On Puritans and UUs

June 14, 2011

I’ve been saying for a while now that strict Universalism – the doctrine that God’s infinite love will assure that absolutely no one at all ends up in an eternal Hell – could only have arisen through Calvinism. Only by taking free will out of the soteriological loop altogether can we dispell the suspicion that surely someone in the world, at least the Hitlers and the Pol Pots, may have chosen to make themselves bad enough to deserve a Hell. I recently found a blog post (by a devoted Catholic named Joe Heschmeyer) citing Cardinal George of Chicago as having come to a similar conclusion:

He was careful to distinguish between how they became Universalists from how they became Unitarians.  His view on how they became Universalists was fascinating: he essentially said that they took the Calvinist notion of God’s sovereignty seriously, and responded to it. I think he’s right. Calvinism teaches that God’s election to salvation is unconditional.  So you don’t need faith to be saved. Instead, traditional Calvinists believe that you have faith, because you’re already saved. It’s an effect of salvation, not a cause.  If that’s true, then there’s not really a coherent reason that God couldn’t simply elect everyone to salvation…

Someone who believes in free will and salvation by faith will object that those who live lives devoted to sin, reject the grace of God, and refuse the gift of faith have both earned Hell, and in a very real sense, chosen it. God permits them to follow their own wills rather than His, but the road of our sinful wills, absent God, always leads to Hell…  But Calvinism doesn’t believe in those things, so the traditional rationale for Hell melts away.  [Emphasis mine.]
Mr Heschmeyer goes on to address the Unitarian side of the UU combine, pointing to sola scriptura and the rejection of traditional teaching authority as instrumental in leading to the abandonment of Trinitarianism. I would only add that in the 19th century the leading Unitarian thinkers took a further step: the realization that no doctrine could be proven conclusively without contradiction from Scripture alone, leading to the conclusion that Scripture simply wasn’t meant to be used that way at all.

Of course, as a doctrinally serious Catholic, Mr Heschmeyer deplores the historical developments which I, as a UU, celebrate, but it is good to see that we can both look at them and see the same history.

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