Sun Myung Moon

(b. 1920) Korean industrialist and religious leader

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1920– )

Korean founder of the Unification Church, regarded as a Messiah by his followers and as a fraudster by his critics.

Moon was born in northern Korea. In his book The Divine Principle (1952), he asserted that at the age of sixteen he had a vision of Christ, commanding him to finish His work by achieving the world's physical and spiritual salvation. Moon began preaching in 1946, was imprisoned in communist-controlled North Korea in 1948, and escaped to South Korea in 1950, following his release by UN forces during the course of the Korean War. These personal experiences reinforced Moon's conviction that atheistic communism represented the embodiment of evil and that the existence of so many diverse Christian Churches hindered the ultimate triumph of Christianity. In 1954, therefore, Moon founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity; at the same time he developed a highly remunerative career as an industrialist, benefiting from South Korea's rapid postwar economic expansion.

The Unification Church found its first foreign foothold in Japan and eventually achieved a following in the USA in the late 1960s. Moon himself moved in the following decade to Tarrytown, New York, where he established his world headquarters. Church members, known to the press as ‘Moonies’, achieved considerable publicity as a result of elaborately staged ceremonies, such as mass weddings involving the marriage of hundreds of couples. Other initiatives to spread his message included an abortive collaboration with Elvis Presley to film the life of Christ and an expensive but unsuccessful film, Inchon, about the Korean War.

In 1982 Moon was convicted of tax fraud in the USA and imprisoned. This action brought protests from many religious groups outside the Unification Church, including America's National Council of Churches, which viewed his prosecution as an act of political harassment. Moon has also been accused of links with extreme right-wing organizations and the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. The Unification Church has been consistently criticized by liberal organizations and the parents of its younger members for brainwashing its adherents and separating them from their families.

Subjects: Religion — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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