Veneer of sarcasm to make hate speech palatable
Rolling Stone, the American monthly magazine that focuses on music, politics and popular culture, published an article 20th August 2023 titled “How Sun Myung Moon ‘Digested the Scientists’ and Fueled Climate-Change Denial”, full of hate speech under a veneer of sarcasm.
The article by David Lipsky, a longtime Rolling Stone writer, is actually an excerpt from his new book The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial. The author takes a look at climate change denial, and according to USA Today, the book spotlights “a large cast of swindlers, zealots, politicians and hucksters to get to the heart of virulent anti-science ideologies in America.”
First of all, to make it clear: Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012) was never a climate change denier. He mentions in his autobiography how important the climate is,
“We need to begin now to study the climate, the soil, and the character of the people in areas that suffer from hunger.” (As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, Father Moon’s autobiography, 2010, p. 317)
He always taught that it is the basic responsibility of human beings to be good guardians of the earth. A central part of his teachings is the concept “The Three Blessings”, that God gave to humankind soon after the first man and woman had been created. The third of those blessings, described in the Bible (Genesis 1:28), is all about human beings maintaining a responsible stewardship of the earth and the environment.
In May this year, Hak Ja Han clearly pointed to climate change,
“Today, our planet suffers immensely due to ignorance. Due to the lack of rainfall resulting from climate change, one third of the population of the nation of Somalia, located southeast of the Sahara Desert, have been displaced as migrant refugees and are hoping for aid from the rest of the world. How is it that this beautiful Earth, which God created for humankind, has suffered such changes?” (From peace message given by Hak Ja Han 3rd May 2023 at an international peace conference in Seoul)
In many of her recent speeches she mentions the environment. In August 2018, she said,
“Two decades ago, my husband and I went to remote parts of the Amazon in Paraguay. The Amazon is like the Earth’s lungs and heart. By preserving the Amazon, we can have a future for humanity and an active providence in this Amazon region. […] We need to preserve and save our beautiful planet, which God, the original owner, created. We can no longer be bystanders. We should not live for only today. We should live for the past, present, and future.” (From speech by Hak Ja Han at an international conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 3rd August 2018)
And in 2013, Mother Moon established the Sunhak Peace Prize, awarded to individuals or organisations that have made significant contributions to ecological conservation, peace and human development and conflict resolution. The focus of the first award ceremony, held in 2015 in Seoul, was climate change and the food crisis. One of the two recipients was Anote Tong, the former President of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. He headed an international campaign against climate change.
Lipsky may well have intended the excerpt printed in Rolling Stone to be a good promotional piece for his book The Parrot and the Igloo. But if the above content is indicative of the quality of his book, then it certainly looks like a waste of time reading it.
And the Rolling Stone excerpt clearly shows that Lipsky has relied on unreliable sources. Right at the start it says “Singer climbed into a strange van. At the wheel was the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.” It is actually a well-known fact that Father Moon never drove a car in the USA. Someone else was always at the wheel.
Later on in the excerpt we get an indication of who the source of such disinformation may be. Lipsky quotes a “former Unification Church leader” and a “former church official”. Those are appellations Steven Hassan, a self-proclaimed “cult expert”, likes to use about himself. His identity is for some reason not revealed by David Lipsky.
But it may well be that he wants to distance himself from Hassan, who is known to exaggerate his own background in an attempt to appear more qualified for his expert title than he actually is. He thus claims to have been a leader within the Unification Church. In reality, he was a member for just over two years from 1974 to 1976 and for some months, as a 21-year-old, he led a small team of six or seven young members on a fundraising mission.
One of Hassan’s claims, typical of his hate speech, is that all cult leaders are interested in three things – power, money and sex. As if this is what all new faith movements are after. The spiritual message is not interesting at all.
This is of course a perfect message for the scandal press. It is also a perfect message for Hassan himself. His hate speech makes new religious movements into as big a problem as possible. It is absolutely necessary for him to make money. He makes a living by spreading disinformation and false claims about new religious movements. He constantly twists the truth, so that it suits his interests as much as possible.
From 1978 until well into the 90s, Steven Hassan was a member of the anti-religious hate group CAN (Cult Awareness Network), which engaged in the forced deprogramming of people who had joined new religious movements and political groups on the left. He was for a long time one of CAN’s professional deprogrammers.
The renowned British sociologist Eileen Barker writes:
“Numerous testimonies by those who were subjected to a deprogramming describe how they were threatened with a gun, beaten, denied sleep and food and / or sexually assaulted.” (Watching for Violence, paper by Eileen Barker, 2001)
Steven Hassan has still today not abandoned his deprogramming project. In 2020, he published the book “The Cult of Trump”. According to Fox News, on 19th January 2021, Hassan told CNN that “all of America needs deprogramming” because of President Trump’s negative influence. Of course the deprogramming would have to be done by “experts” like Hassan, who are all part of the anti-cult movement.
That would enable a movement of extremists like Hassan to influence the policy of nations, like it does in a communist China that wages war on religion.
So it is understandable that Lipsky wants to keep a certain distance between himself and the likes of Steven Hassan. But still Lipsky’s excerpt from his book is full of anti-cult rhetoric. Karl Marx said in 1843 that religion is the opium of the people. Lipsky quotes The Times of London, “religious cults seem to be the opiate of the seventies.”
And throughout the Rolling Stone article, the derogatory terms “cult” and “Moonies” are used, as when Lipsky quotes the American liberal magazine New Republic, “Sun Myung Moon is to cults what Henry Ford was to cars.”
According to Italian sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne, former representative for combating racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance and discrimination of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and leading expert on new religious movements,
“‘Cult’ is just a label used to discriminate against groups that powerful lobbies, for whatever reasons, do not like.” (Quoted from the article The Abe Assassination. The Word ‘Cult’ Is A Tool for Discrimination, published by Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights, 2nd Sept. 2022.)
Another demeaning term used by Lipsky is “Moonies”. It is on purpose used by the anti-cult movement ijn its hate speech campaigns to belittle the Unification Church, now called the Family Federation, and its members.
The global news agency Reuters and mainstream US media like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune abstain from using the term. The Oxford English Dictionary describes “Moonie” as a pejorative word.
There is clearly also the tendency to dehumanize members of the Family Federation in the Rolling Stone article. Young members are described as “kids with starry and transfixed eyes”, as if they were hypnotized. The mass weddings are described in a degrading manner, “Just row after row of identically dressed couples, like the assembly line at a wedding cake factory.”
In hate speech against Jews, it is claimed they try to take over the world. Lipsky makes a similar claim about Father Moon, “The reverend’s aim […] was global theocracy – […] which would be governed by Moon and his followers.”
Much of the excerpt from Lipsky’s book is written in order to ridicule the Family Federation and its co-founder Father Moon. Insults, mockery, ridicule, and sarcasm are used based on claims, wild exaggerations and outright lies from the anti-cult movement.
Sarcasm is a dominant journalistic genre in the discussion of religion and is often used as a creative linguistic device to gain the sympathy of the reader. Religion is portrayed as something funny and ridiculous. It is not something we need to give serious thought to. Anti-religious writers like David Lipsky use the witty mockery of sarcasm as a veneer on hate speech in order to make it more palatable to the reader. The outright aggressive comments and hate speech of the anti-cult movement are disguised by Lipsky’s witty and entertaining language.
The whole article is obviously not an attempt to report objectively, but to paint a black picture of a religious movement.
“Hate speech disguised as sarcasm” – text: Knut Holdhus