Jean-François Boyer's book on the Moonies is one of the most striking pieces of investigative writing that I have read for a long time. It tells the story of how Sun Myung Moon (his American name - real name, Young Myung Mun), from his origins as a North Korean peasant, has built a politico-religious empire with an annual revenue of over half a billion dollars (making it one of the world's largest 50 private corporations). The young Moon seems to have been an ordinary enough peasant child until, at least, the age of 14, when his father, shaken by a series of family disasters which saw several of his children fall mentally ill, had the family converted to Christianity. But this domestic crisis was overshadowed by the terrible national disaster of Japanese occupation and annexation. The context was ripe for messianism. The Buddhists, among whom Moon had grown up, hoped desperately for a new Buddha to lead them, Moses-like, out of their cruel new subjugation, while Korean Christians believed Armageddon was nigh and looked likewise for a Redeemer. Sure enough, Jesus appeared to the 16-year-old Moon and informed him that he was the chosen man, thus making him one of the hundred-plus messiahs Korea had spawned in only a century.
LRB 18 December 1986 | PDF Download