Religion: Mad About Moon

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Last week Sheeran and 500 other parents met at a Westchester County synagogue whose rabbi, Maurice Davis, heads a 500-family national anti-Moon organization called Citizens Engaged in Reuniting Families. Some 20 young defectors from the Moon cult were present; several urged their elders to drive up to Barrytown and rescue their children. Distraught parents gave one another moral support.

Fervent Foes. The most fervent Moon foes are ex-devotees. Three of them have just started another group, International Foundation for Individual Freedom (I.F.I.F.), to attack Moonism and other cults such as the Children of God, Divine Light Mission and Hare Krishna. One of I.F.I.F.'s founders is Denise Peskin, 20, who spent 8% weeks in Moon training and was later "deprogrammed" by Patrick. Like many converts, she thought she was joining a secular social-reform movement. Only later, at Moon's "New Ideal City Ranch" north of San Francisco, did she encounter the religious cult aspects, which Moon groups sometimes conceal at first to avoid turning off prospective recruits. The program included weeks of nonstop indoctrination, yelling and punching by instructors and little sleep. One graduate of the farm calls its treatment "psychological abuse," another "subliminal fascism." To all, the frightening aspect was the psychological coercion they underwent when they tried to leave. Harvard Psychiatrist John Clark Jr. recently testified in District of Columbia Superior Court that the ex-Moonies he had examined seemed physically and emotionally exhausted; a few were psychotic.

Moon has left it to disciples to reply to the attacks. At Barrytown, where 176 devotees are currently enrolled in short-term courses and a new seminary, Director of Training Joe Tully is indignant. He told TIME's Eileen Shields that dropouts lack moral "will power" and feel they have to justify themselves. Tully agrees that converts undergo a dramatic transformation but denies that Moon people use any sinister methods.

The most intriguing unanswered question about Moonism is why young people from well-to-do families are attracted to it. Moon converts seem to have had little attachment to other religions and appear to be grasping for a sense of stability and morality. Says Defector Paula Mazur, a New York University senior: "They impress on you how to live a very idealistic life, how to really change the world. All the people I met were moralistic at a time when morals are going down the drain." Whatever the morals of Moonism, Jack Kerry, the Moon watcher in the California attorney general's office, sees the movement as "extremely dangerous" and adds: "I think this whole situation is going to really explode."

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