Name That Religion!

When some decide that UrantiaBookism is their religion, it changes the landscape for everyone else.

In a message about to be sent to U2, under the subject UF-FEF Harmony, I caught myself writing (never much mind the context):

…is this the holy text of the "Urantia Religion," as many non-Urantia Book students imagine?

I have, since I first encountered the Moovement in 1974, persistently and consistently underestimated the proclivity of my fellow students of the revelation to persist in perpetuating the practices of the past which created divisive religious sectarianism. Shortly after writing the above, I went on to read several ardent messages from UB students proclaiming exactly this self-branding.

Labels distort. Cultism distorts. Organization distorts.

I know, I know, the UB's authors acknowledge that the book will result in a cult, and try to direct that cult along the best lines, but their acknowledgment of this tendency and their attempt to steer it as well as possible cannot really be taken as endorsement, as many have done. It's more like when the Hebrew Scriptures say, treat your slaves fairly. Saying "don't have slaves" was just too advanced.

Some people say their religion is Urantia. Some people even say their religion is The Urantia Book! Some of the revelation's most devoted students, too! Other people do not say their religion is Urantia, but while being students of The Urantia Book, continue to call themselves Christian, or whatever. Appreciation for the text does not lead them to say that The Urantia Book is their religion, however, and they would consider that somewhere between a misnomer and a confusion bordering on idolatry.

Some of this is semantics: Nobody's religion is The Urantia Book; that's at best meant as shorthand acknowledging appreciation for the book which helped inspire real religion, the individual's relationship with Our Creator-Parent, the only religion The Urantia Book teaches.

Relatedly, linguistic evolution creates a problem, because while "Urantian" in the original meaning applies to "inhabitant of the planet Urantia," it's a natural language development that those who make an ardent study of the book of that name come to be referred to, or to refer to themselves, as "Urantians."

A group which does not claim to be a religion can remain inclusive. "Urantians" meaning students of the book need not mean an exclusive religious grouping, only an association of some students of the text. No Christian need feel required to say, I'm no longer a Christian, I'm a Urantian.

But when Urantian-Urantians (planetary inhabitants who are students of the UB) decide that Urantianism or UrantiaBookism, as it were, is their religion, everything mutates: Suddenly, these Urantian-Urantian-Urantianists are a separate and distinct sect instead of a pansectarian fellowship. Unto themselves, internally, this is really no problem. However, it changes the landscape for everyone else:

Other students of the UB who see their religion as, say, a moderate variant of some major belief system, or as no-label independent faith in God, and who also sometimes would evangelize not just the smuggled message of faith, fellowship, and service, but the whole revelation of The Urantia Book, suddenly must defend their interest in the UB as being something external from the U-U-U'nists. "I'm not one of them, but I'm into the book." Why is this necessary? Because....

Urantian non-Urantians (planetary citizens NOT students of the revelation) learn of the "Urantian Religion" and identify the cult's actions, behaviors, leaders with the revelation, without considering the book unto itself. Because these Urantian Religionists will inevitably be petty, bickering, squabbling, snobbish, egomanical, pushy (in other words, normal, average, ordinary Urantians), this religion will look just like all the others, identified by its worst public representatives. (Dunno 'bout you, but I've already encountered this resistance and prejudice repeatedly in interfaith religious discussions.) This is the same as the many people who only know Christianity as the beliefs of Evangelical Biblical Fundamentalists, or only know Islam as the more infamous radical Shiites.

The Urantia Book becomes the "sacred text of those Urantians" instead of a revelation for the whole world, just as Jesus Christ became the sacred totem of the Christians instead of a revelation for the whole world. Of course, his revelation was to the world, and his influence did spread far beyond the church which historically monopolized his person, and so shall the UB far transcend the sect which presumes to name itself after the revelation.

Can any of this be helped? Overall, no, as the UB acknowledges. Those who wish to call their religion "Urantiawhatever" will do so, and it's "tough s___" to anyone who objects. What right do you have to tell me what to call myself, they might indignantly object, and I would have to say, of course, I have no right to dictate whether someone can or cannot use the name. I do believe I have the right, even the duty, if I see it, to suggest that the other fellow consider what's right. And then, if my suggestions are persuasive, sometimes an individual may wake up and say, Hey! Why have I tried to usurp "Jesusonian" for my company, or presumed vainly to take "Urantian" as my religion's name, with all the attendant potential for confusion and time delays for the revelation? In the ten years since I first published my little UB Comix, I've come to feel uncomfortable about having taken even that small acronymic name from the revelation, thinking with each recent issue that I'd terminate the series, and go to another title Urantian Urantians could appreciate, but which would be less presumptuous. You may think that in this I'm being oversensitive. It's not something I've felt hugely guilty about, but it's still something I've considered, and seriously. The alternative is, undersensitivity on others' part.

Will Urantian-Urantian-Urantianists be the major force in the Urantia Moovement, the primary identity of Urantia Book students before the world, and thus make the moovement prey to whatever sectarian development or messianic fervor may come to infect this typical Urantian cult? To stand out from this new organized religion is an old problem for the new independent UB students, similar to minorities fighting for rights in a democratic majority, or the old joke about who'd attend the Anarchists' Convention: there's a powerful "huddling proclivity" for organized religionists, while organizing independents is like herding cats. In politics, the Liberals often need to coalesce many small groups with widely divergent interests in order to stand up to the Conservatives who operate much more efficiently for they act and think as a bloc. I'm neither Liberal nor Conservative, so I'm placing no value on either side here, merely drawing the parallel. (For some reason, though, I'm reminded of an old routine which Bill Cosby recorded 'way 'way back in his stand-up comedian days, regarding the rules of engagement between the American Revolutionaries and the British troops. "You guys wear red coats and march in straight lines, while we wear browns and greens and hide behind rocks and trees and stuff." When organzied, the independents actually have the advantage.)

I may favor independents, and may slant my writing their ("our" — grin) way, but I'm not really trying to say there's a right or wrong here; the angels of tradition and the angels of progress tend to focus on different strategies for good reasons, but both work toward the good of God. My concern is linguistic, political, propagandistic, social; aspects which are inherent to the realities of evangelism. The "churchification" issue will need to be continually reappraised. The problems cannot be avoided or prevented, only dealt with, and we deal best with that for which we are prepared. Careful consideration is not a quality for which humanity is much noted. Name your religion Urantia if you must, my fellows, but be aware, you're stealing the name of my book!

Deck us all with Boston Charlie. []