I am not surprised that the members of the religious cult I was born into are celebrating our current president’s behavior, and dramatic shift in policies.
I grew up in the Unification Church (now known as the Family Federation for World Peace). The UC was led by late billionaire Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who hailed from what is now North Korea. The UC has recently branched off into splinter groups, led by Moon’s family members.
Moon’s winning combination of wealth and Christian teachings found camaraderie with Right-wing rock stars: Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. have all endorsed him in some form. Moon also launched ultra conservative newspaper The Washington Times in 1982, featuring opinion columnists from Newt Gingrich to Ted Nugent.
As a result, when my parents discovered the resonant voices of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, tuning in became their every day. It became the soundtrack of the living room. So naturally, my first presidential vote in 2000 went straight to Bush.
With my primary sense of reality bred by the UC, my knee-jerk martyrdom made me proud to resist the fallen world around me. It was home. It was identity. It was where I felt protected in this spiritual war. But ultimately it was Moon’s war; a messianic narcissist’s conservative fantasy I was conditioned to defend since birth.
Studying cultic patterns has become a personal fascination since. I never thought I would see the same level of extremist behaviors in mainstream political zeal, but I will highlight some specifically.
The Leader Knows Better Than You
Rev. Moon had charisma; a certain charm and humor that won over followers who thought, “He’s rich and powerful, yet so down to earth.” Those seeking security, respect, friendship, and/or identity were suddenly welcomed into his spirited community. It was a virtue to trust his wisdom over trusting oneself. What unacknowledged member of society would not lose themselves in this revolutionary who spoke to their values? Surely, he could Make America Great Again.
To church members attending Moon’s hours-long lectures, his grandiose message progressively overshadowed his faults. Members coasting on this momentum found more immediate gratification over stopping to question. For example, Moon defended his marital affairs as providential. I remember being told not to process this interpretation with our fallen minds, but with our (Moon-indoctrinated) original minds. Likewise, Trump supporters seem to focus more on how he makes them feel, over the integrity of his leadership.
The Needy Make Great Followers
For most of my childhood, I only saw my father for a few weeks every year. He was usually either somewhere in Africa, the Philippines, or another impoverished country for what he believed was primarily charitable work. The mission was ultimately to recruit church members, because the less privileged are more vulnerable to the promise of a better life. After all, he grew up poor himself.
This is how I saw Trump winning over the working class. He can act as their ally, demonizing and waging war against his critics he claims are their enemies too, until he does not need them anymore. We have already seen his bait and switch routine from the failed Trump University.
Moon’s vision led most UC members to essentially live in vans for years, fundraising door to door for his empire with flowers and trinkets. I did this for about a year after high school, and know someone who did it for nine. Church families are also guilt-tripped into tithing generously, leaving little, if any, savings for their children’s education. These children then likely foot the bill for their parents’ retirement, as in my family. Furthermore, donations are invested into Moon and his family’s decadent lifestyles and otherwise failing businesses, projecting the illusion of success (like Trump University). The Washington Times is no exception, never making a profit for over three decades. This is what funding a super rich narcissist’s utopia looks like.
Women Exist for Men
With Eastern ideology mixed into the UC’s doctrine, duality is a common theme. We were lectured with charts like a yin yang showing the relationship of, i.e., mind/body, spiritual/physical, and subject/object. In this context, men represent the subject and women are the object, made to return a man’s love with beauty.
This reducing of a woman to physical appearance played out in Moon’s lectures as well. He once invited an overweight woman on stage to point out how undesirable she was. My teenage friends laughed about it; it was just another Sunday.
I am not sure where to start with Trump’s resonant sexism, but there is a tracker for it.
They Are All Against Us
Moon took pride in being misunderstood by society. This provoked members to curse it for doubting he who empowered them. As in a Trump rally and 4chan message boards, criticism was sometimes met with violence, usually by Moon’s sons (again, mafia). As adolescents, I remember at least four local church community kids were beaten for voicing their independent opinions.
Therefore, people with conflicting ideologies, scientists, psychologists, LGBTQ, liberals, the media; these are all seen as the opposing team. No matter how much research and evidence exists to prove a fact, anything from the fallen world is “Fake news!”, “Wrong!”; it’s a trap! The manipulator provides false information, while accusing legitimate information sources of lacking integrity.
As a child, I remember fearing/antagonizing personified representations of research and criticism; whether these were investigative journalists, political comedians, or scholars necessarily challenging conventional thought. This was in the 80’s, back when the UC had the same reputation in the media that Scientology does today. Even parents and teachers of the fallen world posed a threat, so my walls were always up.
It seems in both the UC and Trump’s America, supporters are convinced the media — plural for medium — are villains waging war on their ideals. In 1977, SNL even parodied the UC in a sketch with Bill Murray among others.
Finally, humans are social animals. Finding one’s tribe/religion/party apparently comes with health benefits. The ideals and habits shared within a community reinforce neural pathways in the brain, training it to make us feel good by what we increasingly believe.
The other side of this is cognitive dissonance, or essentially dropping into a void of powerlessness when a strongly held belief/attitude is proven wrong. UC and Trump supporters alike seem to repel this discomfort by holding onto being right so intensely, they will trade being right for it.
For these reasons, when I look at our current president and those easily emboldened by his unfounded proclamations, all I can think is that I have seen this before.
You do not have to take my word for it though. After all, I am the media.
Teddy Hose is an award-winning filmmaker, artist, humorist (outside of Huffington Post), and writer based in San Francisco. His work has been featured in The Bold Italic, Mashable, Laughing Squid, and McSweeney’s. Teddy has also been interviewed about cults in Vice. TeddyHose.com