The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Best philosophical arguments for universalism

#1

Hello all, I’m new here. Not a Christian myself, just a Deist. But I’m a Deist who’s interested in what happens in the afterlife, if there is one. I’ll start with my initial thoughts on universalism in general, not just Christian universalism.

I never liked the notion of eternal hell growing up as a kid. I can’t imagine any God worth the name sentencing any of his creations to eternal damnation for sins that were ultimately finite, or for different opinions on religious beliefs. Some may argue that He doesn’t “sentence” them, that they choose to go there, but that still means he knowingly created a place of eternal suffering, separation, and pain for those without faith or those who sinned enough. But I still don’t think it’s just to leave them in that state for eternity. And, if one had to have faith in Christ to be saved and nothing else could do it, then the millions or billions of humans who lived anywhere from 300,000 to 2 million years before the Bible would be screwed. And it makes sense that justice should be corrective vs retributive. It would be consistent with a God that is defined as love.

Then again, I can think of some horrible monsters throughout history (Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc.) and I have a hard time imagining how any of them could be saved, based on the choices they made that led to the spiritual conditions they were in when they died. I know none of them usually intended to become evil, but they still caused vast pain and suffering and created ripple effects that have lasted to this day. Perhaps it’s just a human limitation of mine, but I have a hard time imagining how God could love someone like that unconditionally, or allow them the opportunity of eventual redemption, after going so far over the line.

Even though I’m sure whatever judgments or temporary hell rendered by God to the most unjust among us would be NOTHING pleasant, they would be ultimately temporary, meaning everyone will end up in the same place eventually, just taking different paths and different amounts of time to get there. Does this somehow cheapen free will (a squirrelly topic on its own)? Does it make our choices less significant? Does it weaken our sense of urgency to be as morally upstanding as we can be in the here and now? Should it change how we view those who commit acts of evil, or change how we deal with them with law, military force, etc.?

I’m a bit conflicted on this topic, in case you couldn’t tell, although it’s also possible I’m spending too much time torturing myself with wondering about things I may not be able to understand from a limited mortal perspective. I’m in my early 20’s and I’m still trying to form a cohesive worldview in the spiritual sense, but I don’t find myself attracted to any mainstream religions. It’s important that I find my spiritual footing, as I’m headed into the Air Force as an officer soon.

So, I’d like to hear all of your best philosophical and moral reasoning arguments in favor of universalism, and I’d appreciate if you addressed some of my concerns about the notion. Feel free to quote from the Bible if you think it may help drive a point home, but I don’t personally see the Bible as a source of inerrant authority, so it’s not enough proof in and of itself for me.

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#2

Welcome to the forum. I suggest you read the book “God’s Final Victory”. You will not find a more thorough philosophical case for universalism than in this book.

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#3

Hi. New poster myself.

You’ve said so much I can relate to, I’m tempted to go point by point through your post, but I’ll stick to the topic of universalism.

I once met a messianic Jew who grew up, I want to say, in a Reformed Jewish household. But he was an atheist by the time he was an adult. He said the one weakness in his atheism was the he couldn’t bear the thought of Hitler just being dead; he wanted him to be in an eternal hell. That led him ultimately to deism and then to Christianity.

I couldn’t relate.

For me, it was contemplating figures like Judas, Hitler, etc. that made me uncomfortable with the idea of eternal punishment. The stress being on the word “eternal” and not “punishment.”

I imagine baby Adolf being cradled by a new mother. Then I imagine that baby’s destiny of burning in agony forever and ever. I imagine Judas’ friendship with Jesus ultimately ending in boiling skin, only for that skin to heal and boil again, or however that works.

I thought of all the stories of repentance I’ve heard throughout my life, both real and fictional. From John Newton to Darth Vader. Those always felt far more meaningful to me than the bad guy getting what’s coming to him. Even though I recognize the efficacy of punitive justice.

Granted, I’ve never suffered through a Nazi concentration camp. Nor do I want to minimize the experience of those who have. But I look at it almost mathematically.

An adolescent boy suffering one year in a concentration camp before being murdered? That’s roughly 10% of his known existence he spent suffering. That’s a high number. Whoever put him through that should feel the weight of that.

Now, enter the afterlife.

The boy goes on for another fifty, one hundred, one thousand years. What will that hell year have felt like? After a million years, assuming he’s in “heaven,” will the memory of Auschwitz still linger?

Compared to infinity, do the worst human atrocities begin to feel like the slivers you had when you were a kid? Painful at the time, but no longer noteworthy?

If that fades with time (lots of time to be sure), what of the committer of the atrocities?

I was sucker punched, unprovoked, when I was a teenager. And by a stranger. It was a cruel, sadistic act. I healed. I moved on. I don’t even hold a grudge. I imagine the kid who did it with a family of his own by now. Maybe he looks back on his youthful decisions with regret, maybe he doesn’t. But I don’t wish him harm for it anymore. I just hope he’s not making similar sadistic decisions in his forties.

I know I’m not supposed to compare a sucker punch to a Nazi concentration camp but that’s what comparisons are for, to allow me to imagine a different perspective. In this case, an eternal perspective.

As for how we let that affect how we live our lives? That depends on one’s perspective as well. If I take to universalism because I just can’t stomach the idea of me or anyone else in hell forever, I’m only halfway there.

After I became a universalist, it impacted the way I relate to people more than I anticipated. I don’t see “good people” and “bad people” anymore. I don’t see “saved” and “unsaved.” I see immortal souls and all the value one can ascribe to the idea. The idea of a single consciousness continuing endlessly into the future, accumulating thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories, relationships… That’s like a planet of gold that only grows bigger and more beautiful by the hour.

That’s when one can begin to understand Jesus’s emphasis on the poor, on prostitutes, prisoners, and others that society is quick to put into the “other” category. He saw those planets of gold the way we can’t.

He saw sinners as golden planets whose growth was being stunted and he sought to free them from stagnancy.

Stopping here because I’m getting way more sentimental than I’d ever present myself offline.

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#4

Brilliant post @Unseen_Elephant. I don’t see how anyone with an ounce of empathy could be okay with eternal suffering. My grandfather owned a shop in the Bronx many decades ago. On one occasion he was robbed and beaten by two men, one of them holding a gun. My grandfather ended up in a hospital because of the injuries he sustained. When I used to think about it, I used to get very angry. But since my grandfather passed away a few years ago, I’m no longer angry; I believe my grandfather is whole in heaven, never to be hurt again. What good would it do for his attackers to suffer 100 years in “hell”? 1000 years? A million years? A trillion years? Their suffering would be gratuitous. I truly do not think causing a finite amount of suffering can ever warrant an unending punishment.

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#5

Hey qaz, where does your understanding of heaven and hell come from?

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#6

I think your anger was certainly justified at the time qaz, and punishing them in some way (whether by fighting back in the midst of things or by the law) would probably have been warranted. But you’re right, there’s no use in an eternal damnation for such acts. The only argument I can see being made in such a case for eternal punishment is that their spiritual condition renders them incompatible with God because of the choices they made. Which seems reasonable, but I don’t think God would doom them to eternity without offering them some kind of path to redemption.

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#7

Unseen, pretty good post there and you raise some good points.

I don’t think we should hesitate to make judgments between “good” and “bad,” because value judgments in comparison to a standard are necessary for improvement. All that it means is that they are currently good or bad, yet still have the potential to live up to the best in the human spirit.

Whether we are immortal souls or not, I know for a fact that we have the potential for the greatest good and the most vile evil. We make choices, largely in ignorance of anything beyond ourselves and our environment, that lead us in one direction or another. I don’t know if I believe in total universal reconciliation, but I don’t believe God will offer other chances for redemption beyond our very short time on Earth.

In regards to dealing with “evil” people, Michael Carpenter, a character from a series of books called The Dresden Files, said it best. “Some men fall from Grace, some are pushed. But sometimes, it doesn’t change what has to be done about them in the immediate future.” Perhaps that’s my attitude because I like a Good Fight, but I still don’t want even the most vile communist or Nazi doomed for eternity without at least a chance at redemption post-mortem.

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