Thursday, March 24, 2011

More on Bell & Universalism

I'm still in the beginning of reading Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Meanwhile, the controversy over Rob Bell's book and whether or not he's a Universalist continues.  Now, Rob Bell has come out and said he's not a Universalist.  There are those who will say he is anyway, of course.  But it's not so clear.  The universalism he denies is one where, "a giant cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or not."  It's easier to not be something that you paint as ridiculous, of course.  I've been accused of doing that with theism, so I know.  I also know this because I teach the straw man logical fallacy in English composition classes to first-year college students. 

Rob Bell set himself up a bit as a straw man by saying that he's not a theologian and also "I'm not very smart but I do know that there is good news."  But that's too easy and not very fair to just use that.  I've said all that myself at times--except the not very smart bit (not that I think I'm a genius or anything). 

So is he a Universalist?

He thinks God's grace is not limited to just Christians.  He thinks that Hell is what we make on earth, but Heaven is a real place we go to when we die.  He doesn't clarify what happens to someone if there is no eternal Hell, but yet someone doesn't choose to go to Heaven.  He'll leave that to God to sort out.  And it's hard to concieve of the person standing at the pearly gates and being invited in and saying, "Nah, I'll go to the eternal coffee shop instead.  I hear it has good music."  Although many Universalists might--they do like their coffee.

You could argue Universalism as universal salvation, and Bell seems to believe that this takes away our free will (although I would argue no more than birth or death, which his God seems content to take away choice of), or you could argue Universalism as the lack of Hell, which Bell seems to agree with. 

If there's a life after death but no Hell, there has to be a third option, or Heaven is just the default afterlife.  Bell doesn't argue for pergatory, or my coffee shop idea, but his theology seems to require it, or for him to admit what many believe--that he really is a Universalist.  And if Universalism is not the answer, has love truly won? 

I'll leave that to Rob Bell to sort out.  Over here with our heritage and living faith of Universalism, we know what it means that Love Wins.

4 comments:

Jeff said...

Another possibility is annihilationism. This is the view that God causes/allows certain souls to simply go out of existence in the afterlife because they have not met the criteria for eternal life. This is not quite Universalism as not every soul is saved, but it's not a damnation doctrine because the options are heaven or painless non-existence.

Cynthia Landrum said...

Good point.

Eruonen said...

I see from your bio that " As a humanist raised by UU Christians, "
Time to consider the UU Christian perspective again? What is Universalism without God?

Cathy S said...

I consider myself a UU, with a strong emphasis on both parts. I believe in one God, thus a Unitarian, and I believe that everyone eventually ends up in Heaven (or that coffee shop in the sky), thus the Universalist. However, I do not consider myself a UU Christian. To be a Christian, one has to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, to my understanding. I believe in one God, but not in the trinity or divinity of JC. So yes, I think Universalism without God is hard to argue, but it does not make me a UU Christian.

However, I've always had an odd perspective on Heaven/Hell. I've seen too much evil in the world to believe that everyone goes straight to Heaven, so although I don't believe anyone goes to Hell, I do believe in Purgatory - somewhere where they can make amends for their evil.

Bell's book looks very interesting. I'd be interested in hearing about it when you finish.