Culture

Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Inside the Secret World of Cults

Culture

Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Inside the Secret World of Cults

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Moon, the self-anointed Second Coming of Christ, separated Collins from her family when she was 11 years old, moving her from home to home. Her travels took her to Korea, where she studied the language and UC teachings at the church’s Little Angels School. Collins was instructed to devote herself entirely to God, Moon, and the UC. “There weren’t a lot of boundaries,” says Collins, who, as an 8-year- old girl, doled out relationship advice to followers who would also confess to her intimate details about their sex lives. “They would come and say, ‘My marriage isn’t working, what do I do?’ In one case, I remember telling a man, I don’t think you’ll ever be happy with your wife—she’s not a very nice person.”

Collins, who left the church in her early 20s, was always skeptical of the Moonies, as Unificationists are unhappily known to the outside world. “I saw through the church from a very young age, but I also wanted to be a good Moonie, and to be loved and accepted like any other person,” she says. “It took me a very long time to leave because I was afraid. It was all I knew.”

While the young Collins was struggling with questions about her faith and her leader, he was matching her peers—some as young as 16—for marriage. Unificationists believe that Moon has divine insight into their spiritual compatibility, and so they submit to his decisions with the understanding that they are, quite literally, matches made in heaven. Early on, there was talk of Collins being betrothed to one of Moon’s supposedly sacred sons, perhaps in one of the giant ceremonies that join masses of Moonies in a single afternoon. The biggest even in the West, at which Moon blessed 2,075 couples, took place in New York’s Madison Square Garden in July 1982; some ceremonies blessed as many as 30,000 couples.)

The ritual, which participants consider to be as much a commitment to Moon as it is to each other, is a vital part of growing up in the church. Ahead of the ceremony, couples strike each other with sticks to rid themselves of sin, before vowing to live their lives for others and to create a family that contributes to world peace. A commitment to “sexual purity” precedes a “separation period,” where couples are directed to go without sex for 40 days following the ceremony. You can sweep the rose petals off the bed —there’s nothing hot about a honey-Moonie.

Collins observed the dissolution of many Unificationist marriages, but she says some do prosper. Either way, she doesn’t fault the followers. She says that unlike their leader, the Unificationists who support Moon’s religious and business empire, which was valued at more than $100 million at its peak in the late ’90s, are some of the kindest people she has met. “They’re very idealistic,” she says. “They genuinely want the world to be a better place.”

According to the International Cultic Studies Association, the majority of people who devote themselves to these fringe groups are as well-adjusted as they are educated; most of them come from stable families and have college degrees, a statistic that’s not lost on many sects, such as Scientology, whose disciples notoriously target university campuses. The UC even went so far as to make a formal investment in Connecticut’s University of Bridgeport in 1992. (The institute regained financial independence in 2003, but a number of Moonies still hold administrative positions there, and followers are urged to attend the school to be educated among their own kind.)