Although American religion is creedless, Bloom contends that a link to the Bible is important. Unity's symbolic or metaphysical interpretation of scripture retains the Biblical connection while offering a message which is much different from orthodox Christianity. In response to the statement, "It is important to me that my faith be based on the Bible," 40 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed. The distinction is important for many Unity members, such as this 61-year-old formerly Presbyterian woman who now attends Unity: "I participate in Unity because I strongly believe in metaphysics and want to learn more about Jesus Christ and the Bible in metaphysical terms. The old (mainstream) religions never made sense to me. . . . I came to Unity seeking to understand the Christ mind" (respondent no. 1). In addition, several in the survey who now worship with Unity and who switched from other New Thought churches (Religious Science, Divine Science) did so because of the emphasis on Jesus Christ at Unity.
On the other hand, 30 percent in the Unity survey disagreed or strongly disagreed that it is important that their faith be based on the Bible. An additional 30 percent were indifferent and had no opinion. Because of the wording of the question, it is unclear whether those who disagreed are opposed to the use of the Bible or simply that a Biblical connection was not an important consideration when choosing a faith. Given Unity's strong Biblical background, it is unlikely that many are actually opposed to the use of the Bible, though this can not be surmised from the data. It is more probable that people who are opposed to the Bible and who are attracted to the New Thought philosophy would choose to worship with Divine Science or Religious Science instead. If 30 percent were actually opposed to the use of the Bible, it would present an interesting problem for the church to balance the diverse expectations and needs of its participants regarding this issue.
The apparent ambivalence about a Biblical connection may be further clarified by looking at how Unity respondents view the Bible. Almost 95 percent said "The Bible was written by men inspired by God, but it contains some human errors." Just over 3 percent selected the more literal view, "The Bible is God's word and all it says is true." This suggests that an overwhelming majority adhere to the Unity view that the Bible is a sacred and valuable text, but not as a final resource which is to be followed without question. Because the Bible is not viewed literally or without question by this group, the Biblically-based arguments of conservative Christians would not be as effective as they are with groups who see the Bible as inerrant and infallible. Rather, arguments which invite questioning of the commonly held interpretation might be more appealing to this group.
Regardless of whether or not respondents stated that a Biblical connection was important, the Bible serves as an important point of continuity for conversion from another Christian denomination. The use of a familiar text to teach a different philosophy has the benefit of not overloading the listener with too much new information at one time. For many in Unity, it was the metaphysical interpretations of the Unity philosophy which made sense of the Bible. Annemarie, for example, at first was hesitant about all Christian religion, including Unity, because she was unable to understand and accept the literal interpretation of the Bible that she had been taught. "The first time somebody approached me in Unity Plaza (in Kansas City) it was somebody with a Bible under their arm, and I thought, 'Oh, get away from me with this Bible'," she said. When she did begin to attend classes, however, Annemarie came to view the Bible as an important tool because the metaphysical interpretations were more understandable to her. She explained how one of her first Unity teachers helped her see the difference. "He went into the Bible, but it could compare to daily life," she said. "It was not just something that was there to be read, but it should be put into daily living. That made sense."
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.