“’If it’s quite all the same to you, I don’t want to be spanked any more.’
‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile, ‘for I am the Crocodile,’ and he wept crocodile tears to show it was quite true.”
Rudyard Kipling, “The Elephant’s Child,” (1902)
Pope Francis is reported to have told a group of Italian school children that, “we are all children of God.” By “we” he seems to have meant human beings generally, and by “all,” every Tom, Dick and Harry among them. This notwithstanding that Tom is an infidel, Dick a pagan, and Harry a Jew.
So if those Italian school children gave the phrase “children of God” its biblical meaning, which is “possessed of sanctifying grace,” they might reasonably conclude that the Pope is a Universalist.
Universalism is the doctrine that children of Adam are not saved by faith, or even by works, but rather by the infinitely dignifying fact of having been born, or rather conceived; for from that auspicious moment, earthly existence is just a strange and superfluous antechamber to Heaven.
The superfluity of earthly existence has always seemed to me one of the strongest objections to Universalism. What is more, if it is enough to have been born (or conceived), the manifest discomforts and terrors of living in this antechamber to heaven suggest that God has cruel streak that is very hard to reconcile with his easy-going open-borders policy in Heaven.
I also find Universalism very hard to reconcile with submission to any sort of discipline. Indeed, when Universalism was all the go in the early United States, orthodox Calvinists took pleasure in observing that Universalist meetinghouses were often empty and closed, since many Universalists apparently found it more agreeable to remain sleeping in their beds, or tippling at the tavern, than to spend two hours fidgeting in a cold, un-cushioned pew.
And that was in an age when many non-believers went to church just to enjoy the music.
My answer to a Universalist therefore begins with the words, “If it’s all quite the same to you.”
“If it’s all quite the same to you, I will henceforth do as I please. I do not see why we are penned in this antechamber to Heaven, but I do see there are many ways by which our time here can be sweetened. Thus, I will make my way to Heaven by the rational hedonist road; and I’m sure you can raise no objections, since it’s all quite the same to you.”
Here are the last lines of a poem narrated by a universalist who has taken the rational hedonist road. He is a white man in the tropics, and Piolani is his dusky, superstitious and comely maidservant.
“Piolani, I can hear
Your sweet voice rising strong and clear.
Is it god or goddess now
Whom you flatter with a vow?
Under deepest tropic skies
Let our two-fold prayers arise.
Question not but in the end
It will reach the self-same friend,
Who will judge us well indeed—
Each according to his meed.”
“Piolani, this is all.
Swing the hammock in the hall,
Roll your mat out at my feet,
Day is weary, night is sweet.
Day with toil and trouble teems,
Night is hallowéd with dreams.
Asleep already? at the start!
Piolani, bless your heart!
If peace of spirit rest insures
What a conscience must be yours.
So I swing and think of this;
Saying, as I shut my eyes,
This is ignorance and bliss.
If it isn’t, then what is,
And which of us is wise.”
Charles Warren Stoddard, “Utopia” (1869)