A friend of a friend is thinking about getting involved in a local Unity Church. I can’t give the Unity Church a bad recommendation: I spent time there myself. What I can say is that for a person who thinks, Unity falls short of useful answers very fast. It’s a good place to learn why some things are not true.
Five Basic Beliefs of Unity Church
The five core beliefs in the Unity Church system of thought are, according to its website:
- “God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
- “We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
- “We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
- “There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our connection to God.
- “Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.”
The parts of the Unity Church that drew me were, first, the idea that all people are inherently good. They might misperceive their true identity and act out, but this is correctable.
‘I Control My Own Destiny’
Second, I really liked the measure of control the Unity Church belief system offered over my own life. “We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.” That suggested that I really did have a shot at any goal I might imagine.
Finally, the Unity Church provided me a tool by which to manage not just my everyday life but the universe itself. My “affirmative prayer” would change people and circumstances in ways I could not humanly conceive.
Real Life: Some Kids are Learning Disabled
Unfortunately, real life began to intervene. I started to discover people born with congenital illnesses or learning disabilities and couldn’t convince myself that their own thoughts had created their life experiences.
Now, years later, in a much crazier and much smaller world, I have met people who fled war zones in Bosnia and Ethiopia, who live in today’s war zones in the Middle East, who have been murdered by an abusive husband, raped by an abusive relative or neighbor, who check newspapers daily for information about the communities where their relatives live in Mexico or Nigeria or China. I have to ask myself: is it because of their own personal wrong “way of thinking” that some people live in the way of evil? Or does evil have its own ways?
How Do Bad Things Happen?
This is where the Unity Church’s beliefs fell apart for me. Evil happens. It happens to people who affirm the goodness of God. It happens to people who put themselves at risk. It happens to everyone, no matter what we believe in. And it doesn’t cease to exist if we try to refuse to believe in it.
The Unity Church works for its ministers because people want to believe the Unity message. People will pay preachers who tell them that the world is really a safe and benevolent place and it is possible to ally yourself with that safety and benevolence to gain control of a secure and safe life.
Bad Things Are Your Fault!
Unity also works for its ministers because the belief system carries a “fault” clause that spares Unity from responsibility for its own failings. If you believe these things and your life is still falling apart — well, it’s not enough to believe them. You have to live them. It’s your own fault that your life isn’t as good as we’ve promised.
You Need to Find the Secret
The Unity School of Christianity is one of a group of church movements founded in the late 19th century in the United States that hold, at their core, a version of gnostic teaching. That is to say: there is a hidden knowledge, or gnosis, to which some have gained access and which is transformative. Typical of many of these movements, Unity describes Jesus of Nazareth as simply one of the most advanced humans in learning and living this hidden knowledge. Jesus is not a unique Son of God, in their tradition. He is, according to the various movements in this tradition, simply an early example of who we are intended to be in our own position as children of God.
Stay and Be Crazy or Move On
Setting aside, for a moment, questions about Jesus — which are very important to me, but not to this discussion: How long can anyone keep going in a belief system that says it’s their fault when things go wrong in their life?
- If you get breast cancer, it’s your fault.
- If your job is off-shored, it’s your fault.
- If your house is destroyed by a tornado, it’s your fault.
You would have to be truly crazy — not just mentally ill — to hang on for long to this kind of belief. And this kind of teaching does wear thin for people after a while. But when life strips the illusions from one group of congregants, there is always another group of people who are happy to pay preachers to promise them safety, security, and control of their lives.
Unity will never work, long term, for the congregation. But it doesn’t have to for the false promises to keep being perpetuated. As long as there is always a new group to try the message, Unity is always going to work for its clergy. Those are the true believers.
The Good Thing About Unity
The good thing about the Unity Church is that anyone who is honestly seeking after God is going to find God. ” ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:13-14a). “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). So for that honest seeker, as for me, Unity will be just a stop on the path to a more solid foundation.