my spouse, the once and future Moonie
January 31, 2011 2:52 PM   Subscribe

My husband wants to be a Moonie again. How do I convince him this is a bad idea?

When we met, he said he had been in the Unification Church for several years, and had been thrown out for divorcing his crazy wife. This was all a decade before, and I knew very little about Moonies, so I didn't sweat it. (I am an agnostic.) What I've learned since then has appalled me.

Now that we've been married more than ten years, he says he wants to attend weekly church meetings. I feel very panicky about this, and told him so, but it is not resolved.

I worry that he will be conned out of large donations (which has happened in the past). Plus, I fear that he will literally be seduced back into full-tilt commitment.

I think we have a good marriage. But I don't see how his pursuing this can do anything but harm to "us."

We are in New York City, in the event that anyone can recommend counselors with experience in this area.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You need to be direct and, if you haven't done so already, make it clear that the Moonies are a cult, and that it is a dealbreaker for you. Most likely, this is going to have to be a long ongoing discussion, but don't tolerate him going to cult meetings simply because you haven't convinced him all the way.

Does he just want religious fellowship? Maybe you can steer him to a more mainstream religion.
posted by ignignokt at 3:05 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Short of some Manchurian Candidate-style brainwashing or psychological addiction, the primary reasons people wish to return to cults (and, very broadly speaking, the reasons they choose to join any large cultural group, religions included) is to achieve a sense of identity, community, purpose and affirmation. Rather than forcing arguments by making negative statements such as "I don't want you to return to the Moonies because it scares me", I would try to determine why he feels a yearning to return. Is he suffering a crisis of conscience or faith? Does he feel the need to surround himself with supportive figures? Does he need some sort of structure in his life that your current situation is not providing?

All of these needs are very human, and all of them can be sublimated into activities other than cults. Ideally, it is something that you could develop together, and I would make that a major point in any discussion - that you want to share this crisis, and its solution, with him. It is entirely possible that he will achieve the same high he got by praying/fasting/chanting by taking an intense 10-day cycling tour of the Catskills with you, for example.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:08 PM on January 31, 2011 [14 favorites]

King of America. Read the book, watch the movie. Not sure if it will dissuade him or backfire.
posted by adamrice at 3:09 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, I guess one thing you could do is outline your concerns clearly and let him know that certain outcomes will regretfully cause you to distance yourself from him legally and financially. After all, as a married couple his money is your money, and his debt is your debt.

Honestly before he starts going back you need to work out what is an acceptable donation for him to make (if he makes one) and what is an acceptable commitment to make (if he makes one) within the parameters of your marriage. And get it in writing, so that it is never a source of ambiguity. If he can go to meetings while adhering to this agreement, then that puts a cap on the damage.

The emotional issue (which has got to be even scarier for you) is harder to outline in advance. If he starts getting too involved, and it makes you feel alone or afraid or abandoned or betrayed, what's he going to do about it? Again, something you ought to be able to talk about in advance. Might as well get used to discussing it now, because you're sure as hell going to have to talk about it later if problems arise.
posted by hermitosis at 3:11 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would not goin in calling it a cult. He feels positively towards this organisation and it will only make him defensive and put the two of you at odds.

I would instread try to manage this from the position of a quest in which you are joining him so you can steer him towards something vastly less objectionable. "Maybe we could join a worship organisation that will appeal to both of us so we can attend together."

Perhaps you could go visit a variety of worship services over the next through weeks - one week the Unitarians, one week the Moonies, one week the Friends, etc. If you can interest him in another organisation that will meet his needs, and cement that affiliation by attending with him for a few months, you can fade out after a while.

I would absolutely suck up cheerfully attending four months of services in which I had zero interest to fend my husband off from the Moonies.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:12 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

The place you want to start is either Rick Ross's forum or Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind Center.
posted by scalefree at 3:48 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

My husband wants to be a Moonie again. How do I convince him this is a bad idea?

Tell him you'll divorce him? I mean, that's what I'd do.

P.S. The Moonies are, in fact, a cult.
posted by dubitable at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Seconding the above advice to see if you can find out why he suddenly wants to go back after being away for a decade (or more?). Is he under a lot of stress? Has he been contacted by church members? Does he just want to return to church and doesn't know any other kind?

Also seconding the above advice to see if you can find another church together.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:11 PM on January 31, 2011

Mod note: sorry to have to do this but if people are going to start a cult derail it pretty much needs to go to metatalk or email. thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2011

There is no point in calling it a cult. All religions can be called cults depending on definition and all cults can be religions and then cults transition to religion etc., all dependent on definitions and ultimately impossible to make clear distinctions. These are pointless semantic games. The reason to not call it a "cult" is that you'll merely alienate him, by calling it a name, similar to calling a Catholic a papist - it's a slur they are used to, and one that they are sensitized to and have developed defensive mechanisms around... you are not going to win this game.

People who are prone to religion will keep searching for some kind of community or belief system to fulfill psychological needs. When they leave one, they'll join another. Yes, there are cases of fundamentalists becoming atheist, but it's rare. Note further, that this man didn't leave voluntarily on account of loss of faith - he was expelled. He has not done any psychological work to de-program himself.

The upshot is that it will be extremely hard if not impossible to dissuade him from re-joining. You must accept that as the first condition in figuring out what to do. Obviously, you must try to defend yourself from financial damage. But be aware, that many such organizations work very hard to have their adherents cut off contact with non-adherents, even if those are family members. Scientologists certainly do. So be prepared for the strong possibility that your relationship may be under pressure from that, not merely finances. This is very, very tough.

Start by talking to him. Ask him how does he picture a worst case scenario wrt. to your marriage. Is he willing to give it up, if they ask him to? Is he willing to start draining finances? How large a time commitment? See what he says, and see how far he's willing to negotiate. Be aware, that ultimately, he may renege on whatever agreement he makes - that's what these organizations frequently lead to. But at least you'd have set markers in the sand both for him - and crucially, for YOU. That way, you know when it's over and you don't get gradually drawn into this morass and one day wake up having nothing left. Set the markers. And stick to them - at least you'll know where you stand.
posted by VikingSword at 4:34 PM on January 31, 2011

People in cults are encouraged to lie, so talking to him about it may not elicit honest answers. All religions are not cults in the sense that they take over and damage your life. There is a big difference between being an Episcopalian or Methodist or member of any mainline church and being in a cult like the Moonies that controls every aspect of one's life and uses threats and deception to get and keep members.

Be prepared to leave him if he chooses the cult over you. If he is not interested in looking into more mainstream religions, it is a bad sign. By no means attend any Moonie event with him. You will be "love bombed" by the members, and you may think you are immune to cult indoctrination, but many have thought that and gotten sucked in. Read the cult pages others have referenced here, educate yourself, and let him know this is a dealbreaker on your marriage if he returns to the Moonies. If you stay with him it will prolong the heartbreak and may bankrupt you as well.
posted by mermayd at 5:33 PM on January 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

There are a bazillion churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, you name it in New York City. Can't your husband find community and a shared sense of values in a religious tradition that doesn't routinely expect congregants to give far beyond their means, both financially and of their personal energy? Because that's the very nicest possible construction one can put on the Unification Church: even if one avoids the whole discussion of whether it's a dangerous cult, it's certainly an organization which is far more demanding of its members, and disrespectful to their boundaries, than mainstream religions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:52 PM on January 31, 2011

See if there is some less toxic alternative, and join him in it. If I had to choose between Moonies and Unitarians, to save a marriage I valued, I'd choose Unitarians in a heartbeat. I like Unitarians, please forgive the mild teasing. And come to some agreement about how joint finances will be handled in case he decides to gift the Moonies again. yeccchhhh.
posted by theora55 at 5:56 PM on January 31, 2011

Could you find a more mainstream church to join? He might like the rituals and rules, finding comfort in them. If I were going to join a religion, I would want one with good music and art. The Unification Church has a bad reputation with good reason.
posted by fifilaru at 6:52 PM on January 31, 2011

Could you find a more mainstream church to join?

Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. In people who join & especially those who rejoin cults, the draw isn't the same kind of thing you get from a mainstream church. I think it's more akin to an addiction, that the cult creates a need for itself inside its members, that in spite of seeing its flaws & breaking away from it they find themselves going back because they need to, they they get something from it that's missing in the outside world. It's a lot like an addiction to alcohol or drugs that way.

I'll gain encourage the OP to check out the sites I listed. Steve Hassan is a highly respected cult exit counselor & specifically understands the UC because he used to belong to Moon's movement. And Rick Ross is also another leading figure in the field. Both sites are chock full of information on how cults work, on doctrines & histories of specific cults including the UC & can put you in touch with former members & counselors who can inform you & your husband & help you make informed, responsible choices. If you have any questions or just want some hand-holding in approaching the situation you can MeMail me; I'm not a professional or ex-member but I have some experience in dealing with cult groups & I can steer you in the right direction. I hope things work out for you.
posted by scalefree at 7:59 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second (or third or fourth) the people who suggest that you talk with him about what he is looking for in the Moonies. A sense of community, or purpose, intensity, or self worth?

My husband was a Moonie for about 5 years and left on his own. To this day he remembers those days as some of the best in his life, as years that gave him a great sense of self confidence and self knowledge and, finally, an awareness of his capabilities, intelligence and skill. I met him about 2 years later.

For years I worried that he would want to go back some day. He never tossed out his old lecture notes or tapes or pamphlets. He reminiseces about the days selling flowers, or fasting, or going back and forth to the farm. About the old panel truck he had that he gave to them. And there was a girl back then, too. Finally, after about 8 years and 2 kids, I mentioned it. And he basically said, Are you crazy? I have much more with you now than I ever had with them. And I haven't worried about it since.

But I don't think it's because of me. I think it's because he knows himself better now and doesn't need the group. He finds camaraderie with the cub scout dads, or the choir guys or a bicycling friend instead. He finds a sense of purpose in the kids, the garden, the committee at church. He is valued whereever he goes, so he doesn't need to go back to the Moonies.

I wish you luck with your husband. They are great things to have!

Talk with him.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:07 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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