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Hideo Higashibaba left the cult he was born into when he was 22 years old. The Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, was founded in Korea by a man named Sun Myung Moon who proclaimed he was the Second Coming of Christ. In Growing Up Moonie Hideo asks people he grew up with what their childhoods were like and shares his struggles to make sense of his weird sheltered youth and the person he grew up to be. Edited and co-produced by Quinn Myers. 

If you would like a transcript of any of these episodes please email Hideo at


Mar 4, 2019

In the textbook definition of a cult, a group must have three things: a charismatic leader, insider/outsider identity, and shared ritual. In this episode, Hideo shares some of the rituals of the Moonies and what he had to leave behind.




News Announcer [00:00:01] A decade ago, The Reverend Sun Myung Moon was accused of controlling the minds of young people creating so-called Moonies.

News Announcer [00:00:08] So-called Moonies, followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon head of the Unification Church, who became well-known in the early 80s for his mass wedding ceremonies.

Interpreter [00:00:16] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.

Crowd [00:00:24] Yes!

Interpreter [00:00:25] We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this God-given principle they are bound to hell.

News Announcer [00:00:35] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.

2nd gen [00:00:38] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.

2nd gen [00:00:43] To me it sounds culty. I know it's what brought our parents to church but it's not what keeps me in the church.

2nd gen [00:00:48] Even if I'm not doing everything that they want me to do or I don't believe everything that they believe we still have this like line that connects us.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:05] My name is Hideo Higashibaba. Until four years ago, I was a part of a cult called the Unification Church. You might know them as the Moonies. This is Growing Up Moonie, stories from people who grew up in the church like me.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:21] In my second year of college I took a social psychology class and there was a whole chapter in our textbook about cults. And you guessed it, the Moonies were in it. I learned that for a group to be called a cult it has to have three things: a charismatic leader, insider outsider identity, and shared ritual. The Moonies charismatic leader is obviously Sun Myung Moon and we've heard a lot about the insider outsider identity in past episodes. But before we go into the next interview I want to take a minute to talk about that last thing. The rituals of the Unification Church. I have two decades of Moonie knowledge, stories, poems, chants, and songs in my head. Even after I rejected the reasons behind them, the shared ritual is in my bones. I catch myself singing church songs, what we called Holy Songs. I can even remember most of the words.

Hideo singing [00:02:29] Pure new life that was sown within the gardens furtile soil. Sprouting seed has now become blossom of heavenly loveliness. Father above...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:47] The words are bananas. That's partly because a lot of them were translated from Korean but also partly because they're just crazy.

Hideo singing [00:03:01] The Father's dwelling place is the fountain of our life drawn to the light of eternal day we banned the darkness. May the Word of God...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:19] There is no reason for me to sing these songs now but I catch myself singing them in odd moments. The lyrics kind of creep me out.

Hideo singing [00:03:27] So eternally to receive his love. We shall be his pride...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:41] Correct church etiquette dictates that one always bows in the presence of the founder Sun Myung Moon and his wife, who are called the True Parents. If they weren't around you bow their picture. There was the full bow, where you place your right hand over left. Then put your hands to your forehand as you bend down to crouch in front of the picture. Then there was the half bow, where you just bend at the waist for when you were outside or in a rush or something. Being a Moonie is made up of dozens of small rituals like this. There are way too many to mention them all here so I'm just going to tell you about three important ones. During the week Moonies were expected to read the sacred texts of the church for at least an hour a day usually old speeches and lectures from Moon. This is called Hoon Dok Hae. It's a Korean phrase that from what I can tell means get up ridiculously early to read little gems like this. Here's my editor Quinn reading from one of Moon's speeches.

Quinn Myers [00:04:42] In the world today there are advanced nations and underdeveloped nations. In the advanced nations people have a lot and end up discarding leftover things, whereas people in underdeveloped nations lack many things, especially food. They may even starve to death. Twenty million people die of starvation each year. Do you think that is God's will? What the advanced nations are doing is oppressing the universe's natural system of interaction. If this continues the advanced nations will be unable to avoid divine punishment. Heaven will not let this go unnoticed. Already, signs of judgement are appearing in various places. One of the signs is the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, and another is drug and alcohol abuse. Both free sex and homosexuality are the madness of the lowest of the human race. God detests such behavior the most. Satan, on the other hand, praises such behavior the most.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:42] You heard that right. World hunger is caused by gay people. Most Moonies didn't actually do Hoon Dok Hae every day, I know my family didn't. We usually just did it on Sunday mornings before church. Other rituals were just for special occasions. There's the matching and blessing obviously but also stuff you could only do at Chun Pyung, the church's headquarters in Korea. My family went there the summer I turned eight. Chun Pyung is this beautiful white marble city. I think it's a resort town with bathhouses and a hospital. There's a lake and beautiful mountains everywhere. I think there's a big palace now too, dedicated to the founder and his family. One of the rules at Chun Pyung is that we had to wear white shirts. I have no idea why but that was the rule. When my family and I went there were 12,000 people at the same workshop all wearing white shirts and dark pants and almost everyone there was Asian with black hair. So the place looked like the static on a television screen. In the 10 days my family was there we climbed the special mountain and drink the special water on the mountain. I went to a bathhouse for the first time. Chun Pyung was very hot and not very exciting for an 8 year old. Everything was kind of different like it would be in any foreign country but not that weird. But then there was Ansu.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:07:18] The Ansu hall is this enormous room with hundreds of people all sitting on the floor in rows. A team of singers and drummers come on stage and start to sing the song, Blessing of Glory in Korean. They lead the crowd, stepping to the music, while the drummer keeps the beat. The crowd claps to the music for a couple of verses and then the leader signals to everyone to start hitting themselves to the beat. That's right, hitting themselves. Not just anywhere, that would be crazy! You only hit the part of the body that the leader tells you to. So they yell 'arms!' or 'legs!' and 500 people start hitting their legs in unison. Other leaders would walk through the crowd showing people how to hit themselves correctly, sometimes urging people to hit themselves harder.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:14] Why do Moonies do Ansu, you may ask. It's to free the body of the evil spirits trapped inside. Most Moonies did Ansu only a few times in their lives because it can only be done in certain places at certain times. You can just go around hitting yourself all the time! It had to be done in Chun Pyung and sometimes at one of Moon's gazillion billion properties in upstate New York. The most memorable part of my family's trip to Korea was when I barfed in the Ansu Hall. I'd been really sick for the whole trip. Somehow I'd gotten a stomach bug on the way over and combined with the jetlag, I was a hot mess. My mum and sisters and I were settling down in the Ansu Hall before a session, when I stood up too fast and projectile vomited all over the floor. All the women around us started pulling towels napkins little packets of Kleenex out of their bags to help us. The only man nearby made this disgusted noise and scooted away like, 'Ulgh!'.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:17] I was covered in vomit, so my mother grabbed me by the back of the neck and steered me out of the hall into the bathroom. I didn't have to do answer after that. I remember feeling really guilty because instead of feeling bad that I couldn't do this wholly special once in a lifetime thing I was relieved.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:45] A smaller but no less odd ritual is holy salt. The logic behind holy salt is that Satan rules over everything in the world. So, Moon told us that before we go around using all this stuff that Satan has claim over, we should claim it back. Anytime we brought anything into the house; groceries, bags of hand-me-downs, Christmas gifts, we would say a prayer and sprinkle this salt on the objects three times. If you didn't have salt handy, you could also blow three little puffs like, pff pff pff. For some reason we also did this to toilets before we sat down on them. I guess it was because you didn't want to put your bare bottom on Satan's toilet seat. All that was years ago when the founder Moon was alive. Life was good. It was uncomplicated. Then in 2012...

News Announcer [00:10:39] The Reverend Sun Myung Moon who founded a global religious movement has died. His Unification Church was famous for its mass weddings in which thousands of followers often from different countries married simultaneously. At the same time, he faced accusations of brainwashing...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:59] Since Moon's death, the church has split into factions. One is headed by his wife and the other two are led by his sons who both insist they are the true heirs. It's kind of a mess and one of the factions has gotten extra weird.

News Announcer [00:11:15] Exactly two weeks after the deadly shooting in Florida, the Sanctuary Church near Newfoundland encouraged people to bring a AR-15s to a couple's blessing ceremony Wednesday. Participants say the firearms symbolize the rod of iron in the Bible's Book of Revelation.

Sanctuary Church Member [00:11:33] I don't look as an assault rifle. I look at it as a as a weapon to protect my family and to protect my neighbors.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:11:42] This ceremony looked a lot like any blessing in the church. The women are wearing white and the men are wearing black suits with white gloves. But here everyone is holding a AR-15 rifles and crowns made out of bullets. It's really spooky. The whole tone feels a lot different to me, but these people are definitely Moonies.

News Announcer [00:12:04] They understand the controversy.

Sanctuary Church Member [00:12:06] Controversy is something you expect when you're a Unification Church member, a Moonie as we're lovingly known. We've grown up with controversy.

News Announcer [00:12:14] Outside the service there was a visible state police presence.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:12:18] That shit was scary. A local school closed down for the day because of it. I recognized one of the women in the photos, I think she was a friend of my mom's. It was all over the internet. Everyone was talking about it and not a single Moony I know of came out against it.

Hideo singing [00:12:42] Grace filling me with golden light, measureless blessing divine. God gives eternal life to me, perfectly rejoicing is mine. Glorious the song ringing in my heart for my father above...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:00] Rituals are an important part of being a person. Every single one of us has them. Taking a shower before work, that's a ritual. So is praying before a meal or celebrating birthdays. You have rituals in your life even if you don't call them that. These are just a few of the many Moonies do. Doing rituals with other people makes us feel connected to them and that's why there's such a powerful part of cults. Because those rituals aren't just silly songs or poems. If you say them enough they start to shape your reality. The prayers I said when I was lonely also reminded me that I was worthless without God or my family. Those songs I loved so much made it clear that I was in constant danger of Satan's attack.

Hideo singing [00:13:48] Grace filling every part of me blessing that never will die. Glorious the song...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:57] Even though I don't want them anymore, these Moonie rituals are still a part of me. I can't hate them without hating myself. I want them gone but I don't know who I'll be without them. I was scared for my whole life because of this cult, but here on the outside, all this is really scary too. I have to create my own reality now and my own rituals. My own ways to make a meaning in the world.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:14:38] Next time on Growing Up Moonie...

Katie [00:14:41] I don't care about doctrine or dogma. I don't really care for it if it splits up people that you love.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:14:49] That's next time on Growing Up Moonie.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:02] Growing Up Moonie is written by me. This episode was edited and produced by Quinn Myers with music by Podington Bear. Special thanks to Kate Bennett for helping out with music for this episode. Please take a moment to leave us a rating and review wherever you're listening. It really helps this podcast reach a wider audience. Visit for more info. I'm Hideo Higashibaba. Thanks for listening.