By Marjorie Hyer
Study: Shedding New Light
On the Moon Children
Washington Post Religion Editor
Sunday, April 8, 1979; Page D05
or those who have been perplexed by all those people who have flocked to the
Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon, we now have some glimpses of them from the
world of psychiatry.
With the blessings of Unification Church leaders, a team of four
psychiatrists and psychiatric researchers studied a representative sample of 237
followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, matching them against a comparison group
in the population at large.
They found, for example, that more of the Moon followers said they had
serious psychological and emotional problems before their conversions, and that
more of them than in the general population sample said they had used hard drugs
in the past.
Though Unification Church converts have found some relief from their
psychological problems through immersion in church activity, their emotional
well-being is at a lower level than that of the general population group, the
At least 90 percent of the Moon followers had dabbled in one of the Eastern
religions or in fundamentalist Christianity beofre joining. Once converted, 80
percent want everyone to adopt the same religious beliefs, and 86 percent think
the rest of the world should "avoid thinking about sex," as they say they have
High on Hallucinogens
The study, reported in the February issue of the American Journal of
Psychiatry, described the followers interviewed as 91 percent unmarried, 89
percent white, 61 percent male and with a mean age of 24.7 years. Most had been
members of the Unification Church for at least 18 months.
Before joining, nearly half (42 percent) had been in school at least
halftime. But after joining the church, the researchers found, "members tended
to leave school; only 25 percent of the members completed college, although . .
. 58 percent had begun."
The 216-item anonymous questionnaire administered to the church members - a
questionnaire that their leaders instructed them to answer fully and frankly -
probed their psychological well-being at four different points: in the "most
symptomatic period before contact with the church"; immediately before contact
with the church; right after conversion, and in the two months before the study.
The researchers found that 39 percent of the members studied "felt that they
had had serious emotional problems in the past." These problems were serious
enough for 30 percent to have sought professional help and for 6 percent to have
"Their responses yielded neurotic distress scores [the technical name of this
portion of the test] that were significantly higher before joining than at the
time of the study," the researchers reported. "Even though they reported a
decline in neurotic distress over the course of membership, their current
emotional well-being . . . was lower than that for the matched camparison
The researchers found that Unification Church members reported considerable
drug use in pre-conversion days. Nearly one-fourth "said that they had had
serious drug problems in the past, and the portion who had ever used drugs of
abuse was higher than for a comparable national sample [for example, use of
hallucinogens was 45 percent versus 14 percent]."
'Connection With God'
The picture of their entrance into the church, painted by these active
members in the sample studied, differed little from accounts given by often
"Conversion usually occurred during a series of church-run workshops . . . a
1-day workshop followed immediately by a 2-day workshop and then a 7-day
workshop. The workshop day runs from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and includes lectures
and group discussions related to religious issues, as well as sports and
entertainment that are sometimes related to religious themes. Virtually the
entire day, including meals, is spent in the immediate company of workshop and
church members. Initially, participants are often not aware that the workshop
is associated with the church."
But while ex-members and other Unification Church enemies routinely tell of
strong psychological and sometimes physical coercion being exerted, the active
members reported no such tactics in the study.
Once in the church, members take their commitment seriously. According to
the researchers, the sample studied "spent almost all of their nights in a
Unification Church residence. Commitment to religious principles was also "very
high," with threefourths of the members expressing strong feelings of a "close
connection with God."
An even greater proportion - 76 percent - felt strongly that they should
avoid thinking about sex "very much" - a basic tenet of the Church. Only 11
percent said they had held this view of sex before joining the church.
More than half said street proselytizing and peddling merchandise to make
money for the church were their principal jobs, at which they spent an average
of 67 hours a week - better than six 11-hour days a week, if they took Sundays
off for prayer, study and worship.
Incidence of Illness
The members' zeal, the researchers reported, is "reflected in most members'
[80 percent] strong feeling that people who were not members of the church
should 'adopt the same religious beliefs that I do'", a stance sharply at odds
with the conviction of most main-line Protestants, Catholics and Jews that there
is more than one path to heaven.
Most of the members recalled highly positive feelings associated with their
conversion experience - "cheered up," "a great deal of respect for another
person," or "an appreciation of the reality of God." But for as many as a fifth
of the members studied, the conversion experience was a downer, bring
unhappiness and distrubing sleeping and eating habits. For 12 percent of them
there was a feeling that they were "under someone else's influence."
Overall, however, the researchers found considerable correlation between them
members' religiousity and their general feeling of well-being.
"The average convert apparently experience emotional distress before
joining," the report concluded, with the study results reflecting "somewhat
great distress than those of a likeaged comparison group. The likelihood of a
higher incidence of psychiatric illness in this population is indicated by the
high percentage of those who had sought prior professional help and
hospitalization for emotional problems. Affiliation with the Unification Church
apparently provided considerable and sustained relief from neurotic distress.
Although improvement was ubiquitous, a greater religious commitment was reported
by thjose who indicated the most improvement."
The study was done by Dr. Marc Galanter, associate professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Dr. Richard Rabkin and Alexander
Deutsch, who hold similar positions at the New York University School of
Medicine, and Dr. Judith Rabkin, research scientist at the New York State
© Copyright 1979 The Washington Post Company
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