Mind Control in the Unification Church

Ingo Michehl, M.Ed. (C. Psychology)


According to the opinion of most critics of the Unification Church as well as to my own experience as a former 6 1/2 year member, the movement uses techniques of psychological manipulation very similar to those used by the Communists during the Cultural Revolution and the Korean war.

During the Korean War, American G.I.s were captured by the North Koreans and within an extremely short period of time transformed into Communists who not only did not want to return to their families and friends, but who now also hated the very country and values they had been willing to die for.

This so much shocked the public that an investigation was initiated by the government. Part of this investigation were two American psychologists, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, and Dr. Margaret Singer. They first exposed to the public the psychological techniques later known as "mind control" that were used by the communists to produce the drastic alternations in belief systems and personality. Dr. Lifton in the early sixties wrote a book on "Totalitarianism and the psychology of totalism." Contrary to public perception, the extremely effective thought reform techniques used by the North Korean communists, as well as by Mao Tse Tung during the cultural revolution, consisted not of physical violence, but rather of an array of powerful methods of psychological influence. Robert Lifton identified 8 aspects, which, especially when combined, have a strong impact on the thoughts, feelings and behavior of an individual. Dr. Singer later pointed out that these thought reform techniques were used by cultic groups to recruit, maintain and control members. While there could never be a total level of control, the extent of influence cultists had over the decisions of their allegedly "free" members was shocking to friends and family of cult members. Parents were shocked about the sudden personality change of their child, and ties with family and friends were often severed by the cultist who was instructed by his leaders to "separate" from their "negative influence." Especially in the 70s, these results brought about a wave of media exposure, which later subsided, perhaps partially due to effective public relations moves of the cults.

Leon Festinger, another psychologist, simplified the model of psychological influence by explaining that if either our thoughts, our emotions or our behavior change, a conflict or cognitive dissonance occurs, which forces us to adapt change the other aspects as well in order to compensate. In other words, when our behavior changes, our thoughts and feelings also will change. And since our personality consists of these factors, it will also change.

Following are the 8 points of thought reform identified by Lifton, in relation to my experience as a 6 year member of the Unification Church.

Through controlling the environment and daily routines, prisoners of war in North Korea were deprived of their normal frames of reference. They were constantly shifted within the compounds and subjected to rigorous daily routines. This change in behavior and perception caused a change in thoughts and emotions as well.

In the UC I was lured into a secluded workshop site in Nappa valley, California, without being told that it would be a religious workshop intended to recruit me as a full-time member. There was no TV, no newspaper, and telephone calls were highly discouraged. This control of information was an effective tool to disconnect us from our normal frame of reference that would normally have allowed us to measure the experience more critically. Also, a rigorous schedule kept us busy from 8 am in the morning till bedtime, with no time to think critically or reflect. It was either "morning exercise," breakfast, "sharing" time, lunch, lectures, volleyball, dinner or another group time.

In communist "reeducation camps" the former life and experiences, as well as all other connections to the "real world" of the "trainees" were stereotyped with negative attributes. They were constantly bombarded with the "fact" that their previous life had been selfish, destructive and meaningless, and that only by joining "the (communist) revolution" they could remedy this miserable situation. A "we - they" mentality and elite mentality was produced by coining derogatives such as "bougeois pig," "capitalist" and "counter revolutionary." These "enemies" (i.e. all those who disagreed) were even denied the right of existence - and treated accordingly - as they did not fit their defnition of a human being (a member of the bolshevik revolution).

Through reducing complex problems to sterotyped words and phrases like "Cain Abel Problem," cults reduce critical thinking, by predefining the way to process information. This change in thought also will produce a change in feelings and behavior, and thus in personality.

As Unification Church members we were instructed not to "waiste time" for example by helping a needy person that was not "providentially important" or by visiting loved ones. Our time from 6 am to 12 midnight was public and belonged to God (and Rev. Moon). If someone had a problem with his "central figure" (his leader) it was always his problem, i.e. a "Cain Abel Problem," meaning he was rebellious and "cained out" like Cain who slew Abel, and thus the solution was also provided: he had to humble himself and submit to his leader, no matter what. If not, he was said to be "invaded by satan." Likewise, anyone who chose to leave the group (like myself) was claimed to be invaded by satan and spiritually dead.

In communist China and North Korea, the leaders were surrounded with a mystical aura, and they were ascribed superhuman attributes such as moral or spiritual perfection. Devotees were trained to adore them and to project all positive things onto them, their thoughts, emotions, and ideals. Everyone had to bow and pray to a picture of the allpresent, omniscient "Father Mao" or "Father Kim Il Sung."

Similarly, in the Unification Church we were gradually taught that Rev. Moon was the Messiah, the Second Coming of Christ, the perfect, sinless son of God, the "True Parent of mankind," to whom we then had to bow and pledge our lives every Sunday morning at 5 am, and who would later choose our spouses and determine how and when we would relate to them. (During my involvement there was still a 3 year separation period after the marriage ceremony, and one had to be at least a 2 year member to be matched.) If someone left, he had betrayed "Father."


The communists set up a rigid standard of morals suiting their ideology. One had to live for "the whole" or "the cause" and deny "the self." Even the individual thoughts had to be controlled accordingly, and a guilty conscience was induced for noncompliance. The subjects became their own cult leaders, constantly monitoring their own thoughts and stopping "negative" or "impure" thoughts.

In the UC we were also taught that selfish thoughts or "disunity with our central figure" (leader) were evil and invited satan to invade us. We had to live for God and His providence alone, in constant fear of being invaded by satan. If there was doubt regarding "Father" or the UC or the "Divine Principle" (the ideology of the church), we had to ask ourselves, "is this thought from God or satan?" And of course we were constantly reminded that satan was trying to destroy our faith and our spiritual life by putting doubts in our minds, or by giving us sexual thoughts (sex being the greatest and "original" sin as it is claimed that man "fell" and became depraved through the "illicit sexual relationship" between Eve and satan, the fallen archangel). My worst nightmares were those of dreaming I accidentally ate something ...while being on a seven day water fast, because the fear of the imminent invasion by satan was unspeakable and the only partial remedy would be confession to my leader and tripling the original fasting time (i.e. to 21 days!!!) as an "indemnity condition."

In North Korean prison camps, inmates were forced to confess the sins of their former life, even if they were made up. Their only source of affirmation - and thus sanity - were their prison guards, and in order to gain it, they would do and believe things they would never have under normal circumstances. When they talked about their former life, they were ridiculed and put down as selfish, miserable, and meaningless. Due to the psychological circumstances, prisoners finally came to adopt those views and to also deny their past - in order to receive the air which could essentially be compared to psychological air. They were even forced to sign statements of confession.

In the Unification Church, the only remedy for satanic invasion was confession. According to the Divine Principle, man is "per default" on the side of satan. Only by confessing our sins and following the "path of restoration" (prescribed by Mr. Moon) we could "separate from satan" and come back to God, i.e. by making spiritual such as fasting and cold showers as "indemnity conditions" to establish the "foundation of faith" (to receive the Messiah) and by "uniting" with our leader to establish the "foundation of substance" (to remove the "fallen nature"). I remember having to make a list of all the "sins" I had committed in my life prior to the church, and then having to burn it in a ceremony, while deeply repenting (feeling and showing regret) for them.To pay for my sins and those of my ancestors I did 3 seven day water fasts, many 2 and 3 day fasts, and 4 winters of 1 and 3 minute cold shower conditions in ...Chicago! (Let me tell you the water was C O L D !!!)

To lift the ideology beyond reproach, the communists not only gave it a pseudo scientific touch, but they also declared it as impeccable and perfect - indicating that anyone questioning or criticizing it obviously lacked intellectual integrity. The ideology was to be internalized and believed with unquestioning, religious faith and fervor. Science was mixed with spirituality.

The Divine Principle - and accordingly the workshops on it - are made up of three sections: The Principle of Creation, The Fall of Man, and the Principles of Restoration. The first part establishes the "scientific" intellectual foundation by quoting scientific principles of cause and effect etc. while at the same time implying the claim of absolute, unquestionable truth. Anyone not accepting these principles was viewed as non intellectual or purposely rejecting the truth. The second part then depicted the revelation received by "Rev." Moon (he never received a theological Christian title) that man's original sin was the misuse of sexual love ...with the angel Lucifer. The third part talks about how man has to reverse this fall by going the path of indemnity (compensation). Mr. Moon has founded various organizations such as the ICUS (International Conference for the Unity of the Sciences), PWPA (Professor's World Peace Academy) and WFWP (Women's Federation for World Peace) promoting his views and gaining prominent membership to validate his claims and movement as scientific, irrefutable and true.

In communism the ideology is valued higher than the individual. The follower has to completely subordinate himself and his needs to the movement and its higher purpose. Not only are the individual welfare and personal rights of opponents irrelevant, but also of followers. They are sacrificed for the "sake of the whole."

As members of the UC we had no personal rights or freedom. As Hyo Jin Moon, the oldest son of Mr. Moon, used to say, "I don't exist!" That was the attitude to have. If one wanted to see family or old friends, the request was almost always denied as a "waiste of public time" and we were told to focus on our mission instead. When a japanese member in our center got very ill from a virus infection of the heart, he was told that that was a satanic invasion and at first even denied medical treatment. When he was finally allowed to go and it was determined that he would need costly treatment and that he would not be able to work ...my leader simply sent him back to Japan - probably for his family to take care of him (since he was of no more use to the church), claiming he had failed his mission. When wanting to help a suicidal woman I had met during mission work, I was told "not to waiste time!"

Even potential opponents of communism, standing in the way of the revolution, were, historically speaking, suppressed or annihalated. I met many Vietnamese and Kambodian refugees who reported the inhumane methods with which they and whole villages had been "relocated" to the point of starvation or dehydration. Along the borders of Kambodia, poisoned food packs were deposed to stop refugees from reaching Thailand. Intellectuals, as depicted in the movie "The Killing Fields" were systematically singled out and executed as (potential) "counter revolutionaries." According to Karl Marx, only a member of the proletaria, the working class, fits the defnition of a human being. The shocking results of this ideology has been witnessed again and again.

I remember being taught in the UC that it would be better for someone to lose his physical body and go to spirit world (=die) than to continue opposing the Messiah (Sun Myung Moon). What if Mr. Moon had the political and military power to enforce such teachings?

Is the UC truly the "nice, normal church down the street" as they try to portray ...or a dangerous, destructive cult?

"We must approach from every angle of life; otherwise, we cannot absorb the whole population of the world. We must besiege them."
[Master (Sun Myung Moon) Speaks, Jan 30, 1973, p.7]


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