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Practical Christianity

In a national survey on religion in America, the Princeton Religion Research Center (1993) asked the question "What is the most believable authority in matters of truth?" About 43 percent of all respondents nationally and 55 percent of religious liberals said personal experience was the most believable authority. Scripture was the second-leading authority, with 31 percent of the total sample and 17 percent of religious liberals (p. 23). Unity capitalizes on these two most believable authorities by using a metaphysical interpretation of the scripture to teach people how to experience God in their lives.

The practicality and ability to apply Biblical principles to daily life is very important to Raymond, who said he attended church more when his minister applied the Bible to life. In fact, Raymond said this aspect of the church is much more important to him than the feeling of belonging or community that other people look for. He described how his minister made the message practical:

He just gave talks that meant something. Its hard to explain. One day he explained a parable about the seeds falling on the rock and on the fertile ground and on the roadway with images of everyday life, of life today. And that made a lot of sense to me. That was clear. That's what it's supposed to be about. The Bible is so full of words that really don't mean anything in the normal English language. You have to decipher it, and he could really decipher it well and relate it to today in present-day terms, which is practical. Metaphysics is a practical way of living. That's what metaphysics is supposed to be: a practical way of life, connecting the spiritual with the physical.

In Albuquerque, Barrette weaves tips on practical application into his messages through explanations of techniques or suggested steps to follow. For example, Barrette's sermon "Coming From Center" discussed what it means to be centered in the awareness of Christ consciousness, how to find your center, what makes people lose their center, and how to find it again (Feb. 2, 1997). In addition to excerpts from the Bible, he uses examples from his own and other people's lives to illustrate his points. The practicality does not end on Sunday, since the church also offers practical workshops on prayer and spirituality during the week. A sample of some of the workshops includes "Exploding the Myths of Forgiveness," "Creating Healthier Relationships — Establishing Loving Boundaries," "The Healing Power in Praying for Others," "Removing Blocks to Answered Prayer" and "How to Interpret Your Own Dreams" (Christ Unity Church, January 1997).

Survey responses show that practicality is one of the reasons people are drawn to Unity. A 50-year-old professional woman wrote, "I like the positive aspect of it as well as the practicality of this faith. I can easily incorporate it into my life" (respondent no. 11). Furthermore, 90 percent of respondents answered that they use spiritual principles for physical healing, and 87 percent of Albuquerque respondents use spiritual principles for prosperity. In addition, 88 percent said they apply Unity principles in their daily lives. "I feel that Unity is practical in teaching one how to live life better," said a 56-year-old professional woman who attends both the Lutheran and Unity churches. "I became a happier person when I began living life according to Unity principles" (respondent no. 3).

These findings are aligned with the assertion of Historian William James (1902) that Americans are drawn to that which can be proven and applied to everyday life. "The plain fact remains that the spread of the movement [New Thought] has been due to practical fruits, and the extremely practical turn of character of the American people has never been better shown than by the fact that this, their only decidedly original contribution to the systematic philosophy of life, should be so intimately knit up with concrete therapeutics" (p. 96). This provability appeals to the scientific mind, which is bombarded with rationalism in the wider society. By appealing to scientific rationalism, Unity's teachings gain the authority of provable "truths."

Thomas Thorpe, who is a member of the faculty of the Unity School of Christianity, balked at Unity's philosophy until he saw proof in the lives of other people who were following it.

When I first found Unity I thought it was about the damn stupidest thing I'd ever seen. . . . The answers were simplistic. I opened up Lessons in Truth and I see this statement "There is no evil." That made me see red. How could anybody say there is no evil. All you have to do is look around you at people getting robbed and killed and sick and dead, and you say there is no evil. Come on. That was my thought. And other things too. I just thought it was totally on a claptrap. It wasn't until oh, a year later, when I saw people whose lives were being turned around by following these crazy ideas. I was led back to Lessons in Truth, as a matter of fact, and paragraph 31 on page 31 of the edition I had, it said "Take the thought 'God Loves You' and hold it mind. See what happens." (LIT, Thinking)That's my story. That's how I received my awakening. From that point the rest has been a fascinating adventure.

Although participants say that the philosophical principles are practical and provable, they are not necessarily easy to follow. It is difficult, for example to have a positive and optimistic outlook when life is difficult. Paul, for example, said he has to constandy remind himself to use Unity principles. "I think it's practical, but it's like anything else that we have to be aware of and conscious of it. We're human. I think the lesson really is, okay, you know, the more I am aware of practicing these principles, then the better I am. But if I get stressed out, I may forget them."

Barbara, who says that she uses Unity principles "every single day of my life, minute to minute," acknowledges that it is not always easy. When the man she was involved with was dying from cancer, Barbara said she had an especially difficult time because he was not using Unity principles. Instead, she said he just gave up and didn't want to live because he could see himself deteriorating.

But with minor difficulties, not death, I've gotten a lot better. And of course I've gotten a lot better since his death because I've really gotten into it. I listen to tapes and read books and do my mediation every day. I've overcome a lot of things, like being impatient in traffic, by using Unity principles. So if I have something big come up, and it might not be big, but it seems big to me, I tell myself that this is where I'm supposed to be. I've learned some new things here, like give it three days and it will be better in three days. That's a good thing. I do a lot of affirmations. I certainly use it in my work, a lot, because I do take care of chronically ill children. . . . I think it's a good tool, and I think it will continue to help me more and more.

Barbara's comments also show the type of practicality she finds in Unity's spiritual principles. The assistance she finds from the Unity philosophy is with problems she faces every day, like traffic, in addition to answers to larger-picture questions about the meaning of life.

Prayer is one of the main focuses of Unity (especially Silent Unity) because it is seen as the main way to experience and connect with the God within. The meditations during the services show people how to pray in a meditative fashion, with periods of silence set aside to listen to God. By leading the congregation in silent affirmations in the first person, such as "I am open and receptive to the loving spirit of Jesus Christ," the minister or prayer leader helps the individual to participate in the prayer rather than just listen. In addition, every Unity church holds a service dedicated to prayer and meditation at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays. This time corresponds to the weekly prayer service of Silent Unity held at Unity Village, where all prayer requests from the phone lines and letters are "prayed over" en masse. The meditative prayer is what attracts Isabel to Unity. "They don't have the kind of meditation in other churches that they have in Unity. That's another thing that I love. I love to meditate. I like yoga, I like all that. In church it's more ritual," she said. Cora also is drawn to Unity by its prayer, especially since it has been proven effective for her many times. Cora called Silent Unity for the first time when a close relative was kidnapped and was missing for six weeks.

The police had told us that if they were to find her, it would be her body. We were all upset, and I just couldn't accept it. So there happens to be a page in the Daily Word that says call Silent Unity. So it was like midnight and I called them. The woman gave me an affirmation and it was like uh-uh (Cora shakes her head indicating that she didn't believe the affirmation that the Silent Unity worker had given her), and she was like, "Yeah, repeat after me." She must have stayed on the phone a long time trying to get me to repeat these things. So finally I felt sure. And three days later she came home. They released her. It was just amazing. From then on it was like, okay, I believe.

Like others before her, Cora was convinced by the practical provability of the principles.

© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.