Notes from the Compound

In Think by Dieter Randolph

Growing up Unity was a blessing. I wasn’t told I was a sinner all the time. I wasn’t worried that the Devil was going to jump out from behind the drapes and get me. Instead, I learned about the responsibility that comes with divine potential. My beliefs encouraged me to do and be more.

It wasn’t always easy, though. Being Unity means being tough. It requires work, and it demands radical love and honesty. Sometimes it also means being misunderstood. When you represent an alternative religion, especially one with an identity crisis, folks can get the wrong idea.

I grew up hearing that I was in a cult. Even if you have not been on this path since childhood, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re reading this, I bet you have someone in your family praying for your immortal soul right now. Let’s learn to take the compliment there and accept the love, even if it’s not given in a way we’d prefer.

Let’s also learn how to take part in the conversation. That process begins by learning the words. Unfortunately, looking the word “cult” up in the dictionary isn’t helpful. It turns out that “cult” just means something like “belief system.” The term fits just about anything anybody does, as long as there’s a spiritual element. What a Priest, Rabbi, Swami, or Preacher do (and what we are doing when we are with them) is a cult activity. No help there.

That’s not what people tend to mean when they use the “c” word, though. It seems as though they mean “religion I don’t understand or agree with.” Guilty as charged. Again, not helpful. Unfortunate, in fact. If more people DID understand what Unity was about, they’d be at peace with what we’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say “I’ve believed this all my life, but never knew that there was a church that taught it.” I bet you’ve heard that, too. Maybe you’ve said it.

What do we say to folks who use the “cult” label? The meaning of the word isn’t going to get us anywhere. Maybe the trick is to ask people what they mean when they use it. When most folks think about a cult, they think about secret teachings and world denial. They think about closed groups and control.

Exactly none of those things are Unity. We don’t tolerate diversity, we celebrate it. Our teachings are as public as they get. We don’t have any membership restrictions at all. We are so world affirming that our symbol is a winged globe.

Can you think of a religious tradition that places restrictions around who can and cannot be blessed, who is and is not going to heaven? Can you think of one that demands regular donations? Can you think of one that discourages questioning and free thought? Can you think of one that teaches that the world is a bad place, so your best hope is to stay within the safety of sanctified walls and pray for eternal escape?

Sure you can. They’re the ones calling us cultists. I didn’t get far with the dictionary earlier, but now I feel led to look up the word “irony.”

Enough. My point, and I do have one, is that we have a lot of work to do. As I said earlier, our doctrine is radical love. We are called to show the world what love looks like. We must work for peace and understanding in and through all that we do. Among other things, that winged globe means “we’re all in this together.”

Let’s get good at sharing our message. Let’s get better at standing up for what we believe in. Let’s get ready to talk. One of the cornerstone ideas about cults is secrecy. What can we do to make this private knowledge public?