I’m writing this on a day when democracy calls us to act – to walk our talk. If we live, as we do, in a democracy, then it is part of our responsibility to participate by voting. I hope that you have voted or will vote, and I would love it if you voted ‘my way,’ but I hope most of all that you vote regardless of your position.
I want to write today about the difference between beliefs (like believing in the theory of democracy) and acting on those beliefs (like voting).
I happen to be reading a book that might be called a consideration of universalism. A quick definition of universalism might be in order: God loves all of his creations and thus would not condemn any of us to hell for eternity; in other words, all will be saved. Since my religious tradition evolved from 19th century Universalism, I was intrigued when a modern Christian coming from what might be a rather conservative perspective, would choose to reveal his universalist leanings. The book, by the way, is Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. I honestly have not finished the book – am about a third of the way through – so I in no way can say what conclusions Bell ultimately draws about heaven and hell, but I appreciate his questions. He states that questions are a part of faith, part of the tradition of Christianity and Judaism. I agree. It is okay to ask questions, in fact, in Unitarian Universalism, that is what we encourage – the asking of questions seeking answers to life’s primary issues.
Bell starts out asking the question about salvation – how is one saved? He asks “is it what you say, or who you are, or what you do, or what you say you’re going to do, or who your friends are, who you’re married to, or whether you give birth to children, or is it what questions you’re asked or is it what questions you ask in return, or is it whether you do what you’re told, or is it the tribe or family or ethnic group you’re born into?” All of these questions are based on passages in the New Testament with references to being saved or to eternal life to which Jesus responded. It is clear that there is no singular answer. So often,Bellstates, salvation is purportedly based on what you believe – that if you believe in Christ, you will be saved…but how is that belief expressed or known or for that matter achieved? It is NOT simple.
Bell mentions Ghandi – clearly one of the most holy and worthy of men in the 20th century. He recalls conversations with individuals who state that because Ghandi was not Christian, he clearly was not going to be saved – that only Christians can be saved. Whoa…what happens to all those who lived before Christ was born? Condemned to hell? What happens to those who have never had the opportunity to learn about Christianity? What was God thinking about these souls – that they were condemned without chance of salvation because of when or where they were born? I think for most of us, this consideration brings us up a bit short. Does one truly believe that God loves some of us more than others? I frankly don’t think so. I believe that God’s love is universal, unequivocal, and eternal. I am not sure whatBell believes although I have read enough to know that he believes in hell.
For that matter, so do I. I believe that we create our own hell, we don’t need God’s judgment to do that. Instead, however, I want to return to how one is saved. Even if God’s love is universal, salvation may not have anything to do with eternity. I believe that Jesus was speaking about the here and now on this earth, in this plane of existence. We can create our own paradise. How? By living out our values.
Humans are worthy of respect. Inherently we are good. John Locke, 16th century philosopher, said so. We are quite capable of governing ourselves and of choosing the right path. Many others have said the same. It is my view of the nature of humans. Under circumstances where we are given freedom, information, education, and opportunity, humans can and do choose for the common benefit. We so often hear the negative stories in the press and around the water cooler and on-line, but the reality is that there is far more good in the world than there is evil. Evil may seem to overwhelm, but consider how people on the whole respond to crises and you will see the good become apparent.
If we take the opportunity to work for the common good, if we learn how to create justice for all, if we instill compassion and empathy in our children as they grow rather than fear and greed…these conditions could lead to a kind of paradise on earth. We could live for today as opposed to trying to live for another age.
I hesitate to say there is no after-life – I simply do not know. I do know that there is today – the here and now – and we should focus on that. If the values you say you believe in are Christian – loving your neighbor, feeding the stranger for instance – my suggestion is to live out those values NOW instead of waiting for the next world.
I want to thank Reverend Bell for his questions; they caused me to ponder. I like to ponder – how about you?