Choose Your Own Hell
Barron and Hart vs. Twitter
|MICHAEL WARREN DAVIS |
A specter is haunting the United States—the specter of universalism! At least, according to Fox News.
In a surprising op-ed for their website, the Rev. Max Lucado warns:
A shadow has set upon American society. The Christian faith is in decline. Spiritual indifference is everywhere. Addiction is up. Church attendance is down. . . . On the rare occasion that spirituality is discussed, the Gospel is often under attack. The authority of the Bible is questioned. Universalism is suddenly in vogue. No one is a sinner. No one will be lost. Everyone will somehow be saved. There is no eternal punishment. The idea of judgment is archaic and barbaric.
“This,” Lucado tells us, “is not good news.”
He’s right, of course. We all have anecdotal evidence: relatives at funerals who are sure Uncle Nicky’s in Heaven, even though he fixed horse races for a living… and hit his wife… and his goomah… and his kids… and died coked up to the eyeballs in a Tijuana brothel.
What are they thinking?
It’s pretty straightforward: if God loves us, He couldn’t damn damn a single one of us. And we might sneer at that kind of talk. Yet many brilliant, faithful Christians have been universalists of one sort or another.
In the Early Church there was Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus the Blind, Gregory Nazianzen, Maximus the Confessor, and of course Origen of Alexandria.
William Law, Soren Kierkegaard, and George MacDonald were universalists. So was G. K. Chesterton—at least for a while. In Orthodoxy, the masterpiece of his early life, he wrote: “To hope for all souls is imperative, and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable.”
In our own day, two of the most prominent Christian thinkers in America are avowed universalists: Bishop Robert Barron and David Bentley Hart.
Bishop Barron is what’s known as a hopeful universalist. He follows Hans Urs von Balthasar in saying that we may at least hope that all men will be saved, though we can’t say for sure. According to His Excellency,
Because of God’s acrobatic displays of love—the Son going all the way down to the very bottom of sin and death and then being drawn back to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit—we may reasonably hope that even those who have wandered farthest away from God will be drawn into the dynamics of the divine love.
Bishop Barron claims that Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, and Edith Stein were also “hopeful universalists.”
Professor Hart’s universalism is far more dogmatic. As he writes in his (in)famous book That All Shall Be Saved,
If Christianity taken as a whole is indeed an entirely coherent and credible system of belief, then the universalist understanding of its message is the only one possible. And, quite imprudently, I say that without the least hesitation or qualification.
Hart’s brand of universalism is known as as a restorationist. Like Origen and MacDonald, he believes that all souls will be reconciled to God after a period of purgation known as “apocatastasis,” or restoration. It’s an extremely sophisticated version of the argument you get at Uncle Nicky’s funeral.
At the very least, I think we can say this: universalism is the one heresy you might come by honestly. After all, universalists only want what God wants: the salvation of all mankind.
Unless you’re an especially staunch Calvinist, you don’t believe that God wants anyone to go to Hell. On the contrary, He does everything in His power to save us. But you also believe that God gives us free will. He wants us to love Him, and love must be freely given. In order for us to love God, then, we must have the option of hating Him.
Whoever is damned, then, must choose damnation. As C. S. Lewis said, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.
Of course, universalists deny that they’re locked at all. So, this whole debate really centers around one question: could anyone hate God so much that he opts to spend eternity in the outer darkness? Could anyone really choose damnation? Could anyone side against himself so decisively?
These questions might be too wonderful for me. I’m certainly not a theologian. I’m something far worse: a journalist. But that means I do know journals. And I was mulling all these questions over the other day when I started flipping through the latest Spectator, where found this (strangely pertinent) article in the latest Spectator.
It’s about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Here’s how it begins:
A philosopher once famously said that Hell is other people. What the world has learned from Twitter is that Hell is other people’s opinions. It’s no wonder, then, that when Elon Musk came bounding into Twitter headquarters in late October—after changing his Twitter bio to “Chief Twit”—a popular response, on Twitter and off, was, “welcome to Hell.”
Apparently, Mr. Musk himself described Twitter as a a “free-for-all hellscape” in an open letter to Twitter advertisers.
It probably wouldn’t cut the mustard for Professor Hart or Bishop Barron, but I’m tempted to say that the fact that anyone chooses to spend any amount of time on Twitter is proof that someone might choose to spend an eternity in Hell.
Look: there can be no illusions anymore. We all know that Twitter is evil. Users now spend at least half their time on the site tweeting about how much they hate Twitter. We know it’s a huge waste of time. We know that the hours they spend online would be better used taking walks with our wives, or playing with our kids, or listening to music, or reading, or praying.
More than that, we know that Twitter actually making you a worse person. It teaches us to hate our enemies and to fret constantly about the state of the world. It exposes us to the very worst of mankind, filling our hearts with anger and fear and doubt.
We also know it’s having the exact same effect on millions of your neighbors. We know that, by remaining on Twitter, we’re helping to keep the whole rotten system afloat. We’re doing measurable harm to ourselves—and the world—by remaining on the site
None of this is news to us. We know that our lives were better before we got a Twitter account. We know that our lives would be better if we deleted those accounts. And we know that all of our excuses for staying on the site (it helps us to “stay informed” or “keep in touch with friends” or whatever) are rubbish.
But here’s the thing: Twitter, like all evil, is a habit-forming substance. And the longer you indulge an addiction, the harder it is to break. The longer we’re on Twitter, the less likely it becomes that we’ll ever delete our accounts.
As it happens, this dovetails nicely with a book I’m reading for Advent. It’s called Come, Lord Jesus by Mother Mary Francis. If you don’t know her work, you should. She’s like a combination of St. Francis of Assisi and Ronald Knox, which is about the highest compliment I could pay someone.
Anyway, for Friday of the first week, her meditation is on that passage from Isaiah about those who are “disposed to evil.” Mother writes,
When the Scriptures speak of people disposed to do evil, it means that they were doing it again and again, so that every time a new choice came, their pattern of evil disposed them even less and less toward making a good choice. . . .
Every time we choose how to deal with our impatience, we are more disposed to be patient the next time our patience is tried. Every time we step forward in the service we were not expecting to be asked for, that we do not feel like doing, we are more disposed to be generous, to be given, to be self-forgetful. On the contrary, every time we say a sharp word, an angry word, we are more disposed to say it a little louder and a little faster in the next situation like that.
But each time that we put down that inner turbulence and respond in a loving, sweet, soothing, and smoothing way, we are more disposed toward good the next time, and it becomes less and less difficult. This is wonderful.
It is wonderful—and the opposite is terrible.
Again, sin is addictive. The more we indulge in it, the more we crave it. The more power we give Satan over our souls, the more he takes for himself.
God will chase us to the gates of Hell and beyond. I know that for sure, because I’ve seen Him do it. But He’s our Father, and a good father never forces His love on His children. So, if we don’t choose to turn back, He won’t make us turn back. If we keep running, we’ll keep running.
As I type, I hear the bells chiming at the church down the street. It’s the feast of St. Ambrose, and I’m supposed to be at Mass. But I was so absorbed in writing this blog post that I forgot. I’m choosing against God, against the good, against myself.
It may seem like a small thing, skipping weekday Mass. But those little turnings add up to one big Non serviam. At this very moment, I’m passing up a chance to dispose myself towards the good. I’m choosing not-God. As Jesus says, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matt 12:30).
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Christ also says, “He that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50). We don’t have to be perfect. In fact, we can’t be perfect—not in this life, anyway. But we can make a habit of choosing the good
A million of those little turnings add up to one great Fiat. And that’s the reason for the season, isn’t it?