Universalism: what a radical idea

Back in October, I participated in an Interfaith Dialogue facilitator training.  Tonight, a few of us finally got around to going to the next level - engaging in Dialogue amongst ourselves and practicing facilitation.  Our group consisted of ten participants, 2 Christians, 3 Jews, 2 Baha'i, 1 Muslim and 1 Unitarian Universalist (me).

During the course of getting to know each other, I got to explain how Unitarian Universalism comes from the joining of two traditions that both came out of Protestant Christianity - how Unitarianism rejected the trinity and the Calvinist notion that we are "totally depraved," and how Universalism rejected the Calvinist notion of "limited atonement."  Only a few are going to heaven.

Granted that everyone in the room was there for the purpose of interfaith dialogue, so we have a self-selected group of people who are more likely to be accepting of differing beliefs.  So it was perhaps not surprising that as I explained how UUs don't believe that Jesus is God, everyone in the room nodded politely, even the Christians.

But when I got to Universalism, and explained how it meant that no one was going to hell, there was a minor uproar in the room.  "No one goes to hell?" someone asked, "But what about people like Jeffrey Dahmer?"  Technically, this kind of response is against the rules of interfaith dialogue, but I understood their shock.  I sat there and remarked, "Yes, I guess it is a very radical concept."

It is an amazingly radical concept, much more so than rejecting the trinity.  The participants in the room soon caught themselves and we went on in polite exchange.  But I have heard from other people who tell me that the idea of universal salvation offends their notion of justice.  "If God is just," they tell me, "then there has to be a hell."  Oddly, they seem to put conditions on God, that this particular thing has to be true, regardless of God's omnipotence, because their sense of justice demands it.  

What about the sense of mystery?  What about, "I don't know how it works but God's love is powerful enough that God can bring everyone back into right relations." Everyone.  Anything less is failure.

I don't know how it works.  But I do agree with Hosea Ballou, who argued that we human beings, being finite creatures, are incapable of committing infinite sin.  And that being the case, infinite punishment is not justice.

I don't know how it works.  These days I do not think much of the afterlife, if there is one.  In this life and in this divided world, the way that I interpret universal salvation is thus: No one is saved unless everyone is saved.  Salvation, whatever that means, is communal, not individual.  And we cannot create God's Kingdom on earth so long as we see only some of us as saved, and some of us as damned.  

I don't know how it works.  But I know that we have to start with the assumption that everyone is saved.

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