Ticket To Heaven follows the journey of David’s indoctrination as he falls deeper, and deeper into the throes of a destructive cult. The leader is only seen briefly as a charismatic, and caring friend who asks David to “experience” what his camp is all about. Each time David requests to leave, his “friend” forces him to stay longer, telling him that no one will be going into town from the ranch/retreat until a few days from now. Through this geographic and social isolation, David eventually opens up to the other cult members, and joins their group games that have a lot of baby language in them. The members are infantilized making them seem weak, childish, and wholly dependent on “Father,” as they call him.
Ticket To Heaven ticks every box on the checklist of what a cult is. It’s based on the real life events depicted in the novel “Moonwebs” by Canadian author Josh Freed. It follows his own investigation into the Unification Church of America, which he charges with the indoctrination of his friend.
The religion/church was founded in South Korea by Sun Myung Moon. Moon referred to himself as the Messiah, and the second coming of Christ. He officiated over strange things like a mass marriage of 2,075 couples in Madison Square Garden on the first of July, 1982. All the couples were married simultaneously, and paired by him. People flew in from all over the world to participate in the ceremonies. Moon’s agenda during the churches heyday in the mid 70’s and 80’s was to stomp out the evils of communism, and he used his church members to further this war in the U.S. and wherever his churches stood. During Nixon’s impeachment, the “Moonies” (members of Moon’s church-- this term is considered derogatory by parishioners today.) held a three-day fast for Nixon. When it was over, Nixon invited Moon for a meeting to thank him and his followers for their support.
Moon started the church during the Cold War, when fear of communist takeover seemed like an imminent threat. The stresses of this ever-present “danger” that felt so real back then had many feeling vulnerable, and likely helped the growth of the Unification Church, who’s religious practices preached against the evils of communism. His main compound… or retreat(?) was a 600+ square acre plot in Napa County, miles north of San Francisco which is featured prominently in the film Members would frequently raise money for the church in the city by selling flowers or chocolates on the street. However, unlike in the movie where they sold things for “Father,” in real life they did it for “Master.” I don’t know which is creepier.
To say he had political ambitions would be a bit of an understatement. The FBI investigated him and his organization, as it was believed Moon was in close contact with the Korean government, and the Korean CIA. Some of his quotes point to such ambitions as he is recorded saying things like, “Let's say there are 500 sons and daughters like you in each state. Then we could control the government.” Muddled logic like this is used to control the cult, or church members. Preach about the evils of the world such as greed, or violence, but tell your followers that because someone is a sinner, they deserve to be beaten or have their money parted from them. “In restoring man from evil sovereignty, we must cheat,” is another quote attributed to Moon, exemplifying cult leader logic.
Cults rely on a charismatic leader. The public face of such an organization may seem innocuous at first glace, but upon further investigation may prove to be a façade for something more sinister. This is how folks are initially brought into the fold of a destructive cult. The members of the community may appear to have a tighter bond than the outsider, which spurs them to participate in group activities. Through this comes a sense of belonging, and from there a dependency on the group for socialization. The dependence and lack of critical thought about the cult, and loss of sense of self can be heightened by stress techniques used by the cult leader such as sleep deprivation, and a cheap, low protein diet. Isolation from the outside world is a must to maintain a distorted state of normalcy for the member. If family and former friends cannot be converted and brought into the cult, contact with them is all but cut off. Mundane routine is introduced to keep followers busy, and unthinking. Punishment for breaking routine may be physical, but the violator is typically made a social outcast to reinforce their perceived need to belong to the group. In this fashion, the leader, Father, Master or “Messiah” of the cult may reap from his followers what he or she needs of them be it money, sex or something else entirely.
The most dramatic and maybe the most popular course of action for family and friends who lost someone to a cult from the 60’s-80’s was called “deprogramming.” It typically involved the kidnapping of said loved one from the cult, imprisonment by their friends and family, and a re-introduction / education of critical thinking and logic regarding the cult and its activities. It has fallen out of favor mostly due to it’s hefty price tag, and chance of imprisonment for the perpetrators of the kidnapping.
Apparently, no matter what you or I would like to think, we are all more susceptible to cult indoctrination than we’d like to believe. Remember to think critically, and not to throw caution to the wind just because settling into something is easy. If you think you are immune to such things, watch Ticket To Heaven, and it might give you a clearer idea of what you would be dealing with.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh, PA] 19 09 1977, 28. Print. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19770920&id=MUENAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UW0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6824,2438521>.
Moore, Tina. "Two sides of Moon marriages." Daily News [New York] 05 07 2007, Sunday n. pag. Web. 27 Sep. 2013. <http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/sides-moon-marriages-article-1.267920>.
Hancocks, Paula. "Unification church member sets self on fire, injures others." CNN. (2013): n. page. Web. 27 Sep. 2013. <http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/sides-moon-marriages-article-1.267920>.
Burtt, Carey, dir. Mind Control Made Easy. Evil Films, Film. 27 Sep 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnNSe5XYp6E&feature=player_embedded
Layton, Julia. "How Cults Work" 13 April 2006. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://people.howstuffworks.com/cult.htm> 27 September 2013.