Every now and then, someone arises who attempts to make other people believe in the things which they see or hear in their own minds. Self-styled "prophets" arise to convince us of the reality of their visions. Odd geniuses appear who tells us of the voices they hear, and if they seem fairly sane and socially conventional in every way, they are sometimes able to build up vast followings, to create cults and establish churches; whereas, if they are too bold in their imaginings, if they see a little too far or hear a little too much, they are promptly seized and quickly lodged safe within the confines of an insane asylum ...
It is one of the great and sad ironies of recent religious history that a man [Dr. William Sadler] who could write the paragraph quoted above would himself become the founder of a cult based on a revelation intially channeled through his sleeping brother-in-law!
Martin Gardner, one of America's most acclaimed science writers, has here compiled the first complete history of a growing, modern religious cult. Gardner traces the cult's beginnings back to its "bible", The Urantia Book, a book supposedly revealed soley by celestial beings to correct the flaws in the traditional Bible. Published in 1955 under the direction of cult leader Dr. William Sadler, The Urantia Book (Urantia is the cult's name for the earth) is the largest work ever said to have been channeled by unseen higher beings through human contacts. It differs from earlier channeled "bibles" in that it contains a vast amount of modern science as well as a detailed biography of Jesus Christ, complete with facts not found in the Gospels. As a result, many scientists and scholars are dedicated Urantians.
In addition to discussing the beliefs of the Urantia cult, Gardner reveals two major developments that threaten to splinter the movement. The first is a sectarian rift that has split the movement into two major competing factions. The second is the growing belief of hundreds of Urantians that they, too, are receiving their own messages from the celestials, who they claim are preparing Urantia for a new revelation intended to usher in a utopia of "light and life". Such secondary revelations are seen as jeopardising the authority of The Urantia Book. Among the other topics adressed are the extent to which Seventh-day Adventist beliefs influenced the writing of The Urantia Book, the flaws in Urantian science and allegations of plagiarism on the part of the authors of The Urantia Book.
With great skill, insight and wit Martin Gardner reveals how modern cults arise nd the extent to which believers develop a mind-set that becomes impossible to alter regardless of how strong the evidence is against those beliefs.
Martin Gardner, a founding Fellow of the Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), was the author of the "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American for many yeas. Among his many books are The Flight of Peter Fromm; The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy; Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus; The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher; and On the Wild Side.