I spend a fair amount of time in a few of the Urantia-related Facebook groups and greatly enjoy reading about people’s thoughts and experiences. Recently I have seen some posts referring to Urantia fundamentalists, and although I have come to terms with its inevitability, I was a bit shocked to learn that there are fundamentalists in our community. I have for years been frustrated by the actions of what I call the Urantian Armchair Army– those who apathetically sit in their armchairs with the book on their lap and criticise others in our community for standing up and serving in whatever capacity they can- but the idea of full-on fundamentalism caught me off guard.
This prompted a call to my partner-in-all-things-Urantian, Peter, and a very long, serious conversation over several coffees. Why the alarm? Peter and I are very focused on studying the Papers and going as deep into the teachings as we are able; deeper, it turns out, every time we re-read it. Does this make us fundamentalists? We set out to try to answer this question for ourselves.
We spent a great deal of time comparing ourselves to what we know of Christian fundamentalists- those who fervently believe in Biblical infallibility- who believe that every word of the Bible was written by God. We determined that one of the main differences between us is that of inclusiveness vs exclusiveness.
Biblical fundamentalism in our experience is exclusive. It polarises the thought of the individual and creates a bubble of often unsubstantiated and untenable belief which the individual guards and protects with every fibre of his being. Every challenge to the make-up of that bubble is ignored and ridiculed and never seriously entertained lest the bubble burst or the house of cards collapse. They will defend their beliefs even in the face of irrefutable logic and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
We both feel that reading The Urantia Book makes our perspective inclusive of so many different parts of an unimaginably immense whole. It has awakened in me a keen interest in science, history, philosophy, comparative religion, spirituality, politics, and so much more. It makes me want to go out, meet people, and find out more about them. I welcome new information and challenges to my beliefs because as I have said countless times before, for something to be worthy of my belief it must stand up to the most ruthless sincere criticism. We are taught that truth is everywhere, if only we have the spiritual maturity to recognise it when it confronts us.
We also feel that there is a difference in how we approach our book, compared to Biblical fundamentalists.
Biblical fundamentalists believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. But in the framework of their institutionalised approach to God, they have surrendered their own interpretation of God’s ‘word’ to the interpretation of the particular denomination they adhere to. They are told by a priesthood what each passage means, and that passage will mean exactly the same thing today as it will 50 years from now. We see the fundamentalist interpretation of scripture as based on crystallised doctrine and dogma (with no small amount of political and social control mixed in).
How is what we do any different? We study our book with the understanding that we know full well The Urantia Book is not the “Word of God”. In fact, we know exactly who wrote each Paper and we understand that although the Papers comprise an advanced revelation, no revelation of the Father and his universe is complete short of our standing in front of him.
We study our book over and over not to memorise passages, but we study to understand- knowing full well that completely understanding a book meant for the next 1000 years of Urantians is not going to happen in this lifetime. We read it over and over because every time we read it we approach it from a little bit deeper understanding, and a different perspective (we have hopefully progressed in our life journeys)
This is the great strength of the Urantian community. It is not required that (within reason) we interpret the teachings in The Urantia Book the same way. We take to heart Michael’s requirement of spiritual unity but not uniformity. As I have studied The Urantia Book over the past 25 years, my understanding has deepened and my interpretation of what is in the pages has evolved and changed.
There are however, some things in the book that have not changed for me. For example, the Papers flatly and blatantly tell us that except for one or two very specific lifeforms, there is no reincarnation in the universe, it then goes on to explain an alternative; what I call progressive incarnation. Does that answer all of our questions about the phenomenon of so-called past life experiences? Absolutely not. But it does give us direction. It does tell us what these experiences are not. And so we can devote our time and energy towards trying to find real answers.
Does this ‘literal’ reading of The Urantia Book make me a fundamentalist? Comparatively speaking, I would say no. I require that my beliefs stand up to the most ruthless criticism. If beliefs and ideas that I am confronted with cannot meet that criteria, then they don’t deserve my belief. I do however, entertain those beliefs and investigate them first. I don’t put blinders on and plug my ears. I have spent many years both before and after finding The Urantia Book investigating reincarnation and frankly, it doesn’t hold a candle to progressive incarnation.
Being a student of The Urantia Book has been an education in discernment. If a group of people come to me claiming that they are re-incarnated Descending Sons of God. I put my discerning hat on. I read what the Papers tell me about what a Descending Son of God is, read about reincarnation, and then I find myself wondering if these people have really read and understood the Papers, or just read enough so that they can use it as a framework to which they can staple their existing, mostly incompatible beliefs.
If someone prophesies the return of Michael to Urantia, or even the arrival of another Paradise Son, on goes the discerning hat (and my hope sunglasses). I’ve got to say, it could happen! And how awesome would it be if it did! I would be on the next plane out to wherever he was! But when the prophesy doesn’t come true and then I discover that this is just the latest in a long series of prophesies that haven’t come true, I take my hat off, keep my sunglasses close, and get back to my study.
So in all fairness, and in some respects, Peter and I have to admit certain fundamentalist tendencies. But we both feel that we can’t really be thrown on the same bus as those who have no room in their philosophies to entertain the idea that they could be wrong. We both recognise that our truth five years from now hopefully won’t be the same as our truth today. Truth (as opposed to fact) is always growing, changing, and that is why each generation has to re-discover truth. It’s not the same truth that previous generations held. That is what codifying and institutionalisation does- it inflicts the lesser truth of previous generations upon future generations who are ready for more.
We are a bit isolated way out in this corner of the world, so it is often difficult to keep up with what is going on in the larger Urantia community. It is our hope and prayer that a real “biblical-style” fundamentalism is not finding fertile soil among us.