realistic dreams that have little difference between reality and dream. On such occasions, many people of faith tend to admit such realistic dreams as mysterious ones, and consider them a revelation, a message from Heaven. And the message becomes a fortune telling to the dreamer as something that needs to be relied on and so applied into practice. It surely affects the life of a dreamer, a person of faith.

Many times, I don’t really want to wake up from a dream not just because I’d rather not go to work but because I don’t want to face reality. We tend to try to escape the reality of the world. While confessing he was a dreamer, John Lennon adds in his famous song, “Imagine,” “I’m not the only one.” I think that a person of faith lives life as kind of a dreamer. We, the people of faith, today still dream of a wonderful world, a dreamland, as John did.

The Bible introduces many miraculous stories like the one of Joseph (Gen. 37-50), who became a high-ranking official in Egypt. He’s the very person who was sold into slavery in Egypt because of his strange dream where the sun, moon and eleven stars took a deep bow before him. I love Joseph’s story very much. I used to be consoled a lot by the story, especially in hard times. I listened to some lectures regarding it on a Christian website which had many stories of miracles. The climax of the story is the scene where Joseph appeared to his brothers.

Joseph, who was sold as a slave, would become prime minister of Egypt. This was already enough to be called a miracle, a dreamy scene, but he appeared to his brothers, who could be considered his enemies. In the end, his brothers bowed to him full of fear. It was kind of a moment of revenge and becomes a catharsis for me. The Christian pastor who preached the sermon about Joseph’s story stressed at the end, “Do you believe that will also happen to you?” I responded “Yes!” unconsciously while listening to it.

The basic logic of a miracle is a paradox as expressed in this saying: “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” A bit exaggeratedly put, the poor can be right around the corner from abundance in a world of faith. Jesus said so: those who have a poor and humble mindset are surely blessed in heaven, the ideal world. So, through reading the Bible, or observing faith in a religion, one gets a seed of hope to grow in a soil of suffering. And, it mysteriously and actually works in real life: it blossoms its flower and fruit. Hope feeds us all when in despair. That’s why Christianity could eventually thrive in history. So has the Bible, the best-selling book of all time.

Our life is a sea full of suffering as Buddha described. History shows that the poor or oppressed facing their reality often become the dreamers who tend to leave matters of reality behind. That’s why they submit to the ruler or religious leaders, who then easily come to hold a dictatorship. In Christian tradition, the world full of suffering is extended to a hypothetical space called hell. Those who fail to escape from suffering with good deeds end up with misery in hell unimaginably more severe than physical hell on earth.

We project those who successfully overcome the bitterness of suffering in reality into a superhero like Wonder Woman or Superman. Superman is also the main player in my dream of such kind, who can easily fly in the sky just like a butterfly. Though I am not successful every time, I try hard to jump up and desperately fly a bit higher as much as possible than I can normally do in the physical world. But, I eventually end up as the poor guy who is desperate to go to the bathroom. That superman appears in many aspects of our cultures and histories: an outstanding performer, hero or heroine. Kings used to be perceived as a kind of supermen in history.

“Zhuangzi Dreaming of a Butterfly (or a Butterfly Dreaming of Zhuangzi)” by Ike no Taiga (c. 1700s).

We in fact live in an era of a semi-cyber world. Typically, money in the bank is just numbers stored on computers, composed of a series of zeros (0) and ones (1), digital entities. Even several countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden will soon stop issuing physical currency. In my own wallet, I usually don’t carry paper bills but plastic money, credit cards. My salary never is put in my hands. I just play with all numbers. I feel I live in a cyber world. I mostly chat through messaging services. There’s a joke in Korea that at a family gathering each family member chats to others within a commercial chat room, using all kinds of emoticons. Weird, isn’t it?

I’m questioning myself, “Am I dreaming of a character in cyberspace or is the cyber-character dreaming of me?” Am I living in an already-realized dream world or is the dream-like world dreaming of me as another entity? Am I a subject for a kind of hypnosis? Put another way, am I actively trying to live life in a dream world, or simply escaping reality to feel ecstatic? Am I still a dreamer? Do I not just want to awake from a world of the ideal? I like the butterfly. It is beautiful and emerges from a caterpillar that was once stuck on the ground but never gives up one day to blossom as a flying butterfly.

Therefore, this passage from historian, E. H. Carr, is correct: “Remember the future and imagine the past.” It may sound strange. It would seem the opposite is true. But, he said this in his book, What is History? What Carr argues is that history is a matter of interpretation which requires the property of imagination. So, the past needs to be imagined. Likewise, the future is an unprecedented realm that no one has ever traced but a projection of what has long been believed. What we believe is tradition we admit as our dream. And so, the future is a matter of what we need to remember. Sunday service or reading the Bible therefore is an act of reminding ourselves of such a dream world.

Then the question is, “What is our dream world?” How do you engage in such a world? Is it by dreaming only at night? Or is it by daydreaming? How do my neighbors talk about me? Do they see me as a dreamer or a butterfly-like idealist? Is it a realistic Idealism or an idealistic Realism? Or, if it is called Unificationism as we uphold, what is Unificationism? From this series of questions I feel I’m entering an endless closed loop of which one goes first.

My question these days is on the matter of deeds. It started earlier this year at UTS in Barrytown, NY, where I observed a number of Unificationist scholars who were so serious about the future of our movement 100 years from now, when they will all be gone not to mention True Parents and the first disciples. Those members in this community 100 years later will see the pure teachings but with few material things. They will see such teachings and even our great teachers, True Parents, only through photos, books, videos, and some pilgrimage sites built of stone. We all die, but we all do not die because of our children. We pass on our skills through DNA, culture and tradition to our descendants. As long as they grow up based on such DNA, culture and tradition, they are entitled as our direct children and grandchildren.

I think we’ve spoken out enough to the world to describe what the ideal world we dream of looks like. We’ve voiced enough slogans that we promote to the world. Now, the world, in turn, wants to see substantial proofs from us. We need to show something, tangible and physical, not metaphysical things any longer. If we are really dreamers in this world, we’ve got to become those artists, politicians, scientists, etc., who put into practice and show clearly that what we’ve dreamed of is already realized in material form. Those proofs will then show our descendants 100 years from now physically what we in the first place conceived of as a dream and so became dreamers of the very dream. Otherwise, if we fail to show something concrete to the world, at least to our descendants, they will shout out to us, “Wake up, you butterflies!”♦

Dr. Incheol Son is the International Director of PWPA International and also works at SunHak Universal Peace Graduate University as a translator. He earned his Ph.D. in public administration from Kookmin University, an MBA from the University of Bridgeport, and his bachelor’s in theology from SunMoon University.

15 thoughts on “Religion as a Dream World and the Next Century of Unificationism

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  1. This is a profound subject related to human identity, not to mention God’s identity. When we lose our life, for God, we gain our life. When we give everything, everything comes back to us. Last night, a brother, Rev. Levy Daugherty, called me to tell me a dream of his that I was in, that he dreamed several years ago. It was a prophecy of what I (and he) are doing today. In Levy’s words, “What good is an invisible God?” Let’s hold on to our dreams!” Thank you, Incheol. And sorry for this random comment. 🙂

    1. Dr. Hendricks,

      Thank you for sharing a portion of your dream. A personal conviction, whether incarnated or adopted, affects even a night dream, as well as daydream, according to Freud, and so a strange, unusual and dreamy, dream is composed overnight and disturbs a demarcation between dream and reality. It is self-enforcement, where a dream is used as good excuse. Dream rules over reality. And I recognized you as a dreamer like Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon, when I saw you here in Hyojeong Garden, where little has been physically prepared for you but a word. A dreamer starts all the time with deed as a tiny seed. It will bear abundant fruits here and there, at least in my mind as a clear impression, which is really fresh to me these days.

  2. Thank you, Incheol, for this rhapsody on Chuang-tzu’s butterfly dream, and many other things. I have long felt that Daoist wisdom can be quite helpful in our Unification movement, and your article is stimulating proof.

    Confucians, who also appreciate Chuang-tzu, focus on human relationships. Human relationships are real, but they have a surreal, even dream-like quality vis a vis the material stage on which those relationships are formed. Dreamers are also conjurers; remembering others is a creative action that forms the future. Heavenly Parent’s dream, that True Parents speak of often, is an emerging reality that we are all part of, together.

  3. Dr. Son writes:

    “I think we’ve spoken out enough to the world to describe what the ideal world we dream of looks like. We’ve voiced enough slogans that we promote to the world. Now, the world, in turn, wants to see substantial proofs from us. We need to show something, tangible and physical, not metaphysical things any longer.”

    As I was reading Cheon Syeong Gyeong on this New Year’s Day (Book 11), I was struck by the opening few paragraphs in which True Father speaks about living in “the age of attendance” and how attendance is now the the justification of our faith. Of course, this means how we live, how we act and behave in relation to our Heavenly Parent, our families and our communities.

    In discussing the age that we are now living, Father speaks about moving beyond globalism to “a cosmic level ideology” that ought to guide all human endeavors. By “cosmic” he is referring to the importance of harmonizing the incorporeal and corporeal worlds (as articulated in Family Pledge — No. 5). Though we may think that we should de-emphasize the “metaphysical” I believe that our efforts should be to mobilize the spiritual world via our actions by living according to Godism, for as we know, the spiritual realm is no less real than the physical realm. For instance, the concept of “Peace Starts With Me” is not a mere slogan, but a very real call to action by which we can substantiate the ideals that are rooted in that which is metaphysical and spiritual. The opening pages of Book 11 speak to the idea of being victorious when we align ourselves with the ideals that are the progeny of Godism.

    1. David,

      Yes, I think Peace Starts With Me could be a powerful brand and call to action. I do not have words yet to explain this to the average person. Introducing True Mother as the Mother of Peace is brilliant, allows people, Christians in particular, to see her beyond their own theology. I think the black Christian churches can embrace her in that context and with music as an evangelist. Perhaps this is the foundation that True Parents need, a Christian foundation, and one that can embrace Family Values in a bigger context. They have an existing foundation, their churches, large and small.

  4. Dr. Son,

    Over the entrances to Disney’s theme parks worldwide are plaques that say, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” Over the Chong Jeon Gung main entrance it is written, “Anyone who wishes to free God, all human beings and the entire universe, please come through the main gate and together we will do it. Then we will sing.” When you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you. Above all, the best present Unificationists can give to HP, our Founders and our fellows human beings is to not give up. God bless you and your mission as International Director of PWPA International.

    1. Thank you for wishing me a blessing on my job. It’s an unexpected one for me personally. Yes, a wish is a deed clearly. Though the Bible says that faith is not enough to realize the Kingdom of Heaven, simply watching a movie in hard times, say, a Christmas movie full of miraculous stories actually worked on me, I am comforted by it. I’m recharged to get over hardship. So, I wish you good luck this year as well.

  5. Here is how management expert Peter Drucker defines “deeds” or results for the non-profit organization:

    “The non-profit organization is not merely delivering a service, it wants the end user to be not a user but a doer. It uses a service to bring change in a human being. In that sense a school, for instance is different than Proctor and Gamble. It creates habits, vision, commitment, knowledge. It attempts to become a part of the recipient rather than merely a supplier. Until this has happened, the non-profit institution has no results; it has only good intentions.”

    In Christian language, this is discipleship.

    “Napoleon said you need three things to fight a war. The first is money, The second is money. And the third is money. This may be true for war, but it is not true for the non-profit organization. There you need four things. You need a plan. You need marketing. You need people. And you need money.”

    If this insight is correct, and I believe it is, our common dreams, however grand they are, are good intentions. True Father clearly understood he needed people and money. He thought he could initiate a plan for every time, place and market or human endeavor and he did not understand marketing at all. His plans were more like flags or landmarks; vertically to restore human history through indemnity and horizontally or in human endeavors via business, culture and so on, and geographically by working to become worldwide as quickly as possible.

    1. Yes Rob…we need resources, human resources and financial resources. In the arts, there is the creative aspect (the making of art) and the production aspect (getting the art produced and getting it to an audience — aka the market). We need both. For art to be effectual it must be disseminated. I can compose music for little or no money. But to get the music recorded, performed and distributed requires more than just my ability to create it. This has been the perpetual struggle for artists for eons…and it continues.

      1. Yes, this is why I embrace my local PBS stations: they support and play classical music, my background music. But, I wonder who supports new classical music, artists and composers? Perhaps only wealthy benefactors as Mozart and others had. Your work is inspiring!

        1. Rob,

          There are foundations, charitable trusts, corporations, individual patrons, and even government agencies that fund new music and well as the old (opera, symphonies, ballet, etc.). The issue with the classical arts is that there is such a small audience that ticket sales alone cannot support these entities. The New York Philharmonic has an annual operating budget of nearly $80 million and only about half of that revenue is generated from ticket sales. The balance must be acquired from the private sector. The National Endowment of the Arts provides relatively little. Audience development is a significant aspect of all arts organizations.

    2. According to marketing expert Philip Kotler, a nonprofit organization needs to make sales twice: dream-sales to donors and service-sales to target beneficiaries. Donors represent resource holders such as not only monetary contributors but also volunteers, supporters, and sponsors; beneficiaries represent those in need of specific service that the nonprofit organization is specialized and capable of. I think we have relatively clear vision and lofty dreams but instead are lacking in capability to transform our dreams into specific capabilities.

  6. The interesting text proposed by Dr. Incheol Son on the role of dreams in religious life and life in general aroused two reflections in me. I agree with the author that part of spiritual life is “dreamlike,” provided that two distinctions are made (in my opinion):

    1. The difference between escapism and true prophecy

    Spirituality often talks to our mind in a surreal language, different from realistic, rational language. The rhetoric used by spiritual scriptures often sounds like a dream. Instead of describing things as they are now, it reveals what they can and must become. Typical of the religious experience is “conversion” where a person who used to be on the evil side is transformed and starts to live on the heavenly side. This experience is often lived as a trance, a rapture, a supernatural transformation which looks like a dream.

    Skeptical minds really doubt that the conversion is true. Paul’s conversion was met with some doubts in the beginning, but proved to be true through the rest of his life.

    A case of false conversion is shown in the 1958 movie “The Goddess,” where an actress loosely based on Marilyn Monroe pretends to convert to Christ, with the motive to gain the love of her mother. The film first suggests that the conversion is genuine and true, only to reveal that it is not sincere. It is a dream that never comes true. But one can imagine what the life of Monroe would have been if she really had converted.

    Because we cannot believe in the supernatural so easily, religion often says that A will be like B, for example, the lion will be as gentle as the ox or the wolf as cute as the lamb (Isaiah). Those who are familiar with Isaiah know that he was not a “dreamer,” but a strong prophet and man of vision. He did not talk about real lions and wolves, but he asked us to already live a life where we refrain from seeing our enemies as lions and wolves, because they too, have a family and have their loved ones. If I see my enemy as a good person, it is not an “illusion”; it requires a difficult conversion in my heart. Early Christians did not “dream” of a better Rome. They tried to see Roman citizens as future citizens of the Kingdom of God. It required them to have an awesome attitude. Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II were already living in a world where communism is no more, long before it actually had ended.

    Spiritual language is full of imagery, metaphors, symbols. Fake spirituality only offers escapism, defined as “avoidance of unpleasant, boring, arduous, scary, or banal aspects of daily life.” Fake spirituality offers a solace from the bitterness of real life which is but an illusion. Fortunately, the Bible never indulges in this style. It is a book which promises the ideal world, but only based on the great reformation of the heart, of the conscience, starting right now. The Bible tells us over and over that, if we repent, the Kingdom which we don’t see yet will start to manifest.

    In Dr. Son’s text, I wish there could be a very clear demarcation between escapism, illusions, false promises, and true prophecy. I am sure that it is very clear for the author, but when I read the text attentively, I felt this point should be made clear.

    2. The diifference between the conditional and future perfect

    In the song “Imagine,” John Lennon is talking conditionally. The conditional tense says that the world would be like this, if A and B and C were like that. Personally, I don’t really enjoy such fantasies. I can appreciate Lennon as an artist, but I cannot believe in his “prophesies.”

    There is a tense in many languages which writes about the future as if it were the past. It is called future perfect in English, futuro perfecto in Spanish and futur antérieur (“anterior future”) in French. It says that the future will be so and so when, or after, A, B and C will have become such and such. It is extremely realistic and challenging. It tells us about our responsibility.

    I see Father and Mother as the greatest specialists of the future tense. Father described what the world will be like after communism is defeated. He never spoke about what the world would become if only Marxism-Leninism could disappear. “Mission Butterfly” was a secret mission of Austrian members who were preparing for this future. We can think of the symbol of the butterfly in many ways.

    Father did not say that the world would a better place if religions could come together or if we did this or that. He talked about it in the future perfect.

    Also, he described what the world will be like after the international highway will have been completed. Father wanted to empower nation-states to do that, to start building the dream, but because Korea and Japan were slow, he said, “OK, let us start to build the tunnel now.”

    I thank Dr. Son for his excellent contribution. It motivates me to think of this year of 2020 in the future tense. What will the year to come will have been like after I have completed this or that. From this viewpoint, his text is a kind of revelation for me.

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