Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Urantia Book

OK, you know--or you should know--that the University of Chicago has produced more than 70 Nobel Prize winners, the second largest musical instrument in the world, the largest academic press in the country, that during any walk down the sidewalk you're sure to come across someone famous in the academic community, and so forth. But did you know that one of our professors also made his own medium-sized religion? I didn't, at least not until a book sale at the Regenstein Library not long ago.

By the time I arrived at the sale, many of the books were already gone (I, of course, would have waited in line for it to begin had I not had a class), but there was one that caught my eye: The Urantia Book. It was only four dollars, so I figured what the hey.

Within a few seconds of flipping through the pages, I could already tell that I had stumbled on something vastly relevant to the occult and mysticism (and hence relevant to my studies). Two thousand and ninety-seven pages long, The Urantia Book presents a surreal form of Christianity, one that seems specifically designed to cater to the minds of people who go to places like the University of Chicago.

Some people might even call it a difficult and highly technical read; for instance it is filled with descriptions that are instantly recognizable as being of interest to someone knowledgable about science in the mid 20th century. Chapters of the Urantia Book, which reads something like a scholarly historical or scientific treatise, are named things like "Origin of Monmatia--The Urantia Solar System," "Post-Planetary Prince Man," "The Andite Conquest of Northern Europe" and so forth. It was certainly written by someone who has had substantial academic training, so I decided to see what I could find.

My further research revealed that the presumed writer of the Urantia Book is Dr. William S. Sadler, a former faculty member of the University of Chicago, although his authorship of the work appears to have been hidden for many years even though he was one of the main individuals involved in the dissemination of the work's teachings. Surprisingly, however, very few people here appear to have heard of it.

The Urantia Foundation claims to have a large following however, but--I may be mistaken here--I think its numbers are starting to wane. Perhaps this is partly because readers are starting to understand the true origins of the book: for instance, I myself, after only a few pages into the book, strongly suspected that the writer was drawing from many human sources for these "divine teachings." Within the last few minutes I found that the organization itself acknowledges this now, but tries to bend it in such a way that it can be seen to make sense.

Anyway, of course, I must ultimately brand The Urantia Book as pure hogwash, but it is interesting hogwash, and I think it's a worthwhile addition to my library, if only because of its intrinsic oddity.