Universalism is an easy religion to understand. This is because it is based not upon old-world creeds, which are always complex and confusing but upon the present, common, concern of living persons.
And Universalism is a religion hard to live. This is because it is based upon moral conduct and ethical action, which are always more difficult than assent to theological beliefs.
Universalism had its rise in the time and in the spirit of American Independence. As Thomas Whittemore has written, "Universalism and the American Revolution were rocked in the same stormy days, in the cradle of American Liberty." Like our ideals of democracy, Universalism for one hundred seventy-five years, has grown in and been nurtured by the American soil.
In content, in its form of organization, and in its spirit, it is the religious interpretation of the best of our democratic ideals. From the beginning, Universalists have championed the reforms and movements which are the best expressions of freedom and democracy in action. They early took a stand against slavery, were leaders in civil liberties, and in prison reform They made the first fight for the separation of Church and State, before this principle was incorporated into the Bill of Rights. They were among the first champions of public schools free from ecclesiastical control. These historical facts are recited, and others could be named, not to take credit from a past glory, but to emphasize the point that Universalism has not been, and is not now an echo of ancient theological systems, but is a living religion for living persons.
Such pioneering in social action is the logical result of the underlying philosophy of: Universalism. Eighteenth century religion in America was dominated by the Calvinistic doctrine that God would consign most of the human race to a fiery hell. Universalism was a. revolt against such theological despotism, just as the Declaration of Independence was a protest against political despotism. Over against this theory of a cruel and unsuccessful God, our Universalist forebears proclaimed the Heavenly Father whom Jesus knew;--a wise, patient, successful, loving, Universal God.
Today this theological, battle has been won for men of enlightened and rational minds. No church in the land today dares openly assert that the thousands of American soldiers who died in the recent war, who were communicants of no church, are tonight suffering in any region of the eternally damned. Universalism has never been tied to the traditional theologies. Modern Universalism still views the world and man's place and destiny in the world from the viewpoint of universal relationships. We concur with the late Wendell Willkie in his assertion that this is "one world."
We take our stand with views scientifically arrived at, that mankind is biologically and sociologically one. There is no primary conflict between religion on the one hand and science on the other. There is conflict only between science and rational religion on the one hand, and confusion and chaos on the other. Universalists come to their insights and convictions by the scientific methods of experience. While we draw heavily upon the accumulated experience of the prophets, poets and philosophers of every age and of every religion, we hold exclusively to no set of beliefs supernaturally revealed, and embalmed in the historic creeds. Truth is not once and for all time delivered to the minds of men. It is found by those who love it more than they love conformity and tradition. It is ever discovering and being discovered. Truth is contemporary with continuing human experience. Out of the experience of the race we affirm our confidence in man, and in the power of men of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and to build a life that shall bring to fulfillment the high and holy dreams of the ages.
Let us for a moment look at ourselves and the world through the eyes of the Universalist faith.
Here we are together on one earth which so far as is known, is the only habitation of mankind,-some two billion or more of us, distributed unevenly over six continents. Only about one-third of us belong to any of the groups called Christian. Two thirds are Hindu, Mohammedan, Buddhist, Confucian, or some other religion. We are of a variety of nationalities, languages, and complexions.
That there are differences in folkways and cultures, economic status, degrees of enlightenment and achievement cannot be denied. But to make any or all of these differences a basis for belief in the superiority of any racial, religious or national group is to prolong the age-old fallacy of a chosen people. Malachi, the Hebrew prophet, twenty-four centuries ago asked, "Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why then do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?"
In common with the social scientists, and with the students of world affairs, we believe that every effort for international order and universal peace which is founded upon any philosophy which stops short of a view of mankind in totality, is doomed to failure.
Not a little of the political and economic confusion of our day is the inevitable result of mistaken assumptions that people with cultural backgrounds, color, speech, or living under governmental forms different from our own are, because of these differences inferior to us. Chancellor Hutchins of the University of Chicago recently said, "Nothing can alter the simple truths that all men are human; that no men are beasts; that all men are children of God; that no men are irrevocably damned by God, and that all men are by nature members of the human community." And this is in substance only what Paul said in the first Christian century, that "God bath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth."
Basic within this universalistic view of humanity is the belief in the supreme worth of every person. Just as in former times the Universalists proclaimed against the degrading doctrine that human souls were doomed to torment in another world, so today do we in the name of religion avow our faith in the worth in this world of every person as a fellow member of the human family.
This principle was not discovered by any one group, but it is central in the Universalist emphasis. It is a discovery which is coming to more and more persons today. It is man's supreme discovery in his long, uneven struggle. It is the conclusion toward which the religions of the world are striving. It came not by sudden revelation, but by the long slow labor of men to wrest from the earth-experience a satisfying life. It is possible to see in imagination in the long stretches of the past, through dark gropings and weary blunderings, the emergence of the human spirit, laboring for fulfillment, trying to entrench his values, and to win some significance for his little day upon earth. In this struggle we see the ideal of the good life slowly enlarged from merely physical desires to higher spiritual qualities,-of co-operative effort, of comradeship, joy, beauty, love, and loyalty.
The techniques to this end have generally been crude and futile. Magical forms and ceremonies, divine revelations and incantations, reliance upon the authorities of books or institutions,-everything has been tried as a substitute for intelligence and goodwill. We live as if the prophets had never lived to show us the way. Jesus came, lived and died, and for nearly twenty centuries has been held up as a savior. Yet we live as though he had never lived and taught that the Kingdom of God ideal must be built into the world by men learning how to deal decently with one another.
A new world of brotherhood demands a faith in the universals. It cannot be built on the partialisms of yesterday, with their emphasis on divisions and isolations. These are of a past that has failed us. Modern methods of transportation and of communication bring us face to face with one another in such an interrelatedness and with such an interpendence that we must learn to live together or all be destroyed.
In a declaration of social principles Universalists have gone on record with a faith which demands that we "renounce all that sets man against his fellow man." We, therefore, cordially invite members of all races and classes into the active fellowship of our churches. There is no color line in Universalism.
Some of us were born into the Universalist Church. Its faith was bequeathed to us by fathers and mothers nurtured in its larger hopes. Others of us made its discovery. Some of us, tired of traditional religious forms and outworn creeds came to this faith as to "rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Lacking a liberal religion we would have remained among the thousands of men and women and their children in America, who are not without religious impulses, but are outside the churches.
Many of us must have the all-inclusive religion of Universalism or be without a church. For us, it is a philosophy for living creatively in this one world. It is the larger faith for our bewildering present, and for a future of promise. The old order of partialism has been reduced to ashes by two world-wide wars. Upon its ruins must be built a world that knows no divisions of race or creed. All men everywhere must have the essentials of the good life. This is a philosophy for living, a religion for reasonable minds, -easy to understand, but difficult to live.
Preprint from The Christian Leader. Oct. 19. 1946