UU Minute #98

Unlimited Atonement

We are Unitarian Universalists: the confluence of two mighty streams – the Unitarian and the Universalist -- that flowed together in 1961. And we are Universalists, not because we believe what Hosea Ballou believed, but because we are the latest participants in the on-flowing stream of conversation that is Universalism – a stream the course of which Hosea Ballou 200 years ago redirected with his powerful ideas.

His editorship of the Universalist Magazine gave us our identity for more than a generation. His 1805 book, A Treatise on Atonement, is a major landmark in the development of our thought. In it, Ballou argued that Christ’s act of atoning for our sins atoned for us all.

We today might take it a step farther and say that any act of courage and sacrifice redeems all of us. Jesus? Yes. If we read him as knowing what his ministry was risking, and doing it anyway, then his courage redeems us. Socrates would not cease his pursuit of truth even when he knew he’d be executed for it. His courage also redeems us. Katarzyna Weiglowa in the sixteenth century would not recant her truth that God was one and not three even when she knew she’d be burned at the stake for it. Her courage redeems us. Francis of Assisi, Miguel Serveto, John Woolman, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr, Wangari Maathai, Steven Biko, Rigoberta Menchu, Malala Yousafzai.

Every act of imagination and vision and courage redeems the species that is capable of producing it. They show us of what we, too, are capable.

That wasn’t what Ballou meant by “atonement.” But it’s what many of us understand – as Ballou’s conversation has evolved into ours.

NEXT: Emerson Re-defines Us

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