One of the claims made, among elsewhere, in Dr. Gregg Frazer's book is that the God of the American Founding (what he terms "theistic rationalism," but could be termed differently) was more benevolent than the God of "the commonly received ideas of Christianity" in late 18th Century America.
was one of the "lenses" through which America's key Founders viewed
God. Indeed, Robert J. Wilson III's book entitled The Benevolent Deity: Ebenezer Gay and the Rise of Rational Religion in New England, 1696-1787 features the influential unitarian theologian Gay
as one of the first leaders of this theological movement. (Gay doesn't
get the press for Americanist theology that do like-minded slightly
later theologians Revs. Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy, because he turned out to be a Tory.)
was another lens through which Dr. Frazer claimed the key Founders
viewed their Deity. Hence, America's God wasn't that of late 18th
Century biblical Christianity, but something more humanistic and
rationalistic (the idea is it's American "man's reason" that changed the
Christian God's features).
That's quite a contentious
claim, but one in which I believe has a degree of merit. There are some
lesser included claims that are not so contentious. One is to stress the
benevolent nature of the deity, part of the zeitgeist of the American
Founding. This contrasts with the nature of the god of Calvinism, i.e.,
the god of Jonathan Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
So for instance, Benjamin Rush was influenced by the lens of God's benevolence when he rejected Calvin's God and in turn Rush's conversion to Arminianism terminated
with the belief in "the salvation of all men" where the unsaved
experienced "future punishment ... of long duration." Yes, this
"Christian-Universalism" accepted punishment for the unsaved. Indeed,
even the "non-Christian" deists believed in the existence of a deity and
the future state of rewards and punishments.
was no deist. He was an Arminian orthodox Trinitarian Christian who
believed all men would eventually be saved through Christ's universal as opposed to limited atonement. In so doing Rush expressed faith that God's benevolent
nature would ultimately prevail against other competing aspects of His
persona. And he did so without converting to "theistic
rationalism/unitarianism/Christian-Deism," whatever we term it.
with that I mention the God of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg was no
rationalist. To the contrary he was a mystic, who posited trippy
theological notions. But his God was benevolent. Indeed, what I've seen
from Swedenborg's testimony, his God could win a benevolence contest
among the various extant theological ideas in 18th Century Christendom.
[To remind readers of the relationship of Swedenborg to the American Founding see here and here.]
like even the deists, unitarians, and universalists in 18th Century
Christendom, Swedenborg didn't believe everyone automatically got the
same Heaven at death (Swedenborg was way too smart to believe in
something that simplistic). He wrote a book called Heaven and Hell (not this Heaven and Hell, but I'd love to merge the two concepts) describing his nuanced understanding of such.
often hear Arminians say things like "people choose to send themselves
to Hell," but that begs the question of what the nature of Hell is
really like. People choose to send themselves to eternal conscience
torment worse than the holocaust or being confined to solitary in a
prison for eternity?
The response is something like
"no, people know what they are rejecting, and therefore the eternal
conscience torment they get is their choice not god's." The Calvinists
are stuck with the notion that god chooses to Elect and thus send folks
to Hell for all eternity.
Rather Swedenborg's notion of
Hell is more like C.S. Lewis' assertion that the doors of Hell are
locked from the inside. Which again, begs the question, what could the
nature of Heaven & Hell be like that would lead individuals to make
such a choice? No one will choose to be burned, waterboarded, or in a
state of maximum security prison-like solitary confinement for all
eternity. See contemporary Mixed Martial Arts; people will "tap out."
And a god who would send anyone much less than the majority of human
souls there for all eternity could hardly be seen a "benevolent Deity."
Swedenborg provides specific answers. People
choose Hell because they get more pleasure from sinning than not. The
God of Benevolence permits this eternal choice. People in Hell because
of their willful choices actually flourish better there than they would
in Heaven. Indeed they could only flourish in Hell not in Heaven. In Hell people can choose to love themselves but not others,
and make a partnership with each other not unlike a partnership of
thieves like in "The Sopranos."
Swedenborg teaches God is so benevolent that when souls choose to send
themselves to Hell to compete and connive with one another and thus get
"hurt," God's angels will come to Hell to comfort such hurt souls much
like a loving humanistic authority figure (parents to little children,
owners to pets) would seek to comfort wayward subordinates.
living a life or eternity of such chosen sin will not lead to the real
happiness that those who choose otherwise experience. We can make this
choice before we die. And indeed, after we die and get more information
as to ultimate reality on the other side (the period of sorting things out). The unsaved will stay in hell
for as long as they choose. Will they choose to stay there forever? We
can't yet answer.
For the source of my understanding of Swedenborg's teachings see this.