Book Review - Urantia
This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1996, Volume 13, Number 2, pages 208-209. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.
Book Review - Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery.
Martin Gardner. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995, 445 pages.
Several months ago I received a call from a young radio announcer for a Christian station who wanted information on a Christian view of UFOs and life on other planets. After a few minutes the man reluctantly confessed that his interest was based on The Urantia Book, a revelation that supposedly supplements, corrects, and updates the Bible. (Urantia is what the book calls the Earth.) The Urantia Book caused this man, despite his Christian background, to have doubts about the orthodox teachings on Jesus. What is this Urantia Book, and how could it so confuse someone with a Christian background? Why would it attract anyone's interest?
In Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery, Martin Gardner, who has made a career out of defending science and deflating paranormal claims, helps explain both the allure and the deception of The Urantia Book and the religion it has spawned. He gives us a meticulous account that traces the personalities and philosophies that account for the supposedly supernatural revelation given in the book. Gardner, who is a theist not associated with any particular religious tradition, does not provide a theological assessment that compares The Urantia Book with any normative theological system. Rather, he engages in a sustained historical and scientific investigation of the book's claims.
First appearing in 1955, The Urantia Book is a mammoth tome that credits no human author. Rather, it claims to have been assembled by extraterrestrial entities, or "Revelators," with ostentatious names such as Perfector of Wisdom, Number, Divine Counselor, and One Without Name, and channeled by one unidentified human. The 2097-page volume gives a fantastically convoluted and obscure account of cosmology, anthropology, theology, and history. Yet, in this opacity lies much of its fascination. Students of the book claim that they have received an esoteric dispensation that eludes the masses. Because of the book's sheer bulk, it supplies endless details on cosmology, theology, and anthropology not mentioned in other religious scriptures. Herein lies its putative superiority. Under the leadership of the Urantia Foundation in Chicago, the book has gone through 11 printings in the United States, with translations in Spanish and Finnish appearing in 1993. Work is being done on Russian and Dutch editions, and there are plans for other languages as well. My search of the Internet yielded several home pages dedicated to spreading the gospel according to The Urantia Book.
The relatively small number of Urantia devotees, despite their idiosyncratic beliefs, are not to be considered cultists in a pejorative sociological sense. Unlike other groups with similar teachings, it does not have an authoritarian structure of leadership, nor do its followers typically engage in highpressure proselytizing. The main appeal is intellectual. Religious activities are largely based on studying The Urantia Book. Despite these qualifications, the book itself leaves much to be desired as a suitable object of religious instruction and veneration.
To attempt to fathom The Urantia Book, one must descend into a dark and foreboding labyrinth of quirky terminology, pseudoscientific pronouncements, and revisionist ideas about Jesus. In barest outline, the book informs us that God is a "Trinity of Trinities," that humans are "unfallen" beings who have a divine spark within them (called a "Thought Adjuster"), that they can become fused with God through evolutionary development, and that Jesus' death on the cross did not atone for human sin against God. To summarize, it is a kind of spaceage Gnosticism claiming to update orthodox Christianity.
Gardner notes that one of the book's more objectionable anthropological claims is that the black (or "indigo") race was the most inferior; although it claims that these people "have exactly the same standing before the celestial power as any other earthly race." Gardner observes that this Ais exactly what southerners in the United States, including their ministers, used to say about the African American slaves." This revelation will certainly fail to endear potential converts who are African or African American.
Gardner's wellresearched conclusion is that The Urantia Book lacks any supernatural credibility. Its contents can be explained on the basis of purely terrestrial authors; its scientific claims were either common knowledge at the time or plain wrong; and it contains numerous plagiarisms (even stealing from Bertrand Russell). Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery is the most exhaustive critique of the movement yet published. It will help readers to understand many patterns of deception found in many other new religious groups as well.
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1996