We’ve looked at universalism in the Abrahamic and Dharmic religions, and in a summary way in the other major (and minor) religions of the world. In this post I’d like to see what, if any, broad patterns we can find, and what their relevance is in general and in particular, specifically in regard to universalism as a concept.
In the case of traditional and folk religions, the very concept of an afterlife often seems murky–the dead inhabit a shady, insubstantial realm such as the Greek Hades or the Hebrew She’ol. Alternately, they may inhabit the realm of the deified or semi-deified ancestors. These two possibilities are not exclusive, it should be noted. Some such religions, such as that of the ancient Celts and some strands of the ancient Greek religion, had some sort of belief in reincarnation (or “metempsychosis”, as the Greeks referred to it). By and large, there is no consistent idea of reward and punishment–Heaven and Hell–in most of these faiths. To the extent that there is, it is either ambiguous or applicable only to a few (such as the Greek Elysian Fields and Tartarus) or it seems to have been imported from other religions (any notions of heavens and hells in Chinese and Japanese religion, for example, comes from Buddhism).
In general, I think it fair to say that there is no clear evidence for reward and punishment in the afterlife in any of the religions that precede the Axial Age, with the probable exception of the religion of Ancient Egypt and the possible exception of Zoroastrianism (so many Zoroastrian writings have been lost and there are so many issues with dating the ones we have, that there is some ambiguity as to how old certain doctrines actually are). I think it is also safe to say that there is also no clear evidence of reward and punishment in the afterlife in the traditional and folk religions that have survived to modern times, except insofar as they’ve been influenced by so-called great or world religions.
We’ve looked at universalism in the Abrahamic and Dharmic faiths. There are other important religious traditions to consider, but the remaining ones, by and large, cannot be grouped together as we’ve done in the last two posts. Therefore, this post will be a bit of a grab bag. The order in which I consider the various religions with which I’m dealing here will be broadly by type or cultural zone (e.g. I’ll look at the Chinese religions together); but once more, there will be no formal grouping of religions by category as before. Therefore, go below the cut tag and we’ll begin!
Last time, we looked at universalism in the Abrahamic faiths. In this post, I want to look at universalism in the Dharmic religions. The Dharmic faiths are the great religions which originated in the Indian subcontinent, stemming ultimately from the ancient beliefs of the Indo-Aryan peoples. The oldest of these is the religion we refer to as Hinduism, traditionally known to its adherents as Sanātana Dharma, “the eternal religion”. From Hinduism gradually developed the Śramaṇa movement, which developed eventually into Buddhism and Jainism. The most recent of the Dharmic faiths, Sikhism, came into being in the 15th Century, evolving from the branch of Hinduism known as the Sant Mat movement.
All of the Dharmic religions share certain basic concepts. Chief among them are
- The idea of an eternal universe that goes through infinite cycles of creation, evolution, decline, and dissolution
- Many levels of existence beyond the earthly
- A belief in reincarnation or rebirth, in which beings take on numerous lives in numerous realms
- A belief in karma, the principle by which one’s actions are requited, for good or for ill, in the present life and/or future lives
- Finally, a belief that beings can ultimately end the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) through proper spiritual practice
Having laid our the similarities, let’s look at the religions individually.
This series on universalism has looked at the topic from the perspective of Christianity. This is because, first of all, I myself am a Christian, of the Catholic variety. Second, despite universalist themes that go back to the very beginning of the faith, Christianity has by and large been construed as non-universalist; thus, the necessity of making arguments in favor of universalism. I thought, however, that it would be interesting–and perhaps instructive–to look at the other great religions and their teachings on the afterlife, especially as regards the notion of universalism. In order to avoid an inordinately long post, I’m going to break this up by category. This post will deal with the Abrahamic religions.
The Abrahamic faiths are, obviously, those closest to Christianity in worldview in general, and in views of the afterlife in particular. Thus, we will look at them first. Judaism and Islam are obvious candidates, of course. However, I will also give a brief consideration to Gnosticism, Mormonism, and also to the Bahá’í Faith, for reasons I’ll elaborate below. We will look at them in historical order, beginning with Judaism.
As with most things in life, the rhythms of blogging go in cycles. Sometimes I am full of ideas and I have (or can make) the time to write about them. Blogging then comes thick and furiously. At other times, the muse is absent, the well is dry, and things go on hiatus for a longer or shorter period of time. Such are the vicissitudes of life. I sometimes think I should be doing more, but from my first forays into blogging I resolved not to beat myself up over regularity. I have tried to do journals/diaries in the past, and it never worked out. Blogging has turned out to be a fruitful outlet for my writing, and has gone on much longer than any attempt at journaling that I’ve ever attempted. Thus, for everything there is a season–a time to write and a time not to write–and I’m OK with that.
The last couple of years have been relatively fallow, but in the last week I’ve started putting up posts again, and I have some ideas for posts to come in the near future. No doubt I’ll go into fallow cycles again in the future, but for now I hope to be a bit more productive. In line with that resolution, I’d like to discuss some of the plans for upcoming things I have, for those who are regular (or even new!) readers of the Chequer-Board.
First, I am currently working on a review of David Bentley Hart’s recent translation of the New Testament, and I hope to have it finished and up within the week. I will cross-index it under “The Pretty Good Book“, “Universalism (What the Hell?!)“, and “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy“, for reasons that will be apparent when I post it.
Second, there are some recent developments on the polygenism front that I want to look at, as well as some new findings regarding animal cognition that I think ultimately tie in to that. This, in turn, is relevant to any account of the Fall of Man; so I hope to resume work (at least intermittently) on “Legends of the Fall” (the end of which, alas, seems nowhere in sight).
Third, I think I’m essentially finished with my series on universalism (linked above). I will put the review of Hart’s New Testament there, as I said. I think I may have one or two short pieces to add, as well; and then I’ll add a wrap-up piece, while of course leaving open the possibility of future addenda, as they suggest themselves.
Fourth, in the slightly longer term, I’d like to continue my series on Star Trek: The Motion Picture and “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality“. I pretty much know where I want to go with those, and have had either the ideas or the beginnings of posts (or both) for continuing each series, but haven’t got around to it. I hope to do so soon.
Fifth, in the somewhat longer term, I desperately need to fix the index for the “Daily Whitman” series. As you can see by visiting the link, the index is incomplete and has been for some time. For various reasons, it has proved to be a fiendishly difficult thing to do properly, unlike the relatively simple index for the “Rubá’í of the Day” series. I have plenty of non-blogging stuff on my plate as it is, and given the complexity of fixing this table, this is something that may have to wait awhile; but it is on my “to-do” list. Meanwhile, you can use the tags to reach individual installments of the “Daily Whitman” series.
Sixth, I may remove the “Movies” sub-page from the blog. I used to post a lot of movies, documentaries, and shorts here, but the transient nature of YouTube being what it is, I have scads of dead links lying about. I’m not sure that it’s worthwhile maintaining them; so I may delete the “Movies” page and/or the individual movie-containing posts. I’m not sure yet, but we’ll see.
Seventh, and most nebulous, I intend eventually to resume posting series of poetry (probably Masters’s Spoon River Anthology or the haiku of Kobayashi Issa next). I’d also like to revisit some of my other series, and, wonder of wonders, maybe even start some new ones, or even do some stand-alone posts.
Once more, life is as it is, vicissitudes and all, so I can’t be sure as to the exact schedule on which I’ll be able to do all this. Keep your eyes out for news and update here, and as always, thank you very much for your continued support!
Awhile back, I wrote a series on Mystery Science Theater 3000. My main focus was on what I saw as the archetypes of the Trickster and the Holy Fool that one could discern in the series. However, I also talked a little bit about how I came to be a fan of the show, and my thoughts on the two hosts, Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson. Spoiler Alert: There will be mild spoilers for Season 11 below. The previous seasons have been around long enough that I assume everyone has seen them by now, and I won’t be discussing them, anyway.
As MST3K fans are doubtless aware, in April of 2017, the show, after many years off the air, returned with much fanfare and popular acclaim, as well as with new cast. I watched the new season–the 11th–and enjoyed it. It occurred to me that having written previously on MST3K, I should post something about its newest iteration. However, alas, at that time, I had lapsed from regular blogging. Of late, I have got back to at least periodic writing here at the Chequer-Board. I decided, therefore, that it was high time that I should return to MST3K and to write about my thoughts on the revived show.
Awhile back I wrote four posts on the series Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve recently decided to writer another post, and more may follow in the future. Therefore, I’ve decided to make an index page to get them all together in one place. Enjoy!
Recently we looked at universalism in relationship to Scripture and Tradition, and we saw that neither of these sources of authority conclusively condemns the hope of universal salvation. In short, while we can’t argue that universalism is definitively true based on these sources, neither can we say it us ruled out, either. Universalism is therefore a possible and non-heretical option. Whether it is reasonable or likely is an issue for philosophical and theological discourse, which has been the overall approach of this series.
I have certainly posted plenty of things philosophical in this series on universalism, and I think I’ve dealt with all the most important issues. I would like to look at one somewhat ancillary issue, though. This is inspired by a recent blog discussion I had (which I also referenced in the last post). At one point, an interlocutor going by the handle seven sleepers, in taking issue with my stated opinion on universalism, said, “Side note: If you ditch hell, you lose heaven. Pretty obvious that to lose one is to lose the other.” My response there was, “No, it is not, in fact, obvious, nor is this assertion even logical. It is merely an assertion.” In this post I’d like–very briefly!–to unpack my thoughts on this.
On more than one occasion over the course of this series on universalism, I have mentioned the Beatific Vision. Despite this, I have never elaborated or discussed the concept at length. As I was working on a follow-up to the last post, though, it occurred to me that the subject of the Beatific Vision was becoming increasingly relevant. Rather than try to unpack the notion there, I decided to give it a post of its own.
The Beatific Vision is a term in Catholic theology which, simply put, means seeing God as He is. Of course, “seeing” is a metaphor here. It means, more precisely, the full experience of God in His full divinity. This is said to be the final goal of the saved. Those who are in heaven, human and angel, have this experience of God perpetually. In fact, to say that the saints and angels are “in” heaven is inaccurate. Heaven is not a place, but a state of being–and that state of being is exactly the one that ensues from the Beatific Vision.