Unity Beliefs and Practices
Although the Fillmores attempted to remain as open as possible to other ideas and thoughts, they found that they did have to set boundaries on what the organization would support. For example, Unity broke away in 1905 from the International New Thought Alliance because Charles Fillmore felt that Unity's teachings were significantly different from other New Thought doctrines. After attending the 1905 INTA convention, Fillmore wrote, "So far as the Unity Society of Practical Christianity is concerned, we must candidly say that its teachings are widely different from those of the majority of New Thought doctrines, and we do not feel at home in the average gathering under that name, although we try to harmonize with all Truth seekers" (Freeman, 1965, p. 103). Unity places more emphasis on God and Christ than other New Thought organizations, which appeal more to the secular idea of optimism and the mind's ability to heal. According to Unity Minister Eric Butterworth (1965), "Perhaps the one distinction between the many organizations within the Truth movement of today and Unity is that Unity has centered its attention on interpreting and articulating the teachings of Jesus Christ. Unity considers itself wholly Christian, with Jesus Christ as its true authority" (pp. 23-24).
Further evidence of boundary-setting is found in the formal requirements for ministerial ordination and the formation of the various associations as oversight organizations. However, Unity clearly has not reached the hierarchical level of centralized authority that surrounds other movements, like Christian Science. Nevertheless, the Fillmores remained committed to the idea that everyone must find truth for themselves, and that everyone need not agree with them. In fact, Charles Fillmore once wrote that "He who writes a creed or puts a limit to revelation is the enemy of humanity. Creeds have ever been the vampires that sucked the blood of spiritual progress in the past" (Bach, 1982, pp. 80-81). This viewpoint largely stems from the Fillmores' own eclectic religious background and their belief that Unity represents the best in all religions. Bach provides a descriptive overview of how beliefs from various world views mingle in the Unity philosophy:
Unity, born in Truth and fostered in eclecticism, as Charles Fillmore openly admitted, 'has taken Truth from many sources, for Truth is one and universal.' Unity's awareness of Christ within would, if one wished, be traceable to the early Christian mystics, whether in the 'upper room' or whereever. Unity's emphasis on an inner light and spiritual interpretation of the sacraments reminded me of Quakerism. Unity, like Christian Science, puts major emphasis on spiritual steps to physical healing. Like Theosophy, it speculated about reincarnation and held it as a hypothesis worthy of consideration. Like Rosicrucianism, it contemplated the idea of cosmic reality and Spirit's all-embracing principles. Like traditional Christianity, it thought in terms of the art of deep and sincere worship. Awareness of the astral and psychic manifestations harked back to spiritualism. Hinduism's emphasis on meditation fit well into Unity's patterns for enlightenment. Home blessings, blessings of the mail, and prayers for protection had relationship to Jewish and Roman Catholic sources, (p. 103-104)
The following sampling of Unity beliefs is by no means all-inclusive, but it provides a brief overview of some of the generally-accepted philosophies of the organization.
God is Spirit. Rather than view God as a personal creator, Unity sees God as mind or spirit. Unity believes that God meets people at their level of spiritual consciousness, and therefore appears differently to different people. "God, being infinite, can be related to in an infinite number of ways," explained Albuquerque's Barrette. In connection with the view that God is omnipotent spirit, Unity does not believe "that anything opposed to God—evil, as it is called in the Scriptures—is enduring. Unity concedes the existence of what society calls evil but denies that it is a creation of Spirit. Evil results from humankind's misuse of God's laws" (Turner, n.d., p. 3).
Everything is in divine order. According to Unity philosophy, everything happens for a reason. As explained by Rickert Fillmore: "When a man works in harmony with God, the right things come at the right time" (Bach, 1982, p. 43). This includes hardship and pain, which are necessary to learn the lessons which the soul must learn. This does not mean, however, that a person should be content with hardship. Rather, the philosophy encourages people to work through hard times in life with the attitude that they are necessary for their spiritual progress. As Barrette explained in a sermon, living by this Unity philosophy does not stop his problems, but it gives him a more spiritually aligned consciousness from which he can more creatively deal with those problems (Nov. 10, 1996).
No alienation between God and man. Throughout the ages, religions have created a false duality between God and man. Jesus came to dispel this belief, as shown in John 10:30: "I and the Father are one." Unity therefore promotes the development of a personal relationship with God to overcome that duality. "While the Christian ideal has been centered around the concept of the worship of God, which usually means bowing before an altar, a statue or a church official, Unity is concerned more with finding a consciousness of oneness with God, and then seeking to express God in thought, word and act" (Butterworth, 1965, p. 33).
Christ Within: Humans have within themselves a spark of the divine, which could be called Christ consciousness. Jesus represented the highest development of Christ consciousness, which is oneness with God. Charles Fillmore writes: "In the person of Jesus of Nazareth is manifested the highest state of consciousness. His super-consciousness was His real self, and through it He was able to redeem his body. In like manner, when we learn the process, we can transform and redeem our bodies and take on Christ-consciousness" (Bach, 1982, p. 125).
Prayer: Prayer is the primary method of communication with God, and is answered according to Jesus' words in Matthew 21:22: "Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Unity teaches that prayer should not be for a specific result — a successful business deal, for example — as much as it should be for divine guidance and divine good to come upon a situation. Barrette prompts his congregation not to limit God in how He3 will answer prayer. "Even if you're praying for the health of someone, always pray for their divine good. God will know what that is" (Nov. 10, 1996).
Law of Mind Action. An often-repeated phrase in Unity is "Thoughts held in mind produce in kind." This "Law of Mind Action" refers to the idea that positive thoughts attract positive results, and negative thoughts lead to negative results. This "law" is a central belief which forms the basis for Unity's attitude about health, prosperity and success.
Health: Inspired by the scripture Romans 12:2, "be transformed by the renewal of your mind," Unity believes that "disease has no place in life as a permanent reality, perfect health is inherent in Divine Mind, the Christ in you is the hope of healing" (Bach, 1982, p. 76). Positive affirmations as well as denials of illusions such as disease and fear are used to attain health and other goals. Unity separates the fact of illness from the truth of health. In other words, although disease seems to be a reality, it has no place in divine reality. Unity as an organization has no conflict with doctors or science. "Unity heals by the unequivocal belief that health is our heritage, that nature is remedial, that healing hands are found in many forms, medical and non-medical, that the mind is therapeutic, and that the God Spirit in man is a perfect Spirit" (Bach, 1982, p. 218).
Prosperity: Unity operates under the notion that God's resources are unlimited, abundant and free. The notion of prosperity is depicted well in the Fillmores' Dedication and Covenant, in which they dedicate their lives to God with the expectation that their needs will be met. "To dwell upon poverty is to create it. To dwell upon abundance is to attract it" (Bach, 1982, p. 183).
Practical Christianity: Unity defines practical Christianity as the ability to strike a balance between the physical and the spiritual. Butterworth explains practicality as the "actual practice of Jesus' teachings on a seven-day-a-week basis" (p. 19). Many people who follow the Unity philosophy do so because they have found that they can apply it to their everyday lives. "I use it every single day of my life, minute to minute," said Barbara.
- When a pronoun is necessary in reference to God, I will use the male pronoun for simplicity's sake, even though the female image of God is commonly used by Unity ministers and participants.
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.