The Old Time Religion

The Old Time Religion August 26, 2007

Universalism is the sentimental false doctrine that everybody will be saved. It is widespread not only among the liberal Protestants, but amongst many Catholics. I’ve never understood how anyone with half a brain can subscribe to such a goofy creed. Doesn’t ordinary human decency demand hell for the depraved beast who stalks little girls, abducts them and chucks their bodies in a ditch when he’s done and never has any remorse? Forgive me if I retain the possibility of hell for such specimens of our fallen race.

How on earth can anyone who has read the gospels even one time through come up with such an idea? Jesus talks more about hell than he does heaven, and whenever he does it is to say quite clearly that hell exists and we should fear hell. Today’s gospel is just about as clear as it can get. In Luke 13:23 someone asks “Lord will many people be saved?” He replies, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, for many will try to enter and not be strong enough.” He then goes on to tell a parable about the master who knocks the door and refuses to recognize those who claim to have a right of entry to the master’s house.”

Not only is universalism alien to Scripture, it doesn’t make a lot of sense in marketing terms. For thirty or forty years now liberal Catholic priests have been teaching either universalism or ‘semi-universalism’ (which is the belief that probably everyone will go to heaven eventually) Then these same fellows turn around and wring their hands and wonder why vocations to the priesthood and the religious life are dropping through the floor and why mass attendance is down, or why the few Catholic they do know are so quick to join Evangelical sects.

Duuh. For forty years you’ve told people that everyone is going to heaven no matter what. The people are not stupid. They’ve drawn the obvious conclusion that they therefore don’t need to go to church, or that it doesn’t matter what church they go to.

The other result of universalism is that churches cease being places where souls are saved and start becoming social centers. This follows logically. If everyone is going to be saved anyway, then the reason to come to church is removed. If everybody’s going to heaven, then what is the raison d’etre of the church? Well, I guess it’s there to have nice social evenings for the old folks, to have youth groups to keep the young out of trouble and learn new life skills, to set up soup kitchens, raise money for charity and perhaps lay on driver education classes, teach teens about ‘safe sex’ etc. etc.

Again, before long people are saying, “But what’s religion got to do with all that? I pay taxes to do all that stuff don’t I?” The church is irrelevant.

Suddenly there’s an old gospel song tune running through my head…”Gimme that ole time religion, gimme that ole time religion, gimme that ole time religion, it’s good enough for me.”

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  • Um, half a brain piping up here.

  • Fr. Dwight–I think you’re criticizing two closely related ideas here, of which both are false but only one is truly dangerous. The truly dangerous idea is not the idea that most everyone will eventually be saved, but the idea (often held by the same folks) that sin just isn’t a big deal and therefore the Atonement wasn’t really necessary.To show that these ideas really are different, consider a world in which God’s justice takes sin very seriously indeed, but in which Christ’s offered mercy is ultimately accepted by most everybody. Since clearly there aren’t a whole lot of folks who achieve perfection in this life, the logical consequence is that most of us are going to do some long, hard time in Purgatory before we’re able to withstand the Beatific Vision. That right there makes church relevant; if my present callousness towards God’s mercy will eventually need to be purged from my soul by a process that makes chemotherapy look tame, then I’d be a whole lot smarter to start living towards the Kingdom now, not later. (The same logic applies to other toxic agents—tobacco, for instance. Even if you survive the cancer, you still really don’t want to go there.)Granted, the idea that everyone (or nearly everyone) will be saved is still hard to square with Scripture, but denying the toxicity of sin is far more dangerous.Peace,–Peter

  • Anonymous

    When I read the scriptures before going to Mass today, I thought, “Wonder if we’ll hear a homily that basically endorses Universalism.” I wasn’t entirely surprised, then, to have the priest essentially sidestep the whole question put to Jesus, and actually say that Jesus ignored the question because it wasn’t important!Thank you for your straightforward posting on this topic.

  • I’ve never been able to figure that song out. Here we have a bunch of fundamentalists singing about “that old-time religion” and referring to people who were either Jewish or Catholic. Not a Baptist in the lot.

  • Anonymous

    I thought that Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was sufficient for even the most hardened of sinners…even evil beasts who defile and murder little girls. Sin is sin, right? This is not to say that hell doesn’t exist, but that it is not reserved for the hard cases, as we might imagine them. I imagine some generally “nice” people will find themselves there if they have no taste for God’s forgiveness.

  • You skillfully managed to avoid saying that many of our conservative Protestant sisters and brothers still LOVE to preach about Hell, and that many of them are convinced us Catholics are headed there.

  • the trouble with universalism is that it negates that our actions in this life have any eternal consequences.How about a word on the fact that heaven or hell is determined not by the sum total of life, but the state of the soul at death?

  • Anonymous

    This is more on relativism than universalism, but it comes from the same family of generalizations.I went to confession about a few weeks ago and mentioned to the priest I had trouble forming a just idea about my relationship with my Protestant coworkers. He told me God is truth in the sense of Plato’s Forms, but the churchs are relative. The question, as he put it, is to what church are you called? If hearing this heresy in the confessional was bad, he preached this as his homily later at mass. I left mass as I did the confessional–angry. If the churches are relative, than what do my sacrifices mean. What than does it mean when the Lord Jesus asked we worship “in spirit and in truth.” Hogwash–relativism is Hogwash.