Tuesday, September 20, 2005


So, went with Kent and Gail to hear Huston Smith tonight at First Unitarian. He's like 500 years old, and stone deaf just about. Yet he's remarkably good humored and good natured about it all. And man he hung in there like a champ: well over an hour speaking and taking questions, and then another hour plus signing books. I should have such equanimity now and don't.

He's a happy universalist. I think the only universal I can find is Jesus. I've never met anyone who wouldn't be better off than Jesus. And it seems like I can with an utterly good conscience say to anyone, without making any decision about whether they're Christian or not, that they'd be better off getting closer to Jesus than they are. That applies to Kim Jong Il and Billy Graham equally. So to me any universal salvation would have to be rooted in the atonement of Jesus. It's obvious that one of the reasons people don't like the hell discussion is that it seems a little inappropriate for hell to have an advocacy group. I mean some of us evangelicals trying to defend hell end up sounding like not only do we believe that it exists, but we're glad it does, we hope a bunch of people are going there, and we have some candidates in mind to recommend just in case God's not sure.

Yet ultimately I don't think hell's a huge problem theodicy-wise. I totally agree with Calvin that there are at least many people whom God is perfectly well justified in "putting" there. And I totally agree with Lewis that most of the rest of 'em there are there by choice, by which Lewis means that, although by our standards they are good enough people, there is something they would rather have than God. Which brings up, well, just how bad is it to live (or die) without God if you have the other things you want in life? But that's another blog.

Of course, as I explained to Akins one time, Origen had a better idea than Smith. Origen said No, other religions were not equal or even adequate different paths to the one God. People who don't believe in Jesus will go to hell. But then he said that hell lasting forever would deny the power and glory of God. So he said that God would ensure that grace would triumph over evil in the end. Not by saying that everybody is really okay, because they are not. But rather, by saying that God is not willing and will in the end not allow anyone to be cut off from Him. So according to Origen, he thought God would, purely out of his mercy and grace, gradually save everybody in hell--not because, as in purgatory notions, they had suffered enough or paid back their debts, and not according to their being closer to or further from the truth in whatever (ir)religious views they had, but just out of pure elective grace, in the name and power of Christ and his crucifixion and resurrection. At the very end, since Satan hates God's presence and glory more than anything, God would finally empty hell and win his victory over evil, and at the same time, enact Satan's final punishment, by saving him.

I don't think that that is true or how it is going to be. But I would not complain if it was--whereas I would complain about other kinds of universalism, because I don't think that they take hell seriously.

Smith was also coy about whether he was a universalist per se--everyone gets saved in the end--or a pluralist--people can get saved many ways, but not everyone in any religion does. I went up and passed him a note asking him about John Hick's Kantian theory of world religions. He told a story about a conversation he had with Hick one time, wherein Hick ended up telling him that he thought that the only difference between them was that Smith was less of an agnostic than Hick was.

I'll be in Awstin tomorrow. Back blogging on Thursday.


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