History Book – A false prophet, and musical diplomacy

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, February 24th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

Today, the New York Philharmonic attempts cultural diplomacy in North Korea. Plus, excerpts from a 1940 Academy Awards acceptance speech.

But first, 100 years ago, the birthday of a false prophet and delusional messiah. Here’s Paul Butler to tell you who that is.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on February 25th, 1920, in North Korea: the birthday of Moon Yong Myeong. One of eight children, his father is a farmer, and devoted Confusionist. When the boy is 10 years old, his family converts to Christianity and joins the Presbyterian Church.

As a young adult, he becomes active in a Christian Korean independence movement and sees resistance as God’s kingdom work. He’s part of a church with great Messianic hopes—earnestly awaiting the second coming. During this time, he changes his name to Sun Myung Moon. 

In 1954, Moon starts his own church in South Korea—the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity or simply, the “Unification Church.” It borrows a lot from Christianity, but is essentially a gnostic heresy. Moon says that he’s the second coming of Christ. He believes he’s been anointed to carry on Christ’s unfinished work—cut short by the crucifixion. 

One of Moon’s key theological tenets is “the law indemnity.” The doctrine maintains that self-sacrifice and personal trial constrain the physical, and make spiritual salvation possible. Fasting, fund-raising, and evangelism are necessary for becoming sinless. Marriage is also a requirement for all believers.

Moon conducts his first mass wedding ceremony in 1961, marrying 36 couples. Some later ceremonies include more than 20,000couples. Almost all matches are arranged by Moon or his family. 


As the “third Adam,” Moon—previously divorced—grants perfection to his current wife. Together they become humanity’s “true parents.” 

Moon moves to the U.S. in the 1970’s and calls his home “the new Eden.” Within two years, he opens “Unification Centers” in all 50 states. Due to his anti-communist rhetoric, and pro-family values, he finds many religious and political allies. 

In 1982 the U.S. government convicts Moon of tax evasion. Religious leaders, including Joseph Lowry and Jerry Falwell, come to his defense—arguing for religious freedom. 

After his early release, Moon begins the Washington Times newspaper and further increases his political and financial influence. A number of highly publicized defections from his inner circle make headline news in the 1990’s and church membership plateaus and begins to fall.

Moon died in 2012, at the age of 92. Internal power struggles have characterized the cult ever since—with two major factions competing for followers. One is led by his widow, and the other, by one of his 12 children. 

Next, February 29th, 1940. During the 12th Academy Awards, Actress Fay Bainter presents the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. 

BAINTER: It is with the knowledge that this entire nation will stand and salute the presentation of this plaque to Hattie McDaniel. [APPLAUSE]

Hattie McDaniel played the strong-willed house slave Mammy in Gone With The Wind. She was criticized for the role and its racial stereotype. McDaniel defended the character, saying she enjoyed the role as it allowed her to honor her grandmother who worked on a plantation.  

MCDANIEL: I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of the awards for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble… 

Hattie McDaniel is the first African American to win an Academy Award. In her acceptance speech, McDaniels says it’s the happiest moment of her life.

MCDANIEL: My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel. And may I say thank you and God bless you. [APPLAUSE]

And finally, we head back to the Korean Peninsula and an act of cultural diplomacy:


On February 26th, 2008, the New York Philharmonic performs at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre, in North Korea. It is the largest group of U.S. citizens to enter the country since the Korean War. 

The 90-minute concert features the national anthems of both countries, as well as works from Wagner, Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, and others. But the piece that receives the most enthusiastic response is the Korean folk song “Arirang.”

Following the concert, the North Korean vice-minister of culture said the concert opened the hearts of the Korean people, fostering “mutual understanding between the two countries.”

Back home, the reception was much less optimistic. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said, “we consider this concert…to be a concert” adding it wasn’t a diplomatic coup—though it did seem to lessen anti-American propaganda following the trip.  

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/John Marshall Mantel, Associated Press)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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