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Universalism: Summary (for now)

Update:  I have edited this post slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

OK, so let’s do a summary of the points I’ve developed over the last few posts (editing slightly where needed).

Either

1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or

1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,

2.  a) Many Christians actually see Hell not as a sorrowful thing, but a vital necessity and an active good.

2. b) As a corollary, they have an active desire to see malefactors damned.  In short, it’s not just a tragedy, but an active attitude of, “Yes, those m*^%$#@*&^%$#s are getting what they deserve!  Justice is served!  God is not mocked!”

2. c) As another corollary, such people seem to have a model of morality that is at best conventional, if not pre-conventional, a model which they project on everyone else; that is, they assume that people are driven so much towards selfishness and sin that only threats, the bigger the better–preferably the infinite and eternal threat of Hell–can keep them in line.

2. d)  As a final corollary, this implies that these people have rather disordered inner lives themselves.  In short, they are not saying, “Because of the love of God and the grace He gives me, I no longer have a desire for sin X,” or even the less exalted, “Though I am strongly tempted to X, I don’t want to be that kind of person,” but rather, “I wanna do X soooo bad, but if I do I’m gonna burn, so I’ll refrain.  As long as all the other yahoos who give in will burn.” Read the rest of this entry

Damnation: Inside, Outside, Upside Down

Update:  I have edited this post and the following posts in this series slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

Continuing with the project of rectification of names regarding Hell–that is, saying things as they are, and bringing out  hidden implications, let’s review what we’ve got so far, and then move on to some metaphysics.

Either

1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or

1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,

2.  a) Many Christians actually see Hell not as a sorrowful thing, but a vital necessity and an active good.

2. b) As a corollary, they have an active desire to see malefactors damned.  In short, it’s not just a tragedy, but an active attitude of, “Yes, those m*^%$#@*&^%$#s are getting what they deserve!  Justice is served!  God is not mocked!”

2. c) As another corollary, such people seem to have a model of morality that is at best conventional, if not pre-conventional, a model which they project on everyone else; that is, they assume that people are driven so much towards selfishness and sin that only threats, the bigger the better–preferably the infinite and eternal threat of Hell–can keep them in line.

2. d)  As a final corollary, this implies that these people have rather disordered inner lives themselves.  In short, they are not saying, “Because of the love of God and the grace He gives me, I no longer have a desire for sin X,” or even the less exalted, “Though I am strongly tempted to X, I don’t want to be that kind of person,” but rather, “I wanna do X soooo bad, but if I do I’m gonna burn, so I’ll refrain.  As long as all the other yahoos who give in will burn.”

3. a) Soft universalism does not mitigate points 1. a) and 1. b) above.  The rarely stated implication is still that somehow eternal damnation, at least in principle, is just.  The only difference is that there is now a hope that God won’t implement it.  This has no logical bearing on the morality of God setting up such a policy in the first place.  Adding to my original phrasing of this point, it is sometimes said that “Hell exists, but it’s empty.”  Not only does this fail in the way we’ve already described, but it’s not even intelligible.  As most theologians and the late Pope John Paul II have said, Hell is not a place, but a state of being, an eternal alienation from God.  A possible state that is not implemented doesn’t even exist.  It’s like telling my child that there is a time out, but it’s not inhabited!

3. b) The belief that God damns no one but that any damned have brought damnation upon themselves by their sole fault also does not mitigate 1. a) and b) above, nor is it logically coherent.  God has created intelligent beings and established a universe and a milieu in which they can damn themselves; and thus ultimate responsibility still resides with Him.

3.  c) It seems that the main appeal of soft universalism is that

i) it does not deny traditional doctrine, thereby assuaging the fears of those who hold it of being thought by others or by themselves to be heretical

ii) it assuages believers’ discomfort with the concept of eternal damnation by positing that maybe God saves most or all

iii) it “lets God off the hook”–by positing that all people might be saved, and that if that doesn’t happen, then it’s purely and solely the fault of the damned themselves, and God is absolved of all responsibility in the matter.

Thus we can continue to think of Him as all-loving and all-benevolent while still allowing, at least in principle, the existence of Hell.

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Universalism, I Presume?

Update:  I have edited this post and the following posts in this series slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

Last time, I defined Hard Universalism (HU)–all will be saved; Soft Universalism (SU)–we may hope all will be saved, but ought not to inquire beyond that; and what I’ve called Optimistic Universalism (OU)–we hope all will be saved, and the likelihood is that they probably will be.  That is to say, OU, while having no metaphysical distinction from SU except degree, is functionally equivalent to HU.  I myself hold and advocate OU.  For reasons I discussed last time, it seems that OU is not heretical.  I said last time that there is only one reason I can think of that one might, from a traditionalist perspective, reject OU.  That’s the topic of this post.

Generally, one will hear that universalism is a form of the sin of presumption.  The definition, and some commentary, from the linked article, my emphasis:

[Presumption] may be defined as the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them. Presumption is said to offend against hope by excess, as despair by defect.

Suarez…enumerates five ways in which one may be guilty of presumption, as follows:

  1. by hoping to obtain by one’s natural powers, unaided, what is definitely supernatural… after grievous sin (this would involve a Pelagian frame of mind);
  2. a person might look to have his sins forgiven without adequate penance….
  3. a man might expect some special assistance from Almighty God for the perpetration of crime (this would be blasphemous as well as presumptuous);
  4. one might aspire to certain extraordinary supernatural excellencies, but without any conformity to the determinations of God’s providence. Thus one might aspire to equal in blessedness the Mother of God;
  5. finally, there is the transgression of those who, whilst they continue to lead a life of sin, are as confident of a happy issue as if they had not lost their baptismal innocence.

Theologians draw a sharp distinction between the attitude of one who goes on in a vicious career, precisely because he counts upon pardon, and one whose persistence in wrongdoing is accompanied, but not motivated, by the hope of forgiveness. The first they impeach as presumption of a very heinous kind; the other is not such specifically. In practice it happens for the most part that the expectation of ultimate reconciliation with God is not the cause, but only the occasion, of a person’s continuing in sinful indulgence. Thus the particular guilt of presumption is not contracted.

Let’s analyze this.

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Defining Terms and a Recap

Update:  I have edited this post and the following posts in this series slightly to make the taxonomy of various forms of  universalism clearer.

Let’s recap what we’ve discussed here and here, and do so in a more focused way.

First, to be clear in the following, we’re going to have to define some things in a fairly consistent way, since there are some subtleties involved.

“Universalism”, at least in a Christian context, is the belief that all humans will eventually be saved.  Details about how this happens and intermediate purification vary, but for what we’re doing here, the given definition is sufficient.

“Hard universalism” is really the source of the problem, since it’s ambiguous.  In the strictest sense, it means the belief that all humans will definitely be saved.  Alternately, a hard universalism could say he knows all will be saved.  The probability of universal salvation is 1 (same as 100%, for non-math people).  I’m going to call this strict definition of hard universalism–well, “hard universalism”, and abbreviate it HU.

“Soft universalism” (SU) is in fact a rather soft and squishy term.  It means the hope that all will be saved while not maintaining that such universalism is certain or can be known.  This is vague, however–does it mean one hopes with no opinion as to the hope’s likelihood of being realized?  In short, does it mean one must remain agnostic?  Or may one speculate on the odds?  From some discussions I’ve had, it seems that many who hold SU think it’s theologically or even morally wrong to say anything beyond “I hope all will be saved,” without speculating beyond that.  There’s really only one theological justification for such a view that I can think of, and I’ll deal with it in the next post.  Meanwhile, I think one can say “I hope, rather than know, that all will be saved, and the likelihood of it is X.”

Now for reasons I’ve discussed in the earlier posts, I don’t think the salvation of all (or any, or none) can be known with 100% accuracy.  Theology aside, there are simple epistemological reasons for this–who can claim to know what God does?  Thus, any belief in universalism is a belief in a possibility, not a fact. However, people may differ over what they consider the possibility–or probability, statistically speaking–to be.  It has to be above 0 (else there’d be no probability of it at all) and below 1 (otherwise it would be certain, which seems impossible to ascertain).  Different people may set low odds–say, 0.01–or high odds–e.g. 0.99.  Even if one sets odds at 0.99999999999, one is short of absolute certainty, and thus not HU properly so-called; however, at that level, one is pretty darn sure.   Read the rest of this entry

Universalism (What the Hell?!): Index

Once again, a sub-thread within my “Legends of the Fall” series has taken on a life of its own, to the extent of meriting its own index.  I don’t know how many more will end up here, but there are probably lots to come, either within “Legends of the Fall” or in this series outright.  Have a hell (or heaven, or none of the above) time reading these posts!

Legends of the Fall:  Reflections

Hell, Salafis, Philosophers, and Playing the Odds

Out of the Closet

A Helluva Post on the Rectification of Names

Excursus:  John Scottus Eriugena

To Hell in a Nice Handbasket

Interlude:  Questions, Objections, Issues

An Analysis of Universalism

Defining Terms and a Recap

Universalism, I Presume?

Damnation:  Inside, Outside, Upside Down

Universalism:  Summary (for now)

The parent series, “Legends of the Fall”, is going in a different direction, so the following addenda will be only in this index, though some may later cross back over.

If I Only Wanted To

The Divine Exception

Been a Long Time, Been a Long Time, Been an Aeviternal Time

Change My Mind (?)

Stubborn Highlanders

Sea Battles and What Will Be

The Divine Exception, Revisited

Simply Irresistible (or not?)

Some Preliminary Groundwork

Confucius and Socrates

More on Universalism–Compulsion vs. Choice

All Things Dull and Ugly

Choices and Consequences

The Mind is Like a Mirror Bright

I Want Your Love and I Want Your Revenge

Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason

Arguments Against Universalism:  Missing the Point

On Anti-Universalist Arguments (reblogged from Opus Publicum)

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 1–Retribution

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part 2–Just Desserts

Arguments Against Universalism: Justice Must Be Served, Part3–An Eye for an Eye?

Arguments Against Universalism: Your Own Damn Fault, Part 1–Rules are Rules

Arguments Against Universalism: Your Own Damn Fault, Part 2–Better to Reign in Hell

 

Save

An Analysis of Universalism

Continuing from my last post, I want to bring out more explicitly the logic of my thinking that soft and hard universalism are not readily or easily distinguishable.

A soft universalist hopes for the salvation of all.  To hope for something seems to imply, of necessity, that the thing hoped for be possible, no matter how improbable.  To put it another way, one may hope for something that is likely, or that is improbable, or that is very improbable, or that is 99.999999% + improbable; but it is incoherent to hope for something that is impossible.

For example, I might roll the dice and hope for a seven or eleven, which is very moderately improbable (about 22%, or a little more than a one in five chance).  I might hope for a twelve (though in craps I’d lose with that!), which is more improbable–only a one out of thirty-six chance, or slightly less than 3%.  I might hope for 10 twelves in a row (0.00000000000000027%, or about 3 out of ten quadrillion), which is highly improbable.  I might even hope for 50,000 twelves in a row.  I’m not going to calculate that, but if you rolled the dice every second for the entire life of the universe you’d probably not have long enough for the odds to favor such a run.  It’s not impossible, though.

However, I can’t hope to roll a seventeen.  Given that the dice have faces that go up to six, two dice could never land in a configuration that adds to anything higher than twelve.  No number of rolls would make this possible, obviously.  Therefore, to hope to roll a seventeen is meaningless.

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Interlude: Questions, Objections, Issues

Before we move along to more of the philosophical and theological issues involved in the concept of Hell, let’s look at objections, questions, and issues involved with the view of universalism.  Remember, there are two flavors:  soft universalism (all might be saved, or we can legitimately hope all will be saved) and hard universalism (all will be saved, or it is highly likely that all will be saved).

First, are these two versions even that much different?  I didn’t really express my answer–“no”–clearly when I declared myself a hard universalist.  There is very little of which we can say we know it to be true.  I’m 99.9999999% + sure that I’m in my house typing this post; but I could be hallucinating, plugged in to the Matrix, a brain in a vat being fed false impulses, the only being in a solipsitic universe which is creating his own fancies, etc.  Ultimately everything comes down to odds.  The odds of the Matrix, etc. are low; the odds I’m really doing this are high.

Likewise, I don’t claim to know that God will save everyone, or most, or some, or anyone.  By the same token, I don’t know whom He will damn.  For that matter, I don’t know He even exists.  I think He does; I think it’s highly likely He does; I certainly have faith that He does; but I don’t know this.  Some individuals who’ve had mystic experiences claim to know God exists, and to know things about Him.  Maybe they’re right; maybe not.  Pending the reception of direct revelation, I have to say that what mystics say in unconfirmed, and that while I believe, I don’t know.

Thus the difference between soft and hard universalism is really more a matter of one’s assessment of the probabilities.  The soft universalist is either A. agnostic, refusing to say what the probability of universal salvation actually is; or B. believes the probability is very low (even to the point that they may actually doubt it), but hopes otherwise (like the purchaser of a lottery ticket); or (and I think very many fall into this category) C. thinks the chances of universal salvation are actually high, but that it is morally suspect to say that explicitly.

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To Hell in a Nice Handbasket

We’ve been looking at the underlying logic of the Traditional View of Hell (TVOH) and trying to tease out some things that often are not spoken of publicly, or perhaps not even consciously realized.  We reached the following conclusions there, given the TVOH:

Either

1. a) infinite punishment for finite sin is just or

1. b) God is a capricious tyrant.

Regarding people who hold the TVOH, and thus necessarily (if implicitly) one of the above,

2.  a) Many Christians actually see Hell not as a sorrowful thing, but a vital necessity and an active good.

2. b) As a corollary, they have an active desire to see malefactors damned.  In short, it’s not just a tragedy, but an active attitude of, “Yes, those m*^%$#@*&^%$#s are getting what they deserve!  Justice is served!  God is not mocked!”

2. c) As another corollary, such people seem to have a model of morality that is at best conventional, if not pre-conventional, a model which they project on everyone else; that is, they assume that people are driven so much towards selfishness and sin that only threats, the bigger the better–preferably the infinite and eternal threat of Hell–can keep them in line.

2. d)  As a final corollary, this implies that these people have rather disordered inner lives themselves.  In short, they are not saying, “Because of the love of God and the grace He gives me, I no longer have a desire for sin X,” or even the less exalted, “Though I am strongly tempted to X, I don’t want to be that kind of person,” but rather, “I wanna do X soooo bad, but if I do I’m gonna burn, so I’ll refrain.  As long as all the other yahoos who give in will burn.”  To me, this is clearly the subtext of Shrum’s statements, which I’ve noted before.  In short, it is (at least on a subconscious level) not about becoming a better person as an end in itself or or becoming more loving or decent or getting closer to God.  In short, it’s not about personal transformation–it’s about personal preservation.  That is, it’s about keeping the rules sufficiently to get picked to go to the head of the eschatological class.

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Excursus: John Scottus Eriugena

The greatest philosopher of the early Middle Ages, John Scottus Eriugena, was interestingly, a universalist.  I’m not going to talk much about him myself in this post.  Rather, I want to quote extensively from this excellent essay on Eriugena at the website of  professor of philosophy Leonard O’Brian.  I will refer back to this in developing some ideas in the next couple of posts on heaven, hell, and universalism.  The emphasis in the following quotes is mine.

Eriugena’s metaphysics of emanation produces an optimistic understanding of human nature. In Christian thought usually, the fall requires the resurrection whereby Christ cleanses us of our sins. Christianity generally teaches that (1) God created humankind in His image; that (2) this integrity between Imager and imagee—between God and humankind—did not preclude that the imagee might disobey the Imager; (3) that the imagee did freely choose disobedience; (4) that this act initiated a universal falling of man and woman from their Imager; (5) and that man and woman were thereby weakened, so that only the gracious action of God can save the imagee from sinful inclinations. Incarnation and resurrection constitute this gracious action. Christianity is pessimistic about human nature since regeneration depends essentially on its external source.

In contrast with the usual Christian conceptualization, Eriugena draws on Neo-Platonism. He thus creates a tension. He wishes to develop a fully Christian philosophy. Compared to much of Christianity, however, Neo-Platonists are optimistic about human nature.

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From the Neo-Platonic perspective, while the objects of human knowledge—the objectively real ideas, ultimately, the Good or the One—transcend the physical world, we human beings have the potential, through reason, to transcend the physical world ourselves.

How would Eriugena, both Neo-Platonic and Christian, resolve the tension between optimism and pessimism? In his view, the fall and resurrection consist of cosmic processes of differentiation and return to unity. While he conceptualizes the cosmology in four parts or phases, the parts are really one: God, the uncaused, causing the Word or Christ; wherein the primordial principles emanate into the realm of stones, plants, animals, angels, and human beings; these last, the human beings, contributing the further differentiation of gender through the fall; whereupon the Word, Christ, returns to God, unifying man and woman into genderless humankind; and, through humankind, the entirety of creation, returns to unity in the undifferentiated One. In the end, all will be saved, saints and sinners. Read the rest of this entry

A Helluva Post on the Rectification of Names

What the hell does that title mean, you may well ask!  Well, let’s jump right in.

Rectification of names” is a significant concept in Confucius‘ thought.  Simply put, it means calling things what they actually are, and acting accordingly.  Or to put it succinctly, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “Don’t step in s*%$ and call it peanut butter!”  In the course of another lengthy blog discussion, I’ve thought more about some issues I’ve already been pondering, especially in relation to the doctrine of Hell, in the run-up to outing myself as a universalist. I am persuaded that there needs to be a lot of rectification of names in this area, because I think an awful lot of people are stepping in theological s*%$ and calling it eschatological peanut butter.

Let’s start by laying some  groundwork.  Traditionally, the three major Abrahamic religions have all taught the continuance of human existence after death.  The first Abrahamic religion, Judaism, has traditionally been rather vague about this–it is usually phrased in terms of the “world to come”, with the terms “paradise” and “heaven” rarely if ever used, and “hell” (in this context, translations of the Hebrew Šě’ôl, “Sheol” or Gê’ Hinnôm, “Gehenna”) even vaguer.  Broadly, the idea of an eternal hell is not integral to Judaism.

On the other hand, it has historically been front and center in both Christianity and Islam.  That is, both of these religions have taught the following:

1.  All humans will continue to exist after bodily death.

2.  All humans will be divided after death into two categories, the damned and the elect.

3.  The damned will be those who have been evil, sinful, etc. (we’ll discuss exact criteria later); the virtuous will be elect.

4.  The damned will be consigned to Hell, where they will be tortured and punished for all eternity.  The saved will go to Heaven (Paradise, the Garden of Allah, etc.) where they will experience eternal bliss.

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