A 51 minute interview of Mo Siegel Interviewing minister Dr. Meredith Sprunger with transcript.
Mo: The Bible says, in the Book of Revelations, to… it warns about false prophets, and about other materials. Now, how can I have any sense of security or knowledge that I am not being misled by this book that claims to be a revelation?
Meredith: Oh, I think that’s a question you should ask yourself of any book you pick up. I’m a very critical person, a very analytical person. The last person that I want to fool is myself. I think any book that can’t stand up to the most rigorous evaluation from the best in the standpoint of the religious faith that you have, from the scientific views that you have, from the philosophic truth that you understand, … just don’t accept these kind of things. In my judgment, The Urantia Book, is a book that really can stand this kind of testing.
Mo: Are you saying that with only the knowledge of the Bible… you have knowledge of the Koran, of the Gita, of other key religious texts…
Meredith: Oh yes, in fact I taught a course on the living religions of the world for many years.
Mo: … and you feel, after going through those other texts, that The Urantia Book is what it purports to be and that the truth contained is valuable for modern men and women?
Meredith: Well, … I always try to be, as a scholar I try to be objective, and I would say that really it doesn’t make any difference whether you accept The Urantia Book as revelatory or whether you don’t. Because, a truth is a truth, whether you call it revelatory, or evolutionary, or whether John Doe spoke it, or Henry Smith … and I think that’s the way you should first examine The Urantia Book or any other book. And, on that basis, it stands up exceptionally well. Then, after you get the entire picture, of The Urantia Book or particularly any book that claims to be revelatory, I think you should be very critical and say – how reasonable is it that this is revelatory? Here again, The Urantia Book, about the only reasonable hypothesis that I know of to explain the effect of The Urantia Book, is that it certainly was written by intelligences that … are superior to the kind of people from Plato to Carl Sagan that I know of. And so, at that point you say, well, is it revelatory or isn’t it? I really don’t think that question is of supreme importance.
Mo: How did you find The Urantia Book?
Meredith: Well that’s a long story, and I don’t want to bore you with a lot of that. But, just briefly, in 1955 I was vice president of the United Churches of Christ, and we had a (member) judge by the name of Louis Hammerschmidt who was the layperson on our conference board. He was a friend of some folks in Chicago who had The Urantia Book. This friend gave him a copy, and one day on a trip to a conference meeting, Hammerschmidt asked me if I would mind reading a book that he’d just gotten from a friend of his, and tell him what I thought about it. And I said well, sure, send it along, and in about a week I got this big blue book. I didn’t really know what I was getting in for when I promised that. I looked at it, a few thousand pages, I looked at the table of contents and I said, oh, what kind of nonsense is this? It must be some kind of esoteric this, that, or the other thing. And I tried reading a little bit in the front, and what it said wasn’t so bad; but, I just couldn’t get too interested in it. I took it along on vacation that summer, and finally in September I knew I was going to be with Hammerschmidt and I had to have read at least a section of it to tell him what I thought about it. So I thought, well, I looked at the table of contents again and I saw that it had a life and teachings of Christ. I thought with my theological training I could tear this apart in a hurry. I’d read the apocryphal books and where Jesus makes little clay birds and turns them to life, and so forth, and it really doesn’t turn me on very much. And so I flipped back to this life of Christ and started reading. And I really didn’t find what I thought I’d find. And, when the story got to the place where the New Testament story takes over, when I had something specific to compare it with, I was absolutely enchanted. It treated the Biblical data in such an insightful and effective way that really made sense. It had a self-confirmatory kind of ring, that I really got hooked. I spent day and night reading this Life and Teaching of Jesus, and you know sometimes I was just there with tears running down my face. It was so impressive in terms of the historic New Testament story that I’d been a pastor of all my life. And so, roughly that’s how I got started.
Mo: What have the teachings done for your life?
Meredith: Well, I think I have the essential philosophy and religious point-of-view I had before I read The Urantia Book. However, The Urantia Book deepened, enriched, and made more authentic that in the Christian faith which has always been the most basic and the most important truth that I knew anything about. The Urantia Book has simply substantiated, confirmed, enlarged, enhanced, and made more authentic and more real that which the Christian faith has taught for centuries.
Mo: Well, Meredith, you have a PhD, you have been involved in intellectual endeavor. So you must be an exceedingly bright man or you wouldn’t be capable of reading The Urantia Book. Isn’t that book only meant for intellectuals?
Meredith: First of all, I want to give a disclaimer (laughs), and that is, that a lot of people have PhDs who aren’t particularly brilliant, and uh, I used to say that anyone who has a little above average intelligence and a great capacity for work could get a PhD. But, what was the question again?
Mo: Well, I’m assuming that only a very bright…
Mo: …intellectual person could read this book. I mean, I’m an everyday person and how can everyday people read this kind of huge, 2097 pages of intellectual… do you have to have an IQ of 160…
Meredith: Once you look at a big tome like this, sometimes people do get this point-of-view. But actually, the content of The Urantia Book is not that difficult. And, anyone who can understand the New Testament can understand the 700 page life of Christ. Most of The Urantia Book is understandable for anyone with a high school education. There are only a few chapters that are, tend to be, quite abstract, and even people with PhDs don’t necessarily understand them much better than anyone who doesn’t have. As a matter of fact, I was talking to Dr. Martin Marty, who is theological professor at the University of Chicago, and he was talking about reading some of the introduction to The Urantia Book, and he said, “I took one or two running leaps at it and didn’t understand too much so I stopped reading.” But most of The Urantia Book is really, any high school student should understand it very well.
Mo: So, you’re saying that people shouldn’t get bogged down…
Meredith: Shouldn’t let that bother them at all…
Mo: just read it through … What parts of The Urantia Book have meant the most to you? Are there areas that have been more important than other areas?
Meredith: I suppose everyone who reads The Urantia Book, or any other book, has certain parts that stand out for them. Because of my Christian background, my theological training, the Life and Teachings of Jesus were the place for me to start. Only after I saw the outstanding quality and the confirmation of the historic New Testament positions was I motivated to … I said, you know, anyone who could write a life of Christ to this depth and this quality must have something profound to say in all of this other material. So I started in the front, and I pushed through. For me, the papers on the nature of religion in the middle of the book are just outstanding. They are some of the best papers on religion in print. The chapters on the spirit of God, which lives within the individual – these are, run parallel to some of the finest things in all of the devotional literature in any religion in the world. And there are some very, very fine things in all the religions of the world in devotional literature. But these chapters in The Urantia Book on what they call the Thought Adjusters are outstanding and excellent. Anyone who has any inclination to know more about a personal relationship with God will find them very, very enlightening and helpful. Then the material on the nature of God in the front of the book is outstanding also. It has the only description of the Trinity in theological literature that I know of, that really makes the Trinity understandable, and not just a triodity or one God and three aspects.
Mo: All of the apostles had a particular attraction to Jesus, a certain thing that was most inspiring about being with the Master. Is there one thing, or a couple of things, that have really attracted you to the way that the Master lived his life on earth?
Meredith: Yeah, that’s sort of a difficult question, Mo… I suppose each of us are attracted to Jesus because of certain things which we admire in other human beings, as well as try to emulate in ourselves, and I suppose that the thing that attracts and impresses me about the life of Jesus is his amazing balance and his courageous approach to frustration, to difficulty, to tragedy, to anything thrown at him in life. He was always able to turn to inner resources and somehow hang in there and positively, through an evolutionary process, through an effort of guidance and work, find a solution or at least the best kind of situation that he could come up with. And, this kind of life is very inspiring to one who started out as an orphan and sort of had to make his own way in the world and who had to start from scratch… you’re inspired by a personality like Jesus who came out of very humble beginnings to be the most important man who’s ever lived on this planet.
Mo: Have you seen The Urantia Book’s teachings change peoples’ lives?
Meredith: Oh, I think anyone who’s been around people who’ve read The Urantia Book have seen this happen, just as I’ve seen people who’ve read the Bible and other religious books whose lives have been changed. Certainly The Urantia Book, in particular, will do this kind of thing, but I think many books and many people can change other peoples’ lives. I don’t think The Urantia Book, the Bible, or any other book is an absolute necessity for spiritual enlightenment. God has not left Himself without witness in all the religions of the world. Whereas I, having a Christian background, think that the approach which Jesus used to God is one which seems to me to be among the best of the great religious figures of the world, many people have been sons and daughters of God.
Mo: So if reading The Urantia Book is not a necessity to spiritual growth, what is a necessity for spiritual growth?
Meredith: That’s a good question, Mo… I think probably the bottom line is the desire to grow, the desire to know the truth, beauty, and goodness… the desire to know God and to be like Him, and (to seek) this inner guidance from the spirit of God which lives in all of us and follow the inner leading is the one key thing that all people, in all ages and all religions, have agreed upon.
Mo: How do you find that inner guidance? (17:23.6)
Meredith: By looking, by searching, by listening… by setting aside time to think about the important things of life … What is the meaning of my life? Where am I going, and why? The great important questions of life help one, and eventually you grow in spiritual fellowship and companionship with God on the inside. As Brother Lawrence used to say, “I have my best fellowship with God while I’m washing pots and pans in the monastery because I’m occupied teleologically and I have nothing to do but contemplate the will of God and His love for me. So, you can do anything and anything to find the presence and guidance and fellowship of God in your life.
Mo: When you said listening, do you mean go listen to a preacher on Sunday…
Meredith: No, I wasn’t exactly thinking of that, but I was simply thinking primarily of the listening attitude. I guess the Quakers have best popularized the concept of the Inner Light and the quietness of becoming aware of inner guidance and the influence of the Holy Spirit within, as Christians probably would see it. This kind of thing is the kind of listening, the kind of awareness, a flow of consciousness if you will, that every serious seeker of truth discovers.
Mo: Are you saying then prayer and worship is a habit that you use and would recommend?
Meredith: Certainly, I wouldn’t know how… well, when you start talking about prayer and worship a lot of people would have stereotyped ideas that I’m just counting my rosary beads or whatever…
Mo: Is that what you’re talking about?
Meredith: No … Prayer is an attitude where you are concerned about things in life and people in life and problems in life and you, you know, you talk these things over in the presence of God and seek wisdom. Worship, of course, is the most enlightening and enhancing kind of attitude, it’s where you are so caught up by the reality and presence of God that you’re beyond the place of saying “God I need this and I need that, or help me doing this.” You are so caught up in His presence that you just adore. The classic people in religion have called this contemplation, and you lose track, ideally, of time, or surroundings, or anything of the kind, and are simply caught up in the ineffable kind of experience. This can happen to you in nature, it can even happen to you in church, as strange as that might seem, or in the synagogue, or in the mosque, or wherever it might be.
Mo: Have you ever experienced the Spirit of Truth?
Meredith: I don’t suppose anyone who at least has a psychological and theological background would want to prognosticate about what one was listening to where you felt the Holy Spirit was at work in your life. I suppose one of my hang-ups in terms of religion - I grew up in a fundamentalistic denomination where ministers and others were wont to say “God told me to do this, and God told me to do that…”, and knowing something about their lives I had some question about whether their hearing was very good. So, I’m a little hesitant to answer that question… but, I very definitely have the sense of having a truth-perception that’s larger and more significant than my own mind and my own intelligence. I think all of us have had that experience. I know I’ve written things, where you know, I was just sort of carried away, and later I looked at that and say, “Did I write that?” Now, I think very definitely there is something like a Spirit of Truth that rings true, that authenticates.
Mo: You sound like you’re talking about personal religion. Now, I thought that I could get my religious experience by going to church and it sounds like you’re saying something very different. Now, are you saying that you’ve actually experienced God?
Meredith: Well, certainly everyone who has a first-hand religion has experienced some aspect of God within. All other people merely know God by hearsay, or have a second-hand religion - something that my priest or my minister told me about and that I have no idea whether this is true or not. I actually doubt if there are very many people who do not have a great deal of personal religion. I think personal religion is the only real authentic and genuine religion that there is. By saying that I don’t mean to be downplaying churches, or synagogues, or social aspects of religion, or things that we do together in congregations or in groups. But I particularly, having a background in psychology, I’m aware of the fact that the things that you have in your own personal experience are the only real things in your life. These are the things that really determine what you do, what you think about things. And, the second-hand things are poor(?) You can believe something, like, “I think it’s gonna rain tomorrow.”, or, “I think there’s something like the Trinity.”, and give intellectual assent to it. But something that you bet your life on, something that you know experientially is basically what I would call faith, which is quite different in intensity and in experiential quality from belief. You know, I can believe that two and two is four, even before I have actually verified it, because I have confidence in someone who was telling me about it. But I only really accept fundamentally in my life, to bet my life on, those things, those values, those realities that have experiential verification. And that is true of everybody only most people don’t realize it and don’t know it.
Mo: Meredith, The Urantia Book is unusual in that it talks about afterlife. Now, you’ve been reading the book since 1956, and it paints a picture of potential eternal life. How do you feel about dying?
Meredith: I’ve never been afraid of dying, I suppose because I not only have experienced death in the form of my mother dying when I was 10, my father when I was 11, and as a pastor sitting at the beside watching many people die. I used to tell students that death and birth are basic parts of life and that they weren’t really educated until they were present and actually witnessed a birth, and until they stood by and watched someone die and had a feel for what that is,... and I think there’s some wisdom. In our modern society we try to shield people from these kinds of ultimate experiences. No, but death is something that I regard with sort of, in one sense, anticipation - although I’m not in a hurry. I think that death is like when you graduated from high school, or when you graduated from college, or when you finally get that PhD after all that hard study is behind you and now you’re ready for the real thing. I think this is all sort of preliminary, and our real training, our real grappling with realities in the universe and the adventure of eternity is something that’s on ahead. In some ways it’s something that I’m looking forward to, very much.
Mo: What do you looking forward to the most on your first 10 days on the mansion worlds?
Meredith: Ha-hah! That’s a good question! I suppose all of us will probably look up the register and see if our parents and maybe children, if we have them, close friends and so forth, are there where we can contact them. So, I think all of us are gonna look forward to making some acquaintances again, reacquainting ourselves with old friends, see what they have to say, see what they’ve been doing, see if they can bring us up to date, (laughs)…
Mo: Do you think the modern world is interested and ready to hear the afterlife story as presented in The Urantia Book?
Meredith: Yes, I do, very much so. What most people don’t realize is there’s a great hunger for knowledge of things, not only beyond the grave, but - what, in the last 10-15 years the course on death and dying on college campuses have become very popular. That’s strange, isn’t it? And, there is a great curiosity, a feeling somehow that there’s something else. Just last week an old friend of mine, a student, who graduated from Indiana Tech in 1957, called me and asked me out to dinner. He said - in the philosophy course I taught where I made an assignment from The Urantia Book - he said, “You know the first time I read that I just had a feeling that - Hey! This is something that I felt must be true about the universe all my life.” So, I think that everybody has a realization that there’s something beyond the ephemeral, something beyond the here and now. And, that there’s a depth and dimension of life that we are only fleetingly aware of.
Mo: If you were to advise a 22 yr. old Urantia Book reader, what to do in their life in a general sense, what would you say?
Meredith: That’s another good question… I think we have a tendency, those of us who are over 60, there may be a lot of us who are under, to give advice, particularly younger people, and I guess the important thing that I would tell these people, and I told them for years and years when I was teaching college classes, that the most important things in life and determining their life are a balanced view of the great values by which man lives. And that they ought to look within themselves and ask themselves “What does life really mean to me? What do I need to develop the best that I have? What’s authentic about me? Where does my creativity lie?” The most important thing that people 22 can do is ask themselves the right questions. Not where can I get a job, or how can I make the most money, or how can I wield the most power, or how am I going to be the most respected, but those questions that have to do with the real self-fulfillment of their own lives and their own creativity. And you only get the answer to these questions by searching within and seeking for the great truths, the great realities that sometimes when you’re 22 don’t impress you as much as they ought to. And then work out your own salvation, (laughs)…
Mo: People today are having a transition time with family, and marriage, and the women’s movement. What do you perceive as a lasting value with family, not a lasting value… but do you feel that the family is a vital element? What good words do you have on this issue?
Meredith: Well, I don’t believe there’s been a culture in the history of the world that hasn’t realized that the home is the basic social institution. All societies recognize this, and whenever the home deteriorates, that civilization deteriorates. It’s almost that simple, if you want to oversimplify history. But, the home, being the basic social institution, is the first place where children learn about life, about the values that are important. It’s the place where parents get a glimpse of what responsibility is, of how God somehow must feel about our blundering way of doing the things that are doing us harm instead of good. And only when you see your own shoulders in doing this can you appreciate the patience, the profundity and love of God in your life. But the home builds that in-group kind of relationship that is so strong that nothing later in life can come to you but what you’ll be able to cope with it, handle it, if you’ve had a solid, warm, loving home.
Mo: Family life is undergoing a challenge today, and how do you feel about the family?
Meredith: Well, all of us I suppose have… in our own experience these are the most important experiences in our life. And most people don’t fully appreciate this until they have a child that dies, or until something happens and they thought that their work was the all-important thing or what they’re working on is the all important thing. And then tragedy strikes, and then we begin to realize that the things that are really important in our lives are family, and our children. It is these kinds of close, warm, loving interrelationships that are the solid bases on which we have resources for everything else in life which we do. I remember talking to a German girl at Tech, whose entire family was massacred, and she went through horrible experiences. And I finally asked her, I said, “How could you experience all of these atrocities and the horrible experiences that you personally went through and still have the positive, dynamic outreaching attitude that I see in you?” And she looked at me and she said, “Well, I think it was because I grew up in a family that was warm and loving and I got a good solid start. And nothing can ever happen in life that’s gonna rob me of that warm and loving early experience that will undergird the rest of my life.” And I thought, what a testimony to the value of the home and family. And this I think, more and more, is being realized, even by young people today. You know we who’ve been part of the college scene for a long time have seen people cohabiting and who knows what. But I find the younger generation today, really, when they think of raising children, is becoming very serious about the importance of establishing a viable, solid home. And, I think this is the hope of tomorrow. And therefore I’m… I’m very high on the younger generation; I really think they’re gonna do a lot better job than my generation did, really.
Mo: Meredith, I get confused about this Urantia Book bit, because it seems to be an important statement of religion, and I’m wondering its future in relationship to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. Is The Urantia Book a cult or segment of Christianity, meant for Christians?
Meredith: That’s again a tough question, Mo. There are so many facets to the evolving development of religion in general, and for the potentials of The Urantia Book. The Urantia Book has a frame of reference which I think you can appreciate, that integrates and relates to the best in almost all of the world’s religions. And so, I think what will eventually happen, just the same as for instance Gandhi was probably just as much influenced by the religion of Jesus, not Christianity, but the religion of Jesus, as he was by some of the things in his native Hindu faith. I think eventually, a thousand years from now, The Urantia Book is going to be recognized as the touchstone of spiritual reality of the highest order on the planet. And it’s going to make people better Hindus, and better Buddhists, and better Christians, and I think there will be a slow, gradual unity among all of the religions of the world. As you probably know, the ecumenical movement is a relatively contemporary kind of thing. I’m old enough to remember its beginnings some 25 years ago. But the ecumenical movement today is probably the most dynamic force in religion throughout the world. And the world council of churches came into being in my lifetime. So I fully expect that the processes of evolution on this planet will bring people of all faiths closer together, and that The Urantia Book will be a major force and a touchstone that is going to be in the forefront of this development. And I think it’s going to help and enhance all of the religions of the world.
Mo: So you’re saying that you don’t think that The Urantia Book is meant just for Christians, it’s meant for Moslems, it’s meant for …
Meredith: …people of all religions, very definitely. In some ways, maybe, Christians have more advantages, or more to unlearn, it’s … you know, I don’t know which to say. But The Urantia Book’s picture of Jesus and the universe certainly broadens the concept of what we normally think of as Christianity to something other than the little narrow, sectarian, cultish aspect of Christianity. Of where, when I was a boy, a lot of people thought only the Catholics were going to heaven, or all the Methodists were going to heaven, or all the Christians were going to heaven, or whoever. I’ve seen that whole attitude pretty well dissolved, and it’s almost miraculous that this could happen in one generation. Oh, I know there’s a resurgence of fundamentalism here and there, but by and wise the thing that’s happening is we’re recognizing that God is the Father of all mankind, not just Methodists, or Lutherans, or whatever.
Mo: Now, for the Chinese, for example, that have rejected Christianity, for the drop out Christians that have rejected Christianity but want the teaching of Jesus, for other world religions that are seeking the truth…do you think there will be a new world religion to arise that are the followers of The Urantia Book teachings who do not want to identify with one of the evolutionary, the other eleven evolutionary religions, and want to identify with something new?
Meredith: When you first started asking that question, I thought of a question I’m sometimes asked about what I think is gonna happen to atheists, and so forth. And one of my stock answers is that some of the most religious people I’ve ever known were atheists. And the kind of god that they were running away from was the kind of a god that they ought to run away from. But to speak to your question, Mo, I think it’s very probable, anytime that you get any kind of a dynamic, creative religious insight into the nature of reality you’re going to find new religious groups arising that will be with us in each new development. This is inevitable. And so, I’m certain that such a religious group, in fact I would hazard a guess that there would be many such religious groups evolve. And that in many ways some people will prefer these groups, and there will be others who will still like to feel that they’re a part of a religious tradition that goes clear back to Saint Peter or someone. So I think that’s the nice thing about what’s happening in the world today. Just on the plane this morning I was reading John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends, in which he’s pointing out that one of things that’s happening in life is that we’re going from a rather limited point of view to a multiple choice point of view. That we will have many options that fit particular people and we won’t try to jamb everybody into being Baptists or whatever the situation may be. I think that’s a more mature kind of approach and this is what the New Age is going to do for us.
Mo: So inevitably, my children’s children’s children may classify themselves not as Christians, but as Jesusonians, or Urantians, or whatever. And future generations may identify wholeheartedly with the revelation and not have some of the evolutionary background of having been brought up as Christians and been introduced to The Urantia Book.
Meredith: Without much doubt, if history teaches us anything, history repeats itself. And this is gonna happen.
Mo: What do you think Jesus, Michael of Nebadon, wants us to do with this revelation?
Meredith: Interestingly, very few people who study The Urantia Book are fully aware of the fact, I think, that The Urantia Book, if it is the fifth epochal revelation - and I believe that it is - is actually the gift of Jesus, the gift of Christ Michael to this planet. Because he is now the sovereign of this whole universe and nothing (like this) takes place, really, without his approval. So in one sense The Urantia Book is Jesus’ gift to mankind. And I’m sure that he would tell us the same thing that he told his apostles, when his apostles asked him for specific directions on how to do what, and he usually told them, look inside, seek the Father’s guidance and do what you feel the Father wants you to do. And you now have the Spirit of Truth; if you’re interested in what I might have you do, listen to it and then be courageous to make your own decisions with this background and do something dynamic. Go wholeheartedly where the Father wants you to go, and not with the half-hearted approach that all too many religionists have.
Mo: Well the Master told his apostles in almost all the (post) resurrection appearances to go out and spread the gospel. Not about Jesus, but the gospel of the living religion of Jesus. And throughout the entire fourth part of the book (final stages of his life?) Jesus was always training people to go out and spread the good news. How do you relate his direct activities two thousand years ago to The Urantia Book being here on this earth with maybe five thousand people alive today that read the book.
Meredith: I think unquestionably the most important thing that serious students of The Urantia Book need to do is outreach ministry, is to share the best they have with their fellow man. You may know, Mo, that the contact commission who were sort of responsible for seeing that The Urantia Book was published asked the revelators for their guidance regarding the question you asked. And, they pretty well gave the same answers that Jesus did, they said you study the life and ministry of Jesus, study his outreach plan, and then follow his example to the best of your ability. And I think all too often the people I know who study The Urantia Book haven’t taken that advice very seriously. And we really ought to be taking it seriously. It’s the most important thing that we have to do in our time.
Mo: The most important thing?
Meredith: The most important thing that we have to do in our time.