Sunday, April 18, 2010

I've Got The Power!

Discover The Power Within You [DPWY] was first published in 1968, and is considered by many to be Eric Butterworth's [EB] best known work. It may well have been titled "My Treatise On Jesus." In DPWY Butterworth does not so much examine the life of the historical character called Jesus as much as he dissects and interprets Jesus' teachings and actions. He maintains that other theological and Christian interpretations are the 'Religion about Jesus' whereas his interpretations are more the 'Religion of Jesus' i.e. what Jesus really meant. The immediate problem with this premise is that any writing of what Jesus meant, including the Gospels, are but interpretations of the author, as seen through the author's lenses. So while we in Unity may prefer Butterworth's explanation of Jesus' teachings, we must be careful to acknowledge that it is simply another interpretation, not the right interpretation. We might also deduce the lenses through which Butterworth viewed the works and words of Jesus based on what he wrote. For example, when he writes that we are not going to gain "divine fulfillment" in a single lifetime [p.13] we can assume he believed in reincarnation, and he intimates  that Jesus did as well [ch.17].

His theological view of Jesus is the cornerstone of the text. EB believed that Jesus was a fully human being who fully awakened his Divine nature, the Christ. In fact EB places little or no importance on Jesus' birth, one of the central facets of traditional Christian Theology. He also does not devote much time to speculating on the catalyst for Jesus' transformation; he acknowledges that it happened and the happening is what is worthy of focus [p.6-7]. And even with the shift that Jesus made from his humanity to his individuality, EB still treats him as human. He refers to Jesus as a teacher who made demonstrations of power [p.8] that are not really miraculous because we all have the potential to do them. Indeed, EB's claim is when we discover the power of our divinity in the "unexplored depths within" just as Jesus did, we can do all that Jesus did. True to Unity's view, EB sees Jesus as the way-shower of our potential.

That being said, however, he appears to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus which he refers to as the "Great Demonstration." [ch.16] He gives metaphysical meaning to the event with phrases such as "a man can rise above limited experiences and he can go forward through any dark hour to a new beginning." [p.205] Yet he also writes: "He believed it [his Divinity] so completely that even death and the tomb could not hold him" [p.12] and "Through the resurrection, Jesus proved conclusively that the life of God is indestructible, changeless and eternal [and that] through the resurrection principle man can overcome death. We may not not understand it or even believe it, but some of our scientists today are hinting at such a possibility." [p.205] He does not make reference to the science he mentions or give an explanation of how he uses the word "overcome." He does invite us to reexamine our concept of immortality which exists outside of time and is beyond time. It is the Christ of us, our divinity which is immortal. I think there is a struggle in EB to reconcile the belief in the literal  resurrection and the universality of our inherent divinity that would allow us to repeat such a feat. After all, and despite his best efforts, Unity's co-founder Charles Fillmore died as well. Like any good metaphysician EB does not dwell on the detail of whether or not the event happened, but rather what  is the deeper message for us today.

Similarly with miracles, EB asks us to not so much try to believe they happened but to redefine our concept of miracle. In his view, nothing can circumvent the natural changeless laws of the Universe [p.176], so it's really a case of not yet reaching the mental or spiritual understanding to comprehend what may seem "supernatural." He uses the example of an eclipse, and we know that individuals are brought back to life constantly in hospitals around the world. He tells us that the real "miracle" is remembering the idea that Jesus demonstrated: there is an ever-available infinite supply of substance, of creative ideas, for us to lay hold of when and where we need it [p.177]. Should we doubt his belief in Unity's message, there are moments when he comes across as an absolutist. He maintains that contagion [e.g. a cold, lack] begins in the mind, and by quickly saying "No!" we can stop the chain of events [pg85]. This seems an attempt to negate the natural order and purpose of germs and viruses, a seeming contradiction to his explanation of miracles stated in the previous paragraph.

EB's stance against the traditional/fundamental Christian message is apparent. He writes that Christianity is "not and end in itself" and "conversion is not the end of the road." [p.15] He speaks of the "open rebellion" against the traditional "straight and narrow" tact of the traditional message which leads to being "strait-laced and narrow-minded." [p.16] He rails against the crucifix with a "defeated and emaciated Jesus" as the symbol of Christianity [p.191]. This seems more directed at Catholicism since most other Christian denominations favor the empty cross, and empty tomb for that matter.

I believe Discover the Power With You will continue to be one of Eric Butterworth's and Unity's definitive publications. It is not a particularly scholarly or theological work, but a  reflection of one Unity minister's [and perhaps Unity's] view of Jesus' place in the movement's doctrine.

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