The open and creedless nature of New Thought in general and Unity in particular creates a flexibility which allows the religion to respond to the changing needs of society and culture. For example, New Thought and Unity grew out of the same philosophical reaction to spirituality, science and medicine that produced Christian Science. But while Christian Science is authoritarian and final, New Thought leaves room for constant evolution as the concerns of society change. Since Christian Science and Unity were both born in the era of medicine's infancy, the healing aspects of the religion were of paramount importance. Medical practices at that time killed as much as they cured. Although healing is still important, general societal concern about it is not as prevalent as it was in the 19th Century. This flexibility allowed Unity to grow by moving beyond healing while Christian Science membership has dwindled.
The flexibility of Unity is not complete flexibility, however. In more than a century of its existence, the Unity movement has maintained its basic message while at the same time investigating other possibilities. Although the Association of Unity Churches can disassociate a church if it gets too far away from the original message, there is a significant amount of leeway for churches to concentrate on areas which are of particular interest to its members. An important question, therefore, is what aspects of Unity spirituality have been expanded or changed in recent years to account for the significant increase in the number of Unity churches? Two issues will be discussed as examples of the range and limitations of Unity's flexibility. First, the church's approach to optimism provides an example of how Unity has modified its own teachings and philosophies. Secondly, Unity's acceptance among people who adhere to philosophies of the growing New Age movement is indicative of how Unity attempts to leave freedom for the individual worshipper while limiting what Unity accepts as a movement.
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.