Monday, July 07, 2008

Latex universalism

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Sgt. Pepper's Bleeding Hearts Club Band has responded to my post.

[Gregory MacDonald:]
But there is nothing unusual about that way of thinking theologically. It is no different from claiming that empirical evidence that the earth is not stationary and is not the centre of the solar system should cause us to rethink biblical texts which seem to suggest otherwise. I imagine that Steve himself interprets the Bible in the light of some insights from Copernicus and Galileo. Nobody would suggest that by doing this he is subordinating revelation to reason.
Of course, I've written about the hermeneutical consequences, or not, of the Copernican Revolution. But let's bracket that for now and grant MacDonald's example for the sake of argument.

The problem with this analogy is that MacDonald's parallel falls apart at the critical point of comparison. In the case of the Copernican Revolution, we have, so he says, empirical evidence that the geocentric interpretation is false.

By contrast, we have no empirical evidence that the traditional doctrine of hell is false—much less any positive empirical evidence that universalism is true. Hence, MacDonald's argument is stillborn. Moving along to the next casualty:
So I hope that it should be clear that Steve has misunderstood my position. If I was convinced that universalism was unbiblical I would stop being a universalist.
In light of what he said in the first chapter, this is deeply deceptive. It would leave the reader of his blog, who hadn't read his book, with the misimpression that if he were convinced that universalism was unscriptural, he'd revert to belief in the traditional doctrine of hell, along with believing in the God who was responsible for that outcome.

But in the first chapter of his book, he said he came to the point where he viewed such a God as unworthy of his worship. So he's turned the corner on that option. Even if he changed his mind on universalism, that doesn't mean he'd changed his mind on everlasting punishment.

If, however, MacDonald is prepared to say that he could worship such a God after all, then now is the opportunity for him to clarify his position.
Emotion has a very important place in theological and ethical rationality so I make no apology for caring about those in Hell. I am just sorry that Steve is able to consider the whole matter from a non-emotional perspective.
Well, that sounds very noble and all. Let's take a concrete example. Let's put a human face on universalism.

Remember Jessica Lunsford? Jessica was the nine-year-old girl who was abducted, raped, and later buried alive by John Couey.

Now, even before we bring hell into the picture, what, exactly, does it mean for MacDonald to care for John Couey? Can one be equally concerned for little Jessica as well as man who kidnapped her, repeatedly raped her, and then buried her alive to dispose of the incriminating evidence?

How would Jessica feel about MacDonald's indiscriminate compassion? Would Jessica feel that Couey is entitled to MacDonald's compassion? Or would she feel that it's very uncaring to her to be so concerned about the fate of her rapist and murder?

This is one of the problems with MacDonald's appeal to emotion. It cuts both ways. His emotions come at the expense of other people's emotions. And, what is worse, his emotions come at the expense of those who are genuinely entitled to our sympathy.

Explain to Jessica why your sensibilities don't permit you to worship a God who would sentence John Couey to hell and throw away the key.

Far from being kind and compassionate, universalism is a very haughty and callous position. Yes, Mr. "MacDonald," you owe little Jessica an apology. Her blood screams from the grave at your perverted empathy.

I find it interesting that his most bitter criticism of you (ad hominem, anyone?)
Since Rachel is logically challenged, let's spell it out for her. MacDonald began his book with some autobiographical anecdotes about his journey from the traditional doctrine of hell to universalism.

That, of itself, is an ad hominem argument, Rachel. The author is using his personal experience to explain and justify his theological development. So his case for universalism is, in part, predicated on his own ad hominem argument.

I am therefore responding to him on his own grounds. Get it? If he chose to frame the issue in personal terms, then his personal experience is fair game. Get it? Is that too difficult for you to follow?
...arises because he feels that you are a universalist because you are a limousine liberal who has led a charmed life, when there are some voices today arguing for universalism from the perspective of the oppressed.

Marilyn McCord Adams writes:
Focus on horrors clinches my universalism, because horrors are levellers, inficting their prima facie life-ruining power on both perpetrator and victim alike. My confidence that all horror participants are redeemed from ruin rests on the conviction that the worst evils are too bad even for the guilty; or better, that horrors are no respecter of moral worth, indeed evacuate it of its usual significance.
Here we have one limousine liberal (Rachel) quoting another limousine liberal. Because Rachel sees everything through her tinted windows, she's blind to how patronizing this is.

In what sense is Adams arguing for universalism "from the perspective of the oppressed"? Is Adam's quoting the victims? Did Adams do a documentary on the victims of horrendous evil? Is this a transcript of her interview with the victims?

No, this is Adams taking it upon herself to speak for the victims rather than handing the microphone over to the victims and allowing them to speak for themselves.

This is Adams presuming to tell the victims how they ought to feel about their perpetrators. Does that represent the perspective of the victims? Does that represent the perspective of Jessica Lunsford? Would the victims of the Khmer Rouge share Adams' s boundless compassion for their killers?

For that matter, how to perpetrators feel about other perpetrators? How does one Mafia Don feel about a rival Don? How does this represent the perspective of the interested parties? It doesn't. It only represents the viewpoint of Adams, which she is superimposing on the interested parties. Get it?

Rachel, I'd like to hear you explain to little Jessica why you think a "life-ruining" punishment is too bad for John Couey. Take your time.
Moltmann, who deals a lot with oppression and liberation, also has a universalistic eschatology with justice for victims and perpectrators alike.
Here we have a further example of one limousine liberal (Rachel) quoting another limousine liberal (Moltmann). Did Moltmann consult the victims on their definition of eschatological justice? Would they define justice for their perpetrators in terms of universal salvation for victim and perpetrator alike? Does Moltmann have any polling data on that question? Of course, it would pose a logistical challenge to poll the victims of the Khmer Rouge. A bullet to the back of the skull has a way of reducing the focus group.

Incidentally, I have no problem with people who speak on behalf of victims. I do have a problem when they pretend to give voice to victims while, in reality, they use the victim like a ventriloquist dummy to express what Adams and Moltmann believe.

[Gregory MacDonald:]
Rachel - Hello again. I had not picked up on that. I guess that there is some truth in the claim that I have not been the victim of major injustices so it is all very well for me to say that God will redeem the one who inflicts the injustice. I can see why someone might feel that. However, a Christian ought to be able to get past that. The God of the Bible is the God who pardons and transforms and reconciles people who deserve none of those things.
Of course, MacDonald is peddling several half-truths in this statement: i) God doesn't pardon everyone. He damns some of them. Many of them. ii) And for those he does pardon, forgiveness is not unconditional. Rather, it's contingent on faith and repentance. iii) It's also contingent on the atonement. Penal substitution. God pardons and transforms and reconciles those he redeemed in Christ. But that's secondary to universalism. Universalism is driven by what it opposes. By opposition to everlasting punishment. That opposition isn't predicated on the atonement. Rather, it's predicated on the notion that everlasting punishment is unjust, unloving—or both. iv) Likewise, Christians don't have an unconditional obligation to forgive everyone who sins against them. The saints in Rev 6:10 hadn't "gotten past that." v) Even more to the point, what does Christianity have to do with it? Universalism applies to everyone, right? Not just to Christians. It applies to Spartans and Aztecs and Samurai and suicide-bombers. Yes, by all means tell an S. S. officer that he "ought to be able to get past that." Tell him that it would be unchristian to be vindictive. I'm sure the Gestapo will be impressed by your appeal.
You are absolutely right that Moltmann and Adams develop universalisms in ways that take horrors deeply seriously. Thanks for noting that.
To the contrary, Adam's simply treats everyone as the victim. We're all victims of tragic circumstances. Therefore, God should forgive us all. Adams is trivializing horrendous evils by her exercise in moral equivalence.

Her universalism is a variation on the Officer Krupke defense, transposed to a global key:
Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, You gotta understand, It's just our bringin' up-ke That gets us out of hand. Our mothers all are junkies, Our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset; We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get. We ain't no delinquents, We're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good!

There is good!

There is good, there is good, There is untapped good! Like inside, the worst of us is good!

(Spoken) That's a touchin' good story.

(Spoken) Lemme tell it to the world!

Just tell it to the judge.

Dear kindly Judge, your Honor, My parents treat me rough. With all their marijuana, They won't give me a puff. They didn't wanna have me, But somehow I was had. Leapin' lizards! That's why I'm so bad!

(As Judge) Right!

Officer Krupke, you're really a square; This boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care! It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed. He's psychologic'ly disturbed!

I'm disturbed!

We're disturbed, we're disturbed, We're the most disturbed, Like we're psychologic'ly disturbed.

(Spoken, as Judge) In the opinion on this court, this child is depraved on account he ain't had a normal home.

(Spoken) Hey, I'm depraved on account I'm deprived.

So take him to a headshrinker.

(Sings) My father is a bastard, My ma's an S.O.B. My grandpa's always plastered, My grandma pushes tea. My sister wears a mustache, My brother wears a dress. Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!

(As Psychiatrist) Yes! Officer Krupke, you're really a slob. This boy don't need a doctor, just a good honest job. Society's played him a terrible trick, And sociologic'ly he's sick!

I am sick!

We are sick, we are sick, We are sick, sick, sick, Like we're sociologically sick!

In my opinion, this child don't need to have his head shrunk at all. Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease!

Hey, I got a social disease!

So take him to a social worker!
[Jason Pratt:]
I saw that same crit of his (among other similar ones) go by during a five-or-six way debate between Calvs, Arms and Kaths (with Thomas Talbott and I on the Kath side), over at Victor Reppert's DangIdea journal several months ago. Steve retracted it when I pointed it out, for whatever that may be worth.
I retracted nothing. Zippo.
I don't know whether it's a case of Steve wanting vengeance on perpetrators who've hurt him and/or who've hurt people he loves, or whether it's a case of Steve projecting a hatred of 'liberal revisionists' onto anyone who disagrees with his theology (in complete disregard of how 'liberal' they actually are). Maybe some of both. God knows; I don't.
A great illustration of Jason's moral posturing Despite the philanthropic veneer of his universalism, it's inconceivable to him that a Christian might wish to see a perfect stranger vindicated.

And, true to his smarmy tactics, he smuggles in the word "vengeance," instead of "justice"—hoping to exploit the invidious connotations of "vengeance."
What I do know, is that I'm less concerned about any injustices inflicted on me (such as by, to take a small example, Steve Hays {wry g}),
A perfect specimen of his pansy universalism. On the one hand, he wants to dispense forgiveness to all the perpetrators of the world—because he's so loving and caring and compassionate. On the other hand, if anyone "denigrates" him, he whines and complains about how badly he's been mistreated.

Jason loves to extol universal forgiveness as long as no one rips his lace curtains or chips his china teacups. Let's have a nice, polite conversation about the Khmer Rouge. Let's hug the perpetrators with our latex gloves on. Let's have a civilized talk about Jessica Lunsford and John Couey.

Jason's universalism is purely hypothetical. He doesn't live there. It's a coffee table book. Don't crack the covers. Just keep the dust off the glossy cover. As long as we keep the perpetrators at a distance, we can wax loving and forgiving and issue our plenary pardon.

But if anyone raises his voice in Jason's presence or uses a harsh tone of voice—why, that's uncalled for. Jason's universalism evaporates on contact with the elements.

Jason, please explain to Jessica, while John Couey is raping her, why God would be "Satanic" not to save him from hell. And be sure to put on that wry smile of yours.

Jason, please explain to Jessica, while John Couey is stuffing her in a garbage bag, why God would be "Satanic" not to save him from hell. And be sure to put on that wry smile of yours.

Jason, please explain to Jessica, as John Couey buries her alive, why God would be "Satanic" not to save him from hell. And be sure to put on that wry smile of yours.

And maybe Rachel can read aloud some inspirational excerpts from Marilyn McCord Adams while all that's happening. Universalists are so sensitive and caring.
Which, as I clearly recall, more than a few scriptures have something to say about, too! (If I am not willing to show mercy and forgiveness to those who trespass against me, then I am the one who will not be forgiven by God. A warning I take very seriously, as a penitent sinner.)
What does Jason think that warning amounts to? That you might hang out in Purgatory? But that's remedial punishment. And you can always tap out. "Hell" is juvenile detention for universalism. Spend a few years in juvie, then pack your bags for glory.

And Jason doesn't take the warning seriously, because he misrepresents the warning. A Christian is not obligated to forgive unconditionally. Jason rips these passages out of context.

Take Lk 17:3. That's not unconditional. The offender is a fellow believer. And forgiveness is contingent on contrition.


  1. Ok, I just have one question for you. If John Couey were to repent right now, would God forgive him?

  2. If he were to repent, as the Bible describes true repentance (for a good summary, see the Westminster Confession, 15:1-2), he would be forgiven.

    That has precisely nothing to do with the radical chic universalism of Adams or Moltmann, which you’ve been touting.

  3. It sounds like you're saying that it would be okay for Jessica to not forgive her enemy.

  4. No, that's not what I'm saying. But since you bring it up, there's no unconditional obligation to forgive one's enemies. Since, moreover, both Jessica and her murderer are dead, the Sermon on the Mount does not apply.