New Age: Part 2
In Unity, Jesus isn’t superior to us. We don’t need to give the right answer or win his approval in order to be saved. This is because our salvation isn’t in his hands. He just shows the way.
In Unity, access to Heaven isn’t limited to those who follow Christ (ie Universalism). But it depends on what is meant by “Christ” and “follow”. Christ has two meanings in New Thought: (1) Jesus Christ the Wayshowher, and (2) Christ Consciousness. New Thought Christianity is non-exclusive. Most New Thought practitioners probably see Christ Consciousness in all religions. The language used isn’t important. It doesn’t matter if you call this Wayshower principle Jesus or Buddha or whatever, and there is no reason why there can’t be multiple Wayshowers. In New Thought, to “follow” Christ simply means to live your life according to his example. This doesn’t necessitate believing in the one true dogma or accepting Jesus as the one true savior. It simply means that you follow him and so all that it implies is that you trust his guidance, that you trust he knows the way. Also, New Thought practitioners tend to believe that there are many paths to “Heaven”.
In Unity, Heaven and Hell don’t exist as separate realms. They’re states of mind and they’re part and parcel with how we live our lives, our words and our deeds. We don’t have to wait until we’re dead to be close to God. Sin is our separation or rather perceived separation from God, but there is no Original Sin. Sin like salvation is in the present. Each moment gives us an opportunity to accept or deny God.
In Unity, we co-create reality with God. It is difficult to trace this idea. One of the earliest source would be Gnosticism. There is an idea that began in Gnosticism and was adapted in later Kabbalah. The idea is that we don’t merely passively receive salvation but rather participate in the salvation process.
New Thought types like to quote passages such as Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34. New Thought interprets as literal truth the statement of Jesus that “You are gods.” And in John 14:12, Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”
Also, Mesmer had the idea that we have the power to influence our reality. Phineas Quimby is considered the Father of New Thought and he studied Mesmerism.
I’ve read that Unity began within the Evangelical movement. It doesn’t seem all that Evangelical in comparison to some more vocal Evangelists today, but it still has an Evangelical core. I suppose it was Robert Schuller who first popularized New Thought (he is my mom’s favorite minister). I’ve seen many Evangelical tv ministries where New Thought ideas are preached. What is known as prosperity thinking in New Thought and positive thinking in New Age is called by a different name in the Evangelical movement. Its called prosperity gospel or abundance theology. The newest popular proponent of New Thought in Evangelism is Joel Osteen.
The wiki article says…
Universalism is a religion and theology that generally holds all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God. A church that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. Other religions may have Universalist theology as one of their tenets and principles, including Christianity, Hinduism, and some of the New Age religions. Universalist beliefs exist within many faiths, and many Universalists practice in a variety of traditions, drawing upon the same universal principles.
The most common principle drawn upon is love. (Sai Baba/Baba Speech): “The spirit present in all of the beings is varily seen as that of mind. They are all full of the essential love. Without love, it is all just a pun, without love you can not be happy !”
Truth is also an important principle to be drawn upon. The living truth is more far-reaching than national, cultural, even faith boundaries. 
That generally lines up with my understanding of Unity’s Universalism. The Random House definition says that “the doctrine that emphasizes the universal fatherhood of God and the final salvation of all souls.” Within the Unity church, fatherhood isn’t a term that I remember hearing much in reference to God, but the general idea of God’s universal nature as Creator has a similar meaning. The major difference here is that Unity wouldn’t agree with a view that final salvation is a collective future event. This goes along with heaven and hell not being places that we go to. Ultimately, Unity teaches that everyone is already saved. Sin is an error in perception and that is all. We aren’t really separate from God because everything is eternally in and of God.
There are all kinds of weaknesses some inherent to New Thought theology and some with how New Thought has manifested in contemporary culture. Most importantly is the question of whether New Thought aligns with what psychological research has discovered. Some of the strongest criticism of New Thought in its relationship with New Age comes from the Integral theorists. A book that looks interesting is The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. I haven’t read the book, but it seems to be about how some New Agers could learn a thing or two from Jungian shadow work.
In highschool, I was heavily influenced by both Unity and A Course In Miracles (ACIM). This means that the two are pretty mixed in my mind. The ACIM was popular in Unity. Because of this, Unity decided to stop carrying it in their bookstores. They were worried that people would start thinking of Unity theology only in ACIM terms. The ACIM has much more of an intellectual theology than New Thought does in general, and so ACIM adds a bit of meat to the bones. Check out Kenneth Wapnick if you’re interested in the theology pertaining to the ACIM. Basically, the ACIM is most similar to Valentinian Gnosticism.
I’ve studied the ACIM more thoroughly than I have ever studied Unity theology. As I was raised in Unity, I never gave it much thought growing up. And as I haven’t attended a Unity since highschool, I’ve never studied of its theology to any great extent. I’m not an expert on Unity, but its essential philosophy is easy enough to grasp… easier to grasp than the historical comlexities of Catholic theology. The funny thing about Unity is its lack of motivation to push a particular theology beyond a few basic beliefs. I was never taught what the beliefs of Unity were. I never even read the Bible growing up nor do I remember anyone reading Bible stories to me. It didn’t even occur to me to think about any of this.
Did I tell you my mom has been a member of a Unity church for years?
To me, it has been a way to reinforce her vague optimism without seriously challenging any of her confused beliefs about the world or her life. She, like many in her generation, has not engaged her inner demons, not really heard of shadow work or considered doing it, not worked through the ways she has alienated her children and grandchildren.
By contrast, you are much more thoughtful and flexible about this. You read widely and incorporate many other aspects of belief in your view of the universe. So it feels a lot healthier coming from you.
Have you read much of the Bible as an adult, or does it even interest you?
No, you hadn’t mentioned that about your mom. I don’t know that it would be the majority, but I’d imagine there are many people in Unity like her. One thing my parents noticed about Unity was that it attracted many lost souls, people who didn’t fit anywhere else.
I’ve read more of the Bible in recent years, but I’ve never read the whole text. I was deeply researching Biblical studies a while back and learned a fair amount about the Bible. I would be more interested in the subject, but I found that the people who were most interested in the subject didn’t interest me. I joined some forums where there was discussion about the Bible. People tended to fall into extremes of fundamentalism or atheism, and every discussion was quickly polarized. And trying to research the subject, I came to realize that there is no lack of opinions but plenty of lack of facts. Biblical studies has to be the least scholarly of all the scholarly fields. Even the academic experts can’t agree on even the most basic details. However, reading the Bible without reading the scholarship is pointless because the translations are so far apart.
My Grandfather was a minister. He said that you could prove almost anything you wanted with the Bible. There are so many passages and so many translations, that you can find some wording that you can interpret as agreeing with whatever you already believe. And its so easy to misinterpret as it takes a life long of scholarly study to even be able guess at the meaning of a Bible passage. My Grandfather used the example of the “eye of the needle”. It wasn’t meaning that its impossible for a rich person to get into heaven. The eye of the needle was the name of a doorway into a city where camels had to walk on their knees to pass through. So, the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven seems nothing more than a minor inconvenience. But I’m sure there are a thousand other interpretations.
Understanding the Bible is practically impossible, but I’ve never been one to let the impossible get in the way of my studies. I’m sure I’ll read more of the Bible. I have a translation of the Pre-Nicene Texts by Robert M. Price. I find his translation very fascinating and I’m in the middle of reading it. I’ll finish it sometime.
BTW what translation do you read?
ah, but take a closer look at that eye of the needle… the camels had to walk on their knees – challenging for a camel but much more so than many rich people who do not have the humility and courage to abase themselves to a higher power. think of his interaction with the rich young ruler.
i try to refer to the original Greek as much as possible when i’m doing serious study but for reading lightly, enjoy the NRSV – for different applications, I like different translations and paraphrases – they all have strengths and weaknesses. still hope to learn Hebrew well enough to read the OT in the original, translations are inadequate
Yep, NIcole, you could interpret as such: the camels on their knees as representing humility and courage. It might be a correct interpretation. Then again, my Grandfather might’ve been wrong about his translation. I really don’t know. But I’m willing to bet you that, were you to research it, a plethora of disagreement could be found.
In looking at Biblical studies, I quickly realized that I would have to learn several ancient languages to even begin to grasp/guess what was being said. Actually, even many Biblical scholars don’t know all of the ancient languages involved. Even if you do know the ancient languages, the cultural context is mostly lost. For instance, an expert in Hebrew isn’t likely to be an expert in the various cultures that were borrowed from in creating the Jewish mythology.
Yes, modern versions are inaccurate translations of Hebrew, but the OT is an inaccurate translation of the stories its based upon. Inaccurate translation is how religions evolve. For instance, Christianity formed because it was able to re-interpret the OT, but obviously the Christians were essentially mistranslating in order to do so.
Lets say a single person could learn in detail all the factors (multiple languages, cultural contexts, and historical documents). What could such a person make of it all? There is no coherent whole. The Old Testament (like the New Testament) was written by many people. And the Old Testament is based on stories from different cultures told orally for thousands of years before being written down as we now know them. All these different stories and all these different writers aren’t in agreement. When we turn to the Bible, we don’t find a single coherent message. Just considering the New Testament, the depictions of Jesus Christ are widely divergent and this excludes the other even more divergent depictions found elsewhere.
In all of this, everyone can find what they’re looking for. The problem is there is no concensus on correct interpretation and there is a lack of evidence upon which to base a rational argument for the correctness of any particular interpretation. If we simply pick what we agree with and ignore the rest, then how is that helpful? We don’t need a text to tell us what we already believe.
I’m not trying to discourage you from studying the Bible. I find it all fascinating, but frustrating too. I think any Jew, Christian, or Muslim worth their salt, should study the origins of monotheism for themselves. In doing so, one can’t discover truth, but what one discovers is how complex “truth” is. I do think people can discover wisdom in studying the Bible, but not because the Bible revealed it precisely. We bring our own wisdom to the Bible and whatever we find there already existed within us.
The attempt to understand the Bible (if done with serious intent and an open heart-mind) is more humbling than even the eye of the needle is for camels. And to sludge through the field of Biblical studies takes no small amount of courage or at least stubborn persistence. People often just find what they were looking for, but its not unusual for people to find what they wished to not find.
Personally, I’d rather look at Biblical stories from an archetypal perspective rather than worry about what is said in a particular passage in a particular text in a particular language. I’m a person who wants to do something all the way or not at all. I realized the only way to do the Bible justice would be to devote my whole life to studying every aspect of it, but I’m just not inspired to do so. But this isn’t to say I don’t want to familiarize myself with the Bible some more. Its just not high on my priority list at the moment.
i have known a number of Biblical scholars and am quite aware of the lifework involved in having and using all the tools needed for more accurate interpretation of the Bible. I find it satisfying to work away bit by bit at what I can understand about the Bible among a lot of other ways to come to grips with God and God’s relationship with us… I’m glad you find archetypes satisfying. It’s important to find what works for us.
I wasn’t implying that you weren’t aware of what I was speaking of. I know that you know. I was just expressing my own frustration at the whole field. Sorry, to sound like I was lecturing. I wasn’t intending to sound that way.
I think in general we human can know very little about the world… and God. Oddly though the limits of our knowledge are the most clear when we turn to a holy text. I don’t mean to dismiss the Bible, but I sometimes feel so frustrated with people’s opinions about God’s truth that I feel like the Bible may be the last place one should look for God. There is wisdom in the Bible no doubt… its just buried very very very deep.
As you know, I’ve spent time myself studying the Bible and Christianity overall, and so it would be silly of me to disparage someone else doing the same. I looked into Biblical studies because I’m a curious person, and its an utterly fascinating area. I believe studying the Bible is worthwhile because I believe studying anything is worthwhile. There aren’t enough people in the world who take learning seriously.
Also, its not as if we have to choose to learn only one thing and ignore all else. I may be focused more in one direction than another at any given moment, but I can study both the Bible and the archetypes. I’m of the opinion that learning one thing can help me learn another thing. Studying the Bible can help me understand archetypes and studying archetypes can help me to understand the Bible. You probably agree with this as you seem to also have wide interests.
However, I do put an emphasis on the archetypal side of things because I figure that if there is a truth in the Bible its probably an archetypal truth rather than the truth of an historical figure. Actually, what I should say is that both an archetypal and a historical truth may simultaneously exist, but its the archetypal truth that is the most easily accessible… and maybe the most easy to prove or disprove. And if the historical Jesus was real, then disentangling the archetypal elements from the historical facts will help to clarify the matter.
I guess why I feel reluctant towards Biblical studies is because of the people who tend to be involved in it. There are too many people with agendas who are seeking conclusive answers… whether to prove some belief or disprove some belief. I realize that you, Nicole, are a more open-minded seeker who isn’t just looking for simple answers. I wish I’d met more people like you when I was studying all of this deeply.
yes, i hear everything you say, dear Ben, sorry I sounded defensive in my comment, i do know and understand your views more and more and have great sympathy for your approach.
unfortunately or fortunately, as people keep telling me, there isn’t anyone else like me :):)
Its no big deal. My frustrations have nothing to do with you. I just get frustrated at times with life in general. And I’m not good at hiding my frustrations.
You may not be average Nicole, but trust me that isn’t something that frustrates me. In fact, I like the non-average. 🙂
why hide your frustrations? especially since they have nothing to do with me, i like that 🙂
i know you like the non-average, and you know i do too! one of the many reasons i delight in our conversation, i delight in you