Talbott's Universalism

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Talbott's Universalism In his essay "The Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment," Thomas Talbott argues that any Christian theism that includes both the doctrine of hell or eternal punishment and the doctrine of a universally loving God is logically inconsistent. Talbott directs his argument against three distinct forms of Christian theism, defined by him as: conservative theism, hard- hearted theism, and moderately conservative theism. After attempting to show the logical inconsistencies within these three views, Talbott concludes that the only theism based on the belief in a universally loving God that is not logically inconsistent must contain the belief in the ultimate redemption of every created being: universalism. In the essay, Talbott refers to this view as "biblical theism." During the course of his argument, Talbott compares his definition of universal love for humans with the views he asserts one must have to believe in a God who allows some people to suffer everlasting punishment.

Through this comparison he attempts to reveal the logical inconsistencies of all Christian theism, except his "biblical theism," as he finally asserts that all created humans will eventually be reconciled with God and Christ, but that for some, the process will be longer than for others.

To begin the argument, Talbott presents his view of what a theist must believe: 1. God exists.

2. God is both omniscient and omnipotent.

3. God loves every created person.

4. Evil exists.

Talbott then adds the further belief held by conservative theists: 5. God will irrevocably reject some persons and subject those persons to everlasting punishment. (21) Talbott posits a logical inconsistency between 3. and 5., as a God who loves every created person will not reject any of them to everlasting punishment. Talbott asserts that many theologians reject either 3. or 5. without realizing it. He argues that theologians such as Aquinas and Augustine, who assert that, for some, God does not will eternal life, are thereby rejecting 3. Talbott's operating assumption about God's love is twofold: P1. Necessarily, God loves a person S at the time t only if God's intention at t and every moment subsequent to t is to do everything within his power to promote the best interest of S, provided that the interest of S is consistent with that of all others whom God also loves.

P2. Necessarily, God loves a person S at a time t only if God's intention at t and every moment subsequent to t is to do everything within his power to promote supremely worthwhile happiness in S, provided that the actions taken are consistent with his promoting the same kind of happiness in all others whom he also loves.

In less strict terms, Talbott restates the main point: There must be some connection between God's loving a person and his willingness to exercise his power in the interest of that person. Given that conservative theists believe in a time limit, usually said to be at the point of death, when a person is either rejected or accepted by God, it follows that, according to them, for some there is a time t at which God rejects a person S irrevocably. Talbott argues that this contradicts 3., as rejection neither promotes the best interest of S, nor cultivates supreme happiness for S (29). Thus, according to Talbott, belief in 5. is logically inconsistent with belief in 3.

To avoid this inconsistency, Talbott claims, some theologians take steps toward "hard-hearted theism," often referred to as predestination. The belief is that God has preordained eternal torment for some and eternal happiness for others. For Talbott, God does not love those for whom he has preordained eternal suffering. In the terms of the essay, these theologians would modify 3. into: 3'. God loves some created persons, but not all.

Talbott argues that God's love entails his will for those that he loves to have perfect love for others as well. However, as those He loves (S') experience love for those God rejects (s), then those accepted (S') will experience loss at God's rejection of their loved ones (s). This provides a logical inconsistency, as the experience of loss or pain on the part of S' constitutes less than supreme happiness, and therefore cannot be construed as love.

Talbott summarizes: P3a: It is necessary that, for any two persons, S' and s, God wills the good for S' only if God wills that S' be the kind of person such that, were S' to know of the existence of s, S' would will the good for s as well.

P3b: It is necessary that, for any two persons, S' and s, if P3a and God Himself wills the good for S', then God wills the good for s as well.

(In this form the argument does not exclude a third class of people that are loved neither by God or other created beings).

Thus, Talbott's argument against hard-hearted theism relies on the principle of human love for each other. Ultimately, Talbott argues, perfect love of God cannot be exclusive, since lack of love for one group leads to less than supreme happiness for the other group, and therefore also constitutes lack of love for them as well. As an example, Talbott states that, assuming God loved Talbott, were God not to love Talbott's daughter, he would be grieved, which contradicts the nature of love. Therefore, if God loves Talbott, He must also love his daughter (31).

Talbott then makes his argument against moderately conservative theists, who maintain that hell is a place of everlasting punishment by modifying 5. (God's rejection of man) into 5' (man's rejection of God): 5'. Some persons will, despite God's best efforts to save them, finally reject God and separate themselves from God forever.

According to this view, God will not override the free will of the individual, who makes a conscious decision to reject God. Further, this decision is upheld for eternity. Talbott argues that any rejection of God is due to lack of complete revelation on the part of God, as the individual would no doubt accept the truth and be reconciled to God if God would reveal Godself. He argues that by allowing sinners to damn themselves for eternity, with no possibility for reconciliation, he is allowing them to undermine the possibility of supreme worthwhile happiness of others. As God's perfect love seeks to promote and ensure this happiness, however, this again constitutes a logical inconsistency (39).

In the essay, Talbott argues that a theism including the belief in a God of perfect love is logically inconsistent with a theism that contains the doctrine of eternal punishment, or hell. The stated reasons for this logical inconsistency is that, ultimately, condemning anyone to eternal damnation will in some way limit the supremely worthwhile happiness of someone, therefore we cannot speak of love for everyone. Thus, to believe that God loves every created being and that God would either reject individuals or allow them to reject Him, constitutes logical inconsistency. Finally, Talbott concludes that nothing short of an explicit universalism, the belief that all created beings will be restored to God eventually, provides logical consistency in theism (30).

Works Cited Talbott, Thomas. "The Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment." Faith and Philosophy. 7.1 (1990): 19-40.