Moon at Twilight: The Unification Church Has a New Mission

The New Yorker
September 14, 1998

A little before dawn one day last April, a chauffeur-driven Mercedes sedan entered the grounds of an estate in Tarrytown, New York, and stopped in front of a brick carriage house that had been converted into a meeting room. An elderly passenger in a business suit got out of the car and, with his wife a few steps behind him, walked inside, where some hundred and fifty people were singing hymns. The singing stopped when the couple entered and made their way through the room. The worshippers shuffled aside, bowing their heads. Once the man and his wife were seated, everyone bowed again, this time dropping to their knees and touching their foreheads to the floor.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, had come to deliver a sermon at Belvedere, as the church’s Hudson Valley estate is called, and on this Sunday, April 19th, his topics included love, God, Satan, money, Christianity, Adam and Eve, sin, the afterlife, kissing, adultery, America, redemption, and numerology. Moon, who has the leathery complexion of a fisherman, occasionally spoke English, but his accent is heavy and his grammar imperfect. Most of the time, he spoke Korean, and his remarks were translated.

As he moved lightly around the small stage, followed by an interpreter, Moon drew abstract diagrams on a chalkboard–circles and swirls and crosses and graphs, which had the appearance of mathematical formulas intertwined with football plays; occasionally he drew Chinese characters. Several times, he held up someone’s hair, to make the point that even the thinnest strands can contain both good and evil. His sermon was punctuated with comic touches, including an interlude in which he chalked a line down his interpreter’s forehead, nose, and lips, down his chin and neck, and down his shirt as far as his waist. I heard giggles.

By that time, everyone was sitting cross-legged on the floor–women on the left, men on the right. They had left their shoes in a pile at the door. Because of the early hour and the length of the sermon, there was some fidgeting, some nodding off. Moon noticed this, but the sermon continued. At one point, Moon complained about financial mismanagement by senior aides, and thereafter he harangued them intermittently and threw a glass of cold tea at one of them. He then picked up another glass of tea and looked at his slightly stunned followers. “Anyone want a cold shower?” he asked, winding up as if to throw it. There was a ripple of nervous laughter. “No one understands Father,” he concluded, referring to himself by the name his followers use. “Not even Mother and his children.”

Many people have had trouble understanding Sun Myung Moon, who came to America in 1971 with a handful of followers, most of them from South Korea and Japan. He soon had greater financial resources than seemed possible for the leader of a small group from a poor Asian nation. Moon’s message was clear enough: he warned that if the world became dominated by an atheistic political system, Communism, there would be no hope for religion. Some skeptics, though, came to view him as a puppet for the anti-Communist interests of South Korea’s government and Japan’s far-right nationalists.

Yet Moon’s breakaway theology, which mixes Christianity with anti-Communism and Confucianism, attracted thousands of disciples. It also brought with it considerable controversy. His critics, including some former church members, said that new recruits were discouraged from having contact with the outside world–and especially with family members. The church denied this, as well as charges that Moon was brainwashing followers; many parents hired professional”deprogrammers” to return their wayward sons and daughters from the control of what became known as the Moonies.

Moon also established businesses that make everything from machine tools to ginseng extract, although it has never been clear how these ventures produced the amounts that were needed to nourish his movement’s cultural and political projects. A conspicuous beneficiary of his largesse is the Washington Times, the newspaper that he founded in 1982 to promote a conservative agenda in the nation’s capital; the paper has received more than a billion dollars from the Unification movement. (Moon has also started papers in New York, Seoul, Tokyo, and, in 1996, Buenos Aires.) Although a number of editors and staffers left the Washington Times amid controversy over church meddling, the paper became, and has remained, an important source of information for the American right.

With the end of the Cold War, Moon’s message began to change in substantial ways. Church-linked firms have been investing in Communist nations rather than combatting them. A church firm runs a hotel in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea; Panda Motors was a costly (and unsuccessful) venture to manufacture cars in southern China. Moon still believes that Satan is battling God for control of the world and must be defeated, but he declares that the main threat no longer comes from Communism but from moral decay.

Today, much of Moon’s energy and money is being channelled into the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, inaugurated by Moon and his wife in 1996, which promotes family values and faith in God. The business cards now handed out by church leaders usually bear the name and logo of the Family Federation, and it was under the auspices of the federation, not the Unification Church, that a mass wedding was staged in June in Madison Square Garden. Moon has strengthened his alliances with a number of conservative religious figures, including Jerry Falwell. (Falwell’s Liberty University was saved from bankruptcy after an organization founded by Moon turned over three and a half million dollars to it in 1995.) Moon has also reached out to the Nation of Islam, and its members attend his events; last year, Louis Farrakhan spoke at a mass wedding in Washington, D.C.

This shift toward the federation comes at a time of difficulty for the Unification Church. The church claims that at its peak, in the nineteen-eighties, it had an active membership in America that exceeded thirty thousand, and that the number remains at roughly that level today. Critics say membership never reached ten thousand and has fallen to just a few thousand. Former church insiders have spoken of financial excesses at the heart of the “true family,” as Moon’s family is called. At least two of the thirteen children Moon had with his current wife (he has a son from an earlier marriage that ended in divorce) reportedly rebelled against him.

The most damaging scandal involves Hyo Jin, Moon’s eldest son by his current wife and onetime heir apparent. In 1995, Hyo Jin’s wife, Nansook Hong, fled the family compound in Irvington, New York, taking her five children, and subsequently filed for divorce and for a restraining order against Hyo Jin. In affidavits, she outlined a tale of drug use and spousal abuse by Hyo Jin, accusing him of “secreting himself in the master bedroom, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, drinking alcohol, using cocaine and watching pornographic films.” She said he beat her repeatedly, even when she was pregnant. Hyo Jin, through his lawyer, denies Nansook’s accusations. Hyo Jin was jailed for a few months after failing to obey a court order to pay sixty-five thousand dollars toward Hong’s legal fees.

At the end of 1997, Hyo Jin and Nansook reached a divorce agreement, in which she was granted full custody of their children. Nansook Hong has written a tell-all memoir, “In the Shadow of the Moons,” which is being published this month byLittle, Brown, and she is scheduled to appear this Sunday on “60 Minutes.” Yet despite such problems, Moon, who is seventy-eight, is beginning what may be his most ambitious campaign to eliminate evil from the world.

Moon often travels in his private jet between estates in New York, Alaska, Seoul, and Punta del Este, Uruguay, but his latest venture is unfolding in an expanse of jungle and grassland near Brazil’s border with Paraguay. There Moon is building a utopian community called New Hope, which is heralded as the beginning of a modern-day Garden of Eden.

Moon envisions a total of thirty-three communities within a hundred-and-twenty-mile radius of New Hope, and he wants these to inspire similar communities elsewhere in Brazil, throughout South America, and beyond. According to the official Web site (, “Project New Hope has the ambition of becoming, within 7 or 8 years, an example of progress, beauty and happiness for the whole world.” So far, Moon’s movement has invested about twenty-five million dollars, according to the project manager, Cesar Zaduski, and has acquired more than eighty-six thousand acres of land.

New Hope is situated outside the town of Jardim, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, and last spring I went there to see what progress had been made. I arrived by bus from the state capital, Campo Grande, and on a warm evening in May my taxi-driver headed out of town on a two-lane road with no painted lines and no shoulder. There were no houses and no road signs on either side–just the Brazilian hinterland and a succession of cattle eyes in our headlights. Then a sign said “New Hope Farm” and an arrow pointed left, into more darkness. We soon came upon a bridge, and as we reached its crest a row of lights appeared a short distance away.

When I was at New Hope, more than a hundred construction workers were on the job, and a dozen bulldozers and tractors were parked in front of several nearly finished buildings, which had the look of a California community college. The complex is dominated by two buildings nearly the size of football fields, with roofs of red tile and walls of white stucco. One of them, crowned with oversized insignias of the Unification Church and the Family Federation, is a meeting hall. The other is the dining hall, but it, too, contains a number of meeting rooms. Not far away is a small lake, and a few hundred yards from that are six structures, in various stages of completion, that are to be classrooms for the some three thousand students who will eventually study there. The first group of students–most of them to be recruited from the area, with only a modest number of church members among them–are supposed to arrive in February.

If all goes as planned, students and researchers at New Hope will be linked via satellite to classrooms across the globe, but particularly to the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, which a church-linked organization took effective control of in 1992, in exchange for a loan of sixty million dollars (much to the dismay of some members of the university community, who felt that their impoverished campus had been taken over by a cult). One aim of New Hope, according to Zaduski, a former church pastor, is to focus on ways to encourage environmentally responsible development in the Third World. “What Moon says is that the era of big cities, like São Paulo and Rio, is over,” Zaduski told me. Zaduski, who speaks fluent English, conducts himself much like the harried manager of any construction job; he complains about the quality of workers and the need to alter things if the boss-Moon-doesn’t approve. “Sometimes we do something and he comes here and…we have to change it,” he said with a shrug.

During our talk, the door to Zaduski’s office was shut to keep out the construction noise. Technicians were fiddling with the compound’s phone system, which will have high-speed data links. A Japanese architect was soldering together a model for a three-hundred-foot-tall geodesic dome that he hopes to build. The office had a Samsung computer in one corner and several new phones behind a modular desk. A blueprint of New Hope was propped against a wall, showing university buildings, a soccer field, a convention center, a spacious home for Moon, and much more.

Moon has frequently cited the significance of the number thirty-three, the age Jesus was when He was crucified. Zaduski pointed out that there were thirty-three signers of a Korean declaration of independence in 1919, there were thirty-three “immortals” who led the fight for Uruguayan independence, and there are thirty-three countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Hence, the thirty-three communities planned for the area centered on New Hope. The project’s Web site states, “Each city…should choose one type of tree, one kind of fish, one kind of bird or animal, one kind of fruit, foodstuff, or flower to produce in a massive concentrated way with coöperation from surrounding farmers, in order to make possible prosperity and development in their area.” The region around New Hope is supposed to become a “Micro-World” in which the culture of every member of the United Nations will be displayed in their own areas. Or, as the Web site puts it, “Micro-Germany, micro-Hungary, micro-Italy, etc.”

I suggested to Zaduski that the project seems at times like a fusion of “Heart of Darkness” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” He smiled. “What he (Moon) said is ‘If people help me, it will go faster. If they don’t help me, it will take longer, but I won’t stop.’ I believe him, because that’s what Reverend Moon is like. If Brazil doesn’t like it, we will go to Uruguay. If Uruguay doesn’t like it, we will go to Paraguay. If South America doesn’t like it, we will go to Africa.”

About two dozen church members–from Asia, the Americas, and Eastern Europe–were living at New Hope when I visited, and they were busying themselves with odd jobs related to the construction, accompanied by a menagerie that included parrots and emus. The dorms seemed Spartan–beds were narrow and walls were bare–but there was electricity and running water.

On my first day, a Sunday, a bell pealed at four-thirty in the morning. Church members gathered for a service in the dining hall, which was furnished with a few plastic patio chairs. They faced a photograph of Moon and his wife, and the service began with everyone bowing before the photo. Two talks were given in Portuguese by ranking church members, and then, after another prayer, the service ended. It was six o’clock: the sun was rising over the tree line, and the jungle’s million and one creatures began screeching and singing and cawing.

Sun Myung Moon was born in a farming village in northwestern Korea, and at the age of fifteen, he says, while he was praying alone on a hillside near his home Jesus appeared before him and asked him to fulfill His mission. Moon says Refused-twice–but after Jesus asked a third time he consented. According to a sympathetic biograpy by Michael Breen, a journalist and lapsed church member Moon studied electrical engineering in Seoul and later in Tokyo. When he returned to Seoul, he joined a group called the Israel Jesus Church, which taught that Korea would be the new Israel, where the Second Coming of Christ would occur. In 1946, Moon travelled to Pyongyang to spread the word, but he was arrested and imprisoned by the Communist authorities there for disturbing the social order. Released after a few months, he was arrested again in 1948, and this time he was sentenced to five years of hard labor. He and his fellow-prisoners were apparently freed by their guards in 1950, the first year of the Korean War, after bombing destroyed the labor camp.. He thereupon made his way south, and in 1954 he established the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which eventually became known as the Unification Church.

The core of Moon’s beliefs, expressed in “Divine Principle,” a four-hundred-and-eleven-page book, is that Eve was seduced by Satan in the Garden of Eden and had illicit sexual relations with Adam.. This violated God’s desire that Adam and Eve await His blessing of their union before becoming intimate and having children. Their offspring were thus tainted by Satan’s influence; evil invaded the human spirit. God later sent Jesus to establish a pure family on earth, free of evil, but Jesus was crucified before He could marry and have children. Moon sees the essence of his own mission as completing the one given to Jesus–establishing a “true family” untouched by Satan while teaching all people to lead a God-centered life under his spiritual leadership.

Moon rarely allows outsiders an intimate glimpse of his private life and, apart from a meeting with a group of Soviet journalists in 1989, hasn’t granted an interview in two decades. Church members are not supposed to tape-record or take photographs during his sermons, and journalists are generally prohibited from attending. Although I was refused an interview with Moon, earlier this year his aides allowed me to attend his sermons at Belvedere, and also to visit his residential estate, in nearby Irvington. There were many reasons for this, the most important of which seemed to be that I had once lived in South Korea, as a correspondent for the Washington Post, and had become acquainted with some church members.

The sermons begin at 5:30 a.m., but church members, dressed in their Sunday finest, arrive earlier, forming a stop-and-go caravan at Belvedere. A guard recognizes members and waves them through, but shines a flashlight on people he doesn’t recognize and inspects their I.D.s. At a basement entrance to the carriage house, there is a metal detector, and a guard lightly inspects handbags and briefcases. A narrow, rickety staircase leads to the meeting room, a former garage. It has a piano in a corner and a collection of pictures on the walls: there is a picture of one of the mass weddings (known as “blessings” in church parlance), and another of a 1976 rally at the Washington Monument. The majority of the church members at the sermons are of Asian origin–mostly Korean and Japanese. The garage door at the back of the room is kept open, and latecomers sit outdoors, on folding chairs, and if it happens to rain they stay in place and open umbrellas.

Moon speaks at great length. During one sermon I attended, Moon sensed restlessness and said to his flock, smiling, “Are you enjoying this? Father’s record for giving sermons is sixteen hours and forty minutes.” Frederick Sontag, a professor of philosophy at Pomona College who interviewed Moon in 1977, had expected something like a half-hour session but ended up talking with Moon for nine hours. “I ran out of questions and he was still sitting there,” Sontag told me.

Moon uses people in the front rows as props. He often talks about the unity of all races, and on occasion he will nudge together the heads of followers who have taken the sought-after front-row places. If he wants to dramatize a point, he may slap the top of someone’s head with his hand or with the back of his eraser. This is made of hard plastic, and the sound of it hitting a head is like that of a bat hitting a baseball.

Moon will on occasion slap the brow of his interpreter, Peter Kim, and this makes a lively sound. Moon may grab Kim’s tie and tug him one way or another, playfully kick his behind, or paw the front of Kim’s jacket, imitating, on one occasion, a baby looking for its mother’s breast. Kim has been Moon’s interpreter for many years, so they are like a team–in their happier moments, a spiritual Abbott and Costello.

There are darker moments, of course, because Moon has a relatively dark view of the state of things. Although Moon moved to America because he saw it as the leading Christian nation of the world, now he sees it as a nation of moral rot.

“Don’t you think Father has loved America?” he said on April 19th.

“Yes,” his followers responded, together.

“More than anyone else?” Moon asked.

“Yes,” the crowd said.

“More than even George Washington?”


“Who was the first one to love this country?”


“Between George Washington and True Parents, who is in a higher position?”

“True Parents.”

Little seems to shock Moon’s followers–not even his unorthodox discourses about sex and anatomy. One of the unusual aspects of his sermons is that, although he talks relentlessly about the evils of “free sex”–that is, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality–he engages in intimate discussions of sexual activity, and he makes it clear that a fulfilling sex life within marriage makes God happy.

“Can we say that the waste of a holy man is holy waste?” he asked during a sermon on May 1st. “Can we say that the anus of a holy man is a holy anus?”

Nobody in the audience was quite sure what to say, so Moon continued: “On the human body we have many orifices, but which orifice does the baby come through, the most special one?”

“Sexual organ,” a few people replied, tentatively.

“But doesn’t urine also come out of there? Why? It’s like that with a seed. You bury it under smelly topsoil. You understand?”


Moon noted that a man’s penis-“love organ” was the term used by Peter Kim, looking a bit uneasy–goes into the same “hole” that urine flows through.

“Think about it,” Moon said. “Do you think that hole is a dirty hole or holy hole?”

“Holy hole,” someone ventured.

“Holy hole!” Moon bubbled in English. “Holy hole! Holy hole! Make sound!”

“Holy hole!” the crowd repeated.

To some extent, they are humoring the old man–or, at least, responding as they think he wants them to respond. At his Easter sermon, Moon talked about his hopes for converting krill, which whales feed on, into food for human beings. He heard a few giggles in the room.

“This all looks impractical, but it is practical,” he said. “As a religious leader, Father was expected to behave in a certain way, but Father never behaved in that way. He became active in politics and economics. Father had to do it.Now Father is thinking of space. Father is thinking of Olympics not only on land but in space.”

There were more giggles, but when the crowd noticed Moon’s less than pleased expression, applause broke out.

“Do you think this is a dream, or will it be achieved?” he asked.

“Achieved!” the crowd roared.

“Whatever Father says, do you believe and want?”


After the April 19th sermon, Tyler Hendricks, who is the president of the American branch of the Unification Church, suggested that he and I go up the road to Irvington and visit Moon’s residential estate, East Garden. The compound, which has a splendid view of the Hudson River, is gated, monitored by security cameras, and patrolled by a private security force. At the front gate, there is a brick guardhouse; from there, a steep, winding driveway, about a quarter mile long, leads to three houses. One is an old mansion with twelve bedrooms. Moon’s children and grandchildren live there and in a recently built Tudor-style house. Moon lives in a three-story house that looks like an immense, attractively designed bunker. A church insider acknowledged that it cost more than ten million dollars to build.

Hendricks and I took off our shoes and went inside. The ground floor includes a banquet hall, a restaurant-size kitchen, and a dining room with a wall-to-wall skylight. The dining table is bordered on two sides by a pond filled with carp. A rock garden, watered by an overhead sprinkler system, slopes down toward the pond, which is fed by a waterfall. It is like dining in a rain forest.

Moon was upstairs in his living room, but his advisers were in the dining room, having a lunch of bibimbap, a Korean dish of rice, vegetables, and meat. Bowls of kimchi, a spicy cabbage appetizer, were placed on the table. Hendricks and I sat down and joined the others, using silver chopsticks that had been laid out for us. There was intermittent conversation; it had been a long morning for Moon’s brain trust. Peter Kim rubbed his lower back and grimaced, making it clear that interpreting for five hours is a hard job, especially when the person you are translating for tends to slap your forehead and draw on your face.

The path to Moon himself leads through an inner circle of perhaps half a dozen Koreans, including Bo Hi Pak, a former colonel in South Korea’s Army, and Dong Moon Joo, the president of the Washington Times. This circle is joined, in part, by a network of arranged marriages. For example, Bo Hi Pak’s son Jin Sung is married to one of Moon’s daughters, and Bo Hi Pak’s daughter Julia was engaged to Heung Jin, a son of Moon’s, who died in a car crash. A marriage ceremony was held after Heung Jin’s death, and Julia, considered one of Moon’s daughters-in-law, adopted a child born to one of Moon’s other sons. She is the leading ballerina in the Seoul-based Universal Ballet, which is sponsored by Moon.

Bo Hi Pak came to America as an attaché in the South Korean Embassy, and later became Moon’s point man in America. In 1978, while the church was under investigation as part of a congressional probe into the influence-peddling scandal known as Koreagate, Pak used the occasion of a Capitol Hill hearing to accuse the subcommittee chairman, Representative Donald Fraser, of being “an instrument of the Devil.” The committee’s report, released late that year, accused Moon of trying to establish “a worldwide government in which the separation of church and state would be abolished and which would be governed by Moon and his followers.” In 1981, Moon was indicted by a federal grand jury for tax evasion; he was convicted in 1982 and later incarcerated at the federal penitentiary in Danbury, Connecticut, for just under a year.

Late last year, over lunch in Washington, Pak told me about a visit to Moscow in 1990, and how Moon had declared that they would meet the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. “I was astounded,” Pak said. “I was the man trying to make arrangements!” But the meeting took place, helped, no doubt, by the prospect of investments from firms under Moon’s control. Pak was at Moon’s side as they drove away from the Kremlin, and he recalled, “He said to me, ‘I’m going to meet Kim Il Sung.’ I said ‘Who?'” A year later, Moon did meet the North Korean leader. I asked Pak what he thought of Moon. “He’s an enigma,” Pak said. “Even after forty years, I can’t pinpoint who he is.”

Moon gets harder to pinpoint because his mission keeps changing–right now it’s acampaign, under the aegis of the Family Federation, to “bless” millions of couples. Moon’s followers around the world have been collecting signatures on an innocuous pro-family pledge in which couples affirm their fidelity to each other and their faith in God. Church officials say that a hundred and twenty million couples have already received their blessing, although that figure seems unlikely.

The campaign has dismayed some church members, because a blessing from Moon used to be a hard-won privilege, typically attained only after a person had joined the church, worked in it for several years, and agreed to marry someone–usually a stranger–selected by Moon. But grumblings about the blessing campaign are just the beginning of Moon’s current troubles. Instead of being damaged by various traditional foes–Communists, Catholics, deprogrammers, the I.R.S.–Moon is being hurt, perhaps fatally, by problems in his own family.

The affidavits by Moon’s former daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, brought into view another damaging claim that had never been made by a family member: that corrupting amounts of cash accumulated around the upper echelons of the Moon family. “On one occasion, I saw Hyo Jin bring home a box about 24 inches wide, twelve inches tall and six inches deep,” she said in one affidavit. “He stated that he had received it from his father. He opened it and showed me its contents. It was filled with $100 bills stacked in bunches of $10,000 each for a total of $1,000,000 in cash!” She added that he had given six hundred thousand dollars to the Manhattan Center Studios, a recording facility he ran for the church, and had kept four hundred thousand dollars right in their room–petty cash for his own use. A church spokesman has said that her allegations about the misuse of church funds are untrue.

What draws people to a man who seems distinctly uncharismatic and speaks language that most of his American followers don’t understand? David Bromley, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has co-written a book about the Unification Church, believes that the bulk of Moon’s remaining followers were recruited in the seventies, when both the establishment and the counterculture were falling apart. Bromley says that the sense of joining a close, purposeful community was crucial, and that it is no coincidence that church members refer to each other as “brother” and “sister” or that Moon is called Father.

One evening in late spring, I was driving from Manhattan to Moon’s East Garden estate with several church members. I asked Betty Lancaster, one of the first Americans to join the Unification Church, how she had managed to stay with Moon for so long, given that he seemed to have achieved so little and was so isolated, with only a handful of followers. She mentioned the story of Noah, and said that Noah was mocked while building his ark and probably felt a bit lonely.

But what of Moon’s peculiarities–his bizarre ideas, such as building a highway around the world? (He has had brochures drawn up and routes outlined.) His loyalists say he tests their faith, just as God tested that of the Israelites in the Old Testament. Why, they ask, cannot the messiah be as temperamental and unpredictable as God? “Often, he says his life style doesn’t follow human logic or human thinking,” said Christian Lepelletier, a longtime church member, who is from France. “He is connected to God.”

There are, certainly, differing degrees of devotion among Moon’s followers; the fact that they bow at the right moment or shout “Mansei!” in unison doesn’t mean they believe everything Moon says, or do precisely what he commands. Even on important issues, like Moon’s claiming to be the messiah, there are church members whom I met, including a close aide to Moon, who demur. A religious leader whom they respect and whose theology they believe, yes; the messiah, perhaps not.

Although some critics view Moon’s movement as a continuing menace, a mellowing of sorts is under way, according to Larry Moffitt, a prominent American member. Moffit joined the church in 1974 and later married a Japanese woman chosen for him by Moon. The couple have five children and live in Buenos Aires, where Moffitt is an associate publisher of Tiempos del Mundo, a church-linked newspaper based in Buenos Aires and available in sixteen countries. Although Moon often predicts in his sermons that a breakthrough is near, Moffitt realizes that Moon may not come to be seen as the messiah in his lifetime. “You can’t look at it in a ten-year frame,” he said. “A new religion is a six-hundred-year start-up. Look at all the major faiths. It required four hundred years for Christianity to take over Rome.” That wasn’t the attitude two decades ago, or even a decade ago, when there was a greater sense of urgency in the church–a sense that victory was just around the corner.

On a windy day in April, with the accord of Moon’s advisers, I went to a marina near his estate and waited there with a dozen of his followers. At eight-thirty in the morning, he pulled up in a chauffeured sports utility vehicle. He was dressed casually, in green slacks and a baseball cap. He walked to the dock, and, after receiving quick bows from his followers, he boarded his fishing boat. His gear was already laid out on the craft, including a tackle box with the words “True Father’s” imprinted on it.

Three boats headed out with Moon’s, and I was on one of them, along with Tyler Hendricks and Takeru Kamiyama, who had been imprisoned with Moon at Danbury in the eighties. The weather was miserable: a strong wind kicked up choppy waves, and water splashed over the gunwales. Moon sat at the stern, watching his rods, which were held in place by brackets. He rarely spoke, and when he reeled in a line, an aide quickly handed him another rod, with fresh bait on its hook. Moon then cast the line into the Hudson, stuck the pole into a bracket, and waited.

The striped bass were not biting; the waters were too turbulent. But Moon stayed on the Hudson. At irregular intervals an order would come over the ship-to-ship radio, and suddenly we would speed off in a new direction, chasing after Moon’s boat. “We go! We go!” the Japanese pilot of my boat yelled, half in exultation, half in fear that we might lose Moon. The pilot had no idea where we were headed; we just followed Moon’s boat for miles up and down the Hudson. This went on for nine chilly hours. Moon has told followers that he meditates while he is fishing, and that his goal is not to catch fish but to get closer to God and, on days like this, pay “indemnity” for the sins of humankind. If the weather is foul and the fish aren’t biting, it’s because God wants it that way.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.