Monday, February 25, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

I suspect sometimes that many of those in the developed world who claim to be unhappy are dissatisfied precisely because they have made happiness their goal. Instead of finding people to love and then loving them well, they pursue happiness. Instead of developing their talents and then looking for meaningful ways to use them, they pursue happiness. Instead of losing themselves in the beauty of the moment, they ignore the present moment in favor of an elusive happiness that lies, always, beyond the next horizon.

Happiness isn't rightly a goal at all. Instead, it's something that accompanies both the pursuit and attainment of other goals.--assuming they're the right ones. If you choose your goals wisely, you find happiness in both the journey and the destination. If you choose poorly, you find that your achievements become like empty calories: They make you fat and sluggish.

And one of the poorest choices, when selecting among life goals, is happiness itself.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Universalism, Freedom, and the Problem of Evil

One recurring worry about universalism is that it would undermine the ability of theists to respond adequately to the problem of evil. This worry was expressed repeatedly by Perry Robinson, for example, in his recent Ancient Faith Radio interview. The worry seems to be rooted in the idea that the best theistic response to the problem of evil involves the invocation of significant freedom: God allows the evils of the world to occur because God wishes us to have significant freedom to shape our destinies. But universalism holds that we lack significant freedom with respect to our ultimate destinies, since it holds that all are eventually saved.

How serious is this worry? I think it is far less serious than many take it to be. I want to offer a few reasons why in this post.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Landscape of Hellism and Universalism

In a comment on my last post, Dianelos made the following remark:

Perry’s argument turns on a equivocation of the meaning of the proposition P=“eternal creaturely existence of hell is compatible with God’s perfection”. Still, that equivocation apart, don’t both the hellist and hopeful universalist agree that P is true? After all they both agree that it is possible that in fact some creatures will eternally exist in hell. 
I agree. Hopeful universalists and hellists are both committed to P--and in exactly the same sense. But that then raises the question of how and where hopeful universalists differ from hellists in their beliefs. 

This, of course, generates the broader question of how best to distinguish species of hellism and universalism. In God's Final Victory (hopefully available in paperback very soon), John Kronen and I offer a strategy for doing so that I think is quite effective. But there are various ways to make the same distinctions--and it seems to me it might be helpful to use the point of agreement between hellists and hopeful universalists, noted by Dianelos, as a springboard for making some of the same basic distinctions in a fresh way (especially since John and I did not devote much attention to hopeful universalism in our book). 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Does Hopeful Universalism Sacrifice Divine Goodness?

Last week, in an Ancient Faith Radio piece entitled "Will Everyone Eventually Be Saved?", host Kevin Allen interviewed Perry Robinson, editor of Energetic Procession (an Orthodox theology blog), about a topic dear to my heart: Christian Universalism.

Over the last few days, a lively discussion about that piece has been taking place on the Ancient Faith Today facebook page, on the discussion thread linked to the announcement for the radio interview, in which Robinson responds to some critics. When I was tagged in that discussion, I found myself reading through it and puzzling over some of Robinson's comments about so-called "hopeful universalism."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Assault Weapons as Symbols

I think human societies often underestimate the power that symbols have to shape the world around us. Too often, to call an act or gesture "purely symbolic" is to dismiss or trivialize it. But if there's anything that religion has taught us through the centuries, it's precisely this fact: symbolism matters.

I wrote a post awhile back reflecting on the importance and power of religious symbolism in light of the Sikh symbols of faith, or "kakars," that baptized Sikhs carry on their person at all times. There's no question that such symbols can have the capacity to shape our understanding of who we are and, by implication, how we live.

Or consider religious worship: rituals, images, songs, an arrangement of physical space, evocative stories and parables, physical gestures like kneeling or raising ones arms toward the sky, incense and candles--symbols designed to orient us towards a certain way of thinking about and living in the world. If you don't think symbols matter, then you don't think weekly worship can make a difference in a person's development, in their view of the world and their approach to life.

I've been thinking about this issue recently in connection with the "assault weapons" ban being considered as part of a more comprehensive public policy response to gun violence in America. The guns classified as assault weapons are functionally not much different from other semi-automatic rifles that no one is talking about banning. The differences are mainly historical and cosmetic: the former are civilian variants of weapons originally designed for military use and which retain a military styling that other rifles don't have.

Based on this fact--and the additional fact that assault weapons are implicated in a very small percentage of gun homicides in this country--there is some reason to think that a ban on these weapons would be itself a largely symbolic gesture. And in that case, an assessment of it needs to take into account what the symbolism means.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Redemption Strikes at Westboro Baptist Church

One of the most fascinating--and, for me, moving--things I've read in the last few weeks is this profile of Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps. Just a few short months ago, she made the monumental decision to leave the church--Westboro Baptist Church, to be precise--in which she had not only grown up but in which she had been essentially cocooned all her life.

The tiny Kansas congregation is, of course, infamous for protesting at events such as soldiers' funerals and gay pride parades, bearing hateful signs such as "God Hates Fags" and "You're Going to Hell." Megan Phelps-Roper was something of a rising star within the congregation, a true-believer, and so her defection came as something of a surprise to Jeff Chu, the author of profile.