Christian Universalism Can’t Cover Everything

178173_460360677336163_1457032881_oI suppose, one learns something every day.  I consider this an effective figure of speech, as the human brain is designed (after the fish and reptile parts) to take information and assimilate it into usable snapshots, a.k.a. factoids.  On the night of Thursday, Nov. 1 2012, the day before I would turn thirty-four, I attended a lecture presented by the Religious Studies department on the University of Arkansas campus, room four-o-three of Walker Hall, better known as the science and engineering building. The theological nature of the lecture struck me as wonderfully coincidental, as it was in the very same classroom I took “Introduction to Philosophy” my freshman year. The speaker of the lecture was Dr. Eric Reitan, a professor of Philosophy at Oklahoma State University.  The lectures title, “No Hell? Considering 10 Objections to Christian Universalism.”  This being a foreign concept to me before the night began, and as an over-anxious researcher, I found myself the first person to approach the room. The silent enthusiasm for the political science lecture still in session radiated through the door. 

Slowly, a few people started gathering around the door, as 7 p.m. grew ever nearer.  We started finding seats just after seven o’clock, and as the room grew noisy, much to my surprise, the terraced classroom nearly had become filled.  Once the din of seating quieted down, the head of the head of religious studies introduced his guest.

I should let my readers know a little about the subject of Christian Universalism as I understood it.  Dr. Reitan began the lecture by defining the term with, “[A] Christian Universalist is… someone that believes that ultimately all created persons will experience salvation.” The professor prattled along while trying to define this further, but the summation is this: A Christian Universalist is a Christian that believes that no matter how much wrong doing a person compiles, they will be saved and go to Heaven. He highlighted six types of Christian Universalist that ranged from the dogmatic to the purgatorial versions, but the result is the same for every category—Heaven.  He tries to define salvation in many ways which include “to be purged of sin and wickedness… to be perfectly loving… a loving communion leads to moral sanctification with… the inner transformation of the self [into the] perfection of the self and the character of self… to love and be loved by God.” A real mouthful. This being the opposite of damnation, which is to be “eternally wicked.” And according to Professor Reitan, the worst possible fate for a Christian is to be “eternally mired in wickedness,” saying that would be “the worst part of hell.”  Not the fire and brimstone burning for all of eternity?  Or perhaps an even scarier version of a Hellraiser type of hell, with chains and hooks flying out of the darkness to tear a sinner limb from limb. 

Dante is rolling over. 

He admits that others accept this view of Hell, but not likely in his own learned opinion. This is also the part of the lecture when the Professor began to do his best evangelical impersonation.  He started to raise his voice and bounce around the room.  It bears mentioning that this type of oration was between the “ums” and uncertain kind of babbling that he would begin when for a particularly hard to explain concept.  This was not the most rehearsed or moving lecture, but he was, at times, quite passionate about the subject.  After his explanation of various versions that Heaven and Hell, he moved into the main body of the lecture: the arguments against Christian Universalism.  But, I suppose for a subject with no tangible evidence, your argument must consist of all the things wrong with what you are trying to express, after all, there is no evidence.

The arguments against ranged from the claim that the idea does not do enough to punish sinners as prescribed in various religious texts to the lack of theological evidence.  Regardless of the arguments against, he stood by his conviction that Universalism makes the most sense because of biblical text and philosophy. For example, he mentioned how could an all-loving God, abandon his beloved creation and damn them to an eternal hell of suffering. Stating that it would make more sense that his God would “eventually bring all of his creatures into” the fold of the Holy Spirit, being as God has an infinite amount of time and patience to convince even the staunchest disbeliever or believer of another religion.  He conceded that if there is a hell (his doubt professed again) its use might be limited to a sort of temporary purgatory to punish the very wicked until they became soft enough to convert outright.

The follow-up to the lecture had him fielding a few questions.  None of these challenged him, as they were all support comments rather than actual questions, until, a man in the very back of the room started to question the theory and its relation to original sin.  At that point, the room began to clear very quickly.  I waited until the very end for my departure despite the final questioner’s obvious lack of understanding of, well, of a great many things.

So, what am I able to bring home after a lecture like this?

I thought that the lecture itself was mediocre, as the speaker didn’t seem like a talented orator.  As mentioned before, he had lots of air in his pattern of speech at awkward times, and the “ums” were common at the beginning, only dropping off a bit through the end, guess he warmed up. 

He only cited one other book he used often on both of his published works.  That’s just poor theology (you’re at a university professor).  The subject matter itself made me smile.  Not because I agreed with him, or because the lecture’s comedic moments were adequate; the reason for my smile is the obvious contrivance of the whole theory.

My terminology used since the event to all of those I describe it to is “a free hotdog at the car dealership.”  As one does not need to be a Christian to go to Heaven, just as one does not even need to test drive to get a hotdog. This is another form of dictatorial assimilation into a religion, except this time, one does not even have to participate.  But most offensive of all, this takes the need for morality completely out of the equation.  Anyone can be the most heinous mass murderer and eventually find themselves sailing into Heaven with the most morally correct and pious person. 

I believe the good doctor needs to think about that. 

The ramifications of this kind of philosophy could hinder attempts to teach the new minds why being good to oneself and others is so important.  This follows why Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, to name a couple of my favorites, work on helping people to understand religions and dogma are man-made creations, evolving and adapting like fit memes do.

Obviously, I disagree with this theological disaster.  If you’re going to suggest there is logic and evidence to support your books, you might want to bring that evidence.  No passage in The Bible says everyone gets saved no matter what.  As well, his theory uses the term “reward” for Heaven, but everyone goes.  How is that a reward?  When theories contradict themselves, my job becomes easy.  

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