The title of this post is a slight alteration of the title of this excellent book, a translation of the Ad Monachos of Evagrius Ponticus. I am not here applying it to Evagrius or his works, but to myself. I mentioned back here that I was an Arian–or perhaps, better, “quasi-Arian” or “little-u unitarian”–in my younger days. I said that a detailed unpacking of my beliefs and how they developed was for another time. That time is now.
I grew up in a small town in Appalachia, part of the Bible Belt and hotbed of Fundamentalism, and (paradoxically) one of the most unchurched regions of the country. I was raised in a sort of generic, culturally Protestant way, without anyone in the family formally belonging to any church. Both my parents had been baptized before I was born, though I don’t know the details. During my life, though, neither was a formal member of any church, nor a regular attender. I was sent to Sunday school at a Methodist church from about the age of four until about seven; and at a Baptist church between the ages of about eight or nine and thirteen. During this latter period, I was usually sent to vacation Bible school in the summers, at the Baptist church (and once or twice, I think, at a second Methodist church). Every once in awhile, my mother would go to church services (this was at the Methodist church–she never attended the Baptist one, as far as I remember) and drag me with her. “Drag” was the operative word.
I was always extremely reluctant to go to church, and never did so voluntarily. I don’t know exactly why. I do remember I that I associated church with fear. I don’t clearly remember any hellfire and damnation sermons, though there may have been some. Mom and Dad certainly never used threats of hell, as some parents did. I remember thinking that being in an actual church involved a commitment I was unwilling to make. I recall one time Mom dragged me to church, and the hymn being sung was, “I have decided to follow Jesus/ No turning back, no turning back.” I mouthed the second line without singing it. I wasn’t going to sign up for that! I remember another time in Sunday school at the Baptist church, there was a visiting preacher, a black Baptist (there were very few black people where I grew up, so for us this was exotic). The one thing I remember about him is that at one point he said, “When you say I’m going to follow God and get my life together tomorrow, that old devil just laughs and laughs!” Those words haunted me for years.
Simone Weil was a French philosopher and writer of the mid-20th Century. A child prodigy, she learned classical Greek by the age of twelve, and Sanskrit later on. She obtained a certificate in general philosophy and logic from the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, and worked intermittently as a teacher. From early in her life, she was drawn to left-wing politics (she even had an argument with Leon Trotsky to his face when he visited her parents in 1933, when she was twenty-four years old). She wrote political pamphlets and was involved in activism and strikes on behalf of workers’ rights. In her personal life, she was extremely–some might say quixotically–dedicated to solidarity with the oppressed. Even as a child, during World War I, she refused to use sugar in her food because it was not available to the troops at the front. Later, she worked briefly in a Renault auto factory to experience what the workers experienced, donating her salary to various causes. Though originally a pacifist, she tried to participate in the Spanish Civil War. Being naturally clumsy and having very poor vision, though, she displayed no military competency at all, and no commander would actually assign her to an combat position. Her brief stint in Spain ended ignominiously when she accidentally scalded herself after tripping over a pot of boiling liquid, and was burned so severely that she had to return to her parents’ home for recuperation. Ironically, this was a blessing in disguise for Weil–not long after she left Spain, her unit was attacked and suffered massive casualties. Every single woman in the unit died.
During World War II, she fled with her family to New York. She wished to be active for the French cause, though, so she left America for England in 1943. There she hoped to be able to train so that she could return to France as an allied agent. She had contracted tuberculosis by this time, though. In line with her idiosyncratic notions of solidarity, she not only refused special treatment, but she refused to eat more food than was available to her compatriots in the war zone. Thus, while she didn’t cease eating altogether, her food intake was not nearly adequate for her fragile condition. Despite the best attempts of her frustrated doctors, she died that year at the age of 34.
Relatively unknown outside of left-wing political circles during her life, her writings have been posthumously collected and printed in the years since then. Gradually, Weil has come to be considered a significant thinker, and there is increasing study of her thought. Recently a biographical documentary about her has been made. Given all this new prominence, it is interesting that much of the renewed interest in Simone Weil is not an interest in her politics–the thing for which she was most known during her life–but her religious views. It is for these, in fact, that I am including her on my personal altar.
Here we go again…. 😉 As with the Most Evil Song of all time, it’s not about musicianship, or whether the song is a “good” pop song or not, or what your feelings about Justin Timberlake may be. It’s not even about the conscious intentions of the songwriter(s). It’s about the message contained within the song. Let’s jump right in. Here are the full lyrics (which can be found lots of other places, too); and I’ve quoted the part I want to look at below, my emphasis, as usual:
‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now
I’m looking right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I’ll tell you, baby, it was easy
Coming back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along
It’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
I couldn’t get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it’s clear as this promise
That we’re making two reflections into one
‘Cause it’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me, staring back at me
Superficially, this is better than Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You”, which implies that the lover is brought into very existence merely at the whim and pleasure of the narrator. Here, the beloved has a separate existence, at least. The first line of the song, not in the block above, says, “Aren’t you somethin’ to admire/’Cause your shine is somethin’ like a mirror” which at least acknowledges the lover as a “Thou“, a real Other, and compliments her. However, in the very next line, the narrator says, “And I can’t help but notice/You reflect in this heart of mine.” Well, it was good while it lasted.
Now that I’ve got your attention…. 😉 First, let me tell you what I don’t mean. I don’t mean it’s a poorly-crafted song–it’s quite well done. I’m not saying I dislike Savage Garden–they were a very listenable pop group, and another song of theirs, “To the Moon and Back”, is quite a good song, which I like a lot. I’m certainly not saying the song is evil in the sense that certain people over the decades have claimed that rock is “the Devil’s music”, or that hidden backward messages are planted in songs, or any of that claptrap. So, you may then ask, what the heck do you mean?
In order to do that, I’ll have to quote some of the lyrics, my emphasis. It’s easy enough to Google song lyrics, but if you’re too lazy to do so, they can be found here, among many, many other sites. I provide the link so that you can see the entire context for the lyrics I’m going to quote here. The parts I’m going to quote adequately make my case, I think; but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m cutting out stuff that contradicts my thesis. In fact, I’m also going to quote part of the song that actually does indicate (slightly) the opposite of what I’m arguing for.
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.
An excellent post from Agostino Taumaturgo at the Thavma Press blog. Some themes tie in with my last post. Enjoy!
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
–C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 55-56
In my youth, I was in effect an Arian. That is to say, while I thought Jesus of Nazareth was just swell, and was even willing to posit that he might, just might, be more than an ordinary human, I did not believe him to be God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity. I held that view from the time I first began to think seriously about theology–in my early teens–until about the age of twenty-four. At that point I came to believe in the Trinity through what I only semi-facetiously describe as Divine intervention. That’s a long story, though, and for another day. The point is that I first encountered C. S. Lewis’s famous “trilemma“, stated in brief in the blockquote above, during my Arian days. At that time, I found it unconvincing, irritating, in fact. Now, as a Trinitarian, I’m still inclined to be skeptical of its ability to convince a non-Trinitarian. In short, for various reasons I don’t think it’s going to convince someone who disbelieves in the divinity of Christ to accept that notion–it didn’t convince me back my Arian phase, after all. However, I do agree with a deeper point it makes; and that is something that ties in to another post or two that I’m working on. Thus, I think it’s worth unpacking in a separate post, here.
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.