Testimonies about Reverend Moon
Rev. Sun Myung Moon: A Passionate Pluralist
Dr. Cromwell Crawford
Chairman, Department of Religion, University of Hawaii
Dr. Cromwell Crawford
Chairman, Department of Religion, University of Hawaii
If there were a Nobel Prize for Ecumenism, Rev. Moon would be a certain winner. To frame the importance of his ecumenical legacy, let me contextualize it in a fundamental Christian paradox, which is highlighted by the religious situation in contemporary America. Harvard professor Diana Eck’s new book, A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, clearly documents that Americans now live in a religiously pluralistic society. Though most Americans still identify themselves as Christians, the force of globalization and immigration are transforming the American religious landscape with greater and greater diversity. This pluralism is colorful and interesting, but it also raises a great challenge to Christians. Bob Abernethy, eminent member of the United Church of Christ, gets to the crux of the challenge this way:
How do I remain committed to the truth of my own faith and, at the
same time, learn to understand and respect the truth of others? Are
there many paths up to God’s mountain, any one of which will lead to the summit? Is my path
better than all the others? Or is mine the only one that goes all the way? (“Faithful
and Respectful,” Christian Century, March 15, 2000, p. 294)
Abernethy’s quandary frames the Christian paradox thus: “Jesus is the only way, and his way teaches us to live in peace with other ways.” At one end of this seeming contradiction is Christ’s Great Commission: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 38:19). At the other end is Christ’s injunction: “have peace with one another” (Mk 9:50).
How has the Reverend Mr. Moon addressed this Christian paradox?
An examination of his life and labors clearly demonstrates that Reverend Moon has rejected the exclusivist approach, represented by theologians such as Karl Barth. Barth emphasized revelation over reason, and thus addressed the paradox by denying it. By his interpretation, revelation is God’s self-manifestation, which makes it something “utterly new,” which no mere mortals could ever know by themselves. Religion, on the other hand, is something arbitrarily and willfully evolved. It is opposed to faith in its attempt to grasp at God.
Karl Barth’s interpretation of Christianity in terms of “exclusivism” has been the dominant view of the church throughout its history, and in recent years has served as the springboard for evangelism by conservative churches, which have grown while mainstream churches have lost in membership. A catalyst, in this movement has been Evangelist Billy Graham, who has built a global ministry through his opposition to “syncretism” which teaches that all religions are one in the center, though different on the periphery, and therefore people of diverse faiths must learn to get along with one another. By contrast with the message of syncretism, evangelicals teach that mutual dialogue and cooperation between Christianity and other faiths can and should take place in the area of general revelation, but there can be no give and take in the area of special revelation. Those who preceded Christ, and those who have not heard his message will, in fairness, be judged by their own lights; but since no one lives according to his own conscience, all persons are guilty before God and stand in need of his plan of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Thus evangelicals are convinced that Christians should not succumb to the allure of syncretism, which calls for all people to live in religious harmony, but must insist that, even in an age of pluralism, they alone travel the “Highway of Heaven.”
Karl Rahner (1904-1984) is generally thought of as an “inclusivist,” considering
his influence on the second Vatican Council (1962-65) as it struggled to understand
the presence of God’s grace outside the visible church. Rahner presented
the view that non-Christians could find Christ in and through their own religions,
without knowing it. He therefore called such persons of piety “anonymous
Christians.” I personally find Rahner’s position exclusivist
and imperialistic. On the surface this brand of Christianity is inclusivistic,
because it allows other religions to share in the truth of their own religion;
but this sharing is defined in terms of Christianity. Rahner attempts to hang
on to the old exclusivism (Christ is Lord of all), while making a show of inclusivism
(the Hindu is a “hidden Christian”). Would Rahner be willing to reverse
roles and say the Christian is a hidden Hindu or a hidden Muslim or a hidden
Jew? His ecumenism is flawed because he tries to eat his cake and have it too.
As we shall presently show, Reverend Moon’s approach to the Christian paradox does not share the sentiments of Christian exclusivists. He is more at home with scholars who promote an inclusivistic approach.
A prominent member of this circle is philosopher John Hick. In An Interpretation of Religion he proposes that the “great post-axial faiths” represent diverse means of feeling, thinking, and acting in relation to an ultimate divine Reality that stands beyond our varied visions of it. Hick distinguishes between the Real an sich and the Real as variously conceived and experienced by different faith communities. In all of the world religions, distinctions are drawn between the Real in itself, conceived as Brahman, Dharmakaya, etc., and the Real as humanly thought-and-experienced. Using this distinction Hick formulates the hypothesis that the major faith traditions embody different responses to the Real from within the diverse ways of being human, and that each way has the power to transform human existence from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness. Hence these traditions must be viewed as “alternative soteriological spaces” within which persons can find ultimate fulfillment.
Another inclusivistic thinker of high repute, with extensive involvement in Christian-Buddhist dialogue, is John B. Cobb, Jr. His view of “radical pluralism” differs from the pluralism of John Hick as it argues the point that other religions speak of different but equally valid truths. He sees no a priori reason to assume that religion has and “essence,” and calls for a pluralism that allows each religious tradition to define it own nature and purpose. In this way Cobb’s formulation of radical pluralism affirms uniqueness. As a good Methodist, he affirms Christian uniqueness, and thereby unabashedly upholds one arm of the Christian paradox. But the second arm of the paradox is not denied or depreciated, namely, the need to live in peace with other faiths. Also he affirms the uniqueness of Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Further, the uniqueness of each includes a unique superiority, namely, the ability to achieve what by its own historic norms in most important. Thus the radical pluralism of Cobb seems to be the best answer to the Christian paradox which simultaneously affirms Christian uniqueness and the goal of living in peace with other faiths.
It might be objected that the pluralistic ideal of Cobb is just that— an
ideal. Here we must hasten to point out that the ideals and aspirations
of Cobb’s brand of pluralism have for some time been practically affirmed
through the many ecumenical agencies founded by Moon. I have known these organizations
intimately and can attest that they have had no hidden agendas toward syncretism
or the homogenization of all religions into One World Religion. To the contrary,
they have celebrate the uniqueness of different faiths, have affirmed their manifold
insights, nurtured their diversity, provided forums for mutual enrichment,
and have harnessed their collective efforts for world peace.
Moon’s pluralistic mission resonates with our common religious experience that the more profoundly we investigate our own respective religions, the closer we come to that apprehension of the love of God and love for humanity which bind humanity. One who is anchored firmly in his own tradition, is all the more free and secure to find common spiritual ground with members of diverse traditions. When the deepest depths are plumbed, there is always the discovery that there is more that unites us than divides us.
To get to the deeper levels of faith, Reverend Moon has set world peace as his overarching goal and tries to bring the resources of the diverse traditions—beliefs, practices and rituals—to achieve that end. With world peace as the end, there is absolutely no need for believers in their own faith to feel that they need to compromise their beliefs.
What is indeed felt, which then serves as an impetus to dialogue, is the need for religions to live in respectful peace with one another before calling on the world for mutual tolerance. By the same token, the various denominations, sects and factions, which are often openly hostile in most religious groups, are confronted with the need to understand one another. Internal conflicts must be healed before peaceful inter-religious relations can be promoted, and religions must have their own houses set in order before preaching to the world.
A major embarrassment in the history of world religions, questioning their very credibility, is the fact that they have waged holy wars on members of differing faiths, including dissidents of their own confession. For these reasons, Moon has promoted both intra-religious dialogue and inter-religious dialogue. The strategy in each case is not merely to be reactive: for the sake of resolving conflicts, but proactive-for the sake of mutual enhancement. This is all done in the hope that prophetic voices such as that of Samuel Huntington, may be proven wrong in their claim that the greatest challenge to humankind will come, not from secular ideologies, but from the clash of civilizations, driven by religion. Thus as we move forward into the twenty-first century we find that the old invocation that there is “one way” to salvation is being challenged and supplanted by new paths to spiritual fulfillment. Among these new paths, and it is the highest tribute to Reverend Moon, that his Family Federations for World Peace is emerging as the most innovative of ecumenical bodies, dedicated to helping believers remain committed to the truth of their own faith, while simultaneously learning to understand and respect the truth of others.