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The Argument from Beauty: Another Defense of Christian Universalism ~ Section II

Two Kinds of Faith

The last section ended by stating that it may “take a bit of faith” to believe the message of universal salvation. However, I’ll argue now that is also takes faith–more faith, in fact–to believe that God will not eventually save all people. To see what I mean by this, begin by looking at the following quote from a different article I wrote:

“If God is Love, then surely he wants the best for every person. Many scriptures support this. 1 Timothy 2:4 says ‘God … wants all people to be saved’. He “does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). I also believe God is powerful enough to accomplish whatever He wants. Isaiah 46:10 says ‘I (God) will accomplish all that I please’. When Christ’s disciples once asked him ‘Who can be saved?’, part of his response was, ‘With God, all things are possible’, by which we can infer: God can save anyone! If God desires that every person be saved, and he is able to bring about all that he desires, how can anyone not be saved? The doctrine of eternal damnation suggests that either God’s love or God’s power is deficient.”

From An Argument for Christian Universalism: Why I Don’t Believe in an Eternal Hell

In fact, there are many passages from the Christian Bible that indicate that God will save all people. Here are more examples.

Now, if you believe that the Christian scriptures were, in fact, inspired by God, all these scriptures should present you with a major problem if you also believe in an eternal hell. Setting aside, for the moment (I will return to the topic), the idea of free will, consider the faith now required to believe in eternal torment. You must now take it on faith that the statements from these scriptures, although inspired by God, are in some way not quite true.

Consider that the passage from Isaiah, quoted above, is not merely stating that God can accomplish whatever He desires, but that He will accomplish everything He desires. Then the other scriptures, quoted and linked to above, unequivocally state that He desires that no person “perish”, but that all people be saved. Therefore, from a scriptural standpoint, all people will be saved. To believe otherwise now requires a great deal of faith.

I’ll have more to say about “free will” later, but if one believes the passages quoted and linked to above, then one must conclude that no person will eternally and freely choose to not be saved, for God earnestly desires that all people be saved, and God will accomplish all He desires.

Again, the Christian scriptures say, “God is Agape (Love)” and “Agape never fails” (1 John 4:8, 1 Cor. 13:8). So, the “free will” of humans will not thwart God’s plans or wishes. Universalism is the only position that is in full harmony with the nature of God, as described by Christians and the Christian scriptures

So, if one believes that these scriptures were inspired by God, it should now take less faith to believe that God will save all people than it takes to believe that He will not. To believe that He will not save all people requires one to somehow believe that God’s nature is not what scripture says it is. One must believe that either He will not, in fact, accomplish all that He wishes to accomplish, or that He will accomplish all He wants, but He simply does not want to save everyone. If you believe the scriptures, you’ll realize that only Universalism causes no contradictions about the nature of God. So, to believe otherwise, I imagine, would take a lot of faith.

So, you must now choose between two beliefs. They both require faith. One of these beliefs, however, requires faith that contradicts both scripture and the Divine Nature. The other belief requires faith that agrees with scripture, and thus ascribes only the best attributes to the nature of God.

One of these beliefs is the belief that Being/Reality is beautiful. The other belief amounts to a perception of a Reality that is ultimately not beautiful at all.

If you must, by faith, choose between one idea that life is beautiful, and another idea that life is not beautiful, wouldn’t you rather believe in that which is beautiful?

Beauty is a Big Deal

As I began doing my research for this series, I became acutely aware that, until now, I had not given the concept of “Beauty” nearly the amount of thought that it merits. I further realized that I was not alone in this.

It turns out that Beauty is a central concept in sacred literature from all religious traditions. Moreover, it is a pervasive concept in science, mathematics, metaphysics, and mysticism. Indeed, for how central the concept is to the grander domains of human thought, it is given shockingly little popular attention. Or rather, the popular attention is directed mostly towards cheap social ideas of beauty, such as those that the magazine covers urge us to strive for. However, beauty, as a concept, is far more than skin-deep.

Here are just a few examples:

  • In the Genesis account of the creation, when God proclaims everything “good” over and over again, the word translated as “good” is the Hebrew word טוֹב, which also means “beautiful”.
  • In Jewish, Christian, and mystical traditions, the idea of “completion” is central. In Genesis, for example, God declares His work “finished”, and then rests on the seventh day due to that fact. Thus, the number seven is associated with completion. Also, just before Jesus died on the cross, He is said to have proclaimed, “It is finished”. This theme of completion is closely connected in religious and linguistic ways to both the concept of “perfection” and the concept of “beauty”.
  • Beauty has long been, and continues to be, a guiding principle in mathematics and science. This is related to the mathematical/scientific concept of “symmetry”, which has long been thought indicative of a theory’s likelihood to express something true. This emphasis on symmetry has come under attack in the last few years, but the likely result will not be that we jettison the idea of symmetry entirely, but rather, that we balance it more appropriately with other principles. This, I believe, will not amount to a rejection of beauty as a guiding principle. As explained below, it will more likely result in a more subtle definition of mathematical/scientific beauty.
  • While mathematics and science have long sought beauty in symmetry, Heraclitus proclaimed millenia ago that “the most beautiful arrangement is a pile of things poured out at random”. The word he used for “arrangement”, naturally, was the Greek word “κόσμος”, that is, “Kosmos”, from which we get the English word “Cosmos”.
  • If Heraclitus was correct, and if the contemporary scientific consensus about the general randomness of the universe is correct, then perhaps Leibniz, though ridiculed for supposing that we inhabit “the best of all possible worlds”, was also correct. I digress. However, my point is also that there are infinite such digressions, and so it turns out that “Beauty” will lead us on a very deep and wide journey.
  • Consider the common fact that the human perception of beauty in another human face is directly related to the symmetry of that face. However, upon second thought, this is only partly true, as the symmetry in question is entirely that of symmetry across the vertical axis. Were a human face to be also symmetrical across the horizontal axis, it would not look beautiful. It would look grotesque.
  • Perhaps then, beauty is actually a balanced juxtaposition of symmetry and non-symmetry. That is, perhaps it is equal parts Heraclitus and contemporary mathematics/science. After all, isn’t the beauty of life, in all its diversity, on planet earth, in some way the beauty of the juxtaposition of all that order against the background of apparent cosmic randomness and chaos?

I’ll conclude this line of thought for now, as I think I’ve sufficiently illustrated just how far the contemplation of Beauty can take us. This illustration doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, as we will later see.

Shame is Also a Big Deal

What is shame?

May I propose that shame is nothing other than our perception of ourselves as being ugly in a deeper-than-cosmetic sense. We often feel shame when we commit deeds that we perceive as ugly deeds.

Note: this chapter on shame will not end here. It is presently unfinished, but will be completed shortly.

Much more to come very soon…

Here is a very rough, very early outline of future sections in The Argument from Beauty. These are personal notes made into a mindmap.

The author lovingly dedicates this article to the memory of two dear friends: Gary Amirault, who passed from this world on November 3rd, 2018, and his wife, Michelle Amirault, who preceded him in death on July 31st, 2018. Gary and Michelle lived their lives passionately in love with Love, and on behalf of Love. Indeed, this article would likely have never come to be, were it not for Gary and Michelle’s love. Gary and Michelle tirelessly promoted what they called the “Victorious Gospel”, otherwise known as Christian Universalism or Universal Reconciliation. In short, they proclaimed to the world that “Love Wins”. Tentmaker Ministries (https://tentmaker.org/) is just one of their enduring legacies.

Far more importantly, however, Gary and Michelle were both the embodiment of the kind of relentless love that they preached. They were the warmest, kindest, most hospitable people I have ever known. I believe that anyone who was graced with knowing them personally would say exactly the same thing.

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The Argument from Beauty: Another Defense of Christian Universalism ~ Section I

Preface

“To the few who love me and whom I love—to those who feel rather than to those who think—to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities—I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone:—let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.”

What I here propound is true:—therefore it cannot die:—or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will ‘rise again to the Life Everlasting.'”

“Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.”

~ Edgar Allan Poe (Emphases added. Preface to Eureka, which expounded Poe’s mystical, and decisively not pessimistic, vision of reality. It was published one year prior to his death. See: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32037/32037-h/32037-h.htm)

Waking from my Dogmatic Slumber

I’ve recently started reading the highly acclaimed 2018 tome on Christian universalism by Michael J. McClymond, The Devil’s Redemption. One of his peers has predicted that it will be considered the “definitive treatment” of the topic for years to come.

It defends an anti-universalistic stance.

A quick scan of the book and its reviews would suggest that it works to undermine the claim that universalism has deep roots in the earliest Christian antiquity, such that there was nothing close to an anti-universalistic consensus for the first five or six centuries of Christendom. The book also appears to attack the claim that universalism is “Biblical”, and it presents philosophical reasons that universalism is either untenable or undesirable.

I’ll provide an update on all that after I read through more of the book.

However, what I’ve read so far has prompted me to publish the following argument for universalism as quickly as possible, and I don’t believe that my argument will change drastically upon my further reading of the book. My argument is addressed to epistemological and ontological aspects of Christian soteriology/eschatology that I strongly suspect is largely unaddressed and/or unaddressable by The Devil’s Redemption.

I’m calling it the Argument from Beauty.

McClymond has framed Christian universalists as “metaphysical rebels”. In other words, they are people who refuse to accept reality “as it is”. As much as I like the moniker, and would love to adopt it to describe myself, I must refuse to accept its validity as defined by McClymond.

A “Digression” Into Bibliolatry

From a rational and empirical perspective alone, it is possible to surmise that, if there are intelligent designers of our universe, they are indifferent to human affairs, at best. One of the primary themes of the Gospel, however, is that the Creator of our universe is neither indifferent nor sadistic, but cares deeply about all humans, desiring the best for each of them. This theme, I think, is one of the themes that sets the Gospel aside as relatively unique for its cultural milieu, and relatively unique in contrast to currents of human thought in general.

The Gospel is not something that could be deduced via rationalism and empiricism alone. It is, I think, for that reason, many people consider the Christian Bible to be a vital source of knowledge. It is for that reason, I think, that many people elevate that collection of texts to a lofty place that often approaches, if not entirely becomes, a sort of deification of the texts. That is what I call bibliolatry.

The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. While I believe that the Christian scriptures are, in fact, a vital and divinely inspired source of wisdom, my personal panentheism requires that other sacred texts, nature itself, the human conscience, intuition, and many other such abstractions are also divinely inspired sources of wisdom. The Christian Bible stands unique inasmuch as it tells the story of Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself was quoted as saying, “39 You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me,40 yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” Indeed, eternal life is a quality of life, not a duration of life. It is the quality of a life that is in communion with the Eternal. This is how Jesus is quoted as defining it: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Thus, many Christian elevate their scriptures to such a degree that they term themselves, “Bible-believing Christians”, and the assumption, I believe, is that there is really no such thing as a Christian who isn’t “Bible-believing”. By Bible-believing, people almost invariably seem to refer to the belief that the Bible is the literal, inerrant, infallible Word of God. They seem to believe that the voice of God can actually be contained in dead human symbols: in a human language.

But in fact, if one actually believes the Christian bible, they will tell you that only one thing is required to be a proper “Christian”: “. . . the Son of Man must be lifted up,15that everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life.16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who trusts in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.18 Whoever trusts in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not has already been condemned, because he has not trusted in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Thus, while the Christian scriptures do point to Jesus Christ, it is completely unnecessary to believe that the sacred texts themselves must be considered the inerrant, literal, infallible words of God Himself. That is not listed as a requirement for one to gain eternal life.

In fact, the Christian Bible itself makes it clear that Christ himself is “the Word” (Logos). Elsewhere, it makes it clear that the Word of God is Spirit. Thus, the Christian Bible clarifies that God Himself is the Word of God. That is another reason, I believe, why even referring to the Bible as the Word of God is a form of idolatry.

But this is a subject I’ve discussed elsewhere, and that I will explore later in this series.

Kant, We Have a Problem

From a rational and empirical perspective alone, it is possible to surmise that, if there are intelligent designers of our universe, they are indifferent to human affairs, at best. One of the primary themes of the Gospel, however, is that the Creator of our universe is neither indifferent nor sadistic, but cares deeply about all humans, desiring the best for each of them. This theme, I think, is one of the themes that sets the Gospel aside as relatively unique for its cultural milieu, and relatively unique in contrast to currents of human thought in general.

This brings me to what I privately like to dub, “The Fundamental Problem of Philosophy”. Western Epistemology traditionally grants us two valid sources of knowledge: Reason and the Empirical. However, those two sources contradict each other when we ponder the most basic question of metaphysics: Does anything exist?

Empirically, it seems undeniable that something exists. Our sensory experiences and ability to conduct experiments with things both tell us unequivocally that something must exist. Rationally, however, nothing can exist. This is because our reason dictates that everything must have a cause. That is the foundation of the scientific method. We must admit, however, that existence itself must be uncaused, or somehow self-causing. Both scenarios completely defy our reason by defying the most fundamental grounds of that reason.

In short, reason tells us that there is no way anything can or should exist. But experience tells us that something does exist. What this tells me is that reason and experience alone are insufficient sources of knowledge when it comes to the most fundamental questions of metaphysics.

The Short & Sweet, the Beautiful and the True

In short, the Christian Universalist Argument from Beauty will go something like this:

Empiricism and reason alone are insufficient as sources of knowledge about some of the deepest, most enduring questions about our existence (see the prior section). The Christian Bible, furthermore, is limited as a source of knowledge for a life of faith, and an excess of dependence on or devotion to it tend towards idolatry.

Another source of “knowledge” about the big questions of life might be found in the non-rational, subconscious human faculties, such as intuition, emotion, and instinct. Nonhuman animals are known to possess instincts that are genetically inherited, and do not spring from the direct experience or rational processes of the individual members of the species, but represent the subconscious knowledge inherited from the collective wisdom of the species, as encoded in the individual’s genetics. Might we wonder whether such collective, unconscious knowledge also exists in humans?

From a philosophical standpoint, it has long been controversial to claim that beauty can be a source of knowledge. While early western philosophy often linked the Beautiful with the Good and the True, modern philosophy elevated reason and empirical experience to a lofty position of exclusivity. While there are certainly modern and contemporary philosophers who have attempted to reestablish a link between the Beautiful and the True, the idea hasn’t really been resurrected on a mass scale. That, however, shouldn’t minimize the import of these outliers’ contributions. I will spend a good deal of time looking at them in upcoming issues of this series.

I would ask whether, at the very least, systematic theology should consider beauty as a potential source of knowledge. Christian theology, in particular, is fond of claiming that “faith” is an essential component of the life of the spirit. Could one have faith that God’s plans are beautiful? I believe that is central to the “good news” of the Gospel. Or does faith have a place in theology anymore, now that we prefer our theology to be “systematic”?

A universe in which the majority of people suffered for eternity, or even a universe in which some people suffered for eternity, would not be beautiful. I base that statement on my own perceptions of what is or is not “beautiful”, but as we will later see, such conceptions may sometimes correspond to certain objective realities.

So, I say again: a universe in which anyone spends an eternity in torment is not beautiful. And if, by faith, I believe that God’s plans are beautiful, then I reject such a conception of the universe.

There is, in fact, scientific and mathematical support for the idea that our conceptions of beauty may sometimes correspond to the truth-value of the thing that we see as beautiful or not beautiful. I will discuss all of this, and much more, as I continue to describe the Argument from Beauty. In beginning to do my research for this project, I actually ended up finding that the subject is incredibly rich and vast and complex. My next issue in this series will outline some of those many subtleties and nuances that I intend to discuss in this series. It turns out that, in everything from our theologies to our pop culture, we mostly overlook the incredible depths of the subject of “Beauty”. True, our society is obsessed with beauty, but only with beauty that is “skin-deep”, so to speak.

I propose that Beauty is sometimes a source of knowledge; not necessarily knowledge with certainty, as we seek in empiricism and rationalism, but knowledge nonetheless. This is an inner wisdom: a direct personal experience of a deeper reality. Sometimes, it may even take a bit of faith to attain such knowledge. But then again, so did the idea that people might one day be able to fly.

Next: Click here to go to Section 2

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The Finished Work

Universal Reconciliation as Praxis

כלל

Introduction

This work is addressed to the Christian UR (Universal Reconciliation) community, first and foremost. Beyond that, it is addressed to the humanitarian community—to all who seek to make the world a better place for all.

Much excellent work has been done to support the doctrine of UR from scriptural, historical, linguistic, logical, and ethical standpoints. The present work is intended to explore the extended ramifications of that doctrine. It asks, “Believing these things to be true, what must we do?”

It is sometimes asserted by the opponents of UR that the doctrine naturally leads to evangelical complacency. “If we aren’t to be saving souls from eternal torment, whence would we gain a sense of urgency?” In other words, “Why proselytize?” This work will attempt to demonstrate how UR should lead us naturally, not away from a sense of urgency, but towards a greater urgency than ever before. We will find this newfound urgency to be richer in meaning and depth than any urgency we might have found in saving souls from eternal torment.

To understand this, we must ask ourselves, “What is reconciliation? What is salvation?” “Reconciliation” we will understand to mean “The reconciliation of every person to God.” But God is Love. And Love is inherently social. There is no gospel but a social gospel, and no theology but a liberation theology. We understand God to be an All-Consuming Love for all beings. So, the reconciliation of every person to God is the reconciliation of every person to every person. It is the realization within all beings of an ineffable Love for all beings.

“Love the LORD thy God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength”. Therefore, Love is not a feeling. Love is not a thought. Love is not an action. The Love of which we speak is a way of feeling and thinking and acting and being, all at once. It is everything, or it is nothing. For all beings to be filled and consumed by such a Love for all beings: That is the finished work.

More to come shortly…

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Very rough, very early outline of upcoming issues in the Argument from Beauty series (personal notes made via a mindmap)

  • Rational analysis allows for indifferent creators, but:
One way is driven by fear, and the other by courage to believe in the beautiful 
  • No beauty without suffering
    • Micro suffering, like working in an office
      • Armchair philosophy or theology vs trench philosophy or theology
    • No empathy without suffering
  • What would Jung say about The Beautiful
    • The whole field of aesthetics
    • What did Plato say about the beautiful
      • Platonic aesthetics
  • Choosing what you believe
    • The ubermensch
    • Scripture as a divine evolutionary rorschach test
      • A lot of scripture and life to support this
    • Haireo heresy
  • The beautiful is also the good, the truth, the life, and Love itself
    • God is: the logos, Agape, a burning fire, what else? Also the many Jewish names for god
      • Fascinating that Bible doesn’t say Jesus is God. Back to the element of personal choice and haireo heresy
      • Burning fire as metaphor or as panentheistic. Cf gnostic gospels with Jesus saying panentheistic things about himself. Also eat my flesh and drink my blood
      • Does the Greek also say love is God?
    • Eternal life is a quality of life that transcends what we think of as life
    • Aletheia is unforgettable because it is beautiful
  • The fundamental problem of philosophy
    • The need for other sources of knowledge (emotion/intuition/BEAUTY)
    • In light of relativism, but distinguished from relativism
  • Mentions of beauty in scripture
  • The opposite of beautiful
    • Beauty wealth success
    • Our cultural obsession with beauty
    • So what is truly unbeautiful?
      • Indifference
        • Beauty is a passion
          • People seek meaning, experience of being alive, or is it all beauty we’re after?
          • Empiricism and rationalism take passion out of knowledge
          • Nihilism.. Removing the beauty from the cosmos
          • Christians take passion out of love
    • Humble
    • Jesus was not physically beautiful
    • Buddha is a shit stick
  • The philology of beauty
    • Whatever is lovely, think on these things
      • Corinthians love verse as meditation on the beautiful
      • How little we meditate on beauty that isn’t skin deep
    • Love as the glue of the universe
      • The unforgivable sin
        • Unforgiveness as unforgivable
          • On the surface, blasphemy seems less grave Than torturing someone to death, for example
          • Forgiveness comes from seeing the good
            • Love doesn’t take evil into account
      • Beauty as the connecting or ordering principle in cosmos
        • Logos as connecting ordering principle
          • When meaning becomes desire in the Buddhist sense
            • Our purpose driven life obsession doesn’t seem biblical
          • Meaning, beauty, suffering as ultimate subjectives
            • Subjective meaning as haireo
              • As many paths to God as there are subjective beings
          • Logos as story or meaning
        • Most beautiful arrangement per heraclitus
    • Idolatry
      • A life purpose
      • Everything Pursuit but perfect love/beauty
        • The beauty in the love of Mary magdelines TWO annointings
          • Jesus wagered his life on his conviction that love conquers death
        • Only those conquer death
        • Only those are separate from egoic construed self
      • Romantic love
      • Beauty you can see eidol
    • Beauty, like love, conquers the good/evil duality
      • God created, then “saw” that it was good
        • Goodness, beauty, completion, perfection, bride,
          • The finished work
            • The ache of the unfinished
              • Longing
              • Gestation
              • Labor pains
    • Eye of the beholder and:
      • beauty and suffering as most objective things there are
    • Biblical theology can go either way, but only one way is beautiful
    • Love is the only thing that makes things beautiful
      • If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me
      • Sans love, all is grotesque
      • The innocence and purity seen in pets/animals in contrast to humans (think sneebles and phoebe), combined with realization that it is because of love; otherwise, they are grotesque
    • Faith, the substance of..
    Things not seen. The evidence of things hoped for 
    • God is the only thing there is… Thus, the restoration of all back into god
      • The passion of a God who:
        • Weeps because the people were like sheep without a Shephard
          • Pursues beings across eons to rescue them from samsara… Their eons of suffering… Of being alone
            • Death being mercy to beings who have no rest, who ruin their souls, who need a new start.. A new morning/day
              • Like sleep is mercy from the day’s weariness
            • Song of Solomon
          • Expedient/skillfull means. Upaya
          • Hangs naked on a cross asking only for the forgiveness of those who know not what they do (also, beautiful) … Perish lack of knowledge
          • The people perish for lack of knowledge
    • Upside Down
      • Spiritual economics of scarcity
        • Scarcity is manmade
          • Economics of scarcity is perpetuated by the economists of rational self interest
            • Self interest is death
          • Man is not rational
            • The.commodification of reason
            • The repression of depth psychology (yes, irony)
            • The pathologizing of emotion
            • Rational self interest and scarcity are like holding only to classical physics when we’re in the cusp of post quantum physics
          • Man is to blame for spiritual scarcity
          • Nature has scarcity, but man is made to conquer it
      • Twitter follow ratio
    • Finished Work
    • ETTMT (Pragmatic, but:
    By their fruit you will know them) text the spirits.. You know not of what spirit you are 

    EditVery rough, very early outline of upcoming issues in the Argument from Beauty series (personal notes made via a mindmap)ETTMT

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    Eternal Torment Terror Management Theory (Early Rough Draft of Summary)

    Introduction

    Page 1of 12

    This is a work in progress, currently in the early stages of development.

    My review of the literature on TMT (Terror Management Theory) has indicated that there is no adequate treatment of the key differences between the fear of death and the fear of eternal torment, which I will henceforth usually abbreviate as “ET”. These key differences are:

    1. Death is unavoidable, whereas ET is ostensibly avoidable if one does or believes the right things
    2. Death is universal to all living things; ET is for “them”, while heaven, we hope, is for “us”
    3. ET could be a far more terrifying concept than annihilation; there should prove to be clinical implications.

    Of the three differences, the us/them dichotomy should prove to be the most socially significant.

    I propose that these differences justify an additional theory, which we might call Eternal Torment Terror Management Theory (ETTMT).

    Summary of the Scope and Purpose of This Document

    As I began to review the extant literature on TMT (Terror Management Theory) and on correlations between belief in eternal torment (ET) and social behavior, I at first found the opposite of what I expected to find. I found studies that showed a positive correlation between a belief in ET and pro-social behavior. But this finding would turn out to lead my research to something much larger and more complex than I’d originally expected to find.

    It appears that the belief in and/or fear of ET may not promote pro-social behavior, as some have theorized, but only pro-ingroup behavior, while reinforcing hostility towards outgroups. Most obviously relevant to contemporary international relations would be the hostility and conflict between Islamic and Christian communities. However, I will propose that the doctrine of ET contributes to a range of destructive intergroup phenomena that is exponentially broader than that. Or, as I intend to frame it in a planned follow-up work, the “need and opportunity for reconciliation” is far grander, and goes much deeper than any of the more soundbite-worthy conflicts favored by facile media trends.

    Further research is needed to better establish correlations between the fear of ET and intergroup hostility and conflict. Many of the central hypotheses put forth in ETTMT would not be difficult to research, even experimentally. Experimental research could determine a causal relationship by utilizing, for example, priming and implicit behavioral measurements.

    More importantly, however, the establishment of a relationship between the belief in ET and intergroup hostility would justify a call to specific action, funded by social impact investments from humanitarians of every ilk.

    The following summary will provide the theoretical frameworks for a full spectrum of social harm that may result from the widespread belief in ET, and it will suggest a viable and specific response from the humanitarian community.

    Page 2 of 12

    Initial Summary of Hypotheses & Suggested Humanitarian Responses

    I propose the following:

    1. The widespread doctrine of an all-powerful God who will subject many, if not most, human beings to eternal torment causes tremendous social harm. The following pages will provide theoretical frameworks that could link the belief in eternal torment (ET) to the following range of social and psychological responses: us-vs-them mentality, groupthink, intergroup conflict, cognitive dissonance, punitiveness, judgmental attitude, support for authoritarianism, the belief that “might makes right”, support for torture, support for capital punishment, submissiveness and susceptibility to manipulation, intellectual paralysis (or “closed-mindedness”), terrorism, xenophobia, racism, fear, anxiety, bibliolatry, legalism, apocalypticism, and distrust of the universe/reality/existence.
    2. There is a viable alternative doctrine, the viability of which is demonstrated partially by its widespread acceptance within Judeo-Christian populations both contemporary and historical. That is the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation (UR), otherwise referred to as Christian Universalism. The viability of the doctrine is established by a multitude of factors besides its adoption by religious communities. See, for example, my succinct article athttps://owlcation.com/humanities/Why-I-Dont-Believe-in-an-Eternal-Hell or the massive collection of resources and information at https://tentmaker.org/
    3. It is possible to guide many people to an acceptance of the doctrine of universal reconciliation, or to at least an acceptance of the possibility of universal reconciliation, and doing so would mitigate tremendous social harm.
    4. Perhaps a majority of Christian believers in ET are ready to accept UR, but they are simply not aware of the doctrine, or are certainly not aware of its viability from scriptural, historical, linguistic, and philosophical standpoints. Most Christians today may already accept UR to some degree on a subconscious level, but reject it on a conscious level. This inner conflict (cognitive dissonance) itself could be the root of additional psychological and social ills.
    5. Targeted outreach through PPC (search engine and social media) and organic digital marketing (SEO and SMM) may be the most effective means of popularizing UR, and of bringing about widespread awareness of both its existence and its viability for Christian individuals and communities.
    6. Funding for such outreach is needed, and after further research, could be justified for social impact.
    7. Many of the central hypotheses put forth in ETTMT would not be difficult to research, even experimentally. Experimental research could include, for example, the use of priming and implicit behavioral measurement. The results of such experimental and non-experimental research would provide sufficient evidence to justify funding for outreach.
    8. A cogent demonstration of the points above should be used to secure a broad base of support from many social impact investors and humanitarians both inside and outside the UR movement, and even outside the Christian faith.

    In the pages that follow, I will attempt to persuade the reader of the need for further research into each of the points above. I will also describe research methodologies that can be used for those purposes, and I will further discuss possible ways of marshaling an effective humanitarian response.

    Page 3 of 12

    Point I

    “The widespread doctrine of an all-powerful God who will subject many, if not most, human beings to eternal torment causes tremendous social harm. This is especially manifested via an us-vs-them mentality, groupthink, intergroup conflict, cognitive dissonance, punitiveness, judgmental attitudes, support for authoritarianism, the belief that “might makes right”, support for torture, support for capital punishment, submissiveness and susceptibility to manipulation, intellectual paralysis (closed-mindedness), terrorism, xenophobia, racism, fear, anxiety, bibliolatry, legalism, apocalypticism, and distrust of the universe/reality/existence.”

    There are a variety of theoretical frameworks, novel and established, with which to frame the various types of social harm proposed to result from the doctrine of eternal torment (ET).

    1. Key Differentiator Framework

    The novel theoretical framework involved has already been stated. It can be summarized by reiterating that death is universal and unavoidable, whereas eternal torment (abbreviated “ET” going forward), as traditionally understood in evangelical Christianity, is for “them”, not for “us”, and it is avoidable. The “us”, in this context of evangelical Christianity, refers to all Christians who believe and practice “the right way”. In the same context, “them” refers to all non-Christians, or even those who call themselves Christians, but do not believe or practice “correctly”.

    In theory, these crucial differences may take the usual dynamics of TMT, but add elements of intergroup conflict that are not present in TMT, based on its addition of an ingroup/outgroup dynamic not present in TMT.

    Such intergroup conflict could play out in a variety of ways:

    • Extreme political ideologies
    • Extreme religious beliefs and behaviors
    • Groupthink
    • Racism
    • Xenophobia
    • Intergroup violence, including terrorism
    • Judgmental, biased, or prejudiced attitudes and behaviors
    • Self-serving bias
    1. Socialization

    Socialization is an already well-established theoretical framework. Essentially, it states that humans can and often do learn beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors by watching others, especially others who are parental or authority figures.

    I think that the idea of socialization can be extended to a person’s conception of the divine. In this sense, one’s mental image of “God” becomes an additional parental/authority figure, and one thus tends to learn attitudes and behaviors from what God “does” (aka, what they believe God to be doing). In other words, to some extent, we become what we worship.

    Page 4 of 12

    It is not difficult to imagine the types of social harm that could result from such “divine socialization” with a God who eternally torments people:

    • An attitude or belief that “might makes right”; a view, therefore, that justice, in some sense, is arbitrary
    • Punitiveness
    • Support for torture
    • Support for the death penalty
    • The implicit belief that violence is acceptable or even “Godly”
    1. Cognitive Dissonance and Existential Inauthenticity

    Cognitive dissonance is another theoretical framework that has been well-studied. For believers in ET, cognitive dissonance is inherent in the conception of divinity. For example, most Christians would agree with the statement, drawn from the Christian scriptures, that “God is Love”. In Islam, likewise, Allah is called “The Merciful”. It should be readily apparent that an extreme cognitive dissonance exists between holding a belief in an all-loving, all-merciful God, and holding a belief in a God who torments humans for a literal eternity.

    I will discuss cognitive dissonance as contrasting with the existentialist construct of “authenticity”. I propose that in one sense, authenticity involves a degree of coherence between one’s various beliefs, between one’s beliefs/attitudes and behavior, and between one’s behavior in one context with one’s behavior in a differing context. Framing authenticity as containing the aforementioned elements, cognitive dissonance can be framed as an element of existential inauthenticity.

    I will propose that the cognitive dissonance that results from the simultaneous holding of extreme opposites in the conception of the divine (all-loving vs. as cruel as is possible to imagine) is so widespread through Western civilization both contemporary and historical that it constitutes an existential inauthenticity so pervading Western culture that existential inauthenticity could be seen as a key element of the Western zeitgeist.

    1. Existential Anxiety

    The existential anxiety that can result from a belief in eternal torment could, for many individuals, be far more overwhelming than the anxiety that results from a belief in annihilation. Research could investigate links between such intense anxiety and the following responses:

    • Intellectual paralysis, colloquially known as “closed-mindedness”.

    I think that extant research on the Openness to Experience construct from Costa and McCrae’s ubiquitous Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality could end up providing excellent support for an inverse relationship between intense existential anxiety and Openness to Experience.

    • Submissiveness and/or Susceptibility to Manipulation

    A relationship between fear, submissiveness, and susceptibility to manipulation is well established by history and by research. Fear is often used, for example, by governments against their own citizens in State Terrorism, with the intent to manipulate and control.

    • Generalized Fear and Anxiety

    Existential anxiety could be thought to contribute to generally fearful/anxious personality types in individuals, or even to clinical anxiety disorders. Clinical anxiety disorders, and even sub-clinical levels of anxiety as a personality factor, contribute negatively to the

    Page 5 of 12

    lives of both anxious individuals and the people who relate to them in any capacity. Thus, anxiety, when it is not adaptive, is detrimental on both an individual (clinical or  psychological) basis and a social and sociological basis.

    • A fear of, or even a strong belief in ET will likely be easily demonstrated to correlate or even cause bibliolatry, legalism, apocalypticism, and distrust in the universe/reality/existence. Each of these phenomena are subjects of with profound and broad implications, and a great deal of writing and study has been done on them to date. I will look further into how these phenomena not only alienate believers in ET from their doctrinal “Other”, but alienate their doctrinal Other from them. In other words, things like bibliolatry, legalism, apocalypticism, and even the belief in ET itself are major factors that create negative attitudes toward Christians and Muslims among numerous individuals within certain demographics, including, but not limited to: atheists, agnostics, scientists—Christians/Muslims and these other demographics are not all mutually exclusive—, humanists, humanitarians, “New Age” practitioners of myriad kinds, Neo-Pagans, indigenous pantheistic/animistic traditional religions from all over the world, Buddhists, and Hindus.

    Page 6 of 12

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