First: a disclaimer. Being no Bible scholar or expert on world religions, I am not equipped to discuss this topic at depth. However, I would like to make a few notations about what I see might be some similarities and differences between Unity and another philosophy that starts with a U: Unitarianism.
In past months, I’ve run across a few people who have said that Unity and Unitarianism are very similar, to which I reply, “No, to me they’re not.” My response gets some looks of surprise, and that is what prompted me to do a bit of light research and then pen a few words on this topic.
Admittedly, I know little about the Unitarian Universalist Association. It does include both Christian and non-Christian members (as does Unity) and according to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the World Religions, is “among the most open and tolerant of Protestant religious traditions.” It rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, seeing Christ as a great teacher, not a divine incarnation. The association tends to avoid dogma and lean toward inclusiveness and understanding rather than a specific religious creed.
So these are three major similarities, and there may be others I’m not aware of. Unity, too, is very open and tolerant. Unity also steers clear of dogma and promotes inclusiveness and understanding. Keeping in mind that anyone in Unity is free to believe as they wish and is supported in doing so, most Unity students see Jesus as a teacher, an elder, and a shower of the way. He was a child of the eternal just as all other humans are—no more or no less divine.
As I see it, the main difference between Unitarianism and Unity philosophies is that one is focused more on the outer world (i.e. social change) and one (Unity) emphasizes healthy and productive inner thought processes. Neither is more important or better than the other. They are simply different.
Unity, as a current with the stream of Christianity and part of the New Thought movement, focuses on supporting the individual on his or her quest to grow into spiritual freedom. Unity teaches the importance of such things as right and positive thinking, health ideals, and metaphysical interpretation. Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity, often stated that the Bible is Unity’s textbook, and that Unity is an educational undertaking. Though many today may not know it, the co-founders of Unity did not want to create churches. Their original idea was that people from all faiths and lifestyles could attend Unity centers and learn some new ideas to take back to their home religious centers. Over the years, this original idea morphed into providing people with a unique church experience.
Most Unity centers offer services, classes, workshops, etc. as learning tools to begin exploring concepts leading us to greater understanding and self-awareness. In the 1990’s, Larry and I traveled frequently to Unity Village in Missouri where I took all courses required to become a Licensed Unity Teacher. In these courses (which are now available on-line) I learned new and wonderful things. One of the courses I took was: “Jesus Christ Heals” and our instructor was Dr. Anna Grace. She provided us a handout in which is this quote: “Over the course of your period of study, be sure that you develop an ability to define and explain key concepts (she listed many), as well as an ability to put them to use in your own life. “ She recommended as essential to the Truth student’s library, The Revealing Word, The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, and others.
Eric Butterworth, Unity minister and popular author (now deceased), states in Practical Metaphysics: A New Insight in Truth, “When we first get into the study of metaphysics, there’s a tendency to get on our charger like Don Quixote and go out and try to change the world. But one of the fundamentals that often is overlooked is that metaphysics does not deal with changing the world. The whole principle is based upon ourselves. It is not the world that we’re concerned about, but our thought about the world.”
To summarize, Unity emphasizes study, meditation, contemplation (or what Fillmore called “going into the Silence”), and finally action, i.e. “being the change you want to see.” When we delve deeply into the components of Unity philosophy, contemplate them and then begin to understand them at deep, symbolic levels, we begin to live practical Christianity, a term the Fillmore’s used very frequently. We are then able to interact with and understand others of different faiths in new and wonderful ways. We also begin to understand at new and deeper levels what is deep inside ourselves and others.