Since the movement's inception, detractors have lodged that claim against Unity time and again. Is there any truth to it?
No, says Tom Thorpe, Unity minister and Unity Institute® faculty member, citing The Hungry Minds College Dictionary. According to Thorpe, the dictionary's definition of a cult as the term is generally used states: a quasireligious group often living in a colony with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views practices or beliefs.
“Based on that definition, Unity is definitely not a cult,” he states.
Why Isn't Unity a Cult?
The differences between Unity and classically defined cults are sharp and clear.
- Unity does not claim to possess the whole truth or the only truth. In fact, Unity teaches that each of us has a relationship to God that is constantly evolving.
- Unity does not require people to accept teachings unquestioningly. On the contrary, Unity encourages independent and critical thinking and honors all spiritual paths.
- Unity does not ask anyone to leave his or her current church or family and friends. In fact, many people use Unity materials in tandem with their own spiritual practices and traditions.
- There are no requirements for membership and no demands—behavioral, financial, or otherwise to participate in Unity. A defining characteristic of Unity is belief in the absolute freedom of each individual to seek God and to worship and pray in his or her own way.
- Unity leadership is shared, rather than being embedded in a single charismatic leader or leaders. The movement's founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, died in the mid-1900s. Moreover, when they founded Unity, they had no intention of creating a new religion or denomination or in any way being worshipped themselves. They created Unity to be an open, accepting common ground where people of different backgrounds could discuss universal truths.
So if Unity Isn't a Cult, What Is It?
Unity is a spiritual movement that sees God as good and present everywhere and affirms a spark of Divinity in all of us. Unity also offers a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity, regarding Jesus as the great example of what is possible for every human being, rather than the great exception.
Rev. Jim Marshall of Unity of the Huachucas in Arizona, says, “The Bible is Unity's textbook. We study the Bible as history, as allegory, and interpret it for the spiritual meaning behind the words (metaphysically). The Bible is the story of man's spiritual evolution toward spiritual awakening and becoming one with God.”
Unlike cults, Unity has no specific dogma to which one must ascribe. “In Unity one often hears, ‘Take what fits for you and leave the rest,'” says Marshall.
Unity also teaches that there are many paths to God. This concept contradicts some traditional Christian viewpoints and may be a reason some people believe Unity is a cult. Thorpe continues, “Christians who believe that only one definition of Christianity is correct try also to claim that only one interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ is correct. The fact that there are several hundred Christian denominations does not support this idea.”
Sage Advice From Myrtle Fillmore—Unity Cofounder
Myrtle Fillmore advised future generations to “look for all points on which to agree, and praise the other's faith and good works. We should not stamp our faith ‘Unity' or stress points of doctrine. We should keep to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, as the source of our light and the application of his teaching as the way of life. We should give God the glory for any and all good in our lives, and emphasize the Truth that it is God's working in and through us that does the transforming.”
Unity board member Ellen Debenport agrees. “We can support and facilitate spiritual growth without telling people how to believe in God. We very much encourage people to find their own individual relationship with the divine. Although we (at Unity) have a set of teachings that are useful for us, spirituality is still a do-it-yourself project.”
To find a Unity church near you, click here.