Hoping All Will Be Saved, Part 3: Might Even Hope Be Rejected?
May 10, 2011 — 9:21

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Afterlife  Tags: ,   Comments: 10

First, an update. As you will recall, in Part 2 we saw that Jamie Smith seemed to be thinking that the scriptural case for universalism could be “so easily refuted” that he was going to ignore that case (and that he was doing universalists who would appeal to such a case a “favor” by ignoring it), and we were asking (OK: with a bit of taunting thrown in) Jamie what decisive refutation he might have in mind. Well, Jamie has now responded (not just to my post, but to two other blog posts as well), but it looks like he’s not going to be telling us what (if any) refutation he might have had in mind, because he doesn’t specify it in his response, and its title would seem to indicate he’s not going to be saying any more on the subject: “Once (and only once) more on the ‘new universalism’.” You will also recall that in connection with my request, I had claimed that some pretty serious scriptural cases for universalism have been attempted. And Jamie does say this in response (it’s item 2 below that we’re directly interested in; I give the material before it to help set the context; there’s also a third item in this section; the parenthetical material and the stuff in brackets is all Jamie’s):

C. So I wish I had more retractions to make. You can chalk this up to either my stubbornness or my stupidity, or both. Just a few minor points:
1. Yes, the “new” universalism is not “new”–there are ancient streams of this. Yep, OK.
2. There are people who offer rigorous arguments, biblical cases for universalism, etc., etc. Turns out people have written lots of books on this. (Gee, really? Well, gooolllly…if only uh’d known…) Yep, got it. [See B.2 above]

Yes, of course, I see what look like marks of (very heavy) sarcasm here. I’ve always thought that I was reasonably adept at discerning what’s being communicated through sarcastic material, but in this case I’m quite unsure. I’m inclined to read these as retractions Jamie is making, throwing in some peculiar remarks, the intent of which I’d then be guessing is to diminish the importance of the points being conceded? (Yes, it is rather strange in that case, since he is on this reading diminishing the importance of how good the scriptural case is, when his very own view would seem to make that the centrally important issue. But in the context of his whole post, it might make sense, for it seems that he might be indicating that this whole topic is just extremely unimportant to him. So the strength of the scriptural case can be central, but if it’s central to an unimportant topic, at least to him, it’s still not important?) But who knows? Maybe these aren’t retractions, but explanations made through heavy sarcasm for why he is not making any retractions here?
At any rate, I’m inclined to just venture a guess that Jamie doesn’t really know of any really decisive refutations of the serious scriptural cases for universalism, but was taking it that there were decisive refutations for the best cases for universalism (perhaps because he was seriously in error about what the best cases were like).
If so, he is far from alone….

As I know, in part from a wealth of personal experience, there are many Evangelicals who are extremely confident that the scriptural case on the question of universalism very clearly comes down against the view. (I’m sure that’s true of other groups of Christians as well, but it seems far more prevalent, in my experience, among Evangelicals. And I don’t mean to be suggesting that Jamie is an Evangelical. My recollection is that he, like me [though no doubt for different reasons], thinks of himself as being something like a borderline case.) Sometimes these confident people have a fairly good grasp of the best scriptural cases on both sides and have just come to a very different verdict from me. Much more often, though, that is very far indeed from being the case. Very many apparently have been taught that the Bible clearly comes down against universalism, but that universalists simply ignore the Bible, and just go with their own “feelings” about what it would be just or good for God to do, instead. Very many have apparently been taught that universalists claim that Christ’s sacrifice is unnecessary for salvation. That universalists deny that God punishes anybody. Etc. Relatively advanced confident Evangelicals might have been taught that universalists simply ignore all the passages in the NT that speak of punishment, but then support their universalism, to the very meager extent that they advance any scriptural case at all for it, by naively citing a few prooftexts (and some very advanced cases might even have been taught some strange theories about what the word “all” means to explain why these verses do not really support universalism – I address some of these theories here). Now, what these folks are apparently being taught or told is true of some Christians who are in another good use of the term “universalists.” But it is of course not at all true of the kind of “evangelical universalists,” as they’re sometimes called, that Jamie is addressing.
What’s relevant to our current concerns in this is that, apparently, along with associated materials to explain the existence of Christian universalists, much of the Evangelical world is of the opinion that, and is teaching its people that, the Bible is abundantly clear on the question of whether all will be saved, and its extremely clear ruling is against the idea. And this is relevant to our current topic of hope.
I have been asked whether there is any, or much, danger that Christians will come down against even hoping that all will be saved. For what little it’s worth, first, I think that it’s in the Evangelical world where the potential for this is greatest. But, second, for what’s worth even less, my guess (as well as my hope) would be that not much of the Evangelical world will come down decisively against even hoping that all will be saved.
But that much of Evangelical Christianity seems committed to the scriptural case on the matter being not just against universalism, but extremely clearly against the possibility that all might be saved, does give a reason to doubt my speculation. I think that whether it can be appropriate for a Christian to hope for something that the Bible very clearly teaches will not happen is actually a very tricky and tough question. (On this, see Alexander Pruss’s very interesting comment here.) But it certainly seems that many Christians are inclined to judge (rightly or wrongly) that they shouldn’t hope for things that are clearly ruled out by the Bible. This, together with the apparent fact the much of Evangelical Christianity (rightly or wrongly) believes that universalism is very clearly and decisively ruled out by the Bible gives us some reason (to go along with a few signs of resistance to hope that seem to be popping up) to think at least some of the Evangelical world might well come down against hope. I suspect that for many, including some who seem not to like this feeling, allowing for room for hope will at least feel like backing down.
(I still hope to and plan to discuss in a later post the substantive issue of whether hoping for all to be saved is appropriate.)

  • “There are people who offer rigorous arguments, biblical cases for universalism, etc., etc. Turns out people have written lots of books on this. (Gee, really? Well, gooolllly…if only uh’d known…)”
    On first reading, I got very confused by this bit, and couldn’t think what to make of it, except that it was a not-very-intelligent attempt to save face. But I think the intended meaning is something like “of course I know there are books defending universalism, so what?”
    [Sorry it took so long for this comment to be approved. For some technical reason, I was unable to approve comments in the “manage comments” screen, but that problem has now been addressed. –KDR]

    May 12, 2011 — 15:28
  • Dan Speak

    Hi Keith,
    I’m looking forward to the “more” you’ve promised, so don’t let down on the job.
    Here, though, I want to draw attention to something that may contribute to the case against your speculation that evangelicals won’t be too resistant to hope for universal salvation. I think I’m following Pojman (and maybe Muyskens, too, but I’m not sure) in thinking of hope as having at least three conditions. S hopes that p only if:
    (1) S believes that p is possibly true (it is epistemically possible for S)
    (2) S has a positive pro-attitude wrt p’s being true (S wants it to be true…)
    (3) S is willing to act on the condition that (as if) p is true
    I find all of these conditions interesting for various different reasons. But (1) is particularly intriguing here. Let’s suppose you are right about the fact that many evangelicals believe the biblical case against universalism to be very strong. Then, given (1), such folks will have hard time meeting the conditions necessary to hope. You put the point in terms of its being tricky to assess the appropriateness of hoping for things scripture clearly teaches won’t happen. My guess is that very many evangelicals think that a clear scriptural case against the truth of some proposition p entails that p is not epistemically possible for the believer; its epistemic probability is 0. If all of this is right (and, btw, my own confidence here is waning), then appropriateness won’t even come into play. Such a person just COULDN’T hope that all will be saved. She might still wish for it (after all, we can wish for the impossible—personally, I wish the Red Sox had never won a world series). But hope would be out of reach.

    May 13, 2011 — 19:49
  • Keith DeRose

    If I’m understanding it, (3) might also be problematic. Does (3) require that one act the same way one would if one actually accepted that p is true, or just that one’s actions *can* be or *sometimes* are what they would be if one believed that p? If the former, I think that would open up many objections to hoping that all will be saved in the minds of many. But I also think in that case (3) is too strong a condition to put on hope.

    May 14, 2011 — 13:36
  • Dan Speak

    Right, Keith. I don’t think I’ve got the volitional component of hope quite right. Maybe something more like: S is willing to act in ways that are consistent with p’s being or becoming true (which would sometimes mean being willing to act so as to bring it about that p).
    It’s tricky, but we do seem to need something volitional to get hope right. It seems that a person could believe p is epistemically possible and want p to be true without hoping precisely because he didn’t make any volitional commitments with respect to p. What volitional commitments would be needed to meet this third condition for hope that all will be saved? Not sure.

    May 14, 2011 — 23:52
  • Keith DeRose

    You’re likely right about there being some volitional component to hope: You’ve worked on this more than me. My reservation (& this could well be due to my just missing something) about it is that the volitional condition is going to have to be pretty weak, or so it seems to me, and once it’s made weak enough the epistemic component threatens to swallow it up: One can begin to suspect that our judgments that subjects aren’t hoping that p in cases where they don’t even meet a very weak volitional requirement can be explained by supposing that we’re taking the subjects’ great reluctance to act as a sign that they don’t really meet the epistemic requirement.
    At any rate, it seems that in various areas of religious life (& elsewhere too), we should value hope that is more tightly connected to action than is needed for it to count as hope. We can use an idea of “active hope” or something as an important component of religious life.

    May 15, 2011 — 8:43
  • Hi Dan,
    Two thoughts/questions:
    First, let ‘U’ stand for the thesis that ultimately all will be saved, and let ‘B’ stand for some conjunction of views that jointly entail the falsity of U (e.g., that the Bible is innerant and that it teaches that not all will be saved). You suggest that some (perhaps very many) people are precluded from even hoping that U because they fail to satisfy an epistemic condition for hoping–namely (1) that S believe that p (the object of hope) is possibly true. Given their belief that B, you suggest, the epistemic probability of U is 0. Of course, this will be true only if they hold the epistemic probability of B to be 1–that is, only if they believe that it’s not possible that B is false. Now, I’m not questioning whether there are (many) people who believe (perhaps very strongly) that B is true, but it would be fairly striking if they believed B couldn’t possibly be false. Such a degree of belief would pretty plainly be irrational, wouldn’t it? (After all, it’s difficult to see what grounds one could have that would justify one’s being more certain that B than, say, that the laws of gravity will continue to hold tomorrow, or that humans have in fact walked on the moon.) If so, this would seem to suggest (though certainly not entail) that anyone who doesn’t hope that U is true fails to do so either because he is irrational or because he doesn’t want U to be true–which would appear to be an interesting implication. Or am I missing something?
    Second, I was hoping you could say a bit more about there being a volitional component to hope. I’m having a hard time thinking of what such a condition could be, even in ordinary cases of hoping. Consider, for instance, an ordinary case of my buying a lottery ticket. I believe that it’s possible I will win, I want to win, and (it seems) I hope that I will win. (Perhaps some think that the first two, along with whatever other conditions there might be, are sufficient for my hoping. I’ve always thought of hoping–like wishing and imagining–as a sui generis pro-attitude; though I’m certainly open to being convinced otherwise.) It doesn’t seem to me that in such a case I act (or am prepared to act) significantly differently than if I hadn’t purchased a ticket (except in seemingly trivial ways, e.g., my being prepared to claim my prize or check to see if I won). What kind of volitional component is missing?

    May 15, 2011 — 12:30
  • Dan Speak

    Hi Michael,
    To your first point, I’m tempted simply to say, “yep”. You’ve expressed the sort of worry that (inchoately) caused my parenthetical remark that my confidence in the point was waning. But the situation here is peculiar and maybe in an interesting way. It does seem to me to be irrational to think that B couldn’t possibly be true. What I suspect many evangelicals think, however, is that B could be true, but only if Christianity is false. So they think something to the effect that the conditional epistemic probability of B on Christianity is 0. Sure, if pressed I trust that many will grant that Christianity has an epistemic probability less than 1, which will mean that B has an epistemic probability greater than 0. But if many folks take anti-universalism to be an essential doctrine of Christianity, then they can avoid your irrationality while still thinking that the relevant conditional probability (of B on Christianity) is 0. Now, is it irrational (in the Robinsonian way) to think this? I don’t think anti-universalism is an essential doctrine of Christianity, but it also doesn’t seem to me to be irrational to think it is. For people who think this, to hope for the salvation of all would be to hope that Christianity is false—but they can’t do that, of course, because they don’t have the relevant pro-attitude toward the falsity of Christianity. Wouldn’t the person in this position be incapable of hoping for the salvation of all because of a failure to meet the epistemic condition (without being evil or insane)?
    To your second question about the volitional condition on hoping; if you really do hope that your lottery ticket is a winner then it does seem to me that you’ve got to be ready to do some things. Now, as you note, these things will be pretty trivial… but that’s because (I suggest) the thing hoped for is trivial. In addition to the actions (or volitional dispositions) you mention, there is also being willing to make some effort to keep the ticket (not lose it, pick it back up off the street if it falls out of your pocket, etc.), being unwilling to sell it for a penny, and the like of that. To motivate the condition, consider a less trivial situation. Suppose my brother is missing in action. I believe he may still be alive. I want him to be alive. But I make no volitional commitments with respect to the proposition that he is alive. I immediately sell all of his belongings, for example. I begin dating his wife. As his executor, I accept and spend the money in his savings account that I knew to be set aside for his eventual retirement. Can I really be said to hope that he is alive. It doesn’t seem like it to me.

    May 15, 2011 — 22:53
  • Dan,
    Regarding the first bit: As I understand it, you’re asking me to imagine a person who holds the following beliefs:
    (1) Christianity is true.
    (2) Necessarily, if Christianity is true, then not all will be saved (because anti-universalism is an essential doctrine of Christianity).
    (3) Not all will be saved.
    Like you, I think 2 is false, but I’m willing to grant that it’s not necessarily irrational to accept it.* Now, you write:
    For people who think [that anti-universalism is an essential doctrine of Christianity], to hope for the salvation of all would be to hope that Christianity is false—but they can’t do that, of course, because they don’t have the relevant pro-attitude toward the falsity of Christianity. Wouldn’t the person in this position be incapable of hoping for the salvation of all because of a failure to meet the epistemic condition (without being evil or insane)?
    Here’s where I get confused. (I apologize if I’m being a bit slow; it may well be that I just don’t have an adequate understanding of how conditional epistemic possibility works.) Why, for someone who accepts 2, would hoping that all will be saved require hoping that Christianity is false? Wouldn’t it be sufficient for her to instead hope that she is mistaken in believing that (2) Christianity entails anti-universalism? This is something she is capable of hoping, isn’t it? If not, then the original worry seems to rear its head: either she believes that she couldn’t possibly be mistaken about 2 (which seems to be irrational), or else she doesn’t want it to be true that Christianity is compatible with all being saved.
    Regarding the second bit: I like the example. I agree that in such a case I would begin to seriously doubt whether you in fact hope that your brother is still alive. I also agree that it is because of your actions that I have these doubts. It seems to me, however, that the reason I doubt you genuinely hope your brother is alive is not because of your actions per se but, rather, what I take them to indicate about your desires–namely, that you do not really want your brother to still be alive. So perhaps my worry is somewhat analogous to Keith’s, except that I suspect that the volitional condition will be swallowed up by the pro-attitudinal condition rather than the epistemic one.
    Consider another case. Suppose I have been locked in a steel box and buried ten feet underground in an abandoned field. Further suppose that I am utterly (and correctly) convinced that there is nothing I can do to increase the chances that I will be found before I run out of oxygen. As a result, I do not make any efforts whatsoever to contribute to being found in time. Still, doesn’t it seem I can hope to be found in time?
    *Just curious: Are there some views that you think would be irrational to hold to be essential Christian doctrines (even if not anti-universalism)? Would it be irrational (and not just mistaken) to think of Young Earth Creationism, for instance, or Dispensational Premillennialism, as an essential Christian doctrine?

    May 16, 2011 — 15:35
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    I suspect that very many of those who think scriptures clearly preclude universalism are simply not familiar with the universalist interpretations of pro-eternalist passages. In my experience, I’ve found that many don’t know, for example, that the word translated as “forever” and “eternal” often designates an age of time that’s finite: for example, Isaiah 9 talks about the smoke of burning sulfer rising “forever” on earth .

    May 17, 2011 — 14:32
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    When reading what A. K. Smith wrote about these issues I get the feeling that he felt the need to counter the currently insurgent idea of universalism by more or less ridiculing it, was surprised by the reaction he got, and tried hard to avoid being drawn into a serious discussion. Which is perhaps telling.
    Smith asks what compels people to believe in universalism. My own answer is that the alternative, namely the idea that some will for ever suffer in hell, is unacceptable on several theological grounds. In particular it trivializes the power of God’s grace, it trivializes the value of Christ’s sacrifice, it limits the universality of God’s love, it limits the Kingdom of God, it entails that creation will for ever remain in a fallen state, it allows evil and evil persons to exist for ever, it renders next to nonsensical the concept of the Gospel as the Good News, it goes against the grain of scripture (as Keith I think very well points out here http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm ), it goes against the sense of probably most of the Church Fathers, and, most importantly, it goes against our sense of the divine. There are clearly deep existential and conceptual problems entailed in non-universalism and particularly in the dogma of hell. Even the quite conservative pope John Paul II calls the dogma of hell a “mystery”.
    So, in my mind, the relevant question is rather what compels people to believe in the dogma of hell (or “particularism”). I think that the main culprit is fear. What sustains belief in hell is the fear that it may be true. That fear I think keeps many people from understanding the nature of God, hides from them the beauty of creation, and does not let the Good News reach them. That fear keeps people from loving God with all their heart, and keeps them from following Christ out of love and faith. In all these senses people who fear hell are held far from God and are thus, literally, in hell. Those who fear hell experience it. Hell becomes real for those who believe in it.
    More specifically, given that we are made in such a way as to desire what is good for us, I am inclined to think that a perhaps unconscious wager may compel those who fear hell away from universalism. I take it a reasonable theist may think thus: “My cognitive faculties lead me to a picture of God like the one universalists talk about. But perhaps I am wrong and God really is how the particularists say. If universalism is right but I wrongly believe and act on the dogma of hell then perhaps I shall have to pay for my error, but the cost will certainly be limited. If, on the other hand, the dogma of hell is true and God is a dangerously wrathful person then my cost for wrongly believing and acting on universalism may be infinite. Therefore, no matter how more probable universalism may strike me, it is best for me to embrace the dogma of hell and the picture of God it represents. Therefore I should do my best to forget that this dogma does not sound right, and should uncritically accept arguments the conclusion of which is that it is right nonetheless.”
    A second reason that may compel people towards the dogma of hell is non-confidence in their cognitive faculties (a doubt that becomes stronger the more one believes in peoples’ intrinsic depravity). Here the wager may look like this: “My cognitive faculties lead me to a picture of God like the one universalists talk about, but I am a fallen person seriously susceptible to error. On the other hand, people and groups of the highest authority in my church (and even saints) expressively and unambiguously teach the dogma of hell. Knowing my limitations, and believing that God is guiding my church by special providence, it is a better bet to trust more their conclusions than mine.”
    I sympathize with the humility behind that latter wager, but I notice that the impression that the church expressively and unambiguously teaches the dogma of hell may not be precise. The quote from Pope John Paul II, which Alex includes in a previous post, is less than totally affirmative. As for my church (which happens to be the Eastern Orthodox) I understand that it teaches that the place of hell certainly exists but it is not for us to make any assumptions about how many God will decide to send there, or eternally keep there. Further I’d like to point out that studious theologians have sometimes been dramatically wrong, as was the case of the learned Pharisees and the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ time. Anyway, it goes without saying that trusting in others does not absolve one of one’s responsibility, for it is after all one’s free decision to prefer to trust in others rather in one’s own cognition.
    A third reason may be moralistic. Some people may think that it is a good idea to believe in the dogma of hell and to teach it to others, because it keeps themselves and others on the right path. I am not sure how prevalent that theme is, but it is certainly there. In the article about hell in the Catholic Encyclopedia we read: “Moreover, if all men were fully convinced that the sinner need fear no kind of punishment after death, moral and social order would be seriously menaced.”
    I feel very strongly against that third reason. First, if God exists then the end does not justify the means, especially when the means is to affirm a falsity about God. Secondly, belief in hell has justified some of the worse things that Christians have done. Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, avoiding sin because of the fear of hell is not the path of Christ so there is no profit in it. Further, universalism does *not* entail that one “need fear no kind of punishment after death”. On the contrary standard universalism entails that one will necessarily reap what one sows, which cannot be said for other soteriological theories. Thus, universalism guarantees justice in a way that other theories fail to do. On universalism Christ’s sacrifice guarantees salvation but does not make it “free” in any way, a position which, in my judgment at least, comports much better with the sense of the Gospels.
    A fourth reason may be related to some social forces at play. Once Christianity became institutionalized, it was natural that those institutions would care about their power, perhaps even to the detriment of truth. Having people believe in hell and also that to obey the institution is necessary for avoiding hell, is surely a good way to increase the institution’s power. Conversely, some theists may be compelled into at least paying lip service to the dogma of hell by their desire to conform with the norms of the ecclesiastical powers to be.
    In conclusion, above I analyze four types of fear which may compel people into believing in hell: the fear of divine punishment, the fear of being cognitively weak, the fear of being morally weak, the fear of the powers to be and of being ostracized. I say fear is a bad counselor and part of the spirit of deception; faith – to trust in God’s grace – is the good counselor.
    Indeed, given the reasonableness of the wagers described above, how do universalists manage to escape from them? I think one difference may be that universalists have more trust (or faith) in their own cognitive powers and especially in their sense of the divine, and spurn the idea of betting against them no matter how good the odds may compute. Another may be that universalists have more trust (or faith) in the power of God’s grace – and, again, feel disinclined to betting against it. Or perhaps they are more good-hearted and simply cannot bear the idea of eternal torment even for one single person. Or perhaps they tend to trust more in the testimony of mystics than in the understanding of learned theologians.

    June 2, 2011 — 11:57