UU Minute #97

Universalism and Paying the Price

For Universalists, everyone goes to heaven. But for Universalists prior to Hosea Ballou, not everyone goes there right away. We endure a period of punishment, proportionate to our wickedness, before advancing to the pearly gates.

Hosea Ballou said heaven was immediate for everyone. He defended this view in his 1805 book, A Treatise on Atonement.

This was a big controversy. People outside and within the Universalist church said: if there were no punishment at all, we’d have complete licentiousness. If there is no price to be paid for sin, we have moral anarchy. Without fear of retribution, people will sin freely, drunken orgies, social decay,
“human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria” (Ghostbusters)
In response, this is what Hosea Ballou said. It’s what we still say. It’s the message that, when I was teenager, I heard from the pulpit of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.

Ballou said: I’m not saying we don’t pay the price for our sins. We do. We pay the price for small-souledness. We pay the price for every thoughtless deed that diminishes the light from the spark of divinity within us. We pay the price for not loving ourselves, and our neighbor as our selves. We pay the price for not recognizing kinship, and we pay the price for not accepting difference. We pay the price. But that price is paid here. It is paid in this life. Hell is an earthly phenomenon, and it is those who cannot see beyond themselves and their own narrow self-interests who are imprisoned in the hell of their own making.

This is the teaching that comes to us from father Ballou -- and is echoed by his successors.

NEXT: Unlimited Atonement

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