Universalism A Failed TheologyThere is great pressure on the religious community in today's world to accept universalism. How can only one belief system be right when there are so many different cultures, peoples, living conditions, and teachers? How can Christians be so arrogant and egotistical to believe that their way is the only way and that all other systems of living are wrong and their adherents are consigned to hell? In addition to these kind of challenges, we live in a world that tries to convince us that there are no absolutes. To say that there are religious absolutes and one certain way to live flies in the face of modernism and its spin-offs. There is also the mentality that states that tolerance is essential, and if you claim there are absolutes then you are demonstrating intolerance. Universalism is viewed as being tolerant and anyone who does not embrace universalism is viewed as automatically being intolerant. The current problems of the Moslem faith have caused many Christian churches to take the position that we all worship the same God, and so Moslems have a right to believe as they do and be fully accepted by God. The Bahai faith has embraced a form of universalism for several centuries and has found enormous acceptance in Canada and, to a lesser extent in the United States, in the past two decades. Most proponents of the New Age movement take a form of universalism in what they teach. The pervasiveness of universalism cannot be ignored. It is a major force in today's world.
From a Christian perspective, there are a variety of problems with universalism. This does not mean that Christians are intolerant. There is no greater statement of tolerance than those of Jesus Christ when he said things like "Love your enemies., Do good to those who do evil to you., Turn the other cheek.. If someone compels you to go one mile, go two," etc. (see Matthew 5:41). The question is not tolerance. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus fully are the most tolerant people on the planet. At the same time it is obvious that Jesus Christ claimed that his system was absolute and the only way to salvation. Consider these statements:
"I am the true vine." (John 15:1) "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3)
"No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
" I am the way, the truth and the light." (John 14:6)
"There is one mediator." (1 Timothy 2:5)
"The Just shall live by Truth, thy Word [the Bible] is Truth." (John 17:17)
I would suggest that, while Jesus told his followers to be totally and absolutely tolerant of others, he still claimed to be the only way to reach God. I would also suggest that universalism is a flawed theology that cannot be true. There is such a thing as absolute Truth, and even with our limited intelligence and understanding, we can find it. In this discussion, I would like to focus on the logical impossibilities of universalism. I would suggest that thinking people should first of all consider whether the concept of all religious and philosophical systems being equally true is logical or possible.
Universalism endorses conflicting systems. If all systems of belief are equally valid, then they cannot endorse practices that conflict with one another. Universalism can only be true if the systems that they endorse are equally true. The fact is that many religious systems conflict with one another in the teachings that they endorse, and without arguing about which systems are the right ones we can see the fallacies of such a proposal. Some religious systems teach one man/one wife for life. Others endorse polygamy while others endorse polyandry. How can the best way to live in marriage be both one man and one wife and have that equal to many wives and one man or visa versa? Do not all humans have equal needs and are not human relationships pretty much the same all around the globe? This argument is usually countered by saying that polygamy works in many cultures and therefore it must be true for those cultures. We will address this question in our next point, but right now let us just point out there is an inconsistency that cannot be glossed over. Polygamous systems like Islam are evangelistic. When Islam has moved into an area that is monogamous, it forced polygamy upon the people it absorbed. The world is too small to maintain that a particular marriage system can be kept isolated from the cultures around it.
Another example of conflicting systems is the church/state issue. Systems like Christianity endorse a separation of church and state. Jesus said it clearly: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Nowhere in the Bible is there an admonition to create a state Church and in fact the separation between spiritual and physical is very strong. Other religious systems teach that the state should be controlled by the religion in the area, and in some the leader of the state is considered to be deity. This is a conflict that cannot be swept away. Some religious systems use idols as a means of focusing adherents on deity, while other religious systems condemn the use of idols in any way shape or form. Some religious systems advocate the use of force to achieve their goals if all else fails, while others like Christianity teach just the opposite (see Matthew 5:38-41; 43-48). The view of women is very different from one religious system to another, and the results of following that view are radically different. To argue that all of these systems are equally correct and justify it on the basis that the cultures validate whatever is taught is to assume that there are no negatives in the teachings that clearly make the teaching wrong. Let us look at that next.
Universalism by its nature promotes destructive ideologies. The fact that a culture survives a religious teaching does not make the religious teaching true. Human sacrifice has been a religious practice among many cultures. Prostitution has been endorsed as a religious practice by some cultures, and this was going on during the time of Christ in the Temple of Diana. In modern times, we have had cults who taught that the cult leader should have sexual relationships with all of the members of the cult who were of the opposite sex. These are extreme examples, to be sure, but the fact is that many of these systems worked for centuries. In Mexico and Central America, a huge cultural system prospered and used human sacrifice on a major scale. It is one thing to look at benign systems and maintain that they are equally true, but you cannot consistently do that. You must look at all religious systems and, if you truly practice universalism, say that no matter what they do they are all equally correct. I seriously doubt that even the most radical proponents of universalism would really want to endorse systems that advocate human sacrifice.
What universalists do is to take positions on social issues that do not appear to be that clear to them. What about polygamy or polyandry as opposed to monogamy? Can you logically argue that polygamy is acceptable in places like Afghanistan, but not acceptable in America? There are Mormons in the United States that practice polygamy and have been persecuted and even jailed for the practice. Why is a culture in Utah wrong when it practices the same thing that is done in Afghanistan where polygamy is religiously accepted? I suggest to the reader that polygamy or polyandry is a destructive teaching that is wrong in an absolute sense. More than one marriage partner makes the kind of relationship that monogamy produces impossible. The concept of one flesh and the unity that it promotes cannot be produced by multiple systems. In addition to that, polygamy produces too many children too fast and does not promote the kind of nurturing that children need by a father figure. The spread of STDs is much more likely in polygamy or polyandry. In many polygamous systems women are relegated to an inferior position, and in some a clitorotomy is performed where the clitoris is surgically removed to make sure that the woman receives no pleasure in the sexual relationship. Universalism has to endorse this barbaric custom that denigrates women and produces a sexual caste system.
We have chosen a few examples to demonstrate the problem, but the list of areas that could be cited goes on and on. Religions differ on when a human is a human resulting in babies being killed in some systems as late as five years of age. There are religious systems that sanction pedophilic behavior, that advocate rape as a method of bringing an enemy into subjection, that endorse cannibalism, and which endorse the destruction of female babies.
Most universalists will deny that they wish to embrace these systems. Even the most adamant of the universalists among us recognize that there must be some limits that a religious system will be allowed to go. This very admission, however, shows that the system they endorse does not work. By refusing to embrace a system that they deem offensive, universalists admit that the nature of the belief system they embrace is flawed. The only way to successfully promote universalism is to reduce all religion to generalities and myth. If all religion is the same, with simply different stories and myths to demonstrate the points being made then all religions are equally valid. The generalities being embraced become so wide that all religious systems become irrelevant. This is what the media has done, and this is what many religious systems and churches in the western world have done. Virtually everyone agrees that murder is wrong and most atheists would agree to this, because the anarchy and chaos that would result by condoning murder would threaten their own existence. Condemning murder is a way to promote one's own well being, so condemning murder is acceptable and we do not need religion to identify murder as being wrong. In Europe, I heard this kind of argument over and over again, and I have no quarrel with it. Universalism denies religion the opportunity to have any positive effect upon the world in any way.
Universalism denies a personal relationship with God and any real help in living successfully. The universalist view of religion is that religion involves a lot of button pushing. You push this button to get a certain kind of crutch to live with and you push another button to get a different kind of help. Ritual and liturgy that help you feel better is the totality and sum of religion, and since we all have the same buttons and need to have the same buttons pushed, it does not matter what your belief system is as long as one way or the other you get the buttons pushed that you need pushed. This shallow and ignorant view of religion is the root of universalism. If button pushing is all you know about God and the way that God helps in life, then naturally you are going to believe that no one way of doing things is any better than another. The Bible does not view button pushing as "pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father." Once again, universalism is accepted because of a very myopic understanding of what being one with God is all about. Religion is not a crutch or a way of coping. Coping may be a part of the benefit of our relationship to God, but more to the point is what our relationship with God empowers us to do. In James 1:27, pure and undefiled religion is defined as "to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction." Portrayals of what Christianity is really about were done by Christ by washing His disciples' feet. When the judgment scenes are given in the New Testament they do not involve being praised or condemned on the basis of how well they praised God or how well they conducted the worship service or even what marvelous preaching or teaching they did. What you see are people condemned or praised for feeding the hungry, taking care of the widows, visiting the fatherless, visiting those in prison, and caring for those who could not care for themselves (seeMatthew 25:31-46). Universalism makes God so small that God becomes irrelevant in people's lives.
It is no accident that Christianity is the most efficient system on the planet in building hospitals, medical clinics, schools, HIV treatment centers, the treating of lepers, caring for the indigent, looking after widows, dealing with poverty, caring for the terminally ill, and helping build families. What motivates a person to give their entire life to serving the poor? Why do you not hear of a "Mother Teresa" in any world religious system outside of the broad umbrella of Christianity. Skeptics are having the audacity to try to poke holes in her service by pointing out things she was unable or unwilling to do that might have been done while they themselves do absolutely nothing at all. The fact that I might not agree with her on some decision or even on all of her religious beliefs does not prevent me from admiring her dedication and sacrifice. Universalism denies all of this, because it offers no difference between selfish religious systems and selfless systems. Universalism denies that God's spirit can work within us and give us power to do what we could not do if we are reliant on our own strengths and abilities.
I would encourage the critic of this discussion to think about how one can embrace all systems as equal when the systems are not equal in what they do and how they benefit mankind. The most concise statement of how to disprove universalism is the simple statement Jesus made by which men can evaluate religious systems and see that they are not equal and that there is such a thing as Truth: "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).
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