Belief and the Power of Narrative

By Graham Simon

At midnight on December 31, 2020, the UK finally parted company with the EU.

After taking negotiations down to the wire, a beaming Boris Johnson, the unkempt UK Prime Minister and optimist extraordinaire, who five years earlier had promised the British people that they could leave the EU and still “have their cake and eat it,” declared that he had delivered a very “cakeist” treaty indeed.

The exit was mandated in a referendum in June 2016. The anti-EU faction had orchestrated a well-planned high-profile campaign which included catchy but less than truthful slogans on the sides of buses. Those who wanted to remain part of the EU dithered and presented their case badly. In the end, the “Leavers” won with 52% of the vote against 48% for the “Remainers.” Much rancor between the two sides followed.

Most economic forecasts have predicted a loss of UK GDP as a result of Brexit, ranging from 0.1% to 7.9%, with the official Treasury report coming in at around 6% over the next 15 years. Those who voted to leave tend to believe the lower figures or even outlying forecasts of gains, rather than losses. Those who voted to remain tend to believe the more pessimist numbers.

Regardless, the deed is now done and the probable outcome in five years’ time will be that the only things British citizens will notice are: the country is now able to exclude immigrants from Europe (but will probably still need plenty of Europeans to pick its fruit and staff its hospitals); there is more red tape when importing and exporting; and tourists need to keep showing their passports when traveling on the Continent. There is also an outside chance that Northern Ireland will no longer be part of Britain but be reunited with Eire (Southern Ireland) to become part of the EU again.

The UK was split down the middle with regards to Brexit, but people have managed to pull through without killing each other. As we look across the pond to the U.S., where the nation also seems split down the middle, we are perplexed and concerned at the severity of the divisions. While the fault lines may be different in the UK and U.S., the two situations have a lot in common — namely the centrality of belief and narrative in stoking divisions.

In the news nowadays in the UK, we hear talk of alternative facts, fake news, fraudulent votes, stolen elections, armed extremists to the left and right, and wonder if the U.S. election could really have been as dodgy as the one that recently took place in Uganda. There, President Yoweri Museveni won a sixth term in office and his main opponent, Bobi Wine, spent 11 days under house arrest.

Personally, I still have faith in democracy and the democratic processes of the “free world,” because once I lose trust in these, it is game over. At that point, the Western democracies are no better than Russia, China, and a host of lesser states where popular elections do not exist or where an election outcome is rigged by an incumbent leader, bent on maintaining authority. Power in such nations stems from the ability of the leadership to cower opponents into submission through intimidation or the use of force. They are not nations in which many would voluntarily choose to be born.

Nonetheless, in the West, we are witnessing a very disturbing trend. We have entered a new age of social media where anyone with an opinion or product to promote, good communication skills, a modicum of charisma, and sufficient time and inclination can become an “influencer” of others. Multitudes are consuming information through largely unregulated channels, including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Fewer and fewer people now discriminate as to the source or quality of their news. To them, well-established and previously trusted media channels are just several sources among many — neither more nor less credible. Many simply believe whatever narrative catches their imagination.

Of course, belief in narrative and the use of narrative to exercise power over believers is not a recent phenomenon. Nor is it just confined to politics. Great empires as well as religious and non-religious movements in history have been built on a common narrative and a belief among people that their actions were justified, perhaps even aligned with a greater will. Such convictions have led to much progress, but also to many atrocities. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Third Reich, the Holocaust, communism, ISIS, and countless genocides happened not only because their perpetrators bought into a shared narrative, but also because they had sufficient conviction to act on their beliefs.

Consider Christianity where the nativity story is known and dramatized around the world each Christmas. At the heart of Christian theology lies a belief in the Immaculate Conception. To non-Christians and perhaps a lot of Christians too, it is an unreasonable and unscientific belief. Yet it is also an unquestionable tenet of faith for many others. It is not just within Christianity that we find narrative playing a central role in shaping people’s thoughts and actions. It is present in all religions.

Narrative within the Unification Movement

Unificationism with its vision of “One World under God” is a prime example, to which many readers may relate personally. Central to its teachings is the notion of “Providence.” Here, the Creator, a Being of limitless intellect, emotion and will, harbors a plan that can only be brought to fruition in partnership with humankind. Providential history is the record of the successes and failures of inspired men and women in helping to realize this plan.

Within his lifetime, Reverend Sun Myung Moon was central to providential history and its advancement. A recurrent theme was the restoration of the failings of notable biblical figures. To restore these failings, Rev. Moon was required to make almost super-human efforts, without complaint, and to offer his achievements to God. But even then, he could not do it alone. To extend his providential victories beyond himself and his immediate family, he needed people and money who would buy into the narrative, making offerings of their own.

Those of us who heard Rev. Moon talk cannot have failed to have been moved by his vision, passion and singularity of purpose as he tried to motivate a disparate group of followers into aligning themselves with the plans and goals he had set for the movement. Objectively speaking, he produced the narrative and his disciples believed.

These followers often felt they were in the presence of a man who had his finger on the pulse of history. One such moment that left an extraordinarily strong impression was in November 1982 after the death of Brezhnev. At a Sunday gathering, Rev. Moon announced that there had been four Russian leaders of note (Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev) in the 65 years since the beginning of communism in 1917, but before the end of the decade there would be three more in rapid succession and then the Soviet Union would collapse.

For Rev. Moon this was not just a matter of prescience. Within his narrative, he was causal in the collapse of communism. His VOC (Victory Over Communism) and CAUSA programs, his initiative that brought young Russian students to the U.S. in the late 1980s, and his timely 1990 meeting with Gorbachev and were all part of the process. But the collapse of communism was not the final goal in Rev. Moon’s mind.

In 1991, he would go to North Korea to meet his nemesis Kim Il Sung, under whose regime he had been imprisoned. Rev. Moon was Jacob, Kim Il Sung was Esau. Through their reconciliation, the two Koreas could be reunited. The Divine Principle could supplant the godless juche philosophy. Tragically, from a providential perspective, by the mid-1990s, the possibility of this long-running narrative coming to fruition during Rev. Moon’s lifetime had been extinguished. Evidence suggests the prime obstacle was the South Korean government at that time. The providence of restoration as Unificationists had known it came to a halt.

If Korea was less likely to be reunited in Rev. Moon’s lifetime, what tangible legacy might he leave behind? A new narrative evolved. After some experimentation, the focus became that of building the Holy City. Ancestor liberation became the primary vehicle for restoration and raising finance. Blessings began to include not just measurable numbers of couples in the physical world, but immeasurable numbers in the spiritual world too. There were theological shifts to support the new narrative. Many members bought into it. Some were lost in the transition.

Perhaps this raises a question in readers’ minds as to whether the use of narrative to exercise influence over the behavior and actions of others is justifiable? The simplistic answer might be that it depends on the aims and goals of those who create the narrative and whether they are prepared to take responsibility for the consequences. Rev. Moon was the earthly parent intent on ending the suffering of the Heavenly Parent and guiding humanity along a path to true love and God’s blessing. That so many who followed his direction felt and continue to feel that their lives have been immensely enriched may be all the justification needed.

Attachment to Beliefs

Life-changing narrative does not only occur in the context of politics and religion. We like to think of ourselves as independent agents, choosing the ideas we believe and causes in which we invest our time and resources. The bottom line, though, is our thoughts, feelings and actions are shaped by myriads of narratives imbibed during our lives, starting from the cradle. There are narratives told by our parents, friends, teachers, product marketeers, religious leaders, politicians, and others. Over time, we build up opinions and beliefs. These building blocks are integral to our identity. With the opportunities now presented by social media, we may even be inclined to propagate our own narratives in order to shape the lives of others.

Perversely, for those on a spiritual path in search of inner peace and global harmony, many traditions teach of the necessity of loosening our attachments to our own beliefs, opinions and identity, rather than reinforcing them. In the early 1970s, American anthropologist Carlos Castaneda wrote a series of books purportedly about his encounters with a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, Don Juan. In a chapter titled “Erasing Personal History” in his book Journey to Ixtlan, Don Juan suggests we should go through life leaving as little as possible of ourselves in other peoples’ minds. No doubt, if Don Juan were around today, he would advise that we start by deleting our social media accounts!

*  *  *

Considering recent events surrounding the U.S. presidential election, we could perhaps all benefit from observing how the narratives people believe, ourselves included, affect one’s behavior.

In 1988, I had the privilege of meeting South African writer Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation. We talked about some of the problems faced by African nations. An important piece of wisdom he imparted was that for African nations to advance, their leaders need to value the constitution and democratic institutions more than they value power itself. This precept has been the bedrock of Western democracy.

Promoting a narrative that undermines it, regardless of how strongly we believe that our candidate is best suited to hold the reins of power, could have perilous consequences.♦

Graham Simon met the Unification Movement in California in 1981. With a background in economics and IT, he has worked extensively for international corporations in the UK, U.S. and Japan. From 1985-90, he worked for the Global Economic Action Institute in New York, an organization founded by Rev. Moon that brought together leaders in government, finance, business, and academia. Since 1997, his family have lived in London, where he runs a software company.

51 thoughts on “Belief and the Power of Narrative

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  1. Very timely and pertinent essay, Graham. It reminded me of your essay on “post-truth.”

    Sports journalist Clay Travis recently made a very interesting point about the news media, censorship and digital platforms. He began by citing Benjamin Franklin: “Passion governs, and she never governs wisely.”

    As Travis points out, it used to be that newspapers, and the journalists who worked for them, would report the facts in order to reach a broad-based demographic. Objective truth-telling was the goal, However, another significant aspect of media rationale was not to alienate a particular group (or groups), so as to appeal to the largest possible demographic. Why?

    Because advertisers would pay more for ads if readership was large. In the past, partisanship was considered to be a drag on revenue generation because it might exclude potential readers; consumers. Having objective journalistic posture was considered to be a good business model. In this regard free-market capitalism was a hedge against biased reporting. No more.

    Now, many news outfits generate income though other means — subscriptions and digital platforms that generate clicks. Appealing to a targeted demographic and skewing stories to appeal to that demographic (narrative journalism) is the new paradigm. As a result, emotion begins to dictate journalistic preference. Vilifying your political enemy generates clicks and revenue because more often than not social media rewards emotion, not reason or truth.

    As for thinking of ourselves as “independent agents,” columnist David Brooks reminds us: “We are not self-completing creatures. To thrive we have to throw ourselves into a state of dependence — on others, on institutions, on the divine.” The issue, as always, is about balance and to what degree we depend on various institutions, especially if those institutions are not respecting individual liberties.

  2. I read this article by Graham Simon with great interest. It covers a wide range of topics, from the issue of Brexit to considerations on beliefs and narratives in general, and then more specifically on Unificationist narratives. Even though I did not see so much direct connection between all the topics, I found them interesting.

    In my reply, I would like to focus more specifically on the issue of the Brexit. The narrative used by Brexiters included the following items:

    1) the EU is intrinsically evil, from the very beginning. British people should never had entered this kind of organization. Some British Unificationists even contend that the EU illustrates the law of evil mimicking the good and preceding it. They see the EU as an “Empire” (even totalitarian empire), doomed to fail as the former Soviet Union did. I don’t know how much they believe in this theory but it was commonplace for a while in some Unificationist circles. Is it still around?

    2) The EU is just good enough for “continentals” (mostly Germans and French), it is not at all fit for an island nation like the United Kingdom.

    3) The rationalistic, legalistic construction of the EU has nothing to do with the empirical, common-law based approach of the British tradition.

    And so on.

    More than beliefs or narratives, I see these items as smokescreens, and collective illusions, especially in the case of 2) and 3).

    Some really believe that all people living on islands and sharing a heritage of empiricism and common law are bound to be more skeptical about the EU. Kind of self-evident truth, you see.

    My answer to that is that Ireland is an island nation, and Scotland is part of an island. Malta and Cyprus are Mediterranean islands with a long British presence. The Scots, Irish, Maltese and Cypriot people are very much supporting the EU. And as far as I know, you may find the best empiricist minds in Scotland and in Ireland.

    Being an islander and having an empiricist tradition is not a cause of being anti-EU. The narrative is just based on an illusion.

    It then seems that England had some problems with Europe, but could never find a real narrative or explanation for its hostility. Probably England, like the USA, and France is going through a profound existential crisis. These three Atlantic powers seem to be drifting quite a lot. Probably because they need to reinvent their role. They are less and less seen as models of governance.

    Now that the Brexit is done, I paraphrase Shakespeare:

    1) Much ado about nothing?

    2) To be or not to be (in Europe): was it really the question?

  3. The goals of the European Union are: to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its citizens. But, as an Italian living in Italy, it doesn’t look like that at all. These concepts seem to apply mainly to Germany and France. The UK made its decision for Brexit. There must be a reason it made that choice.

  4. The Unification Movement founded by Reverend Moon is based on the Unification Principle. The European Union is the fulfillment of a dream of unity, or vision of “living together” expressed long ago and which started to substantialize at the time which we call the Second Coming. It was originally founded by six nations, and its original area roughly covered what used to be the Carolingian empire, or Carolingian idea. It is important to read again what the Principle says about this idea, and to remember Reverend Moon on the EEC (European Economic Community, former name of the EU)… back in 1978 in London. Father did not speak either in favor or disfavor of the EEC per se, but talked about the EEC in the Providence, while he was guiding the worldwide movement from London (May-September 1978)

    As European Unificationists, or Unificationist Europeans, we need to consider whether the EU had, has and will continue to have a providential purpose. On May 1, 2004, our Unification movement celebrated its 50 years (half-century) of existence. Exactly on that day, ten new countries joined the EU. Among them, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland were still in the Warsaw pact 15 years before. And Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania were part of…the Soviet Union. How does God look at this? Is He angry, delighted, indifferent, curious, interested? Of course, some will say that God has no opinion about this. But even this should be discussed.

    I would say that most Unificationists in Europe have advocated the end of the Cold War and have been fighting communism. Now how deeply concerned do we feel by the European institutions, how much do we value their meaning? It is a real question. And do we react as citizens of our countries, citizens of the EU, or Unificationist EU citizens? I would perfectly accept a devastating critique of the EU from a Unificationist viewpoint, but is there any? Personally, I wish we had a Unificationist critical agenda and action plan for the EU, and a EU-team.

    The Unification movement and the EU did not have any strategic cooperation so far. We never really wondered if we have to establish a “foundation for the Messiah” within the EU. I don’t say that it is wrong. I am just curious how this will be seen by our descendants and I try to look at it from a providential point of view.

    1. With regard to the EU and Brexit, I’ve heard that in the UK a primary concern was the loss of representative government, the very basis of democratic process. If certain member nations are willing to give that up in a trade-off for other potential benefits, then there is a danger that certain citizens within those nations may not like the idea of nameless, faceless, unelected bureaucrats dictating policy that affects their lives in ways that they find objectionable. If there is no recourse then it’s only a matter of time before populist/nationalist movements begin to emerge.

      This is the same phenomenon that affected the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in 2016. There was a growing consensus that the government in the USA wasn’t sensitized to needs of “the people” and was far more concerned with the welfare of special interest groups and career politicians.

      As for a model that Unificationists might offer as an alternative, we should look to the tenets of Headwing and Godism. As I’ve noted in other discussions, Book 10 of Cheon Seong Gyeong (The Philosophy of Peace) would be a good place to start. Whether in the USA, Europe, Africa or Asia, there needs to be an education model that can elucidate people as to the necessity of Godism being in the socio-political equation.

      Creating a “larger framework” (according to True Father; CSG, p. 1107) via the “federation” concept, is necessary and requires identifying individuals and organizations who are already aligned with the concepts of universally shared values, interdependence and mutual prosperity. In order for interdependence to be realized (a goal of the EU), there ought to be a broad consensus as to what values and processes will achieve that goal. For members of Heavenly Parents’ Holy Community those values ought to embody the tenets of Headwing and Godism. In our witness that should be a salient point of emphasis.

  5. Thank you David, for your cogent remark, when you say, “I’ve heard that in the UK a primary concern was the loss of representative government, the very basis of democratic process.” That’s right, it was part of the Brexit narrative or belief.

    The Brexiters used this rhetoric quite a lot. And maybe too much. This rhetoric against an alleged centralism and bureaucracy of the main power can backfire.

    Ironically, polls repeatedly show that a growing number of people of Scotland are now in favor of indepedence from UK. They look at London exactly with the same critical eye that some British people were looking at Brussels (the political HQs of the EU).

    There is also a risk that Northern Ireland might seek its unification with the Republic of Ireland instead of remaining within the UK. And the narrative used against the EU will now be used against London.

    But Graham Simon suggests the following in this article: “There is also an outside chance that Northern Ireland will no longer be part of Britain but be reunited with Eire (Southern Ireland) to become part of the EU again.”

    Regarding the anti-bureaucratic rhetoric against EU, it is mostly voiced in countries having a heavy bureaucracy, like France, for instance. A majority of German people see the EU very favorably. They already enjoy a federal system at home, and the German institutions are extremely stable and truly democratic. Germany knows no existential crisis like the UK, France, or Italy. German people are remarkably confident in democracy, globalization, and the EU. They seem to be immune against doubt. Germany is often praised for the steadiness of its poliitical institutions and economic system.

    They don’t look at the world as a threat but as an opportunity. Their current leader, Angela Merkel, does not need to be charismatic. She is a very discrete, simple, apparently unassuming person, but is deemed much wiser than average politicians. She has been in power in a parliamentary, federal system, where you cannot impose your views but have to always negotiate and deal with others.

    1. Laurent,

      When you allude to the fact that “Germany knows no existential crisis like the UK, France, or Italy,” you have cited a significant reason why the EU has not been able to work in the way many had hoped for. The diversity of circumstances, especially with regard to national economic solvency among various nations, makes a unified effort in problem-solving on such a large scale extremely challenging. The current controversies regarding the COVID vaccine distribution in the EU underscore this challenge.

  6. In the situation of South Africa back in the 1980s, President Reagan wanted to contribute to the solution by way of constructive engagement. This was very wise I think. Many times nations and even individuals aim to unite without having gone through a process of trying to engage constructively for a period of time. Nations are and individuals can really obly work together when they believe in the same vision for the future. This requires education, and even after that there needs to be a continuation of freedom to decide things for themselves.

  7. I may be wrong, but I see the EU as a mixture of vision and pragmatism. A common vision is bringing various nations to work together. The European parliament, as well as the Commission, are strong expressions of this common vision.

    But much of the EU is sheer pragmatism. You have many options and choices. Please consider that over 20 languages are being used every day at the European Parliament, to accomodate everyone and avoid uniformity. Yes, you can have a Finnish speaker being interpreted from his/her native language into all other languages in use within the EU, including Maltese, Latvian and Hungarian.

    This is the cost of pragmatism. It is another form of bureaucracy, the bureaucracy to accomodate the periphery, and not please the center. This is in itself is intriguing.

    The Eurozone concerns only 19 nations out of 27. This means that every nation decides whether it uses the euro or not. Likewise, countries decide whether they belong to the Schengen area or not (open borders). Ironically, the UK was never part of the Schengen area, but has insisted that Gibraltar, a British dominion south of Spain is now part of the Schengen area. This is absolute and opportunistic pragmatism. I have nothing against it, there is a balance between the whole purpose and individual interests or idiosyncracies. The case of Gibraltar illustrates that you can leave the EU very easily and keep some of its advantages ( 🙂 ). In a way, I like that, because it makes the whole rhetoric of Brexit rather shallow in my opinion. (Much Ado about nothing)

    In terms of religious policies, France has a very unique and obscure position, which makes the rest of Europe totally perplexed. Dictionaries are needed, even for the French people, to explain this very unique idiosyncracy. A Unificationist might want Brussels to be harsher on Paris, but the EU is neutral and every state is free to do what it likes (unfortunately in the case of France, once again a rebel against religious freedom).

    The narrative of a European buraucracy has been there for a few dacades already. I would like to believe it, if it were true, but I never see that. The hard fact is that regionalism has never been so strong, all over Europe, as could be seen when Catalonia wanted to become independent from Spain. Within the EU, you have a whole range of pragmatic projects, such as a Baltic project, the Vysegrad group, some Mediterranean initiatives, and so on and so forth.

    I believe that the vision is the main thing. I see this European vision as still providential and useful. As long as pragmatism does not kill the vision, we shall continue to hope.

  8. Nice piece, Graham. I wish you would have expanded more on the “Holy City” theology which you say emerged as a reaction to a failure of the South Korean Government to continue the reunification efforts. Your use of the term “Éire” is interesting, but “Republic of Ireland” is more correct. The Gaelic term “Éire” is used internally by some native Gaelic speakers and Republicans to describe the whole island, but it was mainly used by the British to describe the “Free State” after independence and as a result took on a certain derogatory meaning here.

    Noting other comments above, I too wonder why the EU is so demonized (I guess it suited the Brexit narrative) and also I feel that European Unificationists have not really built a powerful narrative to defend the EU, maybe rightly so? Maybe there is nothing to defend anymore, with the seemingly inexorable drift in social and cultural policies towards a secular humanistic agenda? Maybe the British were right to shout “stop”? …if this was their motivation? Some GB Unificationists seem to equate support for Brexit with some kind of support for conservative values, whereas others see it as just narrow nationalism and a desire for more freedom to chart her own course and maybe even a return to empire?

    Will the new post-Brexit GB be a more God-centered place? I would love to think so, I would support that sort of Brexit myself…. Will Britain’s absence in the EU make the latter less God-centered by her absence, or is her presence or absence irrelevant to how God-centered either GB or EU will be in the future?

    However, we can’t ignore that the EU has played a major role in the peace and security of our Continent since its inception and the integretation of former Eastern Bloc states, some of which are also now displaying unease at the way the EU has been developing towards more humanistic social policies.

    For me, the modern fault lines between U.S. political culture and European political culture were laid down when the Bush Administration insisted on waging war on Iraq without the backing of its European allies, with the notable exception of Britain. Here was an historic opportunity, if that war had been avoided, to build more and more respect and consensus between the two blocs, which if it had been achieved, I believe (maybe naively) would have allowed conservative influences in Europe to prosper or at least not to continue to wane and still provide a viable alternative to member state electorate today.

    Instead, I believe the whole conservative project became discredited by the actions and policies of the Bush “neo-cons” and anyone who identified with it in Europe was derided, dismissed and discredited or worse, cast into the extreme fringes of the loony and dangerous ultra-right. How nice it would be today if Europe and America were more united culturally and were able to work together towards the same aims, not just when there is a centre-left administration in Washington, but also when there is a center-right one, like we had with Donald Trump. It is likely that such a polarising figure would never have been necessary to come on the scene and that had the 2003 scenario been avoided, our world would be a lot more united, and maybe even God centred today, even in Europe?

    The common enemy should be the one in the East that opposes not just God, freedom and democracy, but even basic human rights. How we could do with a united front in this battle. Maybe my perspective is also a narrow “island-centric” one and that it doesn’t hold true to the experiences of other Europeans? Membership of the EU gave Ireland more certainty and stability than ever for the past almost 50 years or so and has helped us to achieve full employment and peace on the island, the dream of our countrymen for all ages…. maybe we will have re-unification some day, maybe even soon, but Brexit has made this more difficult, not less, as witnessed by the reports yesterday of Unionist-inspired opposition and attacks on the “Irish Sea Border” port checks in Belfast and Larne, made necessary by a backhanded rejection by them while in coalition, of former PM Theresa May’s withdrawal “deal”. Ironically May’s deal would have obviated the need for any ‘border’ down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland (which has effectively remained in the EU with the rest of Ireland) and GB.

    As some commentators say here: the DUP never miss an opportunity to ‘miss an opportunity’. To put a new, positive spin on an oft-misused Irish Republican term “Tiocfaidh ár Lá” (“Our day will come”) … I pray it will be for re-unification in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the Peace Kingdom or Holy city and all its loyal citizens (subjects?).

    (I live in Cavan, Ulster, Ireland, am a loyal UC/HPHC member since 1991 after joining in Manchester, England, and am currently Secretary General of UPF Ireland. Disclaimer: My views are my own and not necessarily representative of my community, affiliations or UPF).

    1. Hi Colm,

      Thank you for picking up on the reference to the “Holy City”. The city is of course Cheongpyeong, the New Jerusalem in the East.

      It is my personal belief that Reverend Moon had planned to build the city within a united Korea and had started buying up land in the area even before he met Kim Il Sung. But even after it became clear he was unlikely to see his homeland united within his lifetime, he proceeded to establish the city anyway. The new narrative evolved not so much around building the city, but around the shift in the course that restoration would take.

      I had hoped there might have been more conversation about this aspect of the Providence than Brexit and the EU, reference to which was only included to indicate how belief and narrative can divide people.

  9. Thank you very much, Colm, for all your insights on the issue of Brexit.

    Just like Graham’s article, your views seem very balanced and fair.

    Your insights on the war in Iraq are worth considering. At that time, the Pope John Paul II (who was Polish) tried to warn President Bush and UK PM Tony Blair. He knew that both were devout Christian. In 2003, John Paul II tried to prevent the US-led invasion of Iraq, instead urging a peaceful solution. In his 2003 State of the World address, the Pope declared his opposition to the invasion by stating, “No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” He sent former Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States Pío Cardinal Laghi to talk with American President George W. Bush to express opposition to the war. John Paul II said that it was up to the United Nations to solve the international conflict through diplomacy and that a unilateral aggression is a crime against peace and a violation of international law. He added, “Wars generally don’t resolve the problems for which they are fought and therefore… prove ultimately futile.”

    His warning was kind of Pauline and was addressed to the souls of two Christian leaders, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

    I am not sure that it is the business of the EU to speak too much about God. Popes were several times invited to address the EU Parliament, as well as other religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama.

    I would not say that the EU is de facto serving the Providence or going against it. It is a human construction and project based on good will, and Unificationists are free to connect it with the Providence, provided they have some precise idea and know how. The problem lies not in the EU, but in our own lack of vision of what to do with this international organization. We may regret our hesitations one day.

    Your remarks about Ireland and the EU confirm my limited intuition.

    I feel that the modern history of the Republic of Ireland is remarkable and that the victories of the Irish people have accompanied the major breakthroughs of the EU. It is a common legacy of expanding democratic values and optimism. Contrary to a persistent belief, the real creative minds in the EU are rarely coming from the big nations, such as Germany, France, Italy, or Spain. Recently, the best work was often done by committed parliamentarians from small and discrete nations, such as the Baltic countries, Denmark, Finland, Ireland. They are working very hard to carry on.

    On the surface, it may seem that the EU is a Franco-German affair. In daily reality, the EU is something very different, and we, Unificationists, should have the curiosity to study this phenomenon and learn from it. “God so loved Europe,” I would say.

    1. Laurent,

      I would just say that one of the primary aspects of the American founding documents was that the purpose of government was not to solve people’s problems or to alleviate human suffering, but rather to insure that people wouldn’t be harmed by government.

      As I wrote in my recent AU Blog essay regarding social justice, the first iterations of social justice in Europe were predicated on keeping “the state” out of affairs of families, churches and other private institutions. It was the Catholic Church in Italy in the 1800s that cautioned against government encroaching on individual liberties, no matter how well-intentioned. Limiting the power of “the state” was a salient factor in the U.S. Constitution.

      1. Hi David, you may be right, I won’t go into the details. I do believe that a movement like ours, based on the Principle of Unification, should look at all attempts to bring greater unity everywhere. Moreover, we would do well to compare the American model and the European model, as well as all types of regional unions, such as the EU, NAFTA, MERCOSUR, the African Union, or ASEAN.

        In 2005, Jeremy Rifkin wrote the European Dream, which I read several times. As a North American, he expressed his admiration for the best practices of the EU, but he also gave some interesting warnings. At about the same time, Walter Schwimmer, the former chairman of the European Council, also wrote a book called the European Dream. My concern, as a Uniificationist, is that I see a certain degree of indifference, or even skepticism regarding these processes of unification. I believe that regional unions can often be much more efficient than a big thing like the United Nations to spread some providential agendas.

        But again, I may be wrong. I am grateful that Graham Simon opened the discussion, maybe he can grace us with some conclusion after one week.

  10. Thank you, Graham, for this deep, wise and realistic article which conveys with great clarity an elevated perspective on the dangerous power of narrative.

    As such, it’s a loving invitation to profound and genuine reflection on our own beliefs and involvements. It resonates as a call to honestly re-evaluate the overlooked reasons which have led us to buy into the specific narrative we now hold as the best one ever…since it’s ours. Sorry, I mean God’s!

    Like you, I sadly witness that today, “many people simply believe whatever narrative catches their imagination”, at the risk of contributing more to divisiveness than to unification, through getting unknowingly involved in an appealing mobilization which in fact might be based on erroneous narratives or pure lies.

    However, these very people might very well claim at the same time that they fear to blindly buy into a messianic delusion. For they have perspicaciously noticed — and so they now consider — that one can both have “his finger on the pulse of history” and keep primarily obsessed with absolute personal power which he/she imagines deserving…

    And this, as you rightfully wrote, “could have perilous consequences”.

  11. I am grateful to you, Graham, to be in the debate you initiated. It is good to know that you would have liked the topic of he Holy City to be more discussed. If I had known this more clearly, I would definitely talk more about this topic.

    I had the chance to live in Cheongpyeong in 2004-06 and then again in 2017-19. I was very impressed each time to witness the building of the Holy City. It was my dream, as a Unificationist, to see the birth of the new Jerusalem. I was never skeptical or cynical about this and tried to explain to some members that it has nothing do do with modern indulgences. Therefore, the belief and narrative about these projects must be clarified. What is it, why, what for? How much?

    In terms of belief and narrative, it is interesting to notice that the first term used was Cheongpyeong and then, most of the buildings were under the name of Cheongshim. But under True Mother’s guidance, the notion of Hyo Jeong Cheon Won appeared in 2016-17. Cheongpyeong, Cheongshim and HJ Cheonwon are like Formation, Growth, Completion. First a sanctuary and place of pilgrimage, then a showcase of Unificationist architecture, and now a city of peace.

    At present, we have the spiritual sanctuary, the hospital and nursery home (Cheongshim village), the faculty of theology, the international school and the kindergarden, the Youth Center (which has a very good reputation in Korea), the Peace World Stadium, which is the biggest indoor facility in Korea and the second biggest in Asia, I think.

    The overall architecture is neo-classic, and I have often wondered why. I wish there would be more traditional style. They are now planning the Japanese village, I think.

    The Sunsuwon has won a prize of architecture, and the Hyo Jeong Café is a wonderful building.

    Almost every facility has a website, and the stadium is used by other customers, besides Unificationists. In terms of belief and narrative, True Mother has often presented the whole concept as our “Vatican”, or even “Mecca”. But it also supposed to be the garden of Eden, or the hometown of the Providence. At present, it has many aspects of what we could call a micro-state, such as the Vatican, or Monaco, or San Marino, or Singapore, especially with the palace which hosts our international headquarters. The HJ Cheonwon is used by the True Parents to host heads of state and definitely serves what we might call our Unificationist diplomacy.

    Another terminology used is that it is the city of peace. This was of particular interest for me, because I have worked on the concept of international cities of peace for 25 years. I advocate city diplomacy and the role of cities in peace building. Recently, Carol Pobanz managed to have her city of Nutley (New Jersey) become a member of International Cities of Peace and Mario Salinas did the same with the city of Tela (Honduras). The three of us had many Skype meetings working on these projects. Fred Arment, the founder and Executive Director of International Cities of Peace attended our 2020 in Korea one year ago.

    Indeed, there is much to say about the whole concept of cities of peace, the theory and the practice. But from your essay, Graham, I could not get a feeling that it might be a central issue for you. I have tried to draw the attention of people on the Providence of city diplomacy for years, in our movement, especially in relation to Tribal Messiahship, and I had the hope that the Hyo Jeong Cheonwon providence would stimulate academic research on this topic. I guess that UTS graced me with the honorary doctorate in 2017, mostly (though not exclusively) for 20 years of research and articles on this topic. Our members can do many creative things to promote city diplomacy. If your essay can open some discussion on this, it is a good news for me. I want to encourage much more research and action about this wonderful tool, which can open many doors.

    1. Thank you, Laurent, for your interesting insights into the planned development of Cheongpyeong. It’s come a long way since I first visited at the end of the 1980s when the training center was a couple of cabins by the waterfront!

      But the theme of my article was about “Belief and the Power of Narrative”. I wonder if you or others have any comments on my suggestion that the narrative about the course of restoration changed in the mid-1990s. Or do readers see everything as a logical and consistent continuum?

      1. Thank you, Graham. OK, I start to understand better, especially when you say, “But the theme of my article was about “Belief and the Power of Narrative.” I wonder if you or others have any comments on my suggestion that the narrative about the course of restoration changed in the mid-1990s.

        I would say, yes and no. It is clear that Father wanted to go beyond a course of restoration and confrontation with a world-wide enemy (i.e., communism) and Father definitely expected a quicker path toward national restoration (in Korea).

        However, the Providence of home church and tribal messiahship had been delayed, and even if the South Korean government had showed better intentions, our movement had not really adopted the great conversion of tribal messiahship, even after Father and Mother had returned to their hometown in Korea. This is why we may have an impression of a different narrative.

        Here, it seems that True Parents were using several narratives simultaneously, and finally had to eliminate some of them, or postpone them, difficult to say. For instance, there was a strong momentum to invest in Jardim, and South America suddenly became the center of the Providence (1995). Let us remember the Sao Paulo Declaration, New Hope Farm Declaration, etc. All blessed families had to attend workshops there and start tribal messiahship seriously. A certain course of the Providence was charted at that time, but what happened to it, afterwards?

        In 1996, True Parents started the great reformation of National Messiahs, a giant step forward. I applied and went to Laos. I saw the potential, but also the great challenges. I feel that this Providence was gradually abandoned (unofficially), but never really evaluated. The narrative about National Messiahship was extremely interesting, but is not used anyore. Why?

        We also had a Mongolian narrative for a while. I could never quite get the point about it. But Father looked so inspired by that, so I tried hard to understand.

        In 2003-05, there was suddenly a strong narrative about the Middle East and the pilgrimages to Israel. Huge resources were invested, impressive statements were made, connecting the Israel-Palestinian question and the Korean question. Again, this Providence stopped, without any evaluation or debiefing. We might say the same about the Bering Strait project. It sometimes reappears, but we cannot get a clear picture. The idea is very good, but how to achieve this? When?

        This pattern of launching so many ambitious crusades without a clear follow-up and debriefing (when stopped) is puzzling sometimes. All of these crusades were exciting, interesting, but we did not really persevere. Recently, I persevered till the end in the Cheonbo Providence. It was a real reward finally, because I felt that the Cheonbo victors (about 3,000 members worldwide) were able to conclude a narrative with some degree of substantial achievement.

        Last year, a new narrative came in, called the Rally of Hope. The beginning was quite promising, and the impact on national media was extremely successful. We now seem to have difficulty to break through with it. But I really hope we can make it work. The product has a good potential.

      2. Luckily those of us who live in the Western world (especially Europe or America) still expect to enjoy relative freedom despite trends to the contrary in the continuing shift to the left also now in the US. Unification Thought offers deep insights (see section on “A Being of Harmonious Yang and Yin”) that might help us understand why True Father had to pivot to ‘Holy City’ theology and how perfected True Parents as the physical manifestation of God (united Hyung Sang of Individual Yang-Yin images-in-substance) fulfill the internal Original Sung Sang’s purpose of the creation and manifest Heavenly Parent’s Heart and finally joy and fulfill His own ideal in them as discrete united substantial images. They are the light and guide for all humanity to achieve the same and bring HP greater and greater levels of joy and fulfillment in the process.

        1. Colm,

          I read several times your sentence:

          “Unification Thought offers deep insights (see section on “A Being of Harmonious Yang and Yin”) that might help us understand why True Father had to pivot to ‘Holy City’ theology and how perfected True Parents as the physical manifestation of God (united Hyung Sang of Individual Yang-Yin images-in-substance) fulfill the internal Original Sung Sang’s purpose of the creation and manifest Heavenly Parent’s Heart and finally joy and fulfill His own ideal in them as discrete united substantial images.”

          But even with the best will, I still cannot really grasp how it applies to the topic of the Holy City. Could you be a bit more specific and go into some detail, especially related to the Hyo Jeong Cheonwon complex?

        2. Laurent,

          It was more a comment on the original article “Belief and the Power of Narrative” and how this might relate to political systems as touched on by David Eaton, who I believe is attempting to explore the idea of what type of political system there will be in the ‘Holy City.’

          I think if we could clarify the theology behind the ‘Holy City’ or ‘Nation’, then its philosophy and even political philosophy would become clearer.

          What I was trying to convey was my interpretation of the UT perspective on God and Creation and the ‘perfected man’s’ (e.g., True Parents) role in all of this and how they are the fulfillment of the purpose of creation and even of God Him/Her-self.
          This could be problematic in a theological context as it veers towards the Catholic Trinity understanding, but I believe when analyzed from a Unification Thought perspective this is easier to justify, although quite hard to conceptualize and explain!

          My post was edited to link to rather than include the quotes from UT, but it may not matter, as this is something that requires a lot of meditation and visualization (for me at least!). I wish there was a piece of software or CGI that could render the deep concepts in UT more easily understandable! Sorry if I posted this in the wrong place, but I liked your analysis of the development of the Cheongpyeong providence and concur with what you said as another valuable insight from this Blog.

  12. With regard to the establishment of a Holy City, (or nation, or world), it should be evident that the key component in this endeavor is the people who inhabit the buildings and structures.

    In this respect the conversation about the EU and Brexit is quite relevant. We understand that love cannot come to full flowering without the right to choose (freedom) being seriously in the socio-cultural equation. Attempts at using the resources of government as the primary vehicle to achieve equality and fairness have led to all sorts of human misery. Because politics is adversarial by nature it cannot effectively foster conditions for healing or the mitigation of antagonisms that lead to divisiveness and conflict.

    I recall that Divine Principle cites Robert Owens’ attempts at creating a socialist community as being a model to be emulated — a type of holy city. But his New Harmony communal project in Indiana failed after just two years, leaving all sorts of acrimony and litigation in its wake. Until a critical mass of people get right with God on a significant scale (the 3 Blessings) we can’t expect that any type of governance paradigm will bring about “our cherished hope for unity.”

  13. Graham,

    I do agree that the shift of the narrative within the Unificationist community had definitely taken place in the 1990s.

    I also feel it’s a very essential topic that has been greatly overlooked, never clearly explained, often sadly minimized, or even rigidly denied.

    Has not actually this unavoidable turn after the fall of communism (which had clearly been identified as the enemy of God and humankind) coincided with a halt in the development of the movement? Once the powerful anticommunist narrative became obsolete, even though new objectives with their own narrative were set up, they very seldom came to fruition or have been quickly abandoned without further explanation.

    As you mention “some were lost in the transition” and went away with great disarray. It seems they could not recognize any more in the new narratives the original vision which had inspired them to enthusiastically join the movement years before.

    What could be perceived as uncomfortable ambiguities or hesitations have led after Rev. Moon’s passing to the heartbreaking divisions within the once-united Unificationist community. Therefore our families, friends and the whole world can’t but be puzzled at presently witnessing the reality of three members of the True Family having now three distinct and contradictory powerful narratives based on different cherry-picking of Rev. Moon’s words and the Divine Principle.

    Beliefs, and the narratives which are made to justify these beliefs, can indeed sadly divide people. As if humans had invented theology just to quarrel with one other…

    1. It is an honor to reply to the post of Jean-Jacques Bourget. He gave me my very first Divine Principle lecture, exactly 46 years ago, in February 1975, in my hometown of Rennes. I was not even 18 then, and extremely arrogant. But Jean-Jacques was so smiling and loving.

      Was there a real change of narrative in the Unification Movement after the demise of communism? I believe that part of the answer has to do with what the Principle calls the unchartered path; on page 181 of Exposition, I quote,

      “We must become one with the Messiah centered on the Heart of God, then follow him along the unchartered path to the summit of the growing period and thus finally become perfect incarnations.” (my italics)

      When communism was gone, Father was no longer in the position of John the Baptist to himself. He concluded the era of the New Testament, and ushered in the era of the Completed Testament, which is already in the unchartered path. There is no prophecy anywhere in the Bible about what comes after the last days.

      Father and Mother made a series of declarations that they are the True Parents, and we were anointed as Tribal Messiahs who have to substantiate and represent the True Parents. The Family Pledge was proclaimed on May 1, 1994. I was in Hannam Dong and attended the meeeting when Father disclosed the new content.

      True Parents also proclaimed Absolute Sex, which was not always welcome very positively in our movement. It was kind of challenging. What? Absolute sex?

      In the Completed Testament, we are free from Satan and we become free for God, for the original human responsibilty. Human beings are always happy to be liberated from something, but are not always glad to be given a positive freedom. For instance, Lech Walesa was a great opponent of Communism but was less convincing as president of Poland. Mrs. Aung Sang Suu Kyi was a star in the opposition to the military, and was then loathed while in power (where she attended True Mother, by the way). The narrative about her changed. She almost became the villain. Now, after the military coup, will she become an icon again?

      In the Unification movement worldwide, there is still a strong nostalgia for the good old times of restoration, where things were quite simple. We still search for charismatic leaders in our rank and file. But in the current era, we need real and substantial achievements and some form of coaching to empower us a tribal messiahs.

      However, I perceive that this transition arouses much dread and angst in all of us. When I started Tribal Messiahship for good in Benin (2019), I went through 100 days of constant angst, day and night. It was so strong that I sometimes wished I had never been born (poor fallen man!). Now, I feel joy that God brought me there, and with other Cheonbo, we try to motivate other people to try, bit by bit.

      In my opinion, it is a life-changing experience: “Freedom from” to “freedom for.”

    2. Jean-Jacques,

      I am in agreement with everything you say.

      But also consider this. Reverend Moon’s speeches and the DP told us that along the path of restoration, it is necessary to build a foundation at the individual, family, tribe, nation, world and cosmic levels. It was paramount in the early nineties that he build a national level foundation. In the CSG (black book) pages 1379-81, Rev. Moon tells how close he and Kim Il Sung came to a breakthrough. If successful, and here I speculate, he would have been seen as a hero in both the North and the South. The DP would have been received in the North as a God-centered version of Kim Il Sung’s juche philosophy, and Rev. Moon’s stature in South Korea would have risen immensely. With re-unification and a national foundation, the Providence would have been very much on track.

      Unlike Laurent, I do not see multiple shifts in narrative between the mid-nineties and the end of Rev. Moon’s life, just two. Jardim and the Island Providence were simply continued attempts to find a substitute at the national level. The restoration of the spirit world centered on Cheongpyeong was the first seismic shift. Some may interpret it as an attempt to bring about a cosmic level restoration bypassing the establishment of national and world-level foundations.

      1. Graham, you wrote: “Some may interpret it (ancestor’s liberation) as an attempt to bring about a cosmic level restoration bypassing the establishment of national and world-level foundations.”

        Isn’t it like putting the cart before the horse? Or building a house starting from the roof?

        We are not supposed to live anymore in a symbolic age, but in a time of visible substantial realizations. Symbolic achievements will lastingly remain only symbolically efficient on our beautiful blue planet.

        And in the long run the difference might appear very thin between symbolic achievements and unsubstantial proclamations.

        For clarity’s sake it might be important to define the objective criteria allowing to fairly assess such family, nation, world and cosmic level foundations.

        How can we say one good individual has reached a good family level foundation? Doesn’t this require that all members of such family reach the same standard of goodness?

        Can we firmly establish a real foundation for a good society based on a mere symbolic good family foundation?

        1. Jean-Jacques,

          Can’t say I disagree.

          If few or none of us can claim to be living in the direct dominion and it needs both a husband and wife to be living fully in the presence of God in order to begin to establish one true family, then the restoration of a whole nation, let alone the whole world must be a long, long way away.

          Reverend Moon often said he was thinking in terms of thousands of years. I don’t believe he ever put a specific date on when the process of restoration would be completed.

        2. Graham,

          Thanks for your reply. You wrote: “I don’t believe he (Rev Moon) ever put a specific date on when the process of restoration would be completed”.

          Within the many thousands of speeches Rev. Moon delivered, among very deep inspiring insights, I am very sure one can find many failed prophecies of specific dates concerning the substantial establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth.

          So here we come to the essential topic of belief and the power of narrative.

          When a plan doesn’t turn out as it had been previously thought it would, and when its effective outcome is definitely not the expected one, it then becomes not only wise but necessary to revise the original narrative and reassess a new strategy.

          However, one can sadly get stuck in a mere denial of reality…

          – For religious people who live by faith, since what they view as God’s plan can’t be wrong, it’s therefore because their faith proved insufficient that results didn’t appear.

          – In the political field, opportunistic leaders usually rather adopt the attitude: “Even though the situation is beyond our control, let’s pretend we are in charge.”

          – As for Unificationists, they have been facing a permanent huge challenge. They constantly had to justify the narrative of a victorious plan in spite of the absence of significant results. Their specific strategy solely rests on sticking with the unverifiable theoretical pattern of solutions which were supposed to be applied to past hypothetical situations. (If Jesus…, if John the Baptist…, if Christians…, if America…, etc…)

          Even though one can’t but be deeply impressed by the vision which promotes the absolute narrow focus on specific chosen ones having on their shoulders the whole responsibility for God’s cosmic plan to unfold, this fascinating narrative has not yet proven to be a verifiable reality.

          That may explain why some members have come to not entirely buy anymore into the narrative of the DP Providence.

  14. Regarding the shift in priorities in the early 1990s after the fall of the USSR in 1991, I remember True Father referencing The Washington Times and how the new battle after the Cold War would be the “culture war.” It was in 1993 that Samuel P. Huntington (author of the book “the Clash of Civilizations”) predicted that the fundamental source of conflict in the post-Cold War era “would not be primarily ideological or primarily economic,” and that the “dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”

    In response to this new paradigm, the concept of “True Family Values” became the new vanguard with our church. In 1992 Women’s Federation for World Peace was launched and the “federation” concept was beginning to take shape in earnest and True Mother became a more significant public voice. It was also around this time that the Japanese fund-raising efforts were affected by a series of PR issues in Japan. As well, Rev. Kwak’s ascendancy over Dr. Bo Hi Pak was a major turn of events in the early 1990s. In some quarters this was viewed as shift away from the political and ideological front lines to the cultural front lines.

    A focus of our activities became identifying “Ambassadors for Peace” with the idea of creating “a larger framework” (CSG, p. 1107) to advance providential concerns. Alliances with like-minded individuals and institutions with the intention of creating “the Abel-UN” took precedence. Around 1996 there emerged the Cheong Pyeong ancestor liberation/blessing providence and that had dramatic effects on many of our attitudes and priorities.

    Given the “culture wars” that are currently upon us, it could be said that Marxism is still a problem, although in a different iteration — cultural rather and economic. The ideas of Antonio Gramsci regarding how “socialism would be the very religion to overwhelm Christianity” seem to be bearing out in the guise of postmodern progressivism. In her Rally of Hope speeches True Mother has been addressing the need for Christians (and politicians) to awaken to more fully understand “heaven’s providence,” for in that we can find the best path forward. Her emphasis on art and culture as a way to win hearts and minds is also a welcome narrative.

  15. Laurent,

    I was just 19 in 1975 when this memorable first encounter took place. And it just seems like yesterday. Even though I was then an exalted new member who hadn’t yet entirely entered the Unificationist mold, I became a living proof that God is able to use imperfect people to forward His Providence…

    You are an exceptionally gifted and, most of all, a very loving person. One of your greatest talents is certainly your genuine ability to build the appropriate narrative to fuel your actions and fulfill whatever challenging goal you may be given.

    Actually all motivational narratives have the purpose to shape our thoughts and actions towards beneficial uncharted paths. However, as long as the goal is not yet reached, there remains plenty of room for doubt and angst to arise.

    You mentioned the change of narrative concerning Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Many other respected leaders, including Rev. Kwak within the Unification movement, went through a similar fate of passing from a once-glorious narrative to disrepute.

    May God have more mercy on us than have some of his beloved children!

  16. Graham,

    I deeply appreciate your heartfelt introduction to this sensitive topic about belief and the power of narratives. It’s a universal concern every human being should sincerely take the time to consider.

    This time of pandemic lockdown might be the proper moment for that. Like a great given opportunity for everyone to safely venture outside of his own ivory tower. Physical distancing can’t stop hearts and minds to merge.

    As fake news and conspiracy theories are now flying all around, you invite us to momentarily distance ourselves from the hectic present time and serenely press on the pause button. Then to start with, you invite us to have a second look at what we might have been experiencing differently 30 years ago within the Unificationist movement.

    The vision of an idyllic Kingdom on Earth, as the fulfillment of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” has been Rev Moon’s proclaimed goal and the undeniably most cherished hope of all Unificationists. The deadline however has repeatedly been postponed. It was commonly expected that a huge spiritual Pentecost based on the foundations laid by Rev. Moon, his True family and his loyal dedicated army of heavenly soldiers would then sweep the planet.

    After the 1976 Washington Monument rally and the 1990 Moscow rally (which was the basis for the meeting of a delegation with Gorbachev) the meeting with Kim Il Sung occurred in 1991. This last accomplishment had been understood as being the culminating Providential point and there was a huge expectation for some kind of Divine intervention that would finally make it obvious to everyone that God’s reign on Earth would unstoppably be established from then on.

    But things definitely didn’t turn out that way.

    New objectives had then to be given to keep Unificationists mobilized, but not all could buy into the new narratives. Some might have come to consider that Rev Moon’s role was not anymore as essential as he had himself thought it was.

    Within this possible short gap of doubt and uncertainty, a new challenging narrative appeared. The unexpected ancestors’ liberation providence was announced. Without being explicitly told it was meant to provide the financing for the Holy City, it couldn’t however but be seen by some as akin to the sale of indulgences centuries ago to finance public works in the Vatican.

    Hence the legitimate question you mentioned, whether the use of narrative to exercise influence over the behavior and actions of others is justifiable? Can it be justified within a democratic society? How about within a theocratic society? It might also be linked to the question of what is an enlightened choice or consent?

    I would be happy to read comments and empowering reflections on these crucial matters from the many talented and educated contributors to this Blog made for our edification.

  17. Jean-Jacques,

    While the ancestor liberation narrative may have been challenging, the second shift in narrative that occurred in the early 2000s was equally challenging for some. Previously, the movement had asserted that a major issue for Christianity had been the elevation of Jesus, through the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, to that of God, putting his standard of absolute love beyond the reach of ordinary men. Emphasis on this now appears to play a lesser part in our dialogue with Christians. Meanwhile, the True Parents who had previously been seen as the original perfected couple, the first to accomplish the Second Blessing, are today regarded by many as the visible form of God from here to eternity. This may not be quite the same as the Christian perception of Jesus, but the possibility of it becoming so in the future seems plausible.

    Like you, I would be happy to read comments from other contributors.

    1. Graham,

      Our steady march towards unity and enlightenment is definitely not following a linear trajectory.

      Besides ancestor liberation, God’s coronation and the Only Begotten Daughter theology which David has mentioned, the deification of True Parents might have been another “stumbling block” which ended up dividing more than strengthening the Unificationist Family.

      You then cast a very lucid eye on this fundamental Unificationist belief which can surprisingly be perceived as contradicting the Divine Principle itself, and consequently resulting in stoking divisions.

      It’s certainly a challenge — and even an untenable position — to teach the DP interpretation of the Holy Trinity to Christians while holding simultaneously the belief in True Parents deification.

      In our search for universality and consistency, some official Unificationist narratives appear sometimes as cumbersome luggage which have led quite a few members to opt out of the Unification movement.

      Can Heaven be an intellectually and emotionally satisfying place for all?

      Is our ultimate search one of unity or one of uniformity?

  18. Jean-Jacques writes: “Hence the legitimate question you mentioned, whether the use of narrative to exercise influence over the behavior and actions of others is justifiable? Can it be justified within a democratic society? How about within a theocratic society? It might also be linked to the question of what is an enlightened choice or consent?”

    I would say that everyone throughout history has been impacted or influenced by various narratives –religious, political, ideological, cultural. The issue of volition is salient. At certain junctures in human history there were uprisings against authority figures in the pursuit of freedom. People in China and North Korea might benefit from a Gandhi-type figure, or a Dr. King-type activist, but dissenters are snuffed out regularly because civil liberties don’t exist in those places.

    The idea of individual civil liberties in which citizens have “the right to choose” is not only the basis of Western liberal democracies, but is also the basis of a culture that promotes Godism. Augustine asserted long ago that people succeed or fail in life based on what they choose to love. Spinoza had similar views and held that choosing to love God was supremely important. Our choices determine our identities in significant measure.

    Not everyone in FFWPU has bought into (no pun intended) the ancestor liberation/blessing providence. Not all members vote for the same political candidates. The narrative of the Only Begotten Daughter has caused some people to choose to opt out of the church altogether. The narratives (dogma) of our faith requires examination from intellectual, spiritual and heartistic perspectives.

    We understand that holding certain views about absolute sex, the use of public funds or human rights (not hurting the hearts of others) — narratives that were reinforced on the day of the Coronation of God’s Kingship in 2001 — are non-negotiable, but we still have the choice to behave accordingly. I know some members who didn’t believe that God needed to be coronated at all and it was a presumptuous gesture/narrative. They chose to take a step away from the church as a result. This, of course, gives lie to the narrative that UC members are always in lockstep with our founders.

    All of this is to say that there is ample evidence to demonstrate that regardless of the narrative, each individual possesses the right to choose. We often make those choices in the context of our families, but ultimately we can choose to either “buy in” or “opt out” of a particular narrative. We need to consider the consequences in the process, but each of us gets to make our choice. If we take the view that there are spiritual and religious connotations linked to various narratives then we ought to seek guidance and wisdom through prayer in order to make enlightened choices.

  19. Graham Simon’s article on belief and narrative is prompting a steady and robust discussion among us. Indeed, a limited number of persons are discussing, but the discussion is raising many important and critical points in light, I believe. Thanks to Graham and everyone.

    Belief is foundation of faith, being is foundation of substance.

    We should keep in mind that, in Unification theology, belief and narrative belong to what we call the foundation of faith, which also involves the central figure (responsible person) and the time perod to make the offering. The foundation of faith should be followed by the foundation of substance. One has to be what one claims and says. We have to say the right thing, do the right thing and be the right person at the right time, whom God may use for His Providence. Faith itself is strongly connected to who is in charge and when.

    In other words, it is not enough for Abel to succeed in the foundation of faith by upholding the right belief and repeat the right narrative. Cain may feel that Abel is using the word, the speech, only to justify himself, not in the mind of serving others or fulfilling the whole purpose. And time is often the enemy of Cain and Abel uniting.

    From the vote on Brexit in 2016, it was not perfectly clear that a strong majority of the people in the United Kingdom really wanted to leave the EU with a clear understanding of what it meant. It was followed by three years in the wilderness, where the whole country was in a stalemate, in the midway position, which is not clearly leave or remain. Nigel Farage, who had been so vociferous about leaving, became completely silent and, I would say, irresponsible. The flock had no shepherd, but thanks to God, the Queen kept her position and dignity.

    For a few years, the country was led by a woman of good will but unclear vision (PM Teresa May) who could never embody the task for which she had been chosen. She behaved more as a conscientious manager than as a leader of heart, vision. Her team was weak and divided. The opposition from Labor was mediocre. On the side of the EU, no real effort was ever made to embrace the dissident UK and offer a possibility of yet another vote. The possibility of voting again existed, but could never gain real momentum, despite sincere efforts. In the aftermath of Brexit, no Abel figure emerged anywhere, I would say. Even if you think that Brexit is based on a good belief and narrative, it was very poorly managed during three years consecutively.

    The end result of all that is the emergence of a certain type of man. I understand that, for some Brexiters, the EU is drifting away from God, from family values, and so on. They would very much like a narrative and belief where the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is seen as a God-centered man and a man of family values. Johnson is using various beliefs and narratives to guide UK. At one moment, he wanted to resurrect the Commonwealth, for instance. Some might say, “good luck!”. He also thought that strong ties with Donald Trump might offer advantages. Well, good luck also! His champion is no longer there.

    Right now, the British people, as a consequence of their vote, are embarked in a national belief and narrative which is risky. If not properly handled, the crisis may affect the very identity or DNA of the country. There is a risk that with this belief, this narrative, the UK may not remain the UK very long.

    There is a real risk that the United Kingdom may split, just like the United Kingdom of Israel split into North and South. Personally, I fear this. I pray sincerely that it never happens. I also observe with angst that the Allied nations of WWII are in a critical situation: the USA, first of all, the United Kingdom and France, the three of them are going through a very profound existential crisis.

    Meanwhile, China, almost without fighting, is progressing so fast in its agenda. Some people dread its power, and yet they start to admire its resilience and are extremely disappointed by the Western World. Brexit should be seen within the larger picture of a Western world more and more drifting away from its traditonal beliefs and narratives.

    Though Graham’s essay he is addressing belief and narrative in Unificationism; it starts with a long and interesting analysis of Brexit, and I want to be back on this topic in light of the Cain and Abel dynamic. Sorry if I again insist on these points, which are very real and actual and are well explained by Graham.

    1. Laurent,

      May I respectfully suggest that a discussion on Brexit from a Providential perspective is best conducted elsewhere. Perhaps you might want to submit an article to the AU Blog on the subject?

      The mention of the EU and Brexit at the beginning of this article were purely to illustrate how narratives can divide, but not with the intention of re-opening a debate on the subject. If truth be told, those opening paragraphs only got there after discussion with the Blog editorial committee, who felt my original comments on the use of narrative in the recent U.S. election might become too much of a distraction, a sentiment with which I concurred.

  20. Thank you, David, for sharing your insightful perspective. I can fully relate to what you wrote: “The narratives (dogma) of our faith requires examination from intellectual, spiritual and heartistic perspectives”. That’s so true. I know from experience that we might otherwise find ourselves sooner or later stuck in an intellectual and emotional dead-end.

    God as the Supreme Conductor keeps whispering in your heart and you have undoubtedly learned a lot towards harmonizing dissonant partitions.

    1. Jean-Jacques,

      In the overtone series (the mathematic explication of pitch production in all music), we find consonant intervals and dissonant intervals. This sonic etymology of music contains the yin-yang properties of sound. Both are essential, and present, in most musical utterances and the composer’s task is to find balance and a harmonious union of these polar opposites.

      I bring this up to highlight the idea that True Mother recently articulated that it’s art and culture that can quickly facilitate unity. Surely, the establishment of a Holy City will include a serious arts agenda. I hope to be doing some of the conducting there in the future.

  21. Graham,

    Your remarkable essay is a subject of deep concern to me. It raises a lot of fundamental and puzzling questions concerning the consistency of our spiritual odyssey. What then can we learn from past unfulfilled glorious narratives?

    Speculating on a hypothetical past which never occurred is certainly easier that predicting an imminent future which everyone would be able to witness.

    DP and Rev. Moon taught us how human history would have been drastically changed if key figures had been victorious. We were then only dealing with hypothetical events which never took place. In such narratives, imagination and magical thinking can easily invite themselves and such predictions can hardly be invalidated since they are pure speculative scenarios. For example:

    – If Jesus had married his half-sister he wouldn’t have been crucified.
    – If John the Baptist had united with Jesus, the Israelites would have welcomed Jesus and the kingdom of God would have been established.
    – If Jesus would have met with the Roman Emperor, the Romans would have followed Jesus.
    – If proper conditions had been met in Charlemagne’s time, then the Kingdom of God would have begun at that moment.
    – If Christians had welcomed Rev. Moon from 1945, the kingdom of God could have been established by 1952.
    – Etc.

    However, what happens when we presently analyze through the same lenses the recent providential history that did take place right in front of our eyes? Will real observable events confirm the pattern of rapid visible providential changes? For example:

    – After his Danbury imprisonment, Rev Moon was victoriously welcomed in 1985 by so many Christian ministers in the U.S., did American Christians follow him?
    – Did Rev. Moon’s victorious meeting with Soviet President Gorbachev in 1990 bring Russians to accept True Parents?
    – What has been providentially achieved over the long-term since Rev. and Mrs. Moon’s meeting with President Kim Il Sung in 1991?
    – After True Parents Coronation at the U.S. Senate in 2001, did Americans suddenly come to follow them?

    If by faith, highly expected events could easily fit within speculative narratives, how can we today make stubborn unwanted outcomes fit within contradictory victorious narratives?

    At some point, we need to face, digest and learn from our past experience to keep moving upward and reach higher ground.

  22. Thank you, Graham, for raising this troublesome topic of the perilous power of narrative and its potential disastrous consequences.

    In religion, as in politics, selective, distorted and biased story-telling is deceitful. Recurrent propaganda aims at promoting embellished, made-up stories to seduce the multitudes and subtly lead them towards a specific arbitrary set goal. Benjamin Franklin reminded us that half-truths can be a big lie.

    Does the end justify the means?

    Fascinating narratives fuel activists who can easily get caught in an emotional turmoil. In the heat of action, by a pressure they can’t notice anymore, they just single-mindedly focus on the given narrative without holding any longer a real discerning mind.

    Are those who created the narrative ready to take responsibility for the consequences? For example, is it possible to exert psychological pressure or take advantage of people’s weaknesses or disarray in raising funds for a “good cause”? Very high or non-realistic goals might come down through a heavy pressured multi-level chain of command to incite fundraisers to be victorious no matter how… Sadly, with the best intentions, and without any pangs of conscience, tragedies can occur.

    Justice may then require reimbursement of what will be labeled as extorted money, in order to make up for abuses and prejudices it might have caused, like recently happened within the UM in Japan.

    However I really don’t know who will take responsibility to reimburse the impoverished non-Brexit-supporting citizens if this would turn out to be the direct consequence of Brexit.

    Jesus told us we won’t be judged according to our narrative but according to our deeds. My grandmother wisely taught me that hell can be paved with good intentions.

  23. Speaking about Europe, there are at least three types of European identity.

    First, there are Europeans who are aligned with the fact they are Europeans. Second, there are Europeans wishing they could be more than that, like the UK and Russia. The third category is those who want to be Europeans (occasionally) like Turkey.

    Do we need a kind of meta-narrative satisfying all desires? The narrative of the narrative or a second-order type narrative. A narrative that includes the specific viewpoint of various narratives. Actually that is a post-modern concept. The idea (concept) of Europe is vague. I like that vagueness as something that has to be completed in an ongoing, never-ending process.

  24. By coincidence, I just watched a presentation by Regina Polak, head of the Institute for Practical Theology, Vienna University. Her contribution is based on a long-term European survey about values and European’s share. Common shared values as the identity-building European narrative. It’s an ongoing study started around 1980 and documents the flow and change.

  25. Graham,

    You rightly underline the amazing power of attachment to beliefs and you mentioned the easily forgotten reality that “… our thoughts, feelings and actions are shaped by myriads of narratives imbibed during our lives, starting from the cradle…..These building blocks are integral to our identity”.

    We indeed so identify with our beliefs, that we easily come to lose sight that all our actions (and reactions) are based on these mere beliefs we have deeply integrated and which are holding such a strong grip on us.

    However our internal software may have been polluted or even hijacked, without our knowing, by subtly induced ideologies. What we then presently consider as obvious facts might just be the result of the warped perception which now insidiously shapes our captive reasoning.

    Whenever genuine reflections allowing to challenge these narratives are being highly discouraged or systematically censored, fake news and manipulation through story-telling can alas continue to prosper and reinforce their pernicious power.

    But truth shall prevail in the long run, for lies will unavoidably lose over time their deceitful gloss and dangerous attractiveness. No one can live forever in a “lie-lie land”…

    Furthermore in dealing with charismatic, deceitful storytellers, we might carefully observe the recurrent ironic feature that liars never meet their liabilities. That’s why without even batting an eyelid they can endlessly contrive excuses, designate new scapegoats, and, when needed, keep changing for a contradictory narrative with always the same apparent disarming confidence.

    It definitely shows that their fascinating promises only concern those who believe in their misleading rhetoric. They only care about controlling power.

    Thank God, on our path towards enlightenment when we come to realize that the beliefs and evolving narratives to which we may have been attached for a while are not truly appropriate tools anymore, we gratefully rediscover a latent Divine renewed incentive for deeper guidance and understanding. From that point the world keeps slightly growing wiser…

  26. Narratives are meant to explain and give meaning to events and situations we may be facing on our life journey. Every individual can have his specific way of deciphering reality and build on it according to his own software.

    But how can we deal with the inherent complexity of life and the awareness of our shallow knowledge which is also linked to our undeniable limited experience? We have then to rely on other people’s greater knowledge and experience, as well as on their ability to process them, in order to build a consistent peaceful society together.

    Here comes the issue of trust in the narratives and in those who deliver these narratives. This applies as well to science, politics, economy, religion, medicine, and all possible fields of knowledge.

    Revolutions have regularly been happening within each of these fields and inspired pioneers have been appearing at different times to impulse new ways, suggest other approaches and develop beneficial, unheard theories. But it also happened that other people have elaborated peculiar mind-blogging explanations that only they themselves could really figure out within their ivory tower. They might have gotten however a handful of blindly trusting followers but nobody else could objectively grasp or validate their vision.

    Religion is definitely a particular field where the craziest theories can safely prosper, but politics is not far behind, with its abundant lot of “fake news,” purposely distorted facts and worrisome conspiracy theories. The common denominator behind all these dysfunctionalities is often an unconfessed thirst for power which resorts to manipulative ways.

    Graham’s essay invites us all to have a serious look at this issue.

    What can all of this have to do with Unificationism?

    Unificationism is not the private property of a minority group. It is humankind’s most cherished hope and dearest longing for a secured world of love and shared happiness for all.

    To reach that goal, let’s then not forget essential ingredients on our way, if we are to reconcile the fragmented Human Family.

    Transparency and accountable assessments are unavoidable required elements for trust to operate. These can’t exist without genuine encouragement to proceed to systematic fact-checking, and providing the guarantee of the free exercise of positive critical thinking.

    If both democracy and religion — including the Unification Movement — were to dangerously keep making the economy of such requirements, they might just sadly generate a great deal of suffering and disappointment before disappearing altogether.

    Isn’t promoting blind faith in an unchecked pyramidal system appearing as a mere obscurantist strategy to control the masses? We are not supposed to live anymore in an age where faith should be like an addictive thrill to spiritual bungee-jumping — furthermore without a bungee!

    Centuries ago, Galileo had said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

    Narratives may deadly enslave us, but truth shall definitely make us free.

    1. Luther said, “Peace if possible, but truth at all costs.”

      Emotion and reason (heart and intellect) should be harmonized according to Divine Principle. If we feel that we can trust a person it’s because there’s reason for that trustworthiness. If we fear someone, there’s a reason why we fear that person, and so through all of our emotions. Reason and truth can help distinguish if an emotion is appropriate of inappropriate. People can be passionate, or compassionate about unprincipled situations and scenarios.

      I recently had a discussion with a church leader in the USA about how many second generation high school and college cannot easily accept the truth aspect of DP because it puts them at odds with many of their peers and the fear of being rejected. Being seen as prejudicial or intolerant is something they don’t want to deal with because it’s considered untoward. Of course, there’s safety in being accepted as part of a group and human nature is such that we don’t want to be viewed as an outcast or deplorable.

      This church leader made an appeal to be sensitized to the emotions that these BCs were dealing with and have a parental heart. That’s fine, but God, our Heavenly Parent, has laid down the law, and the law of heaven doesn’t equivocate on certain issues. Compassion is required but not at the expense of undermining the values and virtues that are rooted in the truth of DP.

      In any attempt to establish a society based on Godism there needs to be heart and intellect in the equation. Being too emotional — like Moses striking the rock twice in a fit of indignation — can cause us to be blind to the necessities of reason and truth.

      1. David,

        Did not Luther’s righteous quote, once applied, become simply “Peace as long as I am right”? In other words it came to sadly mean “Peace is possible, but narrative at all costs”. And “righteous war” surely waiting for us around the corner…

        In the past, it has often legitimated horrible tragedies which were supposed to please God. In summer 1572, France was really not the place to spend one’s holiday. Tens of thousands of “truth holders” murdered one another because of their slightly different perceptions of “Truth”.

        Undeniably, they all had very good reasons to trust either Luther or the Pope… Doesn’t a similar tragic dilemma apply now to the divided Unification movement? That is a very disturbing question we can’t avoid considering.

        Compassion is indeed required among fallible humans. No one deserves to be ostracized because of his/her convictions. Shouldn’t respect and love for minorities be reciprocal? It is intolerable that young Unificationists be viewed as outcasts. The same if they were Jehovah’s Witnesses or if they believed in UFOs. What about if other young Unificationists were to not fully buy anymore in the DP narrative? Would or wouldn’t they feel like outcasts?

        God’s children — including Moses and myself — may have a tendency to overreact and make poor choices based on biased narratives, fake news and warped interpretations.

        Aren’t we lucky that God, through his unfathomable wisdom and incomparable love and patience, never overreacts at each and every one of our shortcomings?

        This might lead us to question the accuracy of some Old Testament anthropomorphic accounts of God’s reactions which may have been the mere reflection of our ancestors’ own unstable emotional state.

        1. Well, yes, triumphalism in religious matters has caused a great deal of human misery, and Luther had his problems, for sure. Yet, in the truth, beauty and goodness paradigm as described in DP—he Original Value of Creation—these attributes are “constantly in action,” and to the degree that we respond to God as our subject and parent—in heart and mind—we can attain our true value as “good” children.

          Of course, compassion is important, but again emotion ought to be aligned with truth. If a child comes to a parent and confides that they are in love with someone else’s spouse, we may feel compassion towards the child’s feelings, but we might cite the Old Testament (Thou shall not cover thy neighbor’s wife) or DP in order help the child deal with their feelings. That would be considered good counseling and good parenting in order to prevent the child from doing spiritual harm to himself and others.

          With regard to beauty, I’ve always viewed beauty as the feminine attribute of God’s nature. Our desire for beauty is atavistic and we never tire of beauty’s pleasures—whether in nature or art. Art that stimulates and nourishes our souls is usually the result of a sublime use of materials (paint, musical pitches, language, etc.) in an artful way (craft) that reflects (ontologically) the nature of God—archetypes in UT parlance. I always appreciate this insight from Dr. Young Oon Kim on this topic:

          “It is in the transmoral dimension of aesthetic experience that beauty approaches God. All the laws from and within God—give and take, polarity, harmony—connect beauty from all cultures. And to the extent that they clearly amplify and substantiate God’s nature they evoke a response of love and appreciation from man. Since God represents absolute love and freedom, beauty is never confined.”

          When Dr. Kim references “the laws from and within God” with regard to art she is citing the “truth” aspect, which is a significant way that emotion is expressed via art. In others words, truth (all those laws from and within God) is a means to an aesthetic end. The greatest art is that in which there is a sublime conjoining of heart and intellect. When our hearts as artists are aligned with our Heavenly Parent there is potential for great art to emerge, but one has to acquire technique and skill. Having been in Korea for about five years, I can see that True Mother has a keen sense for heavenly art, and she is a woman of truth.

  27. My narrative for what we’ve been involved in starts several millennia ago, with the advent of the monotheistic religions. The patriarchs appeared within a world saturated by nature values, the celebration of fertility rites, very little thought of living in some way at a higher level than nature. Their role was to lead humanity towards a calling that put us in a role to love and honor nature, but essentially not be led solely by our own natural impulses.

    Sadly they squashed the feminine values in imposing the law, rather than in leading towards living in a manner that embodied a higher perspective. So the monotheistic religions grew up without the feminine side on an equal footing. Therefore many deviations and atrocities later, still humanity has moved toward the goal, and finally stands on the verge of integrating both feminine and masculine values, of embracing the expression of Mother God as well as Father God, and of actually ending religion itself.

    Therefore, Father and Mother Moon have finally allowed an archetype into the universal unconscious of a victorious end to religion, through reversing the failure of Christianity, Islam, etc.

    It’s onward and upward from here, but time to be kind, loving, not judgmental, etc., all the qualities of the ideal mother, because Mother God is ready to embrace us all, the whole world.

  28. Graham Simon writes: “At the heart of Christian theology lies a belief in the Immaculate Conception. To non-Christians and perhaps a lot of Christians too, it is an unreasonable and unscientific belief. Yet it is also an unquestionable tenet of faith for many others.”

    I grew up attending the Church of England. Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus was a professed belief. I cannot remember any belief about the nature of Mary being taught other than that. I think you may be confusing the nature of Jesus’s conception with the nature of Mary’s conception. A Roman Catholic dogma.

    Here is the New World Encyclopedia on the Immaculate Conception.

    If you were refering to a belief in Mary’s “Immaculate Conception” then please accept my apologies. It seems central to RC belief, but not the C of E, and I suspect many other Protestant faiths.

    1. Thank you, Robin, for that edifying correction. You are correct. I had meant the Virgin Birth not the Immaculate Conception.

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