Several years ago an acquaintance gave me a very strange 2,097-page religious work called the Urantia Book. It was first printed in 1955 by the Urantia Foundation in Chicago and is supposed to have been “indited” (I had to look that one up) by “time-space overcontrollers of the grand universe,” with names like Mighty Messenger from Uversa, Orvonton Divine Counselor, and one “Vorondadek Son stationed on Urantia as an observer and acting in this capacity by request of the Melchizedek Chief of the Supervising Revelatory Corps.”

As far as I can tell it is meant to be taken seriously, but it is strange. I’ve read some weird shit–I’m a doctoral candidate in psychology–but we’re talking goose bumps here. Who wrote it, Cecil? I’m guessing some weird scientist who got a little too close to Bikini atoll. Or maybe Howard Hughes. You’ve shed light on other weird religious cults, what’s the straight dope on the Urantia Book? –A.C., Garland, Texas

“Strange” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of the Urantia Book. “Stupid” more nearly fills the bill. The plot of the four-pound tome is impossible to summarize, but it’s basically a wacko history of Urantia (Earth), its place in the cosmos, and the various beings who lord it over us. The book is one of a long line of pseudobiblical “revelations” that have been periodically fobbed off on the American public by would-be prophets. Unlike, say, the Book of Mormon, however, the Urantia Book has not spawned a mighty religious movement (yet), and the only feature of interest about it is who wrote it, which the Urantia Brotherhood, which runs the Urantia Foundation, has steadfastly refused to reveal. However, the noted science writer Martin Gardner, writing recently in Skeptical Inquirer, says former Urantia Brotherhood intimates have told him it is the work of one Wilfred Kellogg, a nephew of the founder of the Kellogg cereal company.

Kellogg was a close friend of Dr. William Sadler, the Chicago psychiatrist who started the Urantia Brotherhood. (The two had married sisters.) Sadler, Kellogg, their wives, and many of Kellogg’s relatives had been Seventh Day Adventists, a sect that had a collection of revelations of its own channeled by prophetess Ellen Gould White. Sadler and company became disillusioned with White, who is thought to have plagiarized many of her supposedly divinely inspired writings. But they didn’t seem to have a problem with the idea that you could tune in to astral chitchat from higher beings.

At some point in the early 1920s Wilfred Kellogg apparently began writing or channeling what eventually became the Urantia Book. Sadler’s wife, rather than concluding that Wil’s ravings bespoke a man with serious drug problems, convinced her husband that they were the work of extraterrestrials. Sadler organized a group originally called the Forum to study the material, and he eventually edited and published it. The book has many echoes of Adventist doctrine, but is without literary merit and is distinguished only by its bulk. Next time you get “goose bumps” reading stuff like this, I suggest you get up and close the window.


Regarding your recent column about the “one shoe in the road” mystery (May 29): I used to wonder about that too, but now I know. It is a steamy night in August; you are wearing flip-flops; you are so drunk that you are crawling down Clark Street; you pass out, are picked up by an ambulance and taken to an emergency rehab facility; when you are released in the AM, you have only one flip-flop, the other being somewhere on Clark Street. –Most sincerely and grateful to be alive, Jean, Evanston, Illinois

“Emergency rehab facility”? Man, I’m going to have to remember that one next time they toss me in the drunk tank. While we now have an explanation for the disgraceful situation on Clark Street, I stand by my view that the dimensions of the lone-shoe phenomenon have been greatly exaggerated.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.