By Robert Duffy
Let me clearly state I have the greatest respect for Jesus, my Savior and Messiah. And I have great respect for the church universal that Jesus established after his death and resurrection, and which has served, however imperfectly, to care for our Heavenly Parent and to further God’s providence of salvation.
But it seems to me there are many in our culture who are philosophically Christian, but not church-goers — would-be Christians who have become discouraged as I had in my teenage years.
In my current experience, churches today can deliver a somewhat satisfying experience on the spiritual and emotional level, but without a more credible philosophical substrate, lack the capacity to support a moral or ethical context on which further societal development can be built.
More modern referents are called for — those of technology, film, popular culture, science, art, and social media — in telling the story of salvation, promoting the predominant need for moral transformation and spiritual growth rather than a rescue from sinful depravity, although that approach is sometimes appropriate. Many consider social salvation more important than mere personal salvation, though the causal relationship should be clear.
The world today is experiencing some of the worst convulsions from the widest possible number of sources in history — wars, extreme climate change, ideological and cultural conflict, dysfunctional social systems, family and societal breakdown, to name a few.
One of the factors holding a society together, historically, has been the acceptance of similar values among its citizens, values which most of the population held in common.
In our age — with peoples and their cultures, languages and customs interacting in sometimes competitive and combative ways, sharing space with each other through the relative ease of migration and travel — societies, particularly in the developed world, have experienced unprecedented levels of social confusion as the demographic complexion of nations changes, and with it, the political and spiritual environments.
And so, dear Christians, although we may feel that our religion is the greatest (and final) one, our witness to Christ in our time must take on an interreligious character. Indeed, we are challenged not to convert people of other faiths to ours, as much as to make the case for faith itself, allowing God to move in us in our ways of thinking and acting in the world. The real object of our evangelical efforts is the modern cynic, agnostic or atheist, devoid of faith and unable to realize the omnipresence of our Creator God in their midst in everyday life.
But to reach said cynics, it will be important to have an intellectually sound basis for advocating a perspective of faith. A common value system, based on biblically-rooted first principles, would be interesting if and only if it was able to encapsulate the essentials of both a spiritual and physical view of life. In other words, it would have to embrace both religion and science.
Spiritual growth need not depend solely on references to ancient cultures and peoples of distant past ages. New ideas arising from modern archeological, technical, historical, literary, and general scientific scholarship in the more recent past, including developments in physics, biology and astronomy, provide a treasure trove for the exploration of our Heavenly Parent’s purpose for his creation and our human role in it.
Foundational dogmas, the basics of the faith — the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ miracles — the core of which is the divinity of Jesus, have proven no match for the tsunami of intellectual fervor surrounding the steady stream of discoveries in physics, medicine and other disciplines that has swept into the center of public imagination in the past century or so, promising new avenues to a better life, a virtual physical salvation.
It is possible that the church has stumbled, after a long and glorious history, at the prospect of a physical salvation that has become available through other agencies beyond its control — the industrial revolution, technological advances and the popularly received, if not entirely scientific, ideas of Darwin and Freud that we humans are simply clever animals whose physical instincts and other qualities, if explored and understood well, will enable us to perfect our lives on earth free from religious agency.
Why did the church find it so challenging to embrace, if not its early conclusions, at least the scientific enterprise itself which held promise of a better life for humanity? Did the church, representing the Father, think that almighty God would lose control of humanity if it entertained science as a legitimate path to augment the spiritual truth it championed? Was science an unwanted competitor for worldview supremacy? Science, after all, is a child of the Christian mind.
The Enlightenment movement prepared the intellectual environment for the obviation of God as a central referent to moral reasoning. Deism quietly consigned God to ancient history, while more strident philosophical positions ignored God altogether.
I have seen the transformative effect of the Enlightenment take place like a history lesson in compressed form, in my place of residence for the past 30 years — Quebec, the Canadian province in which the largely French-speaking, Catholic population experienced a “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s.
This disruptive social convulsion had a similar effect to the French Revolution (minus the bloodshed) in that the former political and religious elites were swept away in a sudden rush to modernity that had been avoided until then due to the relative isolation of the territory, linguistically, socially and religiously, from its vast and largely English-speaking and Protestant neighbors, the rest of Canada and the United States.
As the Enlightenment movement displaced the church in Europe and contributed to modern secular society, so the Quiet Revolution replaced the Catholic church in Quebec with the modern secular state. Pre-Enlightenment and utltramontanist Quebec had by 1991, when I arrived here, “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”
Discouraged as a teenager in my own spiritual journey, I was reluctant to try to support my Christian faith in the face of modernity if it could not support itself. By age 18, my spiritual pain drove me, like the biblical Abraham, to leave my country and my father’s house, and travel to a far-off land. I thought of the Middle East, the cradle of civilization as I understood it, and vowed to travel to Israel and on to Iraq to experience first-hand the atmosphere, culture and geography there. I suppose I was hoping to acquire insights into the ancient origins of humanity and its early development which might have revealed why the world seemed bent on its own destruction. My experience in the late 1960s did feel to my teenage self like these were the last days of humankind upon the earth.
I took a job in England while preparing to continue to Europe and beyond. While working at London’s premier department store, I encountered two Unificationist missionaries — two of only four in the entire United Kingdom at the time. It was late November 1967. I was still at this time seeking the “origin of things,” a kind of origin story of humanity that would shed light on the current state of the world and give my life meaning. I had reached the unsettling conclusion that God had withdrawn from the world he created and was preparing to unveil a new plan for a new direction for humanity. As to me, I was searching for the root of meaning. Responding to that first invitation from a Unification missionary to visit the church center, I listened to the Divine Principle, gradually hearing all chapters over the month of December.
I remember well the feeling of clarity that accompanied the lectures on the Principle of Creation, the Fall of Man and the Mission of Jesus. Here were answers to the questions that had driven me to want to travel to the Middle East! Here were solutions to the questions of credibility I had had about Christianity and its role in the world. With this interpretation of the human Fall, the Cross as a secondary course and the ontology/Christology of the Divine Principle, I could finally see how my Christianity, if structured around it and liberated from its credal death grip, could not only survive the present age of reason and science, but indeed prosper, becoming the inevitable core of a global culture embracing all religions and cultures of history.
The only question remaining for me was, “Could this fledgling group carry this incredible, mainly Christian concept forward into a social/cultural and eventual political force that would reflect its full power?” Whereas I had not been able to convince myself to defend Christianity in its traditional interpretive framework at my spiritual crossroad earlier, with the Divine Principle, I now felt I had the tools I needed not only to defend, but to conquer with this new Christianity! I had now in front of me a means of agency that, if used successfully would change the world not in small ways, but thoroughly Christianize, in terms of values, the entire world and all cultures.
This clarity ultimately brought me to Unificationism and brings me to want to express the pain in my heart regarding what was for me the loss of the Christian Church and even its virtual decommissioning not only in my personal life but in the larger world around me.
A dynamic community of believers is one in which passion for the spiritual life and the will of God is evident. Passion arises from a full engagement of the mind and emotions — and it generates action. I am convinced that spiritual growth need not depend solely on references to ancient cultures and peoples of distant past ages.
New ideas arising from modern archeological, technical, historical, literary, and general scientific scholarship in the past century or so, including developments in physics, biology and astronomy that paint reality in a manner that would have been considered magical in a prior age, provide a treasure trove for the exploration of our Heavenly Parent’s purposes and scope of his creation and our human role in it.
Without a shift of emphasis from “staying the course” to “advancing to a new stage,” the decline of Christianity in the Western world, especially among the young, is inevitable — and likely irreversible. Without development, a comfortable “club-ism” tends to set in, where the price of membership is the acceptance of prevailing dogma — believed or not, understood or not.
My message, then, dear Christians, is, “Let us get the theological irrelevance out of the way and give ourselves room for new breath from God — a new spiritual growth spurt to a closer walk with our Heavenly Parent.”♦
Born in Ontario, Canada, Robert Duffy joined the Unification Movement while travelling in the United Kingdom in 1968. After pursuing a degree in economics and literature, he joined the Unification International Training Center in Tarrytown, New York, as a trainee, then as lecturer, before being appointed national leader of Canada at age 25. Missionary work followed in Ireland. He and his wife, Johanna, have five children and one grandchild. He holds a number of directorships within the Unification Movement and elsewhere, and was appointed Secretary-General of UPF Canada in 2017.
Robert, your perspectives regarding the interface of religion and science reminded me of certain historical precedents.
In Europe, the Renaissance was a time when creating art and music based on religious convictions and scientific principles was celebrated as a reflection of humankind’s ability to realize its fullest potential—the settings of the Catholic Mass by Josquin des Prez or Brunelleschi’s dome of the Florence Cathedral, for example. Religion and science in the Renaissance were not considered mutually exclusive entities but rather were seen as correlative facets of the human experience that when conjoined and harmonized in artistic endeavors could yield sublime artistic expressions of great beauty and meaning.
In his exegesis on the history of musical tuning systems, Stuart Isacoff posited that “music’s prized proportions permeated not only the inner sanctums of the church, but the workshops of great artists,” thus becoming “entangled in the world of scientific inquiry.”
Too often there is a common misconception that the Enlightenment was a lightning bolt that abruptly ended all religious belief and the reliance on supernatural phenomena resulting in the immediate supplanting of religious beliefs with reason and logic. In fact, there was no immediate rejection of religion and as we know, many people — composers included — remained “believers” well into the twentieth century, Stravinsky, Ives and Messiaen among them.
Melanie Phillips observes that history is a complex process whereby seemingly conflicting ideas are evolving concomitantly. As she puts it: “The seismic struggle between reason and irrationality well predated the Enlightenment; and the ideas generated by the Enlightenment created historical feedback loops of reaction and counter-reaction that continue to this day.” The ideological debates that have erupted in the late twentieth century are largely predicated on these same “feedback loops.” Phillips avers that the current iteration of culture wars and the subsequent “unraveling of the Enlightenment” is the result of the spurious rationale, “that reason can exist detached from the civilization that gave it birth … the fundamental error of thinking that to be ‘enlightened’ necessarily entails a repudiation of religion.” Many of America’s founders, for instance, remained “believers.”
Well observed, David.
I don’t know whether I made myself clear in my references to the Enlightenment. I don’t consider it a starting point for the tension between religion and science, rather a continuation of the expression of the dynamic relationship between the hemispheres of the brain. Religion and science, or art and technology, are tensions as old as humanity itself: think of bone tools and cave art, for instance. Both are expressions of human life, as they relate to the physical and spiritual realities of what it is to be human in the world.
Melanie Phillips and you are right about the “spurious rationale,” “that reason can exist detached from the civilization that gave it birth … the fundamental error of thinking that to be ‘enlightened’ necessarily entails a repudiation of religion.” Reason doesn’t replace belief, but rather compliments it by confirming, by its benefits, the justification for the enterprise of reason itself. We will always need both to live well in the world, and to prepare well for the spiritual life we will eventually live for eternity.
Ironically, there is science in art and art in science. We seem to be hard-wired for both, since our bifurcated brains handle, by the left hemisphere, the immediate and tool-related actions, and by the right hemisphere, the environmental and interpretive functions. The magnificence of great craft of any kind, I think, lies in its mastery of both its technique and the nuance of its interpretation, the utter harmony of the two spheres.
I have fond, vivid memories of the days when Kem Mylar, I, and you were trainee pals, with Kem and I going on to lecture Divine Principle Study Guide before moving on, and you coming to lecture. Also, we met in New York City at a leadership meeting.
I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I’ll just mention one important quibble. It’s one thing to speak of Christianizing, in terms of values. However, I hold it wrong to characterize our movement as Christian, for the following reason: Although Teacher Moon proclaimed himself to be the returned only begotten Jesus Christ, who found and was married with the only begotten Daughter, members are not reborn as children of Jesus but of the True Parents — just as it was not Elijah, but John, who baptized Jesus.
I’m glad you remember those days fondly. I also remember you and Kem similarly. You are indeed unforgettable characters from those precious days.
I appreciate the quibble. I’m attempting in this essay to stretch the definition of Christianity to the more Unificationist level of inclusivity and universality for our Christian friends. I am not optimistic of success.
True, we are not Christian in the club/community sense. However, our rebirth is an extension of the spiritual rebirth offered by Jesus into the physical realm, offered by our True Parents. In many ways, this process has its precedent in the way the Mosaic Law is extended by Jesus’ amplification and universalization of the Law through his teachings and example.
Judaism need not have been repudiated by Christians like it was, just as Christianity need not be repudiated by Unificationists. By stretching membership rules, those in the club who are somewhat stifled or frustrated as I was might find a pathway open for them to migrate with their spiritual treasures to the enlarged, and dare I say, more inclusive and universal a project as Unificationism.
This is a heartfelt article by Robert. Almost a meta-essay.
I’d like to add a perspective to this discussion:
We are not Christian. Never have been. We are a marginalized sect of Christianity.
One difference between 2022 and 1954 is: We’ve managed, by our own hand, to further diminish our relevancy, via the so-called “splinter phenomenon,” especially rambunctious since the 2012 passing of Rev. Moon.
It’s prudent for the competitive outdoor track miler, to consider allowing one’s broken leg to heal, get the cast off, then doctor clearance, before entering back on the track, to start training again to run a four-minute mile.
Yes. We are running full steam ahead. Does anyone else see the pain-drenched hobble in the runner’s stride?
Thanks for your comments. Do I detect a heroic element in the pain-drenched runner’s course?
Not much to work with here…
My apologies for the skimpy response.
In my essay, I seem to be working through an internal proposition that I have held for a very long time — that our movement need never devolve into a truly “new” religion, considering its meta-religious character and its goal of obviating religion entirely.
However, even after reaching the top drawer of political leaders, and even if the masses are suddenly swept up in the blessing movement within our movement, it seems that for the sake of the education of the populations of the world a religious format will be necessary for their future inculcation.
This conclusion yields to the prospect of a very prolonged journey during which our new religion instils globe-changing attitudes and ideas to mould a future in which science and spirituality/mind and body are in harmony.
I suppose I have been struggling with the inevitable transition of our charismatic movement to a new religion. I don’t like it, but I see no alternative.
If we are are a “marginalized sect of Christianity” whose relevancy has “further diminish[ed]” from that of 1954, what hope has this movement, soon to become a fully-articulated religion, of ever becoming relevant, in your view? Or are the “splinters” capable of dashing all prospects of historic success for the mainstream (True Mother’s) movement?
Thanks for this expanded response. I seem to recall meeting you in Toronto in 1973, when I was with Jochum Baum’s MFT team, maybe…?
Human beings “make sense” of things through telling stories. The story, however, is never the reality it tries to convey. Why? Because said reality has already come and gone. How do you grasp a reality no longer with us? It’s like trying to lasso the wind. So, we tell stories.
It’s likely you and I tell different stories about what matters and what’s important.
For example, whether or not our “movement” ends up as a “fully-articulated religion,” or not, is of little concern to me. Whether or not we convince (at exhaustive expense and man-hours) another Christian minister to profess allegiance to Rev. and Mrs. Moon, is inconsequential, in my current worldview. Whether or not 7.5 billion people adopt the claims of the Unification religion and try to live by them, is not my concern, either. Whether or not our movement one day is credited with “saving the world,” matters little to me.
I’ve adopted the practice of yoga and meditation into my daily life. I recently had the good fortune of supporting a weeklong original song writing workshop at 43rd St. in NYC, where I led a 30-minute morning yoga and meditation class, for twelve young adults, who are musicians and original song writers. Based on feedback from the participants, this was, all around, a valuable and beneficial experience.
The exploration of the science behind yoga and meditation occupies a central place of interest right now. In September, I’ll be attending a 10-day silent mediation retreat, in Massachusetts.
I’m writing my memoir. I hope to have the first draft completed by December of this year. The title is: “I’ll Follow the Sun: The Odessey of a Moon Child.” It’s the story of how a young man chooses a non-conventional path to find happiness, as illustrated by his time spent in what some today still consider to be a dangerous cult.
One aim of this project is to use the book as a calling card to visit college students in the classroom, where I share my story, hopefully to impart some wisdom and inspiration.
I would agree that the greatest art is that which speaks to the totality of who we are. In music, when sound, physics, emotion, intellection, creativity, and spirituality are conjoined in ways that yield meaning and beauty in an artful way, both our heart and mind are profoundly stimulated.
With regard to UC being “marginalized,” I always remind people that none of the major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) started as major religions. They were all cults in the objective sense (not the pejorative sense) of the term; a small group of people who were following the teachings of a charismatic individual. The Mormons too started as a fringe group with many detractors.
In the King James version of the Bible (Acts 24:5) we read: “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” Certain editions of the Bible use the word “cult” rather than “sect.”
This points to the issues of growth and acceptance. Being that the beginnings of our movement were a mere 60 years ago it’s obvious that we are experiencing growth pangs. I’ve been working with a number of third generation musicians in their teens and 20s here in Korea, and their understandings of the history of UC are obviously very different than those of us who walked the walk with the founders. The process of growth and understanding will take some time, even within our own ranks.
Agreed. It will take time to see the results of our efforts to change both the world and ourselves. I look forward to my 3rd generation granddaughter growing up to see the fruit incarnate of True Parents’ work. Her calling will be appropriate to her era, I believe, and she will be a blessing to those around her, with God’s help.