The Choice is Yours
An enduring question common to all human cultures is what happens to us after we die? Because we all want to believe that once we leave our current bodies, our life will in some way continue, we have the concept of an afterlife.
Humans also have an innate sense of fairness. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors could not have survived without contributions from everyone in the clan. Those who were productive and selfless were praised, and those who were malingerers or selfish were denounced. But very early in our history, we discovered that our earthly actions are not always rewarded or punished accordingly. People often get away with theft, violence, and lying, and honest hardworking people sometimes get the short end of the stick. Combine the two ideas of an immortal soul and justice being ultimately served, if only after death, and we get the concept of heaven and hell.
Traditional Christianity teaches a list of “thou shalts and thou shalt nots,” and on Judgment Day if we have not been compliant we are condemned to hell. But if we believe “correctly” then we are blessed by going to heaven. Part of believing correctly is the idea that when we do hold Jesus to have died for our sins, we will also do our best to live a virtuous and moral life. The Ten Commandments speak of not lying, stealing, killing or engaging in sexual misconduct. Obey these Laws, and you are good to go. Unity takes a much different approach to defining Heaven and Hell. The short version is, is that we are not punished for our sins, rather we are punished by our sins.
At the end Sunday services, it is announced what the title of the Sunday lesson will be for the following week. When the title of this week’s talk was announced, I began thinking about what approach Rev. Joanne would be taking to speak about heaven and hell. As a Truth student, I have known for many years that Unity does not teach that heaven and hell are physical places that the blessed and damned go after death. I also knew that Unity does not teach prescriptive and proscriptive versions of the laws given in the Bible. It then occurred to me that in the many years that I have been attending Unity Spiritual Center, and in the many Unity books I have read, very little is actually discussed about just what morality is.
I emailed Rev. Joanne asking her about what Unity teaches about morality. I provided a list of behaviors that many people consider to be outside the boundaries of moral or ethical behavior:
abortion, adultery, alcohol use and abuse, cohabitation, divorce, drug use and abuse, gambling, homosexuality, open marriage, pornography, pre-marital sex (monogamous), promiscuity, prostitution.
There are many other things that could be added to this list, but that is not the point. In the Revealing Word, Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore gave metaphysical definitions for more than nine hundred terms, however the words ethics and morality are not among them.
Fillmore does, however, provide interpretations of the words sin and salvation. Common parlance takes sin to be the opposite of morality and salvation to the be opposite of eternal damnation. Fillmore did not take that approach at all. From the Revealing Word1:
Sin: Missing the mark; that is, falling short of divine perfection. Sin is man's failure to express the attributes of Being - life, love, intelligence, wisdom, and the other God qualities. Through the Christ Mind, our sins (wrong thinking) are forgiven or pardoned (erased from consciousness). When we have cast all sin (error thought) out of our mind, our body will be so pure that it cannot come under any supposed law of death or corruption.
Salvation: The belief that Jesus in an outer way atoned for our sins is not salvation. Salvation is based solely on an inner overcoming, a change in consciousness. It is a cleansing of the mind, through Christ, from thoughts of evil.
Fillmore also defines heaven and hell, again from Revealing Word:
Heaven: The Christ consciousness; the realm of Divine Mind; a state of consciousness in harmony with the thoughts of God. Heaven is everywhere present. It is the orderly, lawful adjustment of God's kingdom in man's mind, body, and affairs.
Hell: Metaphysically, hell represents a corrective state of mind. When error has reached its limit, the retroactive law asserts itself, and judgment, being part of that law, brings the penalty, called hell, upon the transgressor. This penalty is not punishment, but discipline. If the transgressor is repentant and obedient, he is forgiven. (see fire, hades).
I quote extensively from Revealing Word because I believe it is instructive to read Fillmore’s synopses of these terms. What is common to all of them is the idea that we can avoid sin and receive salvation if in our consciousness we come into harmony with the Christ Mind. Likewise we can create our own heaven on earth and avoid creating our own hell on earth by doing the same.
Reading the works of Charles Fillmore is often like peeling an onion. The words he uses to define a metaphysical term often themselves need definition and interpretation. In the four terms above, there is no hint of an objective description of ethics or morality, but rather that each of us can “decide” for ourselves what is “right action” by “going within” to “remove error thoughts.” I include these words in quotation marks to illustrate their subjective nature.
Of course, the subjective nature of ethics and morality is in no way unique to Unity teachings. They can vary greatly from one culture to another and within any given culture over time. An example of the subjectivity of the ethics or morality of behaviors is alcohol use. Were our ancestors of the 1920s more moral than we, or are we more moral than they? How can two completely opposite beliefs both be moral? Is everyone simply allowed to decide for themselves what is and is not moral?
According to Fillmore, we can receive salvation and create heaven for ourselves by removing error thought. But what exactly is an error thought? With respect to ethical or moral behavior, even small children have an idea of right and wrong. They know they should not hit their sister or lie about stealing a cookie. But what about the “grown up” questions raised in my email?
It is very unsatisfying, but I do not have an answer. If I believe that sleeping around and gambling are victimless “crimes,” and even convince myself that by sharing my affections and spending my money in a casino I am helping others, does that make it ethical or moral? (I think it needs to be said, I do neither of those things, but hey, maybe that’s just me, smile.) Have I removed the error thought? Where is the baseline for behavior?
The Sunday lessons at Unity Spiritual Center are valuable to me because they often set in motion a thought process that I may have not considered before. The lessons do not always offer cut-and-dried answers, in fact they usually do not. But that is the point. Unity is about self-discovery and careful consideration of difficult, if not sometimes, unanswerable questions. This week’s talk was no different. After further considering the questions in this blog, I hope to revisit these ideas again in a future essay. But for now, as a famous pig once said, Th-th-th-that's all folks . . .
Behold, the kingdom of heaven is in the midst of you. Luke 17:21
As you journey this week, consider the choices you are making. Are you making a choice to experience heaven or hell? If that choice does not lead to a “heaven” experience, how could you choose differently in order to set and experience of heaven in motion?
I do not like flying blind. For me, part of my on-going spiritual practice in all areas of my life includes becoming as informed as possible about whatever it is that I am considering. In this case, I plan to study the concept of moral relativism.
1Revealing Word, The, Charles Fillmore, Unity Press, 1959.