In this 1989 essay, Eric Butterworth says that his 40 years in ministry has enabled him to form “a demographic composite of the kind of people who read or listen to Unity’s message, and the perceptions they have of what Unity is as a movement.” He then makes an astonishing observation:
“most of these persons do not consider Unity as their church. It is more of a self-development program that supplements their other church commitments, or gives support to their freedom to have none.”
It may be that Eric Butterworth is talking about those who listened to his radio broadcasts or who read his books, rather than those who visited his New York Unity Center. But it may also explain why his New York Center did not have many of the programs and activities we typically associate with a church—no Sunday school, no children’s program, no outreach team, no social justice program, no prayer circles, and so on.
Eric’s composite visitor included a Catholic woman who continued to attend her Catholic church, an executive professional who sought support for a high performance career and an atheist who unexpectedly found refreshing mystery in a pathway that was spiritual. None of these people were interested in typical church programs and activities.
I’ve cherished this essay by Eric Butterworth for many years. I’m sharing it now because this is a good time for us to reassess the spiritual offerings of churches, as both consumers and providers of spiritual services. Here is why it might be important to you...
If you find yourself resonating with Eric’s composite profile, know that you are welcome in Unity regardless of your personal spiritual journey. And if you are happy in your current church home, know that the lessons of Metaphysical Christianity are open and available to you as a way to grow further in your own spiritual pathway with your existing religious family.
If you are a Unity leader, know that the observations made in this essay may provide insights about what your congregants really care about. As we reopen our churches, it may be helpful to reassess the real value of what we’re providing our visitors.
If you are a minister or spiritual leader of a Catholic, an Evangelical or mainline Christian church, know that sometimes the most simple spiritual offerings provide profound spiritual blessings. Metaphysical Christianity is practical Christianity. And practical Christianity is as ecumenical as can be.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
“Quo Vadis?” Where Are We Going In Unity?
Minister, Unity Center of Practical Christianity New York, New York
Originally published 1989 as "New Horizons for Unity and You"
in Unity: 100 Years of Faith and Vision
“Quo Vadis?” asked the Romans of old. As we join in the centennial celebration of Unity’s origin, all of us who are interested in the Unity movement—teachers, ministers, students—should be asking ourselves the same question: Where are we going? If we were possessed of prophetic vision, we might look ahead to the year 2089 (100 years from now). Can you imagine where the Unity movement will be?
I have been involved personally in various aspects of this movement for more than 60 years. I have seen great changes, and I have observed the development of definite trends. I have an idealistic vision of what Unity is and should become, so some of the trends have been exciting to witness. However, some trends have been a matter of concern.
Much of my work as a spokesman for Unity has been through the medium of radio broadcasting, where for more than 40 years I have reached out and touched people in most of the major cities of America. There are people of all religious involvements and those who have none, and in some cases want none. I have been able to piece together, by means of listener-response mail, a demographic composite of the kind of people who read or listen to Unity’s message, and the perceptions they have of what Unity is as a movement.
Jane O. is a homemaker who is a faithful Catholic. She asked for and received permission from her priest to listen to our program. She derives much comfort and strength from Unity, enabling her to go through some very difficult times. Laura S. is an account executive for a large advertising firm. Unity has helped her to upgrade her image of herself, which has led to progressive advances in her work. She is a Protestant dropout who goes to church only occasionally, and with no attachments. George M. has always considered himself an atheist, surprising himself that he began listening to the Unity message with interest. Now he is even comfortable with the spiritual language, and vitally motivated by the philosophy.
Though some of the listeners have sought out a local Unity center or church to become involved in the study programs offered, most of these persons do not consider Unity as their church. It is more of a self-development program that supplements their other church commitments, or gives support to their freedom to have none. This evokes a positive response within me, even though I am a minister of a Unity center. This, because I hold dear the vision of Charles Fillmore not to create “another church.” He looked forward to the time when Unity’s influence would be powerfully felt through all the churches, and also among the unchurched.
As we celebrate our centennial anniversary, perhaps we can be forgiven if we indulge in superlatives of selfadulation, referring to Unity as “the world’s finest teaching,” or “the fastest growing contemporary religious movement.” From the “Quo Vadis” perspective perhaps we need to ask the question, though not necessarily to specifically answer it: What is more important, the achievement of a great church with vast congregations and towering church edifices, or a long continuity of lives helped, and healed, even saved, and a widespread perception of Unity as an altruistic teaching that millions of people employ in their everyday lives?
It is my strong feeling that it would be a mistake for Unity to become another church (albeit a finer one), dispensing its theology of custom-made convictions (albeit metaphysical ones). It would be a pity if this great movement, the lengthened shadow of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, were to slip into what Emerson calls “the sectarian rut.” Yet how subtly does the system evolve of taking “Lessons in Truth,” passing the course, becoming a member of the church (or center), and then settling into the age-old pattern that Bliss Carman so classically sings about: “They’re praising God on Sunday, they’ll be all right on Monday ... it’s just a little habit they’ve acquired.”
The focus of Unity should be, not in churches but in living, not on a way of worship but a way of life. The purpose should be not to create great cathedrals in the cities, but to produce good people in the citizenry. By “good” we mean, not pious, but whole people, spiritually aware people. When we have good people at the bargaining tables, good people in the councils of government, good people as teachers, as officials, and as parents, then the problems of the world will be easily resolved.
Not that we shouldn’t have churches. We may always need them, but as places of study and spiritual research, not as repositories of “final Truths.” The problem of retrospective religion is that it ends in the church. The forward thrust of Unity’s now-time religion is that Truth will begin in the church. The great purpose of the new-age church, if we must become a church, will be to teach, not preach, to set the individual free, not to bind him to a creed or set of metaphysical cliches.
Humankind today stands at the frontier of a new age. There is a crying need for a vital, dynamic, and contemporarily relevant spiritual philosophy. We need look no further than the teachings of Jesus, but we must look further into them. They must be translated into the light and experience of people in a modern world. Such was the life-work of Charles Fillmore. And such will continue to be the work of Unity’s community of teachers, ministers, and writers ... and, such must be the commitment of Unity students.
Unity, if we could settle on a succinct definition, is a living Truth that has evolved out of putting Christianity in the present tense. Now is the time! The kingdom of God is at hand! If God walked the earth through Jesus 2,000 years ago, He walks the earth through you and me today. If Jesus worked wonders, then if one becomes conscious of divine law as He was conscious of divine law, one can work wonders today. For Jesus clearly said, “All that I do you can do too, and greater works ...”
This is Unity’s “good news.” You are a spiritual being, with the allness of the kingdom of God possibilities within you. It is the challenge to mine your inner power, and to really believe in your divine potential to “move mountains” and cross your Red Seas. It is to figuratively and even literally do the greater things Jesus promised.
When we realize the excitement of the new frontier opened by Jesus, it is a wonder that it has taken so long for people to catch the idea. One of the colorful events in the development of the West was the opening of the territory of Oklahoma to settlers. A time was arranged for them to start at the boundary from which they were to go forth to stake their claims. Great crowds were gathered at the frontier, and at a given signal, the firing of a gun, the rush was on—people on foot and in buck-boards, in a mad stampede to reach the coveted areas and put down their stakes claiming possession. But in the vast realm of the kingdom of God as Jesus described it, there is no set time to enter, no firing of a gun on the frontier. Each of us may wake up to the Truth at any time and stake our claim of wholeness and fulfillment.
The word horizon is misleading, for it literally means “boundary,” thus a limited vision. But a horizon is not a fixed barrier. Any traveler knows that the horizon retreats before him as he journeys on. In meeting life’s experiences our greatest problem is that we tend to believe that our horizons are walls, and that when we reach the barrier we will, as the ancients feared of the earth, fall off. It does sound ridiculous but people actually believe that at some time in the future they may run out of supply, out of work, out of love, literally out of life.
We may glean a great message from the experience of Abraham. An inner voice spoke to him in the gloom and said, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward, southward, eastward, and westward, for all the land which you see, to thee will I give it.” It is a new way to cross the frontier. Instead of a mad scramble in a buckboard, racing in competition with others ... simply “stand still and see ...” and all that you can conceive in mind and believe to be true for you, you can achieve. Abraham did look up and conceive of the new way, and he went on to found a new nation.
It is the clear message of truth that Unity gives to all who will listen: Look up and away from your horizons of limitation, and envision greater possibilities for yourself. Know the Truth. You are a child of God, not a son or daughter of misfortune. Sickness is unnecessary, and death is not the inevitable end. Poverty is not some kind of malaise about which you have no choice. Rather it is a frustration of the divine flow.
This is Unity’s good news to all people ... for today and for the future. You can cross the frontier of your mind and stake your claim to abundant life. You can push back your limited horizon and go on to freedom.
In the age to come, if Unity can maintain an open frontier of idealism, it may play an important role in the breakthrough in people of what has been called “the next development in man.” Charles Fillmore touched on this when he said, “There is that in man which, when opened, will place him in direct contact with Universal knowledge and enable him instantly and constantly to draw forth anything he may wish to know.” With this important goal in mind, Unity School and the many Unity centers and churches must be devoted, not just to teaching intellectual concepts, but to helping individuals to awaken their intuitive process. Thus, they may become centers of creative thinking. It is not too much to believe that in the years ahead the prayer meeting may become “spiritual think-tanks” where dynamic ideas for the welfare of humankind will unfold.
Out of such prayer meetings will come a sympathetic response to the deep needs of humankind, and a prayer-projection of the unity of all people and all nations. It is obvious that when we know God and know our true selves as expressions of God, we will know our basic unity with all that which is of God. After generations of trying all manner of laws to ensure social justice, restraints, and barriers for protection, the world may at last be ready to hear the gospel of unity.
This is the important role of love, the language of Spirit, the key to the unspoken word of Truth. More than anything else Unity School and Unity centers and churches will become laboratories for the study and practice of the reality of creative love. We will realize and spread the word to communities everywhere with the same sort of seriousness with which we deal with nuclear fission, that the absence of love between persons or nations can destroy the world. Thus we will work to condition people to a universal law of love, much in the way we are taught to obey the civil law. This law will articulate the principle that maintaining the flow of mutuality and love is everybody’s business. This was the lofty vision of Teilhard de Chardin, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, and gravity, we will harness the energies of love. And then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.”
To carry out its great mission in the age to come, Unity will need to take a careful inventory of the attitudes of the teacher and the teaching. It is probably true that every person is looking for someone who will tell him how to change his life, and subconsciously he looks for someone who will do it for him. The teacher must resist the ego-temptation to be that one. Gibran says, “No man can reveal to you aught, but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge ... If the teacher is wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
Much as he may want to do so, the teacher cannot change you. That can only come from within yourself. The answers to your problems, and the power and potential for achieving them, are in you. No one can give them to you. Truth deals with spiritual development, but remember the word develop is the opposite of envelop, thus it means “to unfold from within.”
Healing by nonmaterial means will always be fundamental to the continuing work of Unity. It is important to realize that healing comes through wholeness. You can be healed because you are innately whole. A teacher or practitioner may be an influence to help the patient raise his consciousness, but it is incorrect for one ever to say that he healed another person. All healing is self-healing. God can do no more for you than He can do through you. The need is to find your own pattern, to know your own uniqueness, to hear your own music, sense your own rhythms, and (as Thoreau put it) to march to the beat of your own drummer.
Another concern of mine is the trend toward materialism in the practice of spiritual principles. It is true that many persons have been “turned on” to Truth because of help received in a time of personal need. Many classes and seminars in Truth are devoted to working with pat formulas and techniques for making a lot of money or achieving a quick healing “miracle.” But often this tends to be a gross materialization of a great spiritual Truth.
Of course health and prosperity and good relationships are important in the quest for the abundant life. But there is a greater goal, the realization of our oneness with God. It is not to be sought only that sickness and poverty and inharmony may be overcome, but for its own sake. Self-realization is its own justification, and God possession brings its own rewards. I saw the title of an article recently that asked the question, “Should we pray when we have nothing to pray for?” When we really understand life as a growth process, we realize that we “practice the Presence” to keep us on the upward sweep of spiritual awareness, which, incidentally, becomes a marvelous preventive of problems.
In other words, if Unity is to take its place as a great spiritual philosophy of the coming age, it must seek a loftier ideal than simply healing the sick, overcoming poverty, eradicating anger, fear, and anxiety. Certainly, there is a great ministry in the teaching and practice of healing. But if Unity is to reach the heights of its potential, and even to fulfill the goals of Charles Fillmore, it must seek and maintain a loftier perspective. As long as Unity, either in the ministry of Silent Unity or of the Unity centers and churches in the field, comes to be known as the place where you go to learn how to make “miracle demonstrations,” it will never reach its potential as the great world movement it can be.
In an editorial in the June 1894 issue of Unity magazine, Charles Fillmore set down this challenge for Unity early along in its development. He said, “To maintain the religious dignity of the doctrine we advocate, we must hold to the pivotal thought that it is a spiritual ministry, and not a new system of healing. The healing that follows an understanding of the doctrine is not good in itself, and should not be proclaimed as good—it is the effect of the good.”
If Unity can give emphasis to this ideal of the spiritual ministry, it may be perceived, not as just another system of practical metaphysics—one among many—but a very special movement of Christian mysticism. If Unity is able to imbue people who come to it for aid with loftier spiritual goals than the mere eradication of disease and poverty, and to inspire them to reach for a more cosmic awareness of life, thus to become a vital part of the solution of the human problems in the world, it may yet go down in history as a great religious movement, and an authentic and authoritative source of a fine and ideal mysticism. It will require a lot of self-criticism, self-honesty, and a new wave of integrity. The question is, are we willing?
Unity, if we can use the term collectively to include Unity School, Silent Unity, the School for Religious Studies, and all the centers and churches around the world—has done some amazing things in the lives of people over the years. However, Unity is not what it has done or been. It is what it can do and will do in the years to come. Truly, if it takes the high road in its growth and evolution, “The best is yet to be.” There is a conscious choice involved: whether to become a small Protestant denomination, or a great source of mystical Truth reaching out in all directions, across denominational lines, across cultural lines, across national borderlines, as an influence for the healing of the nations.
Sometime, down the road ahead, a person will cross his own frontier of mind as he makes contact with Unity. A spark will be ignited, the sleeping giant of his Godself will be awakened. In time a dramatic change will take place, an overcoming and healing, leading to a new way of life. That image of the person crossing the frontier, and the expectation that it will be repeated millions of times in the long years ahead—that is what the Unity movement is all about.