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Arguments Against Universalism: Missing the Point, Revisited

Awhile back I did several posts in which I tried to look at various arguments against universalism and to show why, in my view, those arguments were unsuccessful.  The first post in that series looked at arguments that didn’t even address the issue to begin with, but which missed the point either through logical fallacy or misdirection.  Recently I have been involved in discussions on universalism on a couple of other blogs and in an online course I’m taking.  Some of the same hoary old anti-universalism arguments I’ve detailed before have been cropping up.  There has also been a bit of missing the point.  In light of this, I want to take a second look at two arguments which miss the point and which I didn’t directly discuss before.  One did not actually come up in the discussions, but was jarred loose in my memory.  The other is less an argument as such and more an approach, but I think in a sense it also misses the point.  Onward, then!

The first argument is to say something like this to the universalist:  “I understand your concerns, but they’re misplaced.  Instead of worrying about the fate of others–which you can never know, anyway–you need to focus on yourself.  Take every care that you can to lead your own life in such a way as to merit salvation, and leave others up to God.  He’ll take care of things.”  A more nuanced, complex, and sophisticated version of this argument is made by the late Avery Cardinal Dulles in this essay at First Things (my emphasis):

We are forbidden to seek our own salvation in a selfish and egotistical way. We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. The more we work for their salvation, the more of God’s favor we can expect for ourselves. Those of us who believe and make use of the means that God has provided for the forgiveness of sins and the reform of life have no reason to fear. We can be sure that Christ, who died on the Cross for us, will not fail to give us the grace we need. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and that if we persevere in that love, nothing whatever can separate us from Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-39). That is all the assurance we can have, and it should be enough.

Both of these versions of the argument boil down to this, to put it crudely:  “The fate of others is none of your business!  Work out your own dang salvation, and quit ragging on God!”  Alas, this argument, however stated, is a red herring.

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I Want Your Psycho, Your Vertigo Schtick–Lady Gaga, Open Theology, and My 1500th Post!

Lady+Gaga+In+Concert+AlLNGVy9HNll

Because I’ve been thinking it’s been way too long since we’ve had some Gaga here–and how better to celebrate my 1500th post?

I’m writing this as a standalone, though it has some relevance to some of my other posts on religion.  In speaking of God, one has to remember that one is always talking in terms of analogy.  However, given that we can’t help using language, we have to use analogy whether we like it or not.  The danger, of course, is too much anthropomorphism.  We have to steer between the Scylla of not being able to talk about God at all and the Charybdis of making Him appear too much like one of us.  There are different ways of plotting this course, and the one I want to talk about here is one that began a couple of decades or so ago:  open theism.

Before we can talk about open theism, we have to lay a bit of background.  The foundational religions of the West are the Abrahamic religions; and the foundational text for all of them, to one degree or another, is the Old Testament (known to Jews as the Tanakh, or often in English as the Hebrew Bible).  One of the most prominent aspects of the Old Testament is the way it portrays God.  The OT, by and large, is extremely anthropomorphic in its description of God.  He is described as having various bodily parts, and Moses is granted the favor of actually seeing Him from behind (Exodus 33:18-23).  He is depicted as having limited knowledge (Genesis 18:21) and as apparently forgetting things (Genesis 8:8, where He is implied to have suddenly remembered Noah after having forgotten about the Flood for the last forty days).  He is depicted as changing His mind back and forth (Exodus 32:8-14).  According to the Old Testament, God orders genocide with little compunction (Joshua, all throughout) and smites His own people, including innocents, for totally capricious reasons (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  Examples could be multiplied, but hopefully these are enough to get the picture of a God who is rather disturbing, who is–well, psycho.  This, for anyone past the barbarian tribesman phase, is a problem.

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