Sunday, October 03, 2010

Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Universalism, and the OTF

 JWL: The fact is that Christianity MUST pass the OTF. Otherwise, people who could not be convinced to believe because they were raised as outsiders will be thrown into hell.

He adds: Some Christians might say that universalism is the case; that no one ends up in hell. And they'll claim this takes away from the force of what I wrote.

Okay. See you in heaven then. If this is the case why bother with religion at all?

In any case this is another example of Christians reinventing their faith when they encounter a difficulty. You see, they believe, so when faced with something like the OTF they would rather change what they believe rather than face the facts and abandon it. Repeatedly reinventing one's faith to meet objections is a sure sign of faith, not that of an outsider.

Actually, an inclusivist like Sennett or myself, even without universalism, avoid the consequence you mention. And Calvinists will just say that if God creates people as "outsiders" who can't be converted, that is just God's way of reprobating them, allowing them to receive the just damnation that everyone deserves, as opposed to the merciful salvation that those who accept Christ's redemption receive. So the only people this would be addressed to would be Arminian soteriological exclusivists.  

Why bother with religion if you're a universalist? You mean the only reason for knowing the God of the Universe, or expressive proper gratitude to him for saving not only yourself but all of your loved ones as well, would be if you were afraid you might go to hell if you didn't know God, and worship him. If God was the true meaning of the universe, and I had spent my life not serving him, I would feel as if I had led my life wrongly, even if God did forgive me and save me anyway. Some people would think this was a very ignorant response to universalism. But I won't say that. I'll let either Tom Talbott or Jason Pratt say it.

And is it reinventing Christianity? Tom Talbott believes quite firmly, and argues in some detail, that his universalism is biblical, that he is restoring the original message of the faith from the distortion that he takes to be the doctrine of everlasting punishment.


Jayman said...

Early Church Fathers (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Origen) were universalists. It is not a new belief.

Jason Pratt said...

Not a majority belief either (at least among post-apostolic writers {g}). But it does have some serious Patristic heavyweights behind it: Origen (the first surviving in-depth Christian apologist), Gregory of Nyssa (the "Father of Orthodoxy" and "the Orthodox of the Orthodox") as well as indications from Athanasius (sucessor to Origen and predecessor to Gregory) from the Alexandrian school; and the founder of the Antioch school (stressing the two natures of Christ) and his immediate successor were both universalists.

They could be wrong, of course--they don't agree with each other as to details, either. (Neither do modern universalists. {wry g}) But they sure weren't "reinventing" their Christianity in order to meet the challenge of some anti-religious outsider test. I know I sure as hell didn't, when I became a universalist. I am not familiar with a single universalist personally who ever did so.

I don't know whether the Patristics who believed and taught universalism converted to that from something else, or whether that's what they had been taught and thought they were receiving from the apostles (and ultimately from Jesus). But the universalists I know who became universalists from Calv or Arm theology (or their non-Protestant parallels), myself included, did so because we believed we found it to make better sense logically and in regard to data we already accepted; and also usually helped us accept more data that we had been having trouble with but which the data (and logic) we already accepted seemed to be pointing toward.

And isn't that what rationally responsible people are supposed to do?--re-evaluate their logic and understanding of the data when faced with difficulties, to see if there's a more accurate way to think about a topic?

I mean, that's what people tell me all the time, to explain why they decided to stop believing in something, usually in order to believe something else is true instead. {g} But the principle is still the same when the alteration of belief isn't so drastic as to shift to a completely different species or even genus of belief (so to speak).

When I (and practically every universalist I know who didn’t start out a Christian universalist--which is most universalists I know) decided that one or another kind of Christian universalism was true, I did so believing I was learning more than I did before about a bunch of things I already believed. I didn’t reinvent my beliefs; I discovered (or so I think) what the implications of my beliefs already were, and so enriched my beliefs. It certainly wasn’t due to some sceptical threat of an outsider test.

(But then, I engage in outsider tests in order to think as fairly as well as accurately about beliefs, my own as well as other people’s. I believe Christianity is true, put very shortly, because I love and respect non-Christians as rationally responsible, including ethical, people. At least in principle, if not always in practice. {g} But often in practice, too. The same can be said for Christians the other way around, of course.)


Jason Pratt said...

And yes, Tom and I would both say that's a pretty ignorant answer for John to give in regard to universalism.

The first question should always be one of truth: is the proposition (or proposition set, or claim or concept or whatever) true? If it is, and if it is seen to be true (or even, I would say--along with many Christian theologians including Lewis--if something is seen erroneously to be true) then the person should believe, promote and act according to that belief, while looking for more light thereby. The "looking for more light" helps provide a way for correction of error currently held to be true; but if a person is not willing to accept (much moreso act) according to what they themselves believe to be true, then it really doesn't matter much what they believe to be true, because they'll be inculcating a habit of disregarding the importance of truth at all. Once truth claims don't matter to a person, then that's the end of any serious argument or even rational discussion--whether that person is nominally a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Wiccan or an atheist (or an agnostic) doesn't make any difference. It's pointless to talk to such people, except maybe to make use of them like irrational animals. (Or to try to waken them to care about whether something is true or false, so that they may be more truly and positively human and not merely a walking organic reaction.)

Discovering truth, is also connected to questions of proper (or at least efficient) interaction with reality. Whatever the characteristics of reality (or realities) are, in which we exist, if we try to do something when reality is actually something else, we may be bumping our heads (or worse) pretty quickly. More positively, we are in a position to get (and/or receive) more out of reality, the better understanding we have of what the real characteristics of reality really are.

Both of those are excellent reasons to ‘evangelize’, even if no one will ever be in some kind of hell.

But then, not every universalist, certainly not every Christian universalist, believes no one will ever be in some kind of hell. There are purgatorial universalists (myself included) who affirm that there’s a wrath of God coming, especially after we finish dying--not to people who don’t believe a particular doctrinal set, but to people (nominally Christian or otherwise!) who insist on being unfair to other people. And so long as people (Christian or otherwise) continue to fondle their injustice, and refuse to let go of it, they’re going to be punished, even out to the eons of the eons.

It isn’t a hopeless punishment, but it’s still a punishment, which could get extremely hard. Negatively, it’s better to avoid the punishment; but neither is simply avoiding the punishment the proper attitude to have.

Just because a spanking isn’t hopeless, doesn’t mean the spanking shouldn’t be avoided; but more importantly, we ought to do what is fair toward other people, and we ought to learn to be (and in discipline submit to being) the kind of people who habitually refuse to be unfair to other people.

But yes, a lot of Christians (and Muslims for that matter, as well as members of some other religions) just want to be saved from being punished for their sins; that’s the only salvation they care about (not being saved from their sins), and that’s as far as they care about the truth of reality. Unless maybe it benefits them, too, somehow. 70 virgins and a get out of hell card. Sold! {g} They would only think of universalism as a license to freely do whatever they want (and/or can humanly get away with).

But such people don’t really care about truth, or even about other people, more than they care about themselves. (And whatever else trinitarian Christianity means, if it’s true, it means that ultimately truth is other people more than ourselves.)


Anonymous said...

Do you guys notice that Loftus just kicked out a key modern bit of atheist apologetics? Namely the bit about how atheists do good because it's good, and theists do it because there is a reward to be had?

Ignoring that that line can be taken down in other ways, Loftus pretty much admitted that he sees no reason to follow Christ unless he gets something out of it. And if universalism is true, then screw it, do what you want because you're saved anyway.

Jason Pratt said...

Yep, I noticed. {wry g}

The only reason anyone bothers to complain about his outsider test is because he tries to wring it around into being some kind of slam-dunk anti-religious justification. If it was really only a protocol about being fair in evaluating beliefs (one's own and one's others), he would only be advocating what every sober religious scholar on the planet already holds--including people like Victor (and myself, if the term 'scholar' can apply to people who don't earn their living doing scholarship {wry g}) who after weighing the evidence fairly and self-critically so far as they're able, still arrive at belief in a set of religious propositions (maybe even more strongly than before!)

But John has routinely indicated in the past that, especially when he becomes emotional (which is often), he isn't really interested in a sober, fair evaluation. He's primarily interested in victoriously promoting himself.

So, although I suppose I should grant him credit for quickly noticing (while attempting to tie the noose fatally tight in some fashion that can't be critiqued as simply building in a terminal presumption against all religious belief as such) that he had actually left universalists (at least--though also the other positions Victor mentioned) completely outside the noose, how he chose to try dealing with that exception shows his motives and abilities once again.

And as usual, it's ridiculous. He's so self-absorbed, he can't even imagine universalists being universalists because they believe it's true. It must be because they're trying to escape from the overpowering threat of his (concept of the) outsider test! Hah, universalists are so desperate!--but he sees through their pitiable ploy: people who reinvent their religion just to try to escape him (not because they see actual improvements, or even think they do--that would be too much credit to grant them), are only showing how intellectually bankrupt they are. Which only proves his point! Q.E.D!

(Emphasis on the EGO in the middle there...)


Tom Talbott said...

Concerning the doctrine of universal reconciliation, John Loftus wrote: “If this is the case why bother with religion at all?”

What I find most interesting about this remark is how often fundamentalist Christians, who view salvation as a kind of fire insurance, make exactly the same kind of remark. For many fundamentalists view salvation as an escape from supposedly deserved punishment rather than, as Jesus put it (see Matt. 1:21), salvation from sin or salvation from the ultimate source of human misery. (“And so, dear friends, the day will come when the atheist lies down with the fundamentalist Christian!”)

Loftus went on to write: “In any case this is another example of Christians reinventing their faith when they encounter a difficulty. You see, they believe, so when faced with something like the OTF they would rather change what they believe rather than face the facts and abandon it.”

But such hastily written generalities are almost always inaccurate (and the one above also seems incoherent, since there is no obvious difference between changing what one believes and abandoning something one had formerly believed). In any event, as a matter of historical fact, I first began interpreting the New Testament (and St. Paul in particular) along universalist lines after my own brother, who had come under the influence of George MacDonald, challenged me to produce a biblical warrant of any kind for a doctrine of everlasting punishment. That eventually led to a kind of paradigm shift in my theological outlook, and only after that did I begin casting about for philosophical objections to the idea of everlasting punishment. Virtually every philosophical objection I have formulated, moreover, turns out to be an elaboration of some idea that I first encountered in the New Testament.


Tom Talbott said...

"as Jesus put it," should read "as the author of Matthew 1:21 put it."

Unknown said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at It previews my book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes

Jason Pratt said...

Um, that isn't even much like what trinitarian Christians believe. And this thread is not at all about religious pluralism.

But good luck with the book anyway, I guess. {s!}


Unknown said...

Jason... Thanks for your gracious reply. I'm merely trying to find words which most religionists might find acceptable. I think that an abstract version of the Trinity could be the answer, even if it requires a bit of a stretch by all, even Christians.

In the past, religious misunderstandings have caused immense grief, but civilization is rapidly approaching the point where the very survival of the world depends on overcoming anti-social religious conflicts, and the negative impacts of increasing population on the planet. The human race can no longer afford religious strife that divides people and disturbs urgent cooperation on mutual issues such as conservation and sharing of resources, combating climate change, stimulating healthy economic growth, etc.

Peace in the world requires peace among religions. Religious pluralism is a necessary paradigm shift whose time has come. Absent any better idea, the Trinity Absolute concept of One God in three phases or personae is the only adequate metaphysical vehicle necessary and sufficient for a real form of religious pluralism that is more than just lukewarm toleration and talking past one another.”

I don’t have to invent anything, because it is readily acknowledged that Allah, Abba or Father (as Jesus called Him), and Brahma are religious representations of the Creator. But the Creator is the first Absolute person of the Trinity of the thrice-personal One God. So, in at least one respect, we can say that a large portion of humankind apparently worship the same God – the Deity Absolute Creator – reflected in three world religions, i.e.: Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. This pluralistic worldview becomes inclusive if you consider that Buddhism, Confucian-Taoism, Shinto, and some other major religions seem to be variations on the third Absolute, while certain others, e.g. Sikh and Baha’i, suggest combinations.

What do you think?

Samuel Stuart Maynes

Jason Pratt said...


I think what you're proposing goes far beyond "a bit of a stretch" for trinitarian Christians to accept (much less unitarian Christians, or even modalist Christians). The idea that "God" is actually an evolving self-understanding of the gestalt combination of human souls (or a single soul shared by all humans), personified as much in Muhammad and Buddha as in Jesus of Nazareth (a point very few Muslims would be willing to accept either, by the way), and not even fully real, is so radically different from Christian notions of God (or even Muslim notions) as to be unrecognizable.

An emergent pantheism, in other words, is very much not several of the theologies you're trying to stitch together.

(To which could be added, incidentally, that most Christians, even when they aren't trinitarian, nominally worship the 3rd Person, the Holy Spirit, even if the HS seems rather more mysterious than the other two Persons; so your categorization of Christianity in group 2 is already factually if trivially wrong. Also, the HS isn't a gestalt combination of the 1st and 2nd Persons in trinitarian theology, but a distinct Person of the one God given by the other Persons to each other in the self-generating eternal self-existence of the singular deity; thence also participating in creation of not-God realities and given to creaturely persons. Be that as it may.)

I suspect there would be substantially fewer wars if on one hand people would just get past the idea that people avoid worst-possible-fates by holding the proper doctrines; and on the other hand (more importantly) if they wouldn't appeal to their religion as justification for afflicting non-fair-togetherness on their neighbors. But everyone converting to one of most surviving religions today would, superficially, resolve those issues, regardless of which religion -- whether that be mine or yours.

Asking people to give up their particular religion for a very different other particular religion, on the basis of demonstrably false prior similarities, doesn't seem like a feasible project to me. Asking them to do so based on superior truth claims could have some merit; but when the ultimate object to be believed in isn't even entirely real, that's going to be a big stumbling block to such an approach, too.

Still, yay for peace between persons! If you help accomplish that even a little, yay for you, too, as far as I'm concerned! {s!}


Unknown said...

Jason... No, not pantheism. Please see my Preview p.8 at, where I argue as follows: “The concept of the Worldsoul, Allsoul, Supersoul, Oversoul, etc. may be regarded as a form of pan(en)theism, which is a composite of the terms “pan,” meaning all or everything, “en,” meaning in, and “theism,” meaning God. “Process Pan(en)theism” seeks to avoid either isolating God from the world as traditional theism does, or indentifying the world with God as pantheism does. Pan(en)theism (all in God) embraces a synthesis of active free souls, in the process of discovering, reconstructing, and experiencing their mutual identity, mingled and melded in a Supreme Allsoul, creating a future that includes the past in the present.”

In his epistles, St. Paul uses the expression “in Christ” and its various equivalents 165 times. Paul uses “in Christ” to characterize an all-inclusive personality, in whom believers find themselves incorporated in a communal union with Christ. It is a real connection, but not an absorption or obliteration... If God is “all in all” I Cor. 15:28, then all are one with God, or all are in God, but not necessarily all are God. This teaching has been called Pan(en)theism. Like classical theism, panentheism resists the identification of God with the world. Rather, by saying that the world is “in” God, panentheism holds that God is more than the world.

The essential unity of all souls with the Supersoul (Allsoul) is a fundamental postulate of the Hindu religion, which has long had a tradition that Lord Vishnu is the existential Supreme Being (God) and sustainer (preserver) of the universe, while Krishna is the 8th experiential incarnation of Vishnu. Thus, Krishna is the World-Soul or the Self of all men: “O Lord of Death, I (Krishna) am the Self seated in the heart of all beings. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.” Bhagavad Gita 10.20.

In taking onboard the Buddhist idea of the Unconditioned and the Hindu, as well as early Christian idea of the Supreme (more recently process panentheism), we begin to see that in a rational pluralistic worldview, major religions do reflect the psychology of One God in three basic personalities, unified in spirit and universal in mind – analogous to the orthodox definition of the Trinity. In fact, there is much evidence that the psychologies of world religions reflect the unity of One God in an absolute Trinity.

Samuel Stuart Maynes