Legacy and Inspiration

Almost everyone who encounters the fifth epochal revelation and who finds the teachings moving and inspiring, desires to share them with other human beings and help them experience the same spiritual benefits. This is entirely natural, and I reacted that way myself. On the other hand, immediate personal efforts along such lines almost invariably prove disappointing, and that was certainly what happened to me.

Over the next ten years or so, I eventually came to believe that the key criterion is whether or not the other person is relatively dissatisfied with his or her existing approaches to spirituality and the philosophic side of life — the question of whether or not he or she is really searching for more advanced levels of understanding and belief, even if the person concerned is not fully aware of this search and is not pursuing it consciously and deliberately.

To summarize these conclusions, I became convinced that if the other person was either fully satisfied with his or her existing approaches to spirituality and the philosophic side of life, or was just not very interested in these topics, then he or she would not be willing to devote the time, effort, and energy required to delve deeply into the teachings of The Urantia Book and eventually embrace them with conviction and commitment.

In effect, this perspective is not conducive to “mass marketing” and, in addition, antithetical to the traditional methods of “evangelization” that various strands of organized, institutional Christianity endeavored to apply during the 19th and 20th centuries. These underlying realities, however, were not always obvious to everyone. Further, in the course of the first few decades that followed initial publication in 1955, some readers who tended to emphasize resemblances to Christianity found the point very difficult to accept.

Trends and Patterns

A partial misunderstanding of what happened during the early centuries of the Christian era appears to have influenced some readers of The Urantia Book who perceived or proclaimed a need for us to “evangelize” the teachings, and who therefore made the case from time to time during the second half of the 20th century and the early decades of the 21st. In contrast, I offer the following observations in the belief that they are relevant and useful. In all modesty, however, I must make it clear that I am not an expert and that a university professor who specializes in the history of Christianity might analyze the underlying events along lines that are somewhat different.

The initial advance of the Christian faith was almost entirely a result of personal contact and persuasion, although public preaching did occur in some contexts where social practices and political circumstances permitted it.[1] To make essentially the same point from the opposite perspective, the initial advance of the Christian faith did not stem from intense study of, or devotion to, a written text. During the first few centuries of the Christian era, the over­whelming majority of persons living in the Roman Empire were illiterate. Furthermore, the New Testament did not exist as a complete, coherent document until the middle of the fourth century — well after the Emperor Constantine and his successors had begun adopting a series of policies that even­tually made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

In practical terms, it took over 300 years for committed Christians to evaluate and authenticate the exact list of 27 books that compose the New Testament, although a variety of devotional texts had been available in selected locations at much earlier stages. When the New Testament really did become available, and for many centuries thereafter, conversion to Christianity was not predicated on systematic study. To the contrary, the fact that the Christian faith had become the state religion of the Roman Empire caused a very high proportion of the population “to go with the flow.” Furthermore, the ranks of priests and bishops suffered a heavy infusion of time servers, opportunists, and careerists. This does not mean that all of them were insincere or that they were indifferent to the underlying religious values, just that material factors and other practical advantages caused a considerable number of human beings to seize the opportunity to benefit from imperial patronage and the government’s financial resources.

After the western half of the Roman Empire ceased to exist in 476 CE, the con­version to Christianity of the various tribes and ethnic groups that exercised authority over segments of western Europe did not stem from personal persuasion or from evangelization in any sense that we would recognize. To the contrary, specific chieftains, kinglets, and kings decided to convert, and these polit­ical decisions of theirs compelled their subjects to trail on after them. Here is the general account that appears in the highly regarded history of Christianity by the British scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch:[2]

How, then, did the Western Church convert Europe piece by piece between the thousand years which separated Constantine I from the conversion of Lithuania in 1386? At the time, those who described the experience normally used more passive and more col­lective language than the word ‘conversion’: a people or a community ‘accepted’ or ‘sub­mitted to’ the Christian God and his representa­tives on earth. This was language which came naturally: groups mattered more than single people, and within groups there was no such thing as social equality. Most people expected to spend their lives being given orders and showing deference, so when someone ordered dramatic change, it was a question of obeying rather than making a personal choice. Once they had obeyed, the religion which they met was as much a matter of conforming to a new set of forms of worship in their community as of embracing a new set of personal beliefs. Christian missionaries were just as much at home with worldly as with supernatural power. They expected people to be unequal, that was what God wanted, and inequality was there to be used for God’s glory. Mass rallies were not their style; most evangelists were what we would call gentry or nobility, and they normally went straight to the top when preaching the faith. That way they could harvest a whole kingdom, at least as long as local rulers did not have second thoughts or take a better offer.

In much the same spirit, many native speakers of English relish the story that the monk Bede tells in Book II, Chapter 13 of his celebrated work The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. (Bede wrote in the year 731 CE, but in this particular passage he was recounting events that had occurred over one hundred years earlier.)

Bede states that in the year 627 CE, King Edwin of Northumbria decided that Christianity would henceforth be the official religion for himself, for his court, and for all his people. What, Northumbria, not England or Scotland? Yes, Northumbria, for in the year 627, the kingdoms of England and Scotland had not yet been invented. Northumbria was one of various small realms that shared the terrain we now call England — in this case the northeastern portion of England that includes the city of York, as well as a limited, southeasternmost portion of the land that we currently call Scotland.

In his great hall, King Edwin of Northumbria has just introduced an honored guest, a monk named Paulinus who has traipsed to Northumbria from Kent. Paulinus is draped in a long tan robe composed of a rough fabric that might reverently be called burlap; this style of apparel seems to reflect a conviction that the creator who fashioned chrysanthemums and roses and the lilies of the field prefers that his devoted servants succumb to habiliments that might more appropriately enshroud a sack of sand. A rough white cord encircles Paulinus’s waist, a cord that, if coiled and cast carefully, might suffice to lasso a wayward duck.

Now Paulinus, as you may already have imagined, is visiting Northumbria because he wants King Edwin and his people to abandon pagan practices and convert to Christianity. Although the king has expressed a tentative desire to accept that summons, he has convened his counselors and advisers to hear their views. Surprisingly enough, the chief priest responsible for pagan rituals is inclined to agree, for he frankly admits that “the religion that we have hitherto professed seems valueless and powerless” (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 13). Another of the king’s chief men concurs with that appraisal and then declares:

Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a com­forting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it. [Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 13]

This apparently was decisive in the year 627, and Christianity then became the official religion of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Please note that King Edwin’s decision was binding on all his subjects, thereby depriving them of any opportunity to dissent or take issue with his royal edict. Thus, Bede’s story serves to epitomize the underlying reality: During the centuries that followed the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire, the Christian faith was imposed from above by the authority of chieftains, kinglets, and kings, not as a result of any process whereby individuals were persuaded or were converted in a spiritual sense.[3] In relation to western Europe as a whole, a considerably more influential event had occurred when Clovis was baptized in the year 496 CE (Clovis, the chieftain of the Salian Franks, uni­fied all the Franks and became their first king). In effect, the baptism of Clovis initiated a long sequence of events that finally caused the pope to crown the Emperor Charlemagne in the year 800 CE. Around that year, Charlemagne’s troops conquered the pagan Saxons (persons living in the region of north central Germany that is still called Saxony), then converted them to Christianity by force of arms.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Christian faith was a matter of state policy, not individual choice. Anyone who dissented publicly was actively pursued and, if possible, persuaded to recant. In contrast, however, many persistent dissenters who refused to conform to the united dictates of church and state ended up being burned at the stake.

As late as the Treaty of Westphalia (1648)[4]— the treaty that concluded the Thirty Years War in Germany and thereby ended the entire period of the wars of religion — the operating principle in regard to religion was expressed in the Latin phrase cuius regio ejus religio. In literal terms, this means “whose the rulership, his the religion.” If we prefer a more natural and more fluent trans­lation, we can interpret the phrase to mean: “The religion of the ruler shall be the religion of the people.”

For all these reasons, and for yet others, the original tradition of Christianity featured the union of church and state, or at least a strong partnership involving duties and responsibilities that were interrelated and shared. The tolerance and pluralism that now prevail in the West descend from reforms that began in the 18th century, but they took approximately 100 years to be adopted in the great majority of countries having social and cultural backgrounds that are predominantly Christian.

By implication, readers of The Urantia Book who have wished to apply the techniques of Christianity in order to promote and propagate the teachings of the fifth epochal revelation are approaching these questions very selectively and with a heavy dose of “presentitis,” especially since they have tended to focus almost exclusively on practices applied in North America during the last few centuries. Even if we disregarded all of the above, the plain fact of the matter is that the evangelistic campaigns conducted in North America during the 19th and 20th centuries were heavily influenced by — and largely dependent on — a social and cultural environment that was predominantly Christian.

This social and cultural environment is actually a net disadvantage for persons who wish to promote interest in the teachings of The Urantia Book because the fifth epochal revelation includes many aspects disputing and contradicting con­ventional beliefs that are crucial to the Christian tradition. The atonement doctrine is the most obvious example, the idea that Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins and appease the wrath of an angry Father.

Furthermore, persons who seek to promote the teachings of The Urantia Book cannot possibly offer the “deal” that has been a prominent selling point for advocates of Christianity for approxi­mately 2,000 years: the claim that becoming a Christian and following traditional Christian teachings will enable the believer “to go to heaven,” whereas, as a corollary, someone who refuses to believe or who refuses to conform may be consigned to eternal punishment. In contrast, the revelators do not tell us that if someone accepts the teachings of The Urantia Book, this commit­ment ensures that he or she will survive into the afterlife.

Contrasting Approaches to the Fifth Epochal Revelation

In substance, periodic tension and controversy about the perceived need for “evangelization” are at least partly a consequence of contrasting approaches to the teachings of the revelators. Over the period of nearly 70 years that have elapsed since initial publication of The Urantia Book in 1955, many readers have tended to emphasize:

(a)  Resemblances to Christianity or, at least, to those aspects of Christian teachings that are psychologically appealing.

Others, however, have mainly called attention to:

(b)  Much broader ideas that are innovative and conceptually profound — elements that cer­tainly include religion and spirituality, but also many other factors that contribute to the complex interactions of matter, mind, and spirit as the fundamental components of finite reality and as key ingredients of God’s plans for us.

Although my own personal views definitely associate me with option (b), I fully accept that a substantial number of readers of The Urantia Book prefer option (a). They are entitled to this preference, which tends to be associated with a strong concentration on Part IV and substantially less interest in the complex teachings that the revelators have arrayed in Parts I, II, and III. Furthermore, I agree that the narrative and analysis of the life and teachings of Jesus that the Mid­wayer Commission provides in Part IV contain a myriad of inspiring insights that can and do stimulate profound reflection — insights that can likewise be a highly productive tool for fostering and promoting personal growth from spiritual perspectives.

On the other hand, in section 6 of Paper 110, a Solitary Messenger informs us:

The psychic circles are not exclusively intellectual, neither are they wholly morontial; they have to do with personality status, mind attainment, soul growth, and Adjuster attunement. The successful traversal of these levels demands the harmonious functioning of the entire personality, not merely of some one phase thereof. The growth of the parts does not equal the true maturation of the whole; the parts really grow in proportion to the expansion of the entire self — the whole self — material, intellectual, and spiritual.

It is to the mind of perfect poise, housed in a body of clean habits, stabilized neural energies, and balanced chemical function — when the physical, mental, and spiritual powers are in triune harmony of development — that a maximum of light and truth can be imparted with a minimum of temporal danger or risk to the real welfare of such a being. By such a balanced growth does man ascend the circles of planetary progression one by one, from the seventh to the first.

Perhaps these psychic circles of mortal progression would be better denom­inated cosmic levels — actual meaning grasps and value realizations of progressive approach to the morontia consciousness of initial relationship of the evolutionary soul with the emerging Supreme Being. And it is this very relationship that makes it forever impossible fully to explain the significance of the cosmic circles to the material mind. These circle attainments are only relatively related to God-consciousness. A seventh or sixth circler can be almost as truly God-knowing — sonship conscious — as a second or first circler, but such lower circle beings are far less conscious of experiential relation to the Supreme Being, universe citizenship. The attainment of these cosmic circles will become a part of the ascenders’ experience on the mansion worlds if they fail of such achievement before natural death. (Presented by a Solitary Messenger) [Paper 110:6.3,4 and 110:6.16, pages 1209:3,4 and 1211:1]

With all these relationships in mind, I believe that close study of, and appropriate attention to, all 2,097 pages of the fifth epochal revelation — Parts I, II, and III as well as Part IV — are more likely to promote and foster whole-personality growth as the Solitary Messenger has described it. Even so, however, this approach to The Urantia Book is certainly not a precondition for spiritual growth, nor for our future morontia careers on the mansion worlds. Persons who do not take full advantage of the possibilities for whole-personality growth that are available to us while we are living on Urantia will be able to make up for that during the ascendant life.

For all the reasons I have summarized above and for many other reasons that may be even more convincing, readers of The Urantia Book are amply entitled to adopt and pursue their own approaches to the teachings. This, after all, is an intrinsic feature of their free will and of the personal decisions that they make. What readers of The Urantia Book are not entitled to do, however, is to dictate to other human beings or to insist, “My way or the highway.” Unfortunately, both sides of the controversies that arose in North America during the 1980s tended to interpret the actions and opinions of persons in the other camp as evidence of a tyrannical desire to dominate and control.

Strategies for Outreach

Many of the practical questions that became controversial in the 1980s can be interpreted as “slow growth” versus “active outreach,” but there may be persuasive reasons to paraphrase these alternatives as “patience” versus “impatience.” Persons who favor very active strategies for outreach, either then or now, may indeed reject this interpretation, insisting that their impulses and proposals are just rational and reasonable options that take appropriate account of the immensely meaningful and moving ideas and insights that the revelators have enshrined in the fifth epochal revelation, as well as the need for committed readers of The Urantia Book to act with commendable energy and enthusiasm. Naturally they do not want to be identified as “impatient,” for we are all intensely aware that impatience made very substantial contributions to the catastrophic failures of the first and second epochal revelations.

Since I doubt that semantic disputes over the words “patience” and “impatience” will get us very far, let us examine the practical situation as realistically as we can. After all, we, the readers of The Urantia Book, are operating on uncharted terrain. We cannot rely on or settle for techniques inherited from the traditions of spirituality and religion that have pervaded the Western world for most of the past two millennia.

The horizons of the fifth epochal revelation most certainly include spirituality and religion, but we must bear in mind that the revelators’ goals, ideals, and perspectives also encompass many other dimensions of human life and experience. Furthermore, the traditions of evangelism inherited from Christianity were aimed at promoting interest in a much simpler set of ideas, whereas delving deeply into the teachings of The Urantia Book and eventually embracing them with con­viction and commitment requires far more time, effort, energy, and dedication. As I stated in the first few paragraphs of this essay, I believe that only an individual who is at least implicitly searching for more advanced levels of understanding and belief will be willing to embark on the extended and arduous quest for personal transformation that the revelators implicitly call for.

With all this in mind, I counsel patience and persistence, mainly continuing to rely on person-to-person contact and other techniques that are consensual and informal. This, of course, can and should include conferences, seminars, courses, study group meetings, and other types of voluntary gatherings, without resorting to mass-market advertising or other forms of publicity aimed at the general population. In section 6 of Paper 52, a Mighty Messenger informs us:

Even on normal evolutionary worlds the realization of the world-wide brotherhood of man is not an easy accomplishment. On a confused and disordered planet like Urantia such an achievement requires a much longer time and necessitates far greater effort. (Presented by a Mighty Messenger) [Paper 52:6.2, page 597.3]


[1]  Although scholars offer different estimates of the proportion of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire who were Christians in the year 313 CE (when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan proclaiming religious toleration), ten percent appears to be the upper limit. In contrast, many scholars believe that this estimate is an exaggeration.

[2]  Pages 342-343 of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. New York: Viking, 2010.

[3]  The historian Diarmaid MacCulloch comments: “Bede probably made the speech up, as historians did at the time, but he made it up because he thought that his readers would think it plausible” (pages 343-344 of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years).

[4]  From political and diplomatic perspectives, many historians declare that the Treaty of Westphalia created the nation-state system that still prevails today, although it is reasonable and persuasive to point out that the Charter of the United Nations (adopted in 1945) modified the nation-state system in certain ways that are significant and substantial.