What will be the cultural impact of The Urantia Book during the next fifty years? Who of us can even be sure about what will happen tomorrow? People have been making predictions about the future since the dawn of history. As such prophesies are examined, one is impressed by the lack of accuracy of a large percentage of these predictions even when they are made by the most learned people. In the late 1800's when Lord Kelvin was president of the British Royal Society, he predicted that radio would have no future, heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible, and X-rays would prove to be a hoax. Dr. James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard University, in addressing the American Chemical Society in 1951 predicted that by 1985 solar energy would be harnessed and power would be so cheap and abundant that fresh water would be distilled from the ocean and deserts would be turned into garden spots.
Not only are our best forecasts often inaccurate, but unexpected historical events change the context of the entire cultural situation. Nevertheless, human beings are incurable futurists; we love to look into the unknown and construct a scenario of the future. Even though our vision may be inaccurate, such anticipation of the events of tomorrow is more creative and constructive than simply reacting to incidents after they take place.
Around 1960 I became interested in evaluating the future of The Urantia Book in our contemporary society. I made a study of many contemporary religious movements and found that it took about thirty years for them to become known to the informed public. Accordingly, I estimated that The Urantia Book would become known to the educated community sometime in the middle or late 1980's. This prediction has turned out to be partially true. At the University of Ottawa a Ph.D. thesis was completed on The Urantia Book in 1983. The American Academy of Religion held a consultation on The Urantia Book in 1985. Various academic people have inquired about the book and many people are aware of its existence.
From our vantage point in 1992 what cultural impact might we expect The Urantia Book to have on our society by the year 2042? As a background for our discussion we might look at the ten millennial megatrends cited by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene in their Book Megatrends 2000, published early in 1990. They see ten major influences dominating the early 21st century:
- 1. The Booming Global Economy of the 1990's
- 2. A Renaissance in the Arts
- 3. The Emergence of Free-Market Socialism
- 4. Global Life-styles and Cultural Nationalism
- 5. The Decline of the Welfare State
- 6. The Rise of the Pacific Rim
- 7. The Decade of Women in Leadership
- 8. The Age of Biology
- 9. The Religious Revival of the New Millennium
- 10. The Triumph of the Individual
Looking at their last two megatrends--the religious revival of the third millennium and the triumph of the individual--they see a decline in mainline religion and a boom in the New Age movement allowing individuals to practice spirituality in their own way without institutional hindrance. The highly individualistic religious revival predicted by the authors could create a cultural climate in which a knowledge of The Urantia Book would be facilitated.
In the light of these observations, what cultural impact might we expect The Urantia Book to have in the next fifty years? This is still difficult to predict. First of all, The Urantia Book is a new revelatory phenomenon; we do not have comparable historical parallels. Former major revelations were brought by personalities. Machiventa Melchizedek's mission lasted ninety-four years and the public ministry of Jesus took place in about three years. Both Machiventa and Jesus could communicate with only a limited number of people at one time. The Urantia Book is continuously present and is available to any number of people at the same time. Secondly, each historical period is unique and is governed by its own dynamics.
Mindful of these difficulties, I should like to present two possible scenarios illustrating two aspects of the evolutionary process: slow growth and sudden change. We observe that the major characteristic of evolution is its slow developmental nature. It took three hundred years for Christianity to become the dominant religion of Western Civilization. Five hundred years were needed to actualize the new vision of the renaissance and the reformation. Following this slow developing pattern, I can visualize the following events in the Urantia movement in the next fifty years:
First, a modest increase in readership and study groups will take place, but this growth will remain largely a low profile movement.
Second, the Clergy Network will expand slowly; however, the power structure in mainline denominations and seminaries will largely ignore the book.
Third, numerous new leaders and organizations will emerge and pursue various agendas.
Fourth, there will be a sharp increase of secondary publications
Fifth, small groups will start churches representing new religious organizations. The first hundred years of any viable new movement is spent establishing grass root foundations in the society and culture. If, however, a new movement should have its origin synchronized with the "sudden change" aspect of the evolutionary process, and if its purpose is harmonious with the thrust of that change, a different scenario will be followed.
Let us look now at this "sudden change" scenario. Evolution is punctuated periodically by sudden changes. It is generally recognized that we are at a point in our economic, political, and social culture when basic changes are taking place. The growing edge of theological thinking is already harmonious with the spiritual outlook of The Urantia Book. The authors of The Urantia Book say we are "quivering on the very brink" of one of our most amazing periods of "social readjustment, moral quickening, and spiritual enlightenment." For decades spirit ministry has been preparing our planet for the Fifth Epochal Revelation. We are experiencing a spiritual vacuum longing to be filled. Unquestionably, we are living in one of the pivotal periods of history.
Even though the Urantia movement may be facing sudden changes in the next fifty years, we should also realize that all of the aspects of gradual evolutionary development which we previously enumerated will continue. But superimposed on this evolutionary growth, some or all of the following catalysts of rapid change may burst upon us:
- 1. A religious leader of national or international stature may espouse The Urantia Book. A Billy Graham, Paul Tillich, or Robert Schuler could quickly focus attention on The Urantia Book
- 2. A leading figure in the business, political, creative arts, or entertainment world might champion the Fifth Epochal Revelation and lead a movement to bring its awareness to our society.
- 3. If the Clergy Network becomes large enough, it could result in a mainline interface with The Urantia Book that attracts general public attention.
- 4. A prominent Evangelical or Fundamentalist religious leader may promote a national attack against The Urantia Book. A Jerry Falwell or Jimmy Swaggert could bring about a confrontational atmosphere focused on The Urantia Book in the larger religious and educational communities.
- 5. An unexpected breakthrough may take place in the physical or social sciences which could change the way we view reality and how we establish human priorities. This, in turn, could direct attention to the compelling relevance of the teachings of The Urantia Book
If one or more of these unusual events should take place in the next fifty years, the creative 1% of the world leadership could shortly thereafter be directing their lives out of the spiritual dynamics which they find in the Fifth Epochal Revelation. Such leadership, building on the considerable foundations which have already been established by creative spiritual evolution, could bring rapid change in our society. Such cultural-spiritual dynamics have already brought about some sudden changes in Europe considered visionary and unrealistic only a few years ago.
What is the probability that one or more of these catalytic events will happen in the next fifty years? I think there is a greater than 50% chance that one or more of these, or some other focusing event, will take place in the next five decades. If this assessment is correct, what can we do to prepare for it? Outside of being mentally and spiritually prepared, I think there is little that we can or should do, other than building an evolutionary foundation for future growth. This we should be doing irrespective of any "sudden change" possibilities; for whatever does survive must have this kind of solid foundation.
Unexpected events have their own dynamics. Outside of developing a stable grass roots presence in our society, we can do little to prepare for unusual events. If and when these sudden changes occur, they will be governed by their own leadership and our ability to respond wisely in the contemporary situation. Our task is to continue traveling the pot-holed, boulder-strewn road of evolutionary development. The sudden changes will shape their own destiny.
A Service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship