When does temporal suffering weigh most appallingly on a person? Is it not when it seems to him to have no meaning, procures and acquires nothing; is it not when suffering, as the impatient person expresses it, is meaningless and pointless? Does someone who wants to take part in a competition complain even if preparation takes ever so much effort; does he complain even if it involves ever so much suffering and pain? Why does he not complain? Because he, although running aimlessly, understands, or thinks he understands, that this suffering will procure the victory prize for him. Just when the effort is greatest and most painful, he encourages himself with the thought that the prize and that this specific suffering will help to procure for him.
If, however, the suffering embraces a person so tightly that his understanding wants to have nothing more to do with it, because the understanding cannot comprehend what the suffering would be able to procure when the sufferer cannot grasp this dark riddle, neither the basis of the suffering nor its purpose, neither why he should be so afflicted more than others nor how this would benefit him-and he now, when powerless he feels that he cannot throw off the suffering, rebelliously casts away faith, refuses to believe that the suffering will procure anything-well, then eternal happiness certainly cannot have the overweight, because it is totally excluded.
However, if the sufferer firmly holds on to what understanding admittedly cannot comprehend, but what faith, on the other hand, firmly holds on to-that suffering will procure a great and eternal weight of glory-then eternal happiness has the overweight, then the sufferer not only endures the suffering but understands that the eternal happiness has the overweight. (II Corinthians 4:17)
–Soren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, 1847, Hong p. 313-314; courtesy of Wikiquote.
Hard science gives sensational results with a horribly boring process; philosophy gives boring results with a sensational process; literature gives sensational results with a sensational process; and economics gives boring results with a boring process.
–Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes, p. 45; courtesy of Wikiquote.
If every one in the world will love universally; states not attacking one another; houses not disturbing one another; thieves and robbers becoming extinct; emperor and ministers, fathers and sons, all being affectionate and filial — if all this comes to pass the world will be orderly. Therefore, how can the wise man who has charge of governing the empire fail to restrain hate and encourage love? So, when there is universal love in the world it will be orderly, and when there is mutual hate in the world it will be disorderly.
–Mozi, Mozi, Book 4; Universal Love I; courtesy of Wikiquote.
To show forbearance and gentleness in teaching others; and not to revenge unreasonable conduct — this is the energy of southern regions, and the good man makes it his study. To lie under arms; and meet death without regret — this is the energy of northern regions, and the forceful make it their study. Therefore, the superior man cultivates a friendly harmony, without being weak — How firm is he in his energy! He stands erect in the middle, without inclining to either side — How firm is he in his energy! When good principles prevail in the government of his country, he does not change from what he was in retirement. How firm is he in his energy! When bad principles prevail in the country, he maintains his course to death without changing — How firm is he in his energy!
–Confucius, The Doctrine of the Mean; courtesy of Wikiquote.
In discussions on universalism, the question is sooner or later raised by the non-universalist in the dialogue, “If all are ultimately saved, then why be moral? Why not live it up and do whatever you want? After all, you’ll be saved anyway–so why not get the best of both worlds?” I’m often perplexed as to how to respond. On the most fundamental level, this argument, as I’ve noted in the past, misses the point altogether. Whether belief in universalism persuades people to become debauched libertines or not has no bearing on whether it’s actually true. You might as well say that the tax code is a mess and has all kinds of bad results, and that therefore it must not exist! Universalism may have negative moral implications, or it may not; but to say that it is invalid because of these purported implications is just as silly as saying the tax code doesn’t exist because I don’t like it.
Another approach would be to question the moral development of of the person who asks this question. In Kohlberg’s well-known stages of moral development, the higher levels of morality are increasingly less concerned with a fear of punishment or a conniving attempt to get away with whatever one can get away with. The concern as to the behavior of believers in universalism seems to betray a lower developmental stage on the part of the person making the anit-universalist argument, or an assumption on her part that humans in general are at a lower stage of moral development. In fairness, though, such a counter-argument smacks of the genetic fallacy, as well. After all, a person’s stage of moral development is no more relevant to the truth of non-universalism than the supposed behavior of universalists is relevant to the truth of universalism. Thus, this is probably not the best way to go in responding to this question.
Sometimes, feeling flip, I want to answer the question, “Why be moral if all are saved?” by saying, “Why not?” Nevertheless, there is a serious intent behind this question, and I will try to deal with it seriously. I will try to give at least a partial reason why we should be moral even if we all eventually end up in heaven.
The heaviest weight. – What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you : ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine. ‘ If this thought gained power over you, as you are it would transform and possibly crush you; the question in each and every thing, ‘Do you want this again and innumerable times again?’ would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to long for no thing more fervently than for this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?
–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, translated by Josefine Nauckhoff; courtesy of Wikiquote.