Wednesday, August 26, 2009

John Adams' Reasons For Theological Universalism

I usually cite the letter from Adams to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813 for Adams' quote saying even if he were on Mt. Sinai with Moses and God revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to him there, Adams still wouldn't believe it because 1+1+1 = 3 not 1. However, later in the letter Adams also says some choice things regarding salvation and how he rejects the idea that only those who accept Christ, God the Son as Savior and His Atonement are saved. Adams reasons it's absurd to conclude God would create man knowing 9/10 would be subject to eternal misery.

As he wrote:

God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal, a parte ante and a parte post. His presence is as extensive as space. What is space? An infinite spherical vacuum. He created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable for ever for his glory. This is the doctrine of Christian theologians, in general, ten to one. Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, created, and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, to make them miserable for ever, for his own glory? Wretch! What is his glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions. My answer to them is always ready. I believe no such things. My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation — delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence — though but an atom, a molecule organ- ique in the universe — are my religion.

Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Sounds like Hosea

Ballou's exposition of "Ultra Universalism" [which] led [William Ellery Channing, the leading Unitarian preacher] to attack him in a sermon in 1832, saying that he had never seen a "more irrational doctrine." Ever the controversialist, Ballou refuted Channing's arguments with vigor...

I think we should take a closer theological look at this stuff and not lump it all together. For instance, Carlton Pearson's "classic" universalism is rooted in "Christ's Blood," the Atonement for man's sins.

These unitarian and universalist unorthodoxies are getting thrown into a stew, but some are uniquely rooted in Christianity and argued via the Bible, others are not, and there is a mighty difference.

Jonathan Rowe said...

That's true. There is the Trinitarian universalism that Rush, Murray, and Winchester believed in. And the unitarian universalism that believe good people merit Heaven the bad are temporarily punished according to the level of bad they do.

Accordingly, for the unitarians who believe in the doctrine (Adams and Priestley did, Jefferson did not) Jesus was resurrected because he was the most perfectly moral man. And it served as an example of what God the Father will one day do for all GOOD men.

Tom Van Dyke said...

unitarian universalism

...which as we see, in many cases was a uniquely Christian unitarianism and/or universalism, not by any means what we find in 2009's Unitarian Universalist Church.

I am quite anxious to see how Carlton Pearson's stay at a UU church with his

He heard God answer, “...We redeemed and reconciled all of humanity at Calvary.”

plays out. That at least makes Jesus the Messiah, and Pearson's use of "We" makes one suspect Trinitarianism...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

How can anyone argue the "transcendent" realm? That becomes an argument of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin". Does it matter?

The world accepts evolution as truth, and it seems to me that that is where the argument is. What is man? What is to be society's gauge? The basis of evolution is that God is irrelavant, when it comes to understanding science. And this is where we live and move and have our being.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ms. VDM, whether or not the "transcendent" exists is not the subject of this blog. The belief in the transcendent and its effect on the Founding is.

"For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk."

---J├╝rgen Habermas, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, edited by Eduardo Mendieta, MIT Press, 2002, p149

J said...

Howl, snarl, bite, ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians

I think that was the majority view of the central Framers--that Calvinist Trinitarianism was NOT "real Christianity." Not sure what replaces it, though even Adams has a Deistic aspect (as indicated in the above passage).

The Framers were also champions of Liberty, and that doesn't seem overly compatible with calvinist determinism (or, dare we say, the judeo-christian God's supposed omnipotence itself).

That said, the so-called Elect were certainly a force in early America (and remain so). The Framers themselves were concerned that fundamentalism (calvinist or otherwise) could overtake the people. Given the abiding power of the Hagee sorts, those fears were not unfounded.