The Unity School of Christianity is not the most well known of belief systems, but it is a solidly constituted faith which has managed to establish itself on the modern scene. Currently, Unity has over 500 churches and/or study groups in America and approximately 100 congregations and study groups in 15 other countries around the world. Current estimated membership worldwide is about 2,000,000.
Some of the more well known figures who have claimed Unity as their religion include the great cookie maker Wally Amos of Famous Amos cookies, and several people in the entertainment industry such as Betty White, Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver), Patricia Neal, and Esther Williams.
Unity is a religious organization which claims to seek the good in all people and events. It has no established creed and no required ritual. It claims that there is good in every approach to God as long as it fills someone’s needs. In other words, it is another syncretistic approach to religious faith.
The Unity School of Christianity was begun by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. Charles was born in 1854 into a poor family. He was primarily raised by his Episcopalian mother in Minnesota. He didn’t receive much formal education but did take an interest in religion. He particularly read a great deal about the occult, Eastern religions, metaphysics, and spiritualism. When he left home he moved to Texas where he met a school teacher, Myrtle Page, who had been raised Methodist. The two were married in 1881 and, after moving around a bit, settled in Kansas City, Missouri in 1884.
While living there, they attended a lecture on Christian Science by Dr. E.B. Weeks. At this lecture, Myrtle had a “spiritual breakthrough” and latched onto a phrase that she claimed as her own. This phrase was, “I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness.” This is a classic Christian Science belief. She claimed that while meditating on that phrase, she was healed from tuberculosis, and later from malaria.
At first, Charles was unwilling to follow Myrtle’s lead with this new set of beliefs. But after using her technique he claimed that he, himself, was healed of a withered leg. Based on their experience, they formed what ultimately became known as The Unity School of Christianity. They actually never thought of starting a church. Initially they saw their faith as merely an extension of the faith they already had and referred to their belief as the “Unity School of Practical Christianity.” The word “practical” was dropped from the name in 1914, at which time it was incorporated under the name The Unity School of Christianity.
Their own assertion about their new belief system was that they borrowed the best from all religions and “unified” the major beliefs. Based on that assertion they called the new belief Unity. They claimed that Unity is not a sect which separates people into exclusive groups of know-it-alls. Rather, they taught that Unity is the Truth that is taught in all religions which they were able to simplify in a way which allows anyone to understand and apply it. Students of Unity claim that it is not necessary to leave their own church affiliations.
Another of Unity’s roots are found in the teachings of Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer practiced what was called “animal magnetism.” His work involved manipulating the subconscious mind. He was the first modern user of hypnotism and, in fact, the term mesmerize derived from his name.
A third source of Unity’s teachings comes from Far Eastern Thought beliefs. Some of the teachings of Unity emerge directly out of Hinduism and Buddhism. It seems that this influence came from Charles’ early enchantment with Eastern metaphysics.
Unity’s official publication is called “The Unity Magazine.” This publication started out with the name “Modern Thought.” Over the years it went through several name changes before finally settling on the current title in 1895.
When Myrtle died in 1931, Charles continued to lead the organization. With his death in 1948 the group was taken over by their two sons, Lowell and Rickert. It is currently led by their great-granddaughter, Connie Fillmore Bazzy. The Fillmore’s grandson, Charles R. Fillmore, serves as Chairman of the Board.
Today the “school” is a centralized group headquartered in Unity City, MO, just outside of Kansas City. They distribute millions of pieces of literature a year with their most popular publications being The Unity Magazine, The Daily Word, and Wee Wisdom. They also air a number of radio broadcasts.
Basic Beliefs and Practices
There are five basic principles that Unity is founded upon.
1. God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
2. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
3. We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
4. There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our connection to God.
5. Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.
The five basic principles, though, do not give a complete understanding of the basic doctrines of the faith. They actually use words such as God, prayer, good, connection with God and others in ways which do not resemble Christian teachings at all. By looking at their basic doctrines, we can get a better sense of exactly what they believe.
The Unity understanding of God is pantheistic in nature – God is all and all is God. God is understood to be the creative energy which is the cause of all visible things. He is not considered to be a personal being and has no personal attributes. He is the invisible, intangible thing we call life. Everything contains a certain degree of this presence.
Unity interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit spiritually as mind, idea, and expression – not as attributes of a personal God. The nature of God is understood to be absolute good. Therefore, all expressions of God (including man) partake of good. To Unity believers, what is commonly thought of as “evil” by most people is simply an incomplete expression of God. Evil’s origin is ignorance.
The Father is understood to be “being” in the absolute sense. He is the Mind or Intelligence of the universe and is the creative origin of the physical universe.
Christ and Jesus are not understood to be the same. Christ is the divine consciousness, whereas Jesus was a man who perfectly understood and applied this Christ principle in his life.
Christ is the essential divinity which exists in all people. This Christ principle is inherently existent in all men regardless of personal beliefs and it is up to individuals to discover it in themselves and apply it to life.
Unity believes that Jesus, on the other hand, was a man who fully expressed his divine potential in human life. His purpose in life was to show others how to do the same. Jesus was merely a master teacher of universal Truth who demonstrated The Way. Thus, Unity uses “Jesus” as the great example of the Christ principle which is active in human life.
The Holy Spirit is understood to be nothing more than an impersonal force which is the projected thoughts of the Divine Mind.
Man is believed to have always existed as a part of God. His primary purpose is to come to the realization that he is divine. Mankind evolves toward godhood through successive lives by means of reincarnation. As the reincarnation process progresses, man can get rid of the sin (ignorance) that has accumulated in previous lives.
Unity teaches that human beings are individual, external expressions of God. Our essential nature is divine and therefore we are inherently good. Our purpose is to express our divine potential. We can see how to do this as we examine the life of Jesus. The more we awaken to our divine nature, the more fully God expresses himself in and through our lives.
Unity teaches that there is no objective sin and evil, and no geographical heaven or hell. These are simply states of mind that people experience as a result of good or bad thoughts. Sin is simply separation from God in our consciousness which is caused by wrong beliefs about the nature of God.
Every person is believed to be a part of God and can overcome their weaknesses and mistakes by wisdom and right thinking. Salvation is finally attained when the cycle of rebirths is broken by mastering this right thinking. At that point, the true spiritual body replaces the physical body and man becomes like Christ.
Faith Foundation (How Unity Answers the 7 Worldview Questions)
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality)
God is all and all is God. He is the creative energy and life force which is the source of material reality. God is not a personal being and has no personal attributes. Everything contains a certain degree of this presence of God.
2. What is the nature of our material reality? (Material reality)
Material reality is an expression of the creative energy which is God.
3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
Humans are spiritual beings which are expressions of ideas in the mind of God. As such, man has always existed as a part of God. Each individual manifests the Christ (the divine consciousness) in his or her own unique fashion. The perfect expression of the Christ is, therefore, different for each person.
4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
At physical death, the life force of an individual reincarnates into another life form. In Unity theology, the reincarnation is never into a lower life form. Reincarnation allows a person to attain new understandings from new life experiences. With enough accumulated knowledge, it is eventually possible to express perfection and demonstrate eternal life, which is the ultimate goal. Unity’s real emphasis, though, is on regeneration, not reincarnation. When a person achieves this goal, as Jesus did, it will no longer be necessary to reincarnate.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
Humans are an expression of the essence of life which is in everything. Knowledge is a part of that essence and mankind is, therefore, able to have it.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality)
Morality is found in every religion. The Bible has the most accessible expression of this truth, but every religion’s scripture has something to share related to what is right and wrong.
7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
History has no innate meaning. It is simply a cyclical flow of events in which mankind seeks to attain perfect unity with God.
Unity claims no single authoritative scripture. It does not even consider its own teachings to be ultimately authoritative, but draws on the teachings of many religions. That being said, the Bible is Unity’s basic textbook. It is accepted as a body of history, as a moral and ethical teaching, and as a great literary work.
In spite of the fact that the Bible is the basic text, Unity does not interpret the Bible in a traditional sense. The approach that Unity takes to Biblical interpretation is that the teachings in Scripture are all allegorical. They interpret the names of places along with people and their experiences as a symbolic, rather than literal, unfolding of human consciousness. They also assert that truth is to be found in other scriptures.
Unity founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, studied the Bible as history and allegory. They interpreted it as a metaphysical representation of each soul’s evolutionary journey toward spiritual awakening. Unity understands the Bible as a complex collection of writings compiled over many centuries. They see it as a valuable spiritual resource, but understand it as simply a reflection of the comprehension and inspiration of the writers and their times.
Though they do not outwardly acknowledge this fact, much of the basic teachings of Unity are straight out of Hinduism and Buddhism. The pantheistic understanding of reality and the teachings about reincarnation are taken directly from the Far Eastern Thought worldview.
Evidence for the Authority
The basis of authority for Unity is the arbitrary teachings produced by the Fillmores when they created their organization. There is no objective basis for them having created the doctrines which they established except that it seemed good and right to them. They simply cherry-picked beliefs from several different sources and tried to combine them into a new belief system.
The fact that they claim to accept the basic teachings of all religions is also problematic. Many of the various teachings in these diverse religions literally contradict one another. The Theism of Christian beliefs and the pantheism of Far Eastern thought cannot be merged without internal contradictions which cannot be reconciled.
There are many belief systems which are formed with the desire to “end the divisions between the various religions found throughout the world.” They try to do this by combining the beliefs of different worldview positions. What they don’t realize is that far from creating a unified religious system, they have simply created a new system to add to the ones which already exist. The fact is, Unity is not compatible with either Christianity or Far Eastern religions. It ends up denying basic tenets of each and establishing a new way to create division.
© 2009 Freddy Davis