Influence and Impact
This is the overdue second installment of my brief stumbling around the Urantia Book and its corresponding Urantia Foundation. A curiosity that was triggered by a bored moment spent reading the flap of a Celestial Seasonings tea bag. The former installment is here.
It’s difficult to measure the number of Urantia’s adherents. There are multiple organizations, not all of them connected and not all of them like each other. Informal study groups, according to The Urantia Foundation, “tend to sprout, ripen, then vanish or splinter,” and have not been counted consistently. Readers will join study groups after reading on their own for years, others join soon after learning of it out of zeal. For most, worship remains an individual practice.
The movement generally takes a non-sectarian view. Individuals with different religious backgrounds can receive the book’s teachings as an enrichment rather than a contradiction of their faiths. The movement has never developed a clergy, church, or temple.
The closest thing to it, which is more of a publisher and mild advocate, is The Urantia Foundation. They take a “slow growth” policy and never significantly marketed the book. Their sales reports of presumably organic growth show 7000 sales in 1990; up to 24,700 in 1997; 38,000 in 2000, and in 2011 there were 16,000 physical sales, but over 60,000 downloads. There are also other publishers of the text, as it is public domain.
The International Urantia Association reported twenty-six reader associations as its last count in 2002. The Urantia Book Fellowship, (formerly the Urantia Brotherhood, founded in 1955 with Urantia Foundation as the original social fraternal organization of believers), claimed roughly twelve hundred official members, with the highest concentrations found on the West Coast and the Sun Belt. The Teaching Mission is a group of “channelers” that the Foundation considers self-deluded, but they have enough numbers to have created a schism that continues to disrupt the movement.
Celebrities of a certain era, the egocentric and overblown 1960s, dabbled in Urantia as they tend to do with whatever New Age wave is rising in their time.
Karlheinz Stockhausen based a seven-opera cycle called Licht on the cosmology of The Urania Book.
Stevie Ray Vaughn often carried the book and read passages out loud.
Jimi Hendrix also carried his copy everywhere and brought it up in an interview.
Jerry Garcia claimed it as his favorite book.
Kerry Livgren of Kansas brings the book up in several interviews, testifying to how valuable the book had been for his personal development.
The largest and strongest link, however, goes to Celestial Seasonings founder, Mo Siegal. The book is the source for all those inspiring little messages they put on their tea tags. The company founders have been known to include similar quotes in their corporate memos and to recite them in board meetings. The company based its core values on those of the book.
Founded in 1969 by a pack of hippies who just loved picking flowers, Celestial Seasonings is a Goliath in their market. An average of $100 million comes in per year and their teas can be found on the shelves of every American grocery store and then some. The Boulder, Colorado headquarters gives free tours, and an average of 70,000 a year flock to these. Founder and President twice-over, Mo Seigal, was one of the original flower-picking hippies who came up with the idea to turn their findings into herbal tea. Seigal is also the president of The Urantia Foundation, which exists to publish the Urantia Book and ensure that its ideas are spread.
As far as his beliefs go, these can still be read online in the massive essay he co-authored with another founder. Titled The Twenty Most Asked Questions and listing common exploratives like Who Am I, Why is There Suffering, Why is There Evil. The eugenics stuff isn’t brought up, and much of the literature includes disclaimers like this:
The fact is the term eugenics in the UB must be understood with the following two imperatives: there is only ONE race on Urantia according to the Papers; and, amalgamation of all colors of all peoples is the goal. It’s not racial in any way related to how we think of Race today.Mo Seigal
Which could be true. Theosophy gets the same pie in its face and not typically from those that have truly researched it. I’m inclined to believe them because I’ve seen their setup before in other cults. Frankly, I’m not invested enough to hunt after a potential lie. The term “race” brings out knee-jerks in a lot of people, and accusations of racism have been so diluted in the last few years that they’ve fast fallen from signal to noise. If I had to guess, their view is more similar to how a European duke may have viewed urban slum populations, that is, ill-bred. It’s not nice, but it’s not quite what that Thought Catalogue article was banging its drum about, but hey, it got the broad 77K shares, so perhaps I’m the idiot.
In conclusion, Urantia as a whole is weird, it’s wacky, and it is uniquely lacking in the type of honeymoon zeal seen in other “cults”. It’s one of those that can be filed away with all the other Aquarian New Age movements contributed by the generation that refers to the 1960s as The Sixties with nostalgia in their eye. For those still curious for more, the Urantia Foundation has a forum with a light pulse.
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