Friday, March 5, 2010

New Book Excerpt: The Possibility of Christian Universalism

As I mentioned in my last post, I will occasionally be posting some very brief excerpts from the book on hell I'm working on with John Kronen (hereafter referred to simply as That Damned Book), if and when they work as blog posts. I offer the first of these today.

First, some context: "Christian universalism" refers to a version of Christianity which rejects the doctrine of hell (DH) in favor of the doctrine of universalism (DU)--the view that ultimately all created persons are saved--but which, in other ways, preserves core Christian teachings. Some critics of this view argue that the doctrine of hell is so bound up with core Christian teachings that it would be impossible to be a universalist AND a Christian.

Early in That Damned Book, John and I briefly touch on this subject in the wake of pointing out that a number of our arguments for universalism are based on premises likely to be shared by a number of theistic religious traditions. In other words, we offer arguments for universalism that do not invoke or make use of any distinctively Christian teachings. Here's what we go on to say:

This last fact might cause some Christians to worry—perhaps sharing C. F. W. Walther’s view that one cannot be a universalist without denying the necessity, if not the fact, of Christ’s Atonement. But this worry is unwarranted. One may be convinced that a good God wants to save all, can do so, and hence will, without so much as considering the specific steps God might take or need to take in order to do so—and hence without considering whether the means He used (or had to use) are those Christians affirm.

As such, an argument for universalism that makes no reference to the Incarnation or Atonement does not thereby rule out the belief that universal salvation is achieved (indeed, can only be achieved) through the Incarnation, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Such arguments may still be compatible with the Christian doctrine that every human being is saved through Christ’s redemptive work.

Of course, not everyone embraces Christ in this life, even in the implicit sense of placing their trust in an “anonymous” Christ. Hence, universalists cannot hold (as so many conservative Christians do) that sinners need to perform the subjective act of placing their trust in Christ before death in order to be saved. But this does not mean that universalists have to deny the role of Christ’s Atonement in human salvation. First of all, one might take it that we are saved by what God does for us through the Atonement, regardless of what we subjectively do in response. But it is even possible for universalists to treat subjective faith in Christ as necessary for salvation so long as they hold that there is no time limit for performing this act of faith, such that it could emerge for the first time after death. This possibility is central to several key arguments we develop here.

Admittedly, the idea that one can be converted after death is contrary to what most of Christianity taught up until about the 18th century. But the discovery of the New World and the vast empires of India and China produced a gradual shift in the Church’s thinking. Beginning, arguably, with certain 17th century Jesuits, Christian intellectuals began to hold that those who had no way of knowing Christ during their lives could be saved as long as they did not reject the grace given them. And many otherwise conservative Christian thinkers now hold that all will be given an adequate revelation of Christ, at least at death if not before.

But Walther’s worry that universalists must deny the necessity of Christ’s saving work is related to another worry, expressed by Jerry Walls, that also deserves preliminary mention. Walls worries, in effect, that if the doctrine of hell is set aside, Christianity becomes trivialized. He claims that, in traditional Christian theology, hell “is the alternative to salvation,” a fact that lends “a sense of urgency and moral seriousness to the quest for salvation” and also highlights “the majesty and glory of God’s work to save his fallen children.”

But it is entirely compatible with DU to hold that, apart from God’s saving work, our fate would be horrific. That is, universalists can agree with Walls that the alternative to salvation is hell—that eternal anguish is what we would endure but for God’s saving work—even if they think no one actually endures this alternative. Furthermore, many universalists hold that there are those who do endure this alternative, although not eternally: while all are ultimately saved, some of the most recalcitrant sinners actively resist God’s saving grace for an extended time, enduring a finite “hell”—that is, an immediate experience of what it means to exist in the “outer darkness” apart from God—the experience of which ultimately breaks down their recalcitrance.

On this view of things, none of the “urgency and moral seriousness” attached to the quest for salvation needs to be set aside, let alone any sense of “the majesty and glory” of God’s saving work. A rescue boat that comes to the scene of a shipwreck is no less worthy of praise because it succeeds in saving all the passengers rather than only some. It is what they are saved from, not how many of them are saved, that determines the relative importance or triviality of the saving work.


  1. Eric:

    You speak of hell as a place of anguish, but this is not necessarily so. There is also Richard Swinburne’s suggestion that perhaps hell is a place of suffering only from the point of view of theists, but is actually the best possible world from the point of view of non-theists. Swinburne’s idea is that God is so good, that He is willing to not be in the face of those who do not like Him, and creates an alternative reality where they can be alone enjoying some kind of naturalistic paradise. The idea makes some sense, but I am not convinced by it. An inhabited hell, in any form or numbers, entails a failure of God’s purpose, and I don’t think such an idea holds water under theism. Still, Swinburne’s idea is a sophisticated defense of DH and merits some discussion in your book.

    I would here like to mention another idea which is some ways affirms both DH and DU. I was reading some books about the monastic tradition of the Orthodox church. It turns out that in this tradition virtually no limit is placed to the power of prayer, up to and including the power to pull a soul out of hell (in the traditional sense of hell). If this is so, then, even if hell as a place of terrible punishment exists, it will slowly be emptied by the love of those who are saved.

  2. Hi, Eric-

    I hope this discussion was not supposed to make any sense to non-believers.

    Anyhow, "the grace given them"? How about the pestilential, genocidal, totalitarian gift of colonialism? It was sort of a package deal, and telling the natives that they would burn in everlasting hell unless they took up their spiritual and temporal bondage with smiles on their faces - well, I am not sure that it makes for good philosophy, really.

  3. Eric, your discussion leaves out the strains of universalism found among the early church (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and so on.) Surely that would bolster your case?

    Burk, I feel like this discussion should make perfect sense to any reasonably competent English speaker who's willing to look up any unfamiliar terms. If I listened to a debate among atheists over whether objective morality was possible in an atheistic universe, I would not agree with their premises, but I would understand what they meant.

    This fact, however, clearly did not stop you from misunderstanding Eric's words. Not only is he describing the views of the intellectuals mentioned rather than speaking in his own voice, the view being described is clearly about what happens to people who have never heard about Christianity and never been exposed to the good and bad that missionaries brought with them. It is about their response to the intimations of transcendence that St. Paul talks about, not their response to Jesuits.

  4. By the way, I'll be away from my computer for about a week starting tomorrow, so sorry if I don't reply to any responses in a timely manner.

  5. Dianelos--You are absolutely correct that Swinburne's view of hell needs to be addressed. It is very close to Stump's, and I think Marilyn Adams' response to Stump is quite telling. Nevertheless, this species of hell needs to be noted and considered alongside others.

    Right now I'm in the midst of revising the first chapter, in which we offer a taxonomy of species of hell (a version of our taxonomy is coming out in an anthology on the philosophy of hell any day now, published by Ashgate and edited by Joel Buenting, so you may want to look for that if you're interested).

    Swinburne's and Stump's version is one of the more progressive, in which the nature of the evils of hell are, in terms of our strategy of classification, entirely OBJECTIVE as opposed to EXPERIENTIAL. That is, while they are afflicted by certain things that are objectively evil, they are shielded from any appreciation of how serious a loss they endure, and so do not subjectively FEEL towards their state the degree of horror they ought to feel. As such, they do not SUFFER the evils that afflict them. (Another variant of this species would be the sort in which the damned are said to be put into an eternal sleep so that they cannot have any experiences).

    I agree with your point that an inhabited hell entails a failure of divine purposes and thus is incompatible with central theistic notions about God. It is, in effect, the overarching purpose of our book to make this point as decisively as we can. As we put it, the doctrine of hell entails that the power of sin wins out eternally over God's redemptive purposes in the souls of the damned.

    Do you have any citations for the Orthodox monastic perspective you talk about? It is intriguing and falls in line with some of the ideas we develop in later chapters.

  6. Burk--One of the issues I'm hoping my co-author and I will have the space to develop in a later chapter has to do with the pragmatic effects of belief in a doctrine of hell. I actually have a post somewhere on this blog relating to that issue but don't have the time right now to track it down and offer the link.

    In any event, I am convinced that the kind of self-righteous, culturally imperialistic, and oppressive forms of "evangelism" that you reference in your comment are reinforced and encouraged (if not wholly caused) by a more or less traditional doctrine of hell. So in that sense, we are on the same page.

    But Dustin is right that you have grossly misread the post, which is simply noting that the discovery of and interaction with peoples who could not have been expected to have had any meaningful exposure to Christianity in their lifetimes led many Christian intellectuals to rethink the view that one had to explicitly embrace Christian belief in life in order to be saved. In our view, these intellectuals typically didn't go nearly far enough. Our point is that their concession, for the sake of avoiding a position that they could see was morally untenable (namely, that the countless people who lived and died ignorant of Christianity were damned by virtue of an accident of birth), opens the door for certain universalist arguments they themselves didn't make.

  7. Dustin--Be assured that our book does NOT leave out the universalist ideas of early church fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, even though they are not mentioned in the small excerpt posted here. Interestingly, at least as I understand their theology neither one denied the existence of a FINITE hell. They saw the "fires" of hell as analogous to a REFINER's fire. In effect, those human beings who rejected divine grace were not abandoned but saved in ANOTHER (admittedly more painful) way. At least that's how I interpret their view. Some have argued that this theology is actually a better fit with the texts of the New Testament as it reads in the original Greek, and that it is no accident that the Roman Church, which read the Scriptures in Latin translation, was less open to universalism than the Eastern Church.

  8. Good to know--I think I agree with your interpretation of their positions, as well as the claim that what the NT teaches is closer to their view than views that incorporate eternal damnation. Do you have any sympathy for belief in a finite hell?

  9. Hi, Eric-

    Yes- I was flipping out there- hard to get it through my head that any one (especially a philospher!) would take hell seriously in any way whatsoever, whether by DU, DH, etc. It is like counting the angels ... etc.

    But one thing to note, once again, is the curious mode of reasoning you are employing. Scripture says X about hell, (the worth of which I will leave aside for now), yet that proposition is morally repulsive (to modern sensitivities), thus hell must be Y, in order to make us feel better, since the point of god is to make us feel good. The whole train of reasoning lacks any evidence for actual reality, but goes on a Peter-Pan flight of wishful thinking, from wished-for premises.

    But the idea of hell exists precisely to counter our wishful thinking, so that the scriptures/powers that be can use our fear, guilt, and other negative emotions to coax us into their preferred behavior. I mean, Jesus putatively gave us an unending good-cop, bad-cop routine.. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

  10. Eric:

    DH is also incompatible with Christian ethics, and most clearly with the Sermon on the Mount where we are exhorted not to return evil but to be as perfect as God is.

    It may have little to do with the issue of truth, but still I think it would be interesting if you included in your book something about the psychology of DH. Why is it that such an obviously wrong doctrine has proven to be so tenacious? Its origin appears to be nothing more sophisticated than the thought that if powerful kings severely punish those who disobey them then God who is infinitely powerful must punish those who disobey with infinite harshness. Nor do I think the tenacity of DH has that much to do with scripture, for one can find at least as much support in the Gospels for DU as for DH. Rather I think it has to do with an implicit and perhaps subconscious wager in the mind of believers: If hell does not exist then even if I wrongly believe that it does the consequences cannot be that bad. But if hell does exist and I wrongly believe it doesn’t then perhaps I risk eternal torture. And from the churches’ point of view there is certainly the misguided idea that teaching about hell, whether it actually exists or not, helps keep people in line. So, for example, in the Catholic Encyclopedia (see: one reads: “ Moreover, if all men were fully convinced that the sinner need fear no kind of punishment after death, moral and social order would be seriously menaced.”. Actually the whole section about the “Existence of hell” is an amazing read. But, it seems very clear to me that the path of Christ is a path of inner transformation (“metanoia” in Gospel speak), which is both motivated by and expressed in faith and works. Not doing evil because one fears the fires of hell has nothing to do with Christianity, indeed is counter-Christian, as far as I am concerned, because it focuses on the cup being clean outside and not inside.

    As for the Orthodox monastic perspective I’d like to point out Kyriakos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality”. Markides is a university professor living in the US and this book is basically an interview with a monk in Cyprus. The author explicitly says he was shocked about the monk’s ideas about hell and especially with the idea that prayer has the power to pull souls out of hell, so he wrote in some detail about them. The relevant pages about are 155 – 164. You can read them on-line if you go to and search inside the book for “Elder Ephraim felt the loss of Grace”.

  11. Eric:

    Probably you are already aware of all that, but I thought it would not hurt to post here the scriptural basis for universalism. I lifted it all from the excellent book “If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person" written by two pastors, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. There are a few bits from the Old Testament, such as "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" in Genesis 12:3, and "O you who hear prayer, to you all men will come" in Psalm 65:2. Here are some from the New Testament:

    Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. Matthew 18:14

    All mankind will see God's salvation. Luke 3:6

    Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? Luke 15:4

    Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? Luke 15:8

    The true Light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. John 1:9

    When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself. John 12:32

    Christ must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. Acts 3:21 (kind of reminds one of Origen :-)

    Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men. Romans 5:18

    I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 (so beautiful)

    God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on all men. Romans 11:32

    Love always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 (And God is love :-)

    For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22

    He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth *together* under one head, even Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10

    For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20

    This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4

    We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10

    For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Titus 2:11

    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (Incidentally "repentance" in the original Greek is "metanoia" which literally means "change of mind", and for me rather "change of being")

  12. Dianelos--Thanks for including this list on this discussion thread, since it will be helpful to readers who come to the topic with the (erroneous) background assumption that the Bible clearly and univocally teaches the traditional doctrine of hell.

    One chapter in the book will be devoted to Scripture ("That Damned Scripture Chapter"), and in it, one thing we do is juxtapose "unversalism" texts against "hell" texts, so as to highlight the inadequacy of settling this doctrinal dispute through simple proof-texting. We've included there a number of the passages that are on your list (especially the Pauline ones--the case that Paul, at least, was a universalist seems really strong). I may think about including more--since, as I was reading your post, I was struck by the power of reading all of those universalist passages in a row.

  13. Burk--There are millions of people who take the doctrine of hell VERY seriously. And this belief has tangible effects on how they live--effects which I think are pragmatically harmful. This is plenty of reason for me to take the doctrine very seriously indeed.

    And, if I dare say so, the kind of scholarly engagement with the doctrine that my co-author and I propose--what amounts to a serious and respectful "internal" rather than "external" critique (that is, one that looks at the consistency of the doctrine with the broader worldview of those who endorse it)--is far more likely to influence the thinking of those who endorse such a doctrine than is a critique which begins from an alien worldview and a standpoint of dismissiveness and mockery.

    As far as the rest of your comment goes, I'll simply say this: It repeats a charge you level against my book--one I found to be not just a serious misconstrual of my project, but such an ANNOYING one that I decided to ignore it until such a time as I could respond to it with some measure of charity.

    That time is not yet, but perhaps other readers of this blog would be willing to point out the presuppositions which color your construal of my argument (about the nature of morality and religion and Scripture and epistemology and the role and value of pragmatic evaluation, etc.) and with which I'd disagree.

  14. Burk, I mean this gently, but you often take a very condescending and bridge-burning approach. You come off with a sort of holier-and-smarter-than-thou attitude. Anybody who disagrees with you is not a "real philosopher" and must be brainwashed. This is an ongoing pattern. Why is that?

    By the way, I (like Eric) reject eternal damnation. I also reject the idea that people are punished for their beliefs.

    take care

    - Pat

  15. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out. As a Christian, the doctrine of Hell has been one of my biggest struggles. I still feel compelled to say, "I don't know, I'm not to judge" when faced with the question. There are many times that I definitely lean towards universalism, but I still feel uncertain proclaiming it as fact. I have seen many tender hearted Christians struggle with this issue and there are some who concede that the scriptures teach Hell. I have seen that most gentle spirits (which come to think of it "gentleness" is a fruit of the spirit) are inclined not to want to spend much time talking about Hell, even if they concede that there probably is one.

    I do not want to deny the evil in this world and say that it is all okay, because it's not. A great many people have done evil things and this world is a broken and suffering place. But at the same time, I wonder how it can be justice to suffer eternally for the sins of a finite life. How can sin ever have the final say and its consequences exist forever in the final picture? And when I look at the Christ who prayed for the forgiveness of those crucifying him and said to love you enemies, I struggle with that in terms of leaving people eternally separated from God.

  16. I'm eager to read this book. Thanks for the excerpt. Like Dianelos, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about the psychology of belief in hell. Universalists are up-front about their motivations (compassion, usually) whereas Biblical traditionalists often dodge self-examination, on this issue and others, by claiming "it's just what the Bible says".

    This makes me suspicious. Why are decent-seeming people so fervently invested in a belief in eternal torment? What don't they want to admit about their own emotions?

    I'm leaning more toward universalism than I did when I was a new convert. Speaking from my own experience, a strong doctrine of hell used to make me feel that my faith mattered. I was irritated by progressives who said "it doesn't matter what you believe", because, as you've pointed out recently on this blog, your beliefs affect the ethical choices you make. Conversion to Christianity saved me from a perfectionist worldview that was making me sick and self-absorbed. Maybe the doctrine of hell comforts other people who, like me, are afraid to see their conversion stories trivialized.

  17. Burk

    >> Yes- I was flipping out there- hard to get it through my head that any one (especially a philospher!) would take hell seriously in any way whatsoever, whether by DU, DH, etc.<<

    Many Christian Universalists argue that "hell" is really a means to universalism by (metaphorically) burning away everything that separates us from each other and from God – greed, pride, anger, resentment, etc. There is evidence that some of the Biblical authors themselves maintained this view, and one can find loads of early church support (e.g. St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, etc.).

    Eric is a philosopher of religion, so of course he's going to engage the topic! Many of his colleagues are conventional-exclusivist-Christians who maintain a nasty picture of hell, and they influence the public face of Christianity.

    Universalists (like Eric) (1) promote a better version of Christianity (and I have no problem calling it "better"), and (2) also help alleviate the anxiety of tender-hearted Christians who sincerely believe that their loved ones will suffer forever. Those are both good things.

    >> It is like counting the angels ... etc. <<

    Only if you presuppose the impossibility (or implausibility) of postmortem consciousness – the idea that minds ("spirits") can function without brains. Honestly, in previous exchanges you struck me as having an unwarranted prejudice against any evidence for postmortem existence. In any case, some philosophers (and most religious people) do think that minds continue to exist after brain death, and further, that some of these minds may need some correction. On Christian Universalism, this correction would come from "hell".

    Additionally, some Christians are actually materialists about human nature. Some believe that there is no postmortem existence for humans, but that God will someday revive us in physical bodies. When that happens, some will require "hell". That's another approach taken by some Christians.

    Of course, you will say that both approaches are flawed. You may be right, but I suspect that Eric's work on hell is primarily aimed at religious people.

    >> But one thing to note, once again, is the curious mode of reasoning you are employing. <<

    Okay, let's see how you summarize Eric's reasoning:

    >> Scripture says X about hell, (the worth of which I will leave aside for now), yet that proposition is morally repulsive (to modern sensitivities), thus hell must be Y, in order to make us feel better, since the point of god is to make us feel good. <<

    For the record, many Universalists think that the scriptures actually DON'T say X about hell. Have you read Talbott and McDonald's work on this issue? I recommend:

    - Tom Talbott's 1999 book "The Inescapable Love of God"

    - The 2003 volume "Universal Salvation? The Current Debate" edited by Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge (opens with a 3-part case by Talbott, followed by positive and negative assessments by scholars, and closing with Talbott's reply)

    - Gregory MacDonald's 2006 book "The Evangelical Universalist"

    These are strong cases that scriptures do not say X about hell.

    Or you can read my own essays on the topic if you're interested.

    best wishes

    - Pat

  18. I suggest a peek here as well. . . quite a dialogue


  19. And see . . . this series at a very popular blog:

    McKnight at Jesus Creed

    And . . . some excellent discussion here as well, at another popular biblioblog:

  20. Will your book discuss the development of the concept of hell (and of Satan, and the naming of angels and demons during the intertestamental period). As well as comparing different concepts of the afterlife in different parts of the Bible and in ANE history? There are many ancient sections of Scripture that speak only of sheol after death, a land of shadows to which all but a very few "heroes" like Enoch and Elijah go after death.

  21. I have collected a host of quotations on the topic of hell, insightful, witty. And there's a number of them over at

    that include just a few from me.

  22. Eric,

    That was a good excerpt; and I liked your comments afterward, too. I'm one of the guest authors (with Thomas Talbott and Robin Parry, aka "Gregory MacDonald") at The Evangelical Universalist forum, and I’ll be posting a new comment there today pointing readers back to this site (and article).

    ER: {{In other words, we offer arguments for universalism that do not invoke or make use of any distinctively Christian teachings.}}

    While that can certainly be done, my own experience has been to arrive at universalism from orthodox trinitarian theism as a logical metaphysical corollary. Indeed, most often if I'm discussing the issue with a counter-universalist, sooner or later I always seem to end up critiquing back to a disagreement between us on more fundamental theology--where I'm affirming ortho-trin but suddenly they're denying some precept of it!

    (The link above goes to a post of mine on the EU forum with two formal arguments: one arrives at universalism deductively from ortho-trin, the other illustrates how ortho-trin offers the most assurance of universalism compared to other philosophies and theologies broadly speaking. They were buried in another thread from a few years ago, so I took the excuse of excavating them for easier reference. {g})

    Dianelous: I think there are many more verses (OT and NT both) which can be adduced in favor of universalism than the ones listed; but those are certainly some of the most popular ones. One of my to-do lists this year, God willing, is to draft some books (both at a popular and at a more in-depth level) considering scriptural testimony about salvation and condemnation. But it’s obviously a vastly huge topic. {wry g}


  23. Jason,

    Thanks for your input here. Let me point out that, while the excerpt here comes in the wake of noting that we think there are strong arguments for universalism that do not have uniquely Christian premises (and that we will be offering some arguments along these lines), we do not in the book limit ourselves to such arguments.

    In fact, I would say that more of our arguments aim to show that orthodox Christian teachings (ones more central to Christianity than the doctrine of hell) fit better with universalism than they do with hellism--so that, in a comparative assessment of the two doctrines in the light of broader Christian teachings, Christians ought to favor universalism.

  24. Eric:

    Great! {g!} I'll add your reply to the post I made at EU (pointing back over to this article), too.

    I'll be curious if you-all have developed arguments similar to the ones I linked to previously. (And I hope to add your book to our admin list of "materials we recommend", after your release. {s!})


  25. The witch text in the Bible remains; the practice of executing them changed. The slavery text in the Bible remains; the practice changed. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the Biblical texts that authorized them remain.

    Is it not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of Biblical texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.

    Mark Twain, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice”