On Religious Authority

Spiritual truth cannot rely on external Authority


If this seems a bit rambling, I'm attempting to address your many questions without quoting everything back.

One big problem Truth has with people is our dependent reliance upon authority other than our own God-given spirit of Truth in discerning what has spiritual authority. In earthly things, we intelligently seek earthly substantiation, but for spiritual matters, we too often still try to seek earthly substantiation. As you read Jesus in the Gospels or in part 4 of the UB, you will discover that Jesus had the same problem: some of the authorities of his time — and their followers — refused to acknowledge the value of his teachings simply because he had no ecclesiastical standing. They said the same about the Baptist, before him. If you want to find Authority, look within to the Spirit of Truth, and ask yourself if this rings true.

I can understand concern about its trappings, though. When I first began studying the UB in 1974, I was enthused because from studying it I was finally getting answers where other religious teachings I'd persued had only managed to exaggerate the questions. (Good answers always generate new questions, of course, but at a higher level, and the UB definitely put my questions onto a new level.) I was enthused about what this UB had given me, so I was jealously guarded about its source — and what cult may surround and be using this. To make a long story short, a visit with a friend and fellow new reader to a Chicago gathering that year persuaded me that, yes, there was a small incipient cult growing around the book — an inevitability that the book itself acknowledges — but they were most emphatically forming around the book, rather than having created it or using it to some nefarious end; apparently none of these mostly sweet but simple folks were the geniuses who propounded it; above all, they were all about in the same position I was — a student of the book with no priesthood or hierarchy other than our relative comprehensions of the teachings. If they were trying to strike it rich, they sure weren't going about it right. Nobody's ever asked me to join or pay dues or anything. (I've bought several books for others....) And nobody has become rich off of this, that I've been able to detect. It's just a book, and not all that good a seller at that, so far.

Like asking about any possible cult background, to ask next where it came from is also entirely natural. Although its origin in time and space is documented, we cannot with surety know its actual source. We can never objectively verify its fantastic claims to superhuman authority (e.g. the paragraph at the end of Paper 1);^ for that, we have to judge it on the value of what it teaches. No matter what anyone tells you or what you may learn about its earthly or its celestial origins, the words will remain the same on paper, and you are still required to determine their value for yourself in your life. Take it all as a great big hoax or somebody's hallucination and I can still argue that it's the most powerful cosmological and theological teaching in the time and place of its appearance; as fiction I would find it more valuable than most "factual" religious so-called scriptures.

If one discovered or recognized values — even real spiritual values — in the Carlos Castanedaw books, or from Tolkien'sw mythic epic, or from an Uncle $croogew comic, does their dubious or fictional or secular origin diminish the values of what's been conveyed? Even one of the most powerful lessons of history — the Gospel accounts of Jesus' manner of laying down his life and dying on the cross — has essentially nothing of reliable independent historical substantiation and must be taken on face value for what this has to teach. If the Creator would be known, you must appreciate that his Truth is so powerful it will come out; some pundit said if Jesus hadn't lived we would have had to invent him; Jesus said, if you silenced the hosannas of the throng the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing. You can perceive and respond to God's Truth, whatever its source, just as you respond to your hand on a hot stove, because you have the Truth-sensing spirit.

The UB is not simple, nor for the very simple-minded, that is true. (Although its essential teachings are spiritual truths a child can understand — as my children could testify.) It is complex, it is difficult (very difficult in places), and it is broad in scope both cosmologically and theologically. These are in-depth answers to key theological questions humanity has considered in complex ways. The absolute answer may be as simple as "God loves you," but our sub-absolute intellects can appreciate complex answers to the difficult challenges faithful living asserts. Any such work, of such length and complexity, is going to seem esoteric at first blush. Jesus' listeners didn't always appreciate his more difficult teachings, but he spoke true nonetheless. I and many people I know have been studying this work for decades, testing its teachings in daily living, too, and the "esotericness" of it has long since worn off. To express to someone who hasn't found faith what it's like to be living with God as a constant daily companion seems pretty far out there, really esoteric, even insane or impossible. But for the faithful, it's a daily fact of life.

Are you really trying to understand the answers to the questions you're asking? Are you engaging in "my book can beat up your book" brawling in place of comparative theology? Seriously, are you prepared to give this book a genuine chance? You've compared this strange, new teaching with your comfortable old one and found the newcomer disturbing by comparison. But there's really no comparing Bible and UB. They're both books of religion, and there's a lot of reference to the Jewish and Christian scriptures in The Urantia Book, but they're really apples and oranges, to say the least:

The Bible is historical, a collection of scriptures over hundreds of years and several generations (and at least two major religions); the UB purports to be a revelation, a single work, propounded entirely in the first half of this century. The Bible is a canon collected by some Christians in the hundreds A.D. (pardon me for not recalling or looking up the original dates); the UB was designed and intended to be a single, unified work. The books of the Bible, even Revelations, were humanly authored (most devout Fundamentalists don't actually claim that God was the author, only the inspiration for the human authors); the UB is attributed directly and entirely to superhuman authorship. Finally, although some do claim that the Bible speaks with a unified teaching — to prove the which I have seen great straining at gnats and swallowing of camels — I have to hold with the more moderate (IMO) Christian school which considers the Bible a collection of records of some of humanity's unfolding search for and finding of God, some books being better and some worse — and (again IMO) with Jesus' as the pinnacle of that evolution of understanding; the UB by contrast despite the several apparent voices of the alleged presenters of its papers, has no theological conflicts, and is indeed extraordinary among religious writings of my experience in its internal consistency despite enormous complexity.

Still with me after that long-winded paragraph? My point is, the Bible and the UB are not in conflict; they're not even on the same game board, in a sense. To contrast them as works is just not fair to either one. That's football-contest religion. To glean the teachings that may present themselves to us from each, and then to live that truth we find — that is our real task.

A certain intellectual capacity is requisite, of course, for this is a work of literature, and a very fine one at that. Not everybody should expect to get everything in it, but if a certain allowance is made for "I just don't get this part right now so I'm going to skip over it," just about anybody can read and appreciate it. I can find you passages which a newcomer to the book's jargon might find impenetrably dense (like, most of the Foreword), but 'most anyone can appreciate, say, the bulk of the Jesus papers. Also, like any course of study, the more you study it, the more penetrable the other aspects of the book become. What it takes is not so much a super mind as a sincere effort.

But I don't think the UB is for everybody, at least not in this day. The religion it teaches about is for everybody, any time, but you don't have to be a UB student to be of that religion which holds that we have one Creator-Parent, one spiritual family and upon this hang all the rules. The UB cannot improve upon Jesus' teachings, but it can clarify and emphasize them. I've found that a simple-minded illiterate can be more devout than the best-educated theologian, haven't you? So the intellectual content of the UB is not necessarily anyone's salvation in and of itself. You know that some people read the Bible and get nothing out of it of spiritual value. The UB nor Bible nor Koran nor Upanishad can reach those who don't or won't hear. The UB elevates human religion for those who are ready and if its teachings are worthy, then the students of that religion will let their light shine and enflame the hearts and inspire the minds of all fellows, of all levels of ability.

The UB acknowledges that it sips from many human sources; if you study its quotes carefully, though, you'll find that many, if not most, are paraphrases; the thoughts have been tweaked to fit the UB's perspective. The explanation for the use of human sourcing is given in the book; the purpose of the paraphrasing or "restatement" is also explained; no explanation for non-attribution is given. There has been some debate about the ethical nature of what some regard as plagiarism by alleged celestials. As one might expect, those who are critics of the UB tend to be more upset by this than those who admire the work.

For me, well, the Gospels inform me that Jesus didn't always cite chapter and verse nor was he always even precisely orthodox in his appropriation of scripture. I long ago realized the source-noting of the UB was up to us, much like Biblical scholarship, and I waited years to see such works as have now been produced which attempt to reference the sources of the UB's "quotes."^ Duane Faw's Paramony stands out for its extensive cross-referencing of the UB and the Bible. I tend to keep a UB, my dog-eared KJV, a Bible Concordance, Clyde Bedell's Concordex to the UB, and the Paramony all handy at my desk.

I understand the UB is taking off in cultures which are not Bible-based, and as one steeped in Christian culture, I find it hard to imagine that something isn't lost for students of the UB who aren't familiar with the historical scriptures that are so extensively referenced. But the same can be said for other cultures and works that the UB references — it's just as important to be familiar with Buddhist or Hindu cultures or other non-Levantine religions to fully appreciate the UB. But not required.

Nobody asks that the UB be accepted unexamined on faith in nothing more than its fantastic claims to authorship. The UB itself, to my reading, would not recommend such an approach to any religious teaching. But in the search for its authority, the book isn't going to tell you anything more than the words which are in it. Which is more important, what people say about the Bible or what the Bible says? The former illuminates the latter, but is certainly not always right. Whatever you want to know about the UB, you're still going to have to read and study it to find out what it has to teach, and then be able to decide for yourself.

If you want to study the book as a thing, its history and origins, and all that, there's little secret or vague. There are some mysteries about the particulars of the UB's origins, the actual method of transmission and the identity of the main person apparently associated with its transmission. The identity of the individual alleged "contact person" is pure supposition, because those in a position to know all went to the grave without revealing it, as they were sworn to do. About all we know about the "contact personality" associated with its origin is that one Dr. Sadler dealt with this patient, and noted that the content of the material was beyond the likely capacity of his patient; Sadler was in a position to know, having dealt with many cases of aberrant psychology. (An article about this yours for the asking.) It's my understanding the papers are presented in the book in just the order in which they were presented originally. Although there was reportedly some minor revision of the papers over the years prior to their publication, and involving some interactivity with mortal responses and questions, I've gathered that they are pretty much as they were originally dictated in toto, and in the order originally presented to the early Forum conducted by Dr. Sadler. If you have to have those missing bits of information "or else," then yes, you've got a problem with the UB. Consider it equivalent to those who can't believe Jesus was God because they aren't given the technical details of how a divine personage could incarnate as a mortal infant. Do you really need to know how he did that trick to appreciate what he taught and how he lived and died, who he was?

There are no mysteries about what the ink on paper has to say. If you have questions about its teachings or its origins, either one, there are answers, though, from those who have studied those things. You could start with my own introduction regarding the UB and follow links from that page to other sites. There's several papers online which will tell you all that's known about the origins of the book, and about the Urantia Foundation, the Fellowship nee Urantia Brotherhood, and other marvels of the book's history and its social repercussions. I even have a mini-comic book about its origins (sort of). For information about the origins of the UB in particular, see the Fellowship's site^ for information about the book^, and especially The Historicity of The Urantia Book by Dr. Meredith Sprunger^, who was as close to being in a position to know as anyone still alive.

The UB does not represent an attack on the Bible, on Christian spiritual truths, or on faith. It does challenge preconceptions and settled thinking. Its teachings draw from many truth sources but it does not comport entirely with any human doctrine, so it does require theological scrutiny and pondering. Bewilderment was the response of most of the readers I know, at first, myself included. When you've sincerely studied the book even a short while, the clouds begin to part. I hope you'll continue your study of it.

Meantime, I hope we can be united beyond any possible ecclesiastical or doctrinal differences, in faith and service to our Creator Parent and the family of that Parent's creation as we encounter each other here on Urantia.... or on earth, if you prefer [grin].

I don't often get a chance to correspond. Sorry if my keyboard ranneth over.