Friday, January 21, 2011


“What are your thoughts on universalism?”

Universalism: a doctrine whereby all people "go to Heaven when they die”.  It is a doctrine that presupposes a definition of both salvation and an afterlife.  In my personal theology, to “be saved”, to “enter the Kingdom of Heaven/God”, or any of those Christian buzz-phrases is closer in meaning “enlightenment” than anything to do with an afterlife.

I believe in the eternal soul but not necessarily in the individual ego that is attached to the soul during a physical lifetime.  Rationally, I’m more inclined to subscribe to a reincarnation of soul through multiple lifetimes with different individual egos than the usual Christian story of individual egos/souls in unchanging eternal torment or adulation of the deity.  So, “to go to Heaven when I die” has a whole different meaning for me now than it did when I was an Evangelical.  

Regardless of what happens to my individual ego after my physical death, I believe that salvation is something that happens in this lifetime.  I use salvation in its more literary connotation of a transformation from one state of perpetual darkness, closed-mindedness, psychological suffering, or selfishness, to a state of compassion, broad vision, service, and enlightenment. Will everyone be saved? That is, will everyone move from a state of selfishness and suffering to a state of compassion and service?  Clearly, one needs only to look around at how many people live and die in a state of selfishness to see that to be untrue. 

Can everyone be saved? Is there anyone for whom enlightenment and transformation is not possible? In this sense, I believe in a doctrine of universalism.  I believe everyone has an equal opportunity to be enlightened, to experience grace, to raise his consciousness.  No one who is willing to commit to the process of transformation will be denied.  Will everyone notice the many opportunities to experience grace in their day?  Of course not.  But everyone, everywhere, everyday has a thousand moments of grace, opportunities to choose compassion over selfishness, and to see manifestations of love and life in the midst of evil and destruction.

At this point, a doctrine of reincarnation becomes desirable and logical.  If one’s theology begins with a loving God creating humanity for companionship, then it is only reasonable to believe that such a God would provide endless opportunities for his eternal companions to reach a place where they can have both a knowledge of Good and Evil and the capacity not to be limited by that duality—in other words, to be able to think/feel/be like God.  A friend recently supported her Christian belief in reincarnation this way:  "if souls are forever, existing in eternity past and eternity future, why would anyone want to limit them to a single lifetime in which to understand spiritual mysteries?  That’s like having a child and then if they haven’t got life figured out by age five, you kick them to the street."

Most theories of reincarnation presuppose a continued connection between the soul and the individual ego (to a greater or lesser degree) and hinge on this very concept of many chances to “get it right” as well as the presupposition of a loving (and only loving) God.  While I have experienced in my visions the immense and total love of God, my reason still convinces me that God is more nuanced than to be only on the Love end of any polarity.  I am absolutely convinced that every conceivable duality is only a mental construct. Each pole of every duality contains and produces its opposite and that the whole meme is a sum greater than its parts.  Therefore, logically, rationally, I have to accept a God that somehow transcends moral definition of loving or fearful, even transcends a morality and somehow includes loving and fearful.  The mystery of God, in my personal theology, includes both Love and Fear yet transcends them so completely as to make such distinction all but irrelevant.  How that can be, of course, is what makes it a mystery.

But any good theologian won’t just leave it all there as mystery. It’s a cop-out. Mystery is all well and good and thoroughly Truth, but damn hard to live well.  How does one live the question of universalism?  How to live in our single known finite physical lifetime with an awareness of all humanity living in a state of potential? For that is what grace is—the moment when potential become transformative action.  How do we treat our fellow man, all our brothers and sisters in humanity, as equally owning this opportunity for enlightenment, transformation, salvation? Doctrine without praxis is useless. Faith without works is dead.

I think it requires our own “conversion experience”, a moment (or lifetime of moments) in which we become aware of grace in our own souls.  Without a sense of our own psychological or spiritual suffering and a transcendence of that suffering into compassion, we cannot see the Divine in all people. Some people refer to this shift in awareness as being able to “see with God’s eyes”.  Until we have met God within ourselves, we can never truly see God within others nor treat them accordingly with the justice and kindness they deserve.

Must this conversion experience or salvation occur within the Christian paradigm? I.e., must everyone “call upon the name of Jesus to be saved”?  Certainly there are those who preach that dogma, denying even the possibility of universalism. I think that is an unnecessarily limited reading of Christian Scripture and seems to limit ridiculously the companionship for God.  Rationally, it seems absurd:  similarly to the argument for reincarnation but on a one-lifetime-only scale, why would God create humanity for companionship but limit its possibility to a tiny fraction of the world’s population?

Again, theologians claim “the mystery of God”.  (On a side note: my experience with fundamentalist thinkers is that they will claim “mystery” whenever they come up against an irreconcilable tangent of their own doctrine rather than struggle through it.) I’m content with mystery as long as it is mystery that leads one into greater communion with the Divine and greater service of humanity.  For me, a doctrine of universalism, either through reincarnation or otherwise, makes me much more aware of grace, gives me a deeper appreciation of my God, and a wider capacity to love my fellow man.  As I see it, a doctrine of “born-again Christianity” as the only means of “salvation” lead to a sense of elitism, prejudice, and hypocrisy, and a condescension and patronization of those I considered “unsaved”. 

In my final analysis, the measure of Truth for any person is how well it encourages that person to Love God and Love Neighbor.  Regardless of how the Truth is articulated, whether in language of universalism or exclusion, if it draws the follower into a place of more Love, then it is Truth.  If, no matter how it is articulated, a doctrine causes hate and discontent among followers, then it is evil.


I wrote this post entirely from my own meditations and contemplation of the relevant ideas.  It wasn't until I went searching for images to attach to the post that I found this article:
I totally disagree with the conclusion but it raises many of the necessary questions one must consider when one contemplates universalism.  This topic is very difficult to address because it is hardly the simple question that it seems: one constantly trips over one's presuppositions and assumptions based on our increasingly limited interpretations of the Bible.  I think this article notes many of these presuppositions without even being aware of how they limit the possible conclusions.