Monday, June 21, 2010


An anonymous commenter wrote to me:

The universalist heresy? Seriously? Which branch of Christianity do you belong? Obviously one heretical to universialist Christianity.

The person responded to my assertion:

Even some of the more identifiably "orthodox Christians" like Benjamin Rush (who believed in the Universalist heresy) and John Jay (whose rejection of creeds led him to doubt the Trinity) are problematic.

Personally I have no problem with theological universalism, that is the notion that everyone will eventually be saved. Indeed, if I were to convert to "Christianity" it would probably be towards such a creed. I term universalism a heresy for two reasons. One, the "Church" officially declared it a heresy and it remained throughout late 18th Century America.

Now, today in America, in "looser times," where the majority of believers perhaps are universalists, I understand the term "heresy" to describe universalism is arguably inappropriate. Yet, often the folks with whom I communicate on these matters possess an orthodox faith that terms universalism a "heresy."

And that's the second reason: It often helps to talk in the language of an audience when speaking to folks. They are more likely to be receptive to what you have to say. This is something I learned from George Washington and the other Founders. This is the "be all things to all people" approach.

So when I do biblical exegesis, people often mistake me as an evangelical or an orthodox Christian. Though, if you read me carefully, I NEVER claim to be one.

Let me also note when you dismiss someone's arguments based on something about their origin you engage in a logical fallacy known as poisoning the well, or the genetic fallacy. Whether I am a Mormon, an evangelical Christian or an atheist matters nothing regarding the CONTENT of the argument.

There may be times when its appropriate to write off an opinion based on the source as a short cut (though it's still technically a logical fallacy) and that's when the source has a track record of spouting nonsense. For instance, if I quoted an argument from Lyndon LaRouche, it's probably going to be some kind of deranged nonsense. Or he might be saying "the sky is blue." It's still the content not the source that has to be dealt with.

Still I would caution against categorizing your intellectual adversaries as constant nonsense producers. I.e. "you are just saying that because you are a religious wacko and you are all full of it." Or "you are saying that because you have a homo agenda." Those kinds of comments reflect shallow logically fallacious thinking.

One thing that may be preventing me from converting to a particular form of Christianity (like Christian universalism or Quakerism) is my desire to be objective in the way I present the historical facts. (Though I don't think it would change the way I analyze things, perhaps the way I phrase things though.)

That is if I personally embraced universalism as "Christian" or Trinity denial, for instance, as well, I might have a hard time terming these "heresies."

Are they so properly termed?

1 comment:

Brian Tubbs said...

I agree with everything you say about engaging a person's arguments and not simply dismissing them because of perceptions regarding the source. As you say, there are extreme cases where dismissal is justified, but by and large, people should receive a hearing.