By Vexen Crabtree 2012
Universalism is the belief that all people can be saved, and that all people enter into heaven independently of their religion and of the knowledge they happened to gain during life. If a creator-God is responsible for the world, then, universal salvation from pain and suffering for all beings, is a requirement of benevolence. In other words, god cannot be perfectly good until all people are saved from the suffering that god itself made possible.
There are many non-universal religions - i.e., religions that believe many will burn in hell for ever. There are also religions that do not see themselves as universal. In fact, it is only really a few world religions that hold a belief that there is one religion for everyone2. The ancient Greeks, and, primitive and tribal religion almost everywhere it is found, do not accept the idea of a universal religion3. You should worship your local gods, ancestors, or spirits. The idea that people in distant places should also believe in them or worship your own local ones, is either confusing to them, or outright rejected on grounds of common sense.
I think it is Bertrand Russell who said that God could never condemn a person to an eternity in hell by pointing out this would be "infinite punishment for finite sins". It seems incredibly unethical and immoral for such a scheme to have been conceived by God. It is more moral that if someone is making bad moral choices in life, then God will be patient and persistent with them for all time. As God is eternal there is no time limit: Eventually all people will choose heaven. God can pluck people out of hell. No-one will spend an eternity in hell if God is moral. God's power is absolute and God's patience is infinite.
It is more moral if those who do not accept God are destroyed rather than punished. Between two choices, God will always choose the better one as God is perfect. If one option causes less pain than another, God will choose the one that causes less pain. If someone chooses never to be with God (we are assuming God cannot force people to enter heaven of their own free will), then God has 3 choices:
Numbers two and three are both better than number one. God will never choose number one. No-one spends an eternity in Hell. At the end of time all people will be in heaven. For some people number three will be an option. At some point all people will change their minds and then God can forgive them and save them. Number 2 may be an option if a person is never going to change their minds, but it very unlikely that anyone can be more persistent than God when God has infinite patience. Over infinity, therefore, all people will be saved.
If evil itself exists, when all people are in heaven evil will have been completely destroyed. If we personify evil as Satan, then if Universalism is true Satan is destroyed (option 2). If a single person remains in Hell forever then evil will never be destroyed by God, and God will never achieve complete victory over death. God, however, is perfect by definition so by definition it cannot be true that anyone spends eternity in Hell.
If everyone goes to heaven then God's creation is perfect. Universalism is a belief that God is all loving and moral and that God is positive and effective. It's a belief that all life does have a purpose, that suffering is nullified in the end. It is a belief that in the end God will be completely victorious.
“Universalism has been beneficial in my own conception of God. It causes me to marvel at God's power and love, not God's 'limitedness to save' or wrath. I feel even more gratitude, trust, and wonder of God! How marvellous are God's works!”
"Why I am a Universalist" by Christian Rev. D.R.Deinsen, M.Div.
If God is perfect, then it holds that Universalism is true as a God who saves everyone is better than a God that does not.
Universalism combined with reincarnation seems consistent with a loving creator. It will send us back to Earth to try again rather than sending us to hell to be punished, until, eventually, everyone is saved. It is more loving, more perfect, if a God is infinitely patient with us, until every last living being has attained heaven. Of course, this is a highly problematic situation as long as the population of the Human race increases at a great rate, but, this website is largely concerned with monotheism, and reincarnation is generally a feature of atheist religions such as Buddhism or polytheistic ones.
When we love or care for someone we feel hurt and suffer then they hurt or suffer. If there is a hell, and someone we know is there, then it will cause us suffering. Our suffering will continue as long as we know they are in hell. Therefore Christians who are not universalist are caused angst and stress when they are in relationships with non-Christians, the lack of belief in universalism causes division [Deinsen's argument]. There are three conclusions we could draw from this but none of them are acceptable to most monotheists, I will present them then explain how they can be avoided.
The first one is contradictory to the concept of heaven and cannot be true. The second is dubious, as God would have to lie to us. The third is not so bad, but it is still not a nice possibility and seems to deny some basic part of our Humanity (caring for others). The only valid and good resolution of this problem is:
This is such a perfect answer to the problem. There would be no suffering in heaven and God could show us that all we care for are happy. It is logically impossible for God to grant a single person eternal happiness unless all people are granted the same, because everyone is cared for by someone. It could be said that there may be some people who are cared for by no-one. This isn't true if God loves us all. If God loves us then he cares for us and our pain causes God to suffer. The pain of those in Hell must be intolerable for God... but as God is in heaven, God is in bliss. Therefore there can be no beings in Hell: All beings go to heaven.
The vast majority of the people in the world live in cultures or communities where nearly everyone is the same religion. Millions of people die - for example children and young adults - without actually obtaining enough worldly knowledge to make a reasonable estimate of what religion they think is true. This was especially true in previous centuries, where a Christian could call all Muslims or Jews devil-worshippers and not be afraid that anyone would actually know any of them personally in order to object.
“The Chinese, Japanese, Hindus, Tartars, Africans, Eskimo, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Polynesians, and many other peoples, are substantially ignorant of the Bible. All the Bible societies of the world have produced only about one hundred and twenty millions of Bibles, and there are about fourteen hundred million people. There are hundreds of languages and tongues in which no Bible has yet been printed. Why did God allow, and why does he still allow, a vast majority of his children to remain in ignorance of his will?”
"Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900)" by Robert. G. Ingersol (1900)
Ingersol's statement is no longer true, but the point is that Human civilisation has existed for over 7000 years, and the human species for somewhat longer, but religions come and go over time. The fact is, most people must have remained not only members of the 'wrong' religion, but, actually without any exposure to whatever the true religion is. How can this be?
God doesn't care what religion people are, or what beliefs they have.
God reveals the truth to people when they die, and cleanses of them of the biases they gained in life due to exposure to 'wrong' evidence, and lets them choose posthumously.
God is immoral and injust, and simply punishes people for having the wrong beliefs even if they've never had a chance to learn what the 'right' beliefs are. We should all, hopefully, if we are moral beings, reject such a monstrous god.
Notice that for all possible answers to this question, it doesn't matter what beliefs a person actually had while they were alive. The only sensible conclusion, if there is a good god, is:
Forms of mental retardation affect religiosity, and, cognitive and neurological abnormalities are related to religious experiences. Some people can never believe the 'right' things about God and salvation because it is beyond their cognitive capacity. Some people are born with an inability to learn correct beliefs and doctrine about God. Therefore God cannot judge people by their beliefs. This makes religion mostly pointless, as it is clearly not essential to have the right beliefs, otherwise God would not create people who have faulty (or missing) religious experiences. If God condemns people because of the intellectual or mental shortcomings that God gave them in the first place, then God is immoral. Earthly correct belief cannot be an essential requirement of salvation.”
“It seems there is good reason to believe in some form of "spiritual imprisonment" or "purgatory" (temporary "hell") for those who, upon death, have thus far chosen separation and rebellion from love and truth. The doors are always open in this realm and God/Reality continues to seek and persuade people, through persistent love, to accept love, truth, goodness, etc. There are likely trials and suffering (like earth but of a different type, ie of the soul, not physical) here as people "sort out" their destinies. Also, this temporary holding place likely functions as a context for divine or karmic retribution to right the injustices committed in one's lifetime. Eventually all beings are wooed by God's intense and persistent love for them however. Everyone is reunited to their Source of Being. God doesn't give up until all are convinced.”
"Why I am a Universalist" by Christian Rev. D.R.Deinsen, M.Div.
Because people feel guilty for the things they've done wrong some people some say that some people are not ready to go to heaven. When this is the case I agree with Deinsen that it appears a form of temporary Hell would allow that person to sort out their destiny until they enter heaven. In an email conversation with Deinsen in 2001 we agreed that in some criminal cases people have specifically wanted to be punished when they done something wrong. People sometimes own up to doing to wrong so that they may be forgiven. Many times when a person has done wrong (maybe to a friend) then they honestly want to make it up, to pay for it.
No Universalism: Matt 20:1-16 presents a God that will only reward some people, and unequally so. Proverbs 6:12-15 says that a person devoted to mischief has no chance of healing. Luke 17:20-32 is the same; those who look back at the unsaved will themselves be punished, like Lot's wife (Genesis 19:23-26) and Revelation 20:10 shows us that some beings will be punished forever. Therefore, there are unsaved people even at the time when God's Kingdom is finally victorious. Likewise the parable found in Matthew 25:1-12 indicates that those who do not prepare for the big event will find that "the door is shut" and God no longer knows them. St Paul teaches the same: If you worship the wrong god, then, you cannot enter heaven, and nor can "whoremongers, unclean persons, nor covetous men" (Ephesians 5:5). Hence, the Bible presents a non-Universalist theology and many Christian organisations have taught a very strict doctrine of select salvation.
Universalism: The Bible wasn't written with any particular theology of salvation in mind. There are plenty of verses and stories where salvation is universal and not selective. Universalism has long been a feature of Christianity. The parable of the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 and of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 12:11; Matthew 18:11-14 and Luke 15:4-7, all portray a God who patiently and tirelessly works until every individual is saved. Romans 2:4 states that God intends on saving everyone - "God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance" [NIV]. As God is all-powerful and perfect, God's intentions are of course made real. Also, Philemon 2:10 says that all will be converted to Christianity (although doesn't say they're all saved) but Luke 3:5 says that even the crooked will be made straight. The great Christian Origen in the third century preached universalism during centuries when Christianity was more varied and interesting. He held in particular that even Satan would be saved eventually. He was condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 543CE but his 'heresy' of Universalism lived on. The Anabaptists held this view too.
Contradictory Ideas: The authors of the Bible did not have a systematic system worked-out; they themselves had different ideas about what was required for salvation and when the wrote the stories, they included their own ideas in them. Since the very beginnings, some Christians have gone one way (the nice way - universalism!), some go the other way (selective salvation).
Islam's holy book is the Qur'an, supported by the Hadith (sayings). The Qur'an rejects universal salvation (but strictly asserts that Islam is the only valid, universal, religion); therefore quite a few verses describe sinners in hell for eternity. Many more verses say sinners go to hell (but don't specify a time-range). A minority of verses contradict these by adding "except as God wills".
Severe torment in an eternal home:
“But surely, We shall cause those who disbelieve to taste a severe torment, and certainly, We shall requite them the worst of what they used to do. That is the recompense of the enemies of Allah: the Fire. Therein will be for them the eternal home, a (deserving) recompense for that they used to deny Our Ayat (proofs, evidence, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.).”
Qur'an 41:27-28 (Mohsin Khan translation)
Qur'an 2:167 says that those in hell "will never get out of the Fire" or "will not emerge" (Khan, Pickthal and Shakir translations). 5:36-37 implies that non-believers in general suffer "lasting torment", forever, and "will not get out".32:13-14, 41:27-28 and 64:10 specifically state that disbelievers will dwell in hell forever.
There are certain classes of sinner that will remain in hell forever, with no contradictory verses saying otherwise. Qur'an 3:90 says if after Muslims turn away from Islam and "go on increasing in their disbelief", then their repentance "will never be accepted", although it implies there is a time period during which it is not too late to return to Islam. After that, however, no amount of repenting will do any good. 47:34 says that disbelievers who avert others from Islam will never be forgiven by God. 6:147 says "never will His wrath be turned back from the people who are Mujrimun (criminals, polytheists or sinners)" - translation from Mohsin Khan. The categories of those who remain in hell forever cover rather a lot of people.
In Hell for 'Ages':
“Truly, Hell is a place of ambush - a dwelling place for the Taghun (those who transgress the boundary limits set by Allah like polytheists, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, hyprocrites, sinners, criminals), they will abide therein for ages. Nothing cool shall they taste therein, nor any drink. Except boiling water, and dirty wound discharges.”
Qur'an 78:21-25 (Mohsin Khan translation)
Qur'an 6:128 and 11:105-107 state that of the wretched people that are sent to hell, they will remain there "as long as the heavens and earth endure". This sounds like a very long time indeed; but, it does not say "forever" in both verses. In fact, both continue to add "except as God wills", whilst 78:21-25 states quite clearly that a large category of sinner merely remain in hell "for ages". There is a contradictory overlap between the classes of sinners who remain in hell forever; those same people are said in other places to only stay in hell for ages. The difference between "ages" and "forever" is a huge amount of time - infinity! Such is the scale of contradiction.
Qur'an 18:53 says that sinners will be sent to hell and "find no way of escape". But just because they can't escape on their own, doesn't mean that God itself could not rescue them, later on. Quite a few other verses similarly put unbelievers (including Christians) in hell, but, they don't specify "forever": 3:85,91, 5:10,72.
Qur'an 3:82-90: Those who were once Muslims (believing in the true religion, believing in Muhammad) but turn away are "the Fasiquin" - rebels, 'those who turn away'. They will face judgement and be amongst the losers in the hereafter, and be sent to hell (3:88). They receive the Curse of Allah and, are also cursed by all of the angels and all of mankind (3:87).
Qur'an 3:89 adds another height to this rollercoaster: After that turning-away, Allah will not punish those who repent and do righteous deeds. So... you will be punished for deconverting, unless you undeconvert and become a believer again.
Qur'an 3:90 makes this otherwise clear condition murky again. Because if after turning away someone "goes on increasing in their disbelief", then their repentance "will never be accepted". 3:90 implies that those who have brief periods of disbelief will probably be ok, but if this period extends (the time period is not specified) then, after that, no amount of repenting will do any good.
Qur'an 6:54 says that Muslims who do "wrong out of ignorance and then repents after that and corrects himself" will be forgiven by God. Presumably, this does not apply if the sinner has fallen into the categories of those who will never be forgiven (see above!).
Several of these more liberal verses occur in Sura 3 (Aal-e-Imran, written in Makkah); whilst the sterner verses that describe sinners in hell forever are drawn from a large range of chapters of the Qur'an. It seems sensible to assume that Sura 3 is not trustworthy in this regard.
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
Ingersol, Robert. G.
(1900) Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900). Paperback book. 1998. Published by Kessinger Publishing.
Price, Robert M.
(2003) Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA.