Dialogue Ireland Logo Resources Services Information about Dialogue Ireland
A to Z index

Dark Side of the Moonies

by Erica Heftmann, Penguin Books Australia, 1982. Reviewed by Neil Duddy.

Fortunately, Erica Heftmann retains her wit and a measure of restraint when she reflects on her commitment to the Unification Church during the mid-’70s. And, it seems, she retained them as a Moonie as well. Heftmann’s description of her sojourn in that new religion draws on a flow of consciousness diary she maintained as a member. Dark Side also records evaluations of her experiences after she defected through a mild deprogramming. Heftmann’s story of conversion, successful fundraising accomplishments, rise to camp instructor, and a stint as a housekeeper in a major Unification center does not overburden the reader with an overcritical interpretation of her experiences. The narration, rather, selectively portrays her experiences as an underdeveloped religious wish that attached itself to an insupportable religion populated by believers who were nice and sometimes not so nice. Mainly, her story is a record of bliss and stress in the service of an ideal which prefers strength over charity, loyalty over faith, and accomplishment over hope.

Dark Side as an autobiography is marked in content as a woman’s book. Heftmann sometimes daydreams about Europe which she knows through her German heritage and travel. During one lecture on the Divine Principle, for example, she wonders about marriage to the lecturer, if he isn’t already married to a "West German suburban dream." In other passages she muses over cooking, clothes, fabric colors, cleaning chores, and coiffures, and she frets about newly married believers having sex on camp property. They are important musings, however, that illustrate the interior thoughts of some women in the Unification Church who have given up many feminine aspects of culture for the sake of the movement, waiting for a marriage arranged by Reverend Moon, waiting for menstrual periods which often stop after several months of energetic work with little sleep, waiting on the guidance of spiritually older men. Those idle thoughts also provide clues as to why the demanding, shifting tasks Heftmann performed did not hold her.

The influence of her working mother (though not often mentioned) seems to dominate Heftmann’s social and vocational consciousness. Powerful male imagery is graphically lacking, with the exception of devotional yearnings about holy "Father". In Western cultures, more and more women define themselves in relation to their mothers’ achievements, not their mothers’ relationship to their husbands. The Unification Church chooses an older, conventional model that emphasizes male imagery to define female consciousness. That masculine imagery butts up against women who want feminine imagery from women, be it visions of home or work or a blend of both.

The author’s account of daily activities portrays the fervent devotion of believers in service to their ideals without emphasizing the large theological body of ideas in Unification thought. Rather, she identifies religious interpretations of daily affairs that occupy her mind--the evil spirits who induce sleep and illness and blind the minds of nonmembers, the good spirits who, along with the help of three- and seven-day fasts, cold showers, obedience, and vows to go without sleep, provide victories. There are ecstatic moments in living a life that consistently attributes to both the mundane and the valuable systematic religious meaning. Heftmann describes one such classic moment that all religious seekers desire and often cite as proof of their commitment. Wearily trudging up a hill for worship, she paused.

Halfway up the hill, I was transformed into a feather. A huge, soft, white feather as big as a sail. I drifted down, down into the tall, sweet-smelling grass. The morning sunlight turned the tassels into spun gold. They folded over me and under me. I felt weightless, swaying with them in the wind as if to soft melody. After what seemed like hours in the kingdom of Heaven, I rose totally refreshed. My watch marked the passing of less than a minute. The day sailed by with its own effortless momentum.

Shortly after that experience, however, Heftmann is deprogrammed in a series of simple conversations questioning a few theological beliefs and enjoined by her persuaders to return to the world. It is not difficult to break away, as she describes it. With the help of patient friends, she orients herself to the new status of ex-cult member, but she feels a genuine loss of innocence. She believes that loss is less related to immoral behavior than to spiritual abuse, perhaps the energetic pursuit of a nontruth.