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.
The two books that are perhaps the most famous children’s books of the Victorian Era were written by an unlikely author. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (pronounced DOD-son–the “g” is silent) was an Oxford don–a professor of mathematics, specifically–a skilled amateur photographer, and a deacon in the Church of England. Despite the expectations of his father, Dodgson did not emulate him by going on to the priesthood. Rather, taking advantage of an exemption made for him by the dean of the college, Dodgson remained at Christ Church College, Oxford, for the rest of his life, lecturing in mathematics and occasionally preaching sermons as a deacon.
Dodgson never married nor had children of his own. However, throughout his life he had many child-friends, mostly young girls. One in particular, Alice Pleasance Liddell, made him famous. Alice was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, dean of Christ Church, and a formidable classical scholar (he was co-author of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, still in use after 175 years). Dodgson became friends with Alice and her two sisters closest in age to her, Lorina and Edith. They would often go on excursions, during which the girls would plead with Dodgson to tell them stories. He was always happy to comply. On one such excursion in 1862–memorialized by Dodgson as the “golden afternoon“–Dodgson, accompanied by his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, took the three girls on a boat ride down the Isis River.
As usual, Dodgson, at the girls’ request, told one of his stories. This time, at the end of the day, Alice implored Dodgson to write it down. Eventually he did so and presented the result, Alice’s Adventures Underground, to Alice Liddell. Later, at the suggestion of his friend George MacDonald, he expanded and reworked the book for publication. The result, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 under the pen name Lewis Carroll (by which Dodgson is usually known), was a sensation, and has never been out of print since. In 1871 Dodgson published the equally well-known sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. In 1876 he published the long comic poem The Hunting of the Snark, which, in modern parlance, takes place in the same universe as the Alice books; and in 1895 he published the two-part children’s novel Sylvie and Bruno. Sylvie and Bruno is largely forgotten, considered by most to be Dodgson’s weakest work. The Alice books, along with The Hunting of the Snark, are his masterpieces.
Hypatia of Alexandria was one of the last pagan philosophers of antiquity. Daughter of the mathematician Theon, she was active in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries AD Her father, though not a major mathematician in his own right, edited and corrected the mathematical works of Euclid, and his edition was so accurate that it supplanted all other editions for centuries. His daughter was talented in mathematics as well, and also was renowned as an astronomer. Her main claim to fame, though was as a teacher of Neoplatonism.
A fair amount of background is necessary. Alexandria, Egypt–founded, shockingly, by Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC–had become one of the Mediterranean world’s great metropolises, second in size only to Rome itself, and second to none in its cultural influence. Alexander, conqueror though he was, was also an idealist. He had a dream of spreading Greek culture worldwide, taking the best of the cultures it encountered and blending it with Greek learning and culture. Though he died young and his empire dissolved into several states led by his generals, Alexander’s dream lived on. The various successor states to Alexander’s empire indeed spread Greek–that is, Hellenistic–culture throughout the ancient world.