This quote sums up one ideal. Universalism sums up the Heavenly optimism possible under Christianity. The doctrine of eternal damnation sums up its hellish underbelly. Since the southerners amongst you are already quite familiar with the latter, I’ll include the former quote:
Universalism as hitherto expounded and applied is without doubt incomplete and faulty. It will be better understood and more consistently set forth. But it’s seed-thought–that God is the eternal Father of mankind, and that right and not wrong, good and not evil, happiness and not misery, are the sure outcome of his creation and providence–is God’s own thought, and is as sure of the whole religious field erelong as noon is to follow dawn. . . But whatever this church is to do or become as an organization, one thing, I think, is clear, it stands for the fullest and most rational gospel that the human mind has ever been invited to examine, or the human heart to enjoy.
This is nice, but the problem is that while the human heart may enjoy the fullness of such a Gospel, the human mind must injure reason to accept it. Wrong, evil, and misery are already known outcomes of creation, just as assuredly as are right, good, and happiness are. We have no recourse but to acknowledge that both sets of outcomes have already come to pass and will continue to as far as we can foresee. Perhaps God is capable of and planning to banish one set of these outcomes for the world generally, or on a case by case for individuals, but it if so we must still admit that reason is incapable of producing a compelling reason to believe that this is the case. Especially in light of the fact that he is not doing it in the present, reason compels us to conclude that it is less likely to be true than to be untrue.
So, I think a religious universalism – indeed any responsible religious response to the world of experience – must be more careful than what Rev. Atwood suggests. The truth of universalism is that God is not malicious. But the truth is also that God doesn’t constrain the world to goodness. Our theology, if we are to have one, must unashamedly profess that the world does not conform to any known human or Divine notion of goodness. We must greet it on its own terms, and bring with us not only our notions of goodness, but the will to live them independently of creation.