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Universalism is a theological and philosophical concept with universal application or applicability. Universalist doctrines consider all people in their formation.
In terms of religion, in a broad sense, universalism claims that religion is a universal human quality. This can be contrasted with non-universalist religions. Religion in this context is defined as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."
In some sects of Christianity, universal reconciliation is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls — because of divine love and mercy — will ultimately be reconciled to God. Unitarian Universalism believes that religion is a universal human quality, emphasizing the universal principles of most religions and accepting other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. Universalism has had a strong influence on modern Hinduism, in turn influencing western modern spirituality.
A community that calls itself universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. For example, some forms of Abrahamic religions happened to claim the universal value of their doctrine and moral principles, and feel inclusive. A belief in one common truth is also another important tenet. The living truth is seen as more far-reaching than national, cultural, or religious boundaries.
Judaism teaches that God chose the Jewish people to be in a unique covenant with God, and one of their beliefs is that Jewish people were charged by the Torah with a specific mission—to be a light unto the nations, and to exemplify the covenant with God as described in the Torah to other nations. Not explicitly a Universalist theology, this view, however, does not preclude a belief that God also has a relationship with other peoples—rather, Judaism holds that God had entered into a covenant with all humanity as Noachides, and that Jews and non-Jews alike have a relationship with God, as well as being universal in the sense that it is open to all mankind.
An on-line organization, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute founded and led by Steven Blane, who calls himself an "American Jewish Universalist Rabbi", believes in a more inclusive version of Jewish Universalism, stating that "God equally chose all nations to be lights unto the world, and we have much to learn and share with each other. We can only accomplish Tikkun Olam by our unconditional acceptance of each other's peaceful doctrines."
In Christianity, Universalism can refer to the beliefs that all humans either may or will be saved through Jesus and eventually come to harmony in God's kingdom. This salvation is expressed as offered both to Jews and to Gentiles (Romans 1:16, Romans 9:24-25, Revelation 7:9). It is opposed to the doctrines of reprobation and double-predestination in Calvinism.
The Greek term apocatastasis came to be related by some to the beliefs of Christian Universalism, but in early Patristics, the usage is distinct. Additionally the term catholic is derived from the Greek word katholikos, which means universal. The Catholic Church is universal in the sense that it embraces individuals "from every race, nation, language, and people", but it does not teach the certainty of universal salvation.
Universalist writers such as George T. Knight have claimed that Universalism was a widely held view among theologians in Early Christianity, including important figures such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria.
The first undisputed documented appearance of Christian Universalist ideas was in 17th-century England and 18th-century Europe and colonial America. Gerrard Winstanley (England, 1648), Richard Coppin (England, 1652), Jane Leade (England, 1697), and George de Benneville (France and America, 18th century) taught that God would grant all human beings salvation. People teaching this doctrine in America became known as Universalist Church of America.
Some Bible verses commonly cited in Christian Universalist theology are:
- 1 Corinthians 15:22
- Romans 5:18-19 (The "one trespass" and the "one man's disobedience" refer to Adam's sin, while the "act of righteousness" and the "one man's obedience" refer to Jesus' voluntary death on the cross).
- "Consequently, 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 for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (NIV; emphasis added)
- "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." (ESV; emphasis added)
- 2 Peter 3:9
- "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." (NIV; emphasis added)
- "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (ESV; emphasis added)
- 1 Timothy 2:3-6
- "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for ALL men — the testimony given in its proper time." (NIV; emphasis added)
- "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for ALL, which is the testimony given at the proper time." (ESV; emphasis added)
- 1 John 2:2
- "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (NIV)
- "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (ESV)
- 1 Timothy 4:10
- "(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe." (NIV; emphasis added)
- "For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (ESV; emphasis added)
- Romans 11:32
- "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." (NIV)
- "For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all." (ESV)
- 1 John 4:14
- "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." (NIV)
- "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." (ESV)
Another key point within the Christian Universalist theology is the understanding that mistranslations exist in many modern English translations of the Bible. One of the most significant translation errors is that of the Greek word αιών (Lit. aion). This Greek word is the origin of the modern English word "eon". However, this word is often translated as "eternal", in the context of eternal punishment/torment or eternal life. In his tetralogy called Word Studies in the New Testament, the 19th century theologian Marvin Vincent wrote:
Aion, transliterated aeon, is a period of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself. Aristotle (peri ouranou, i. 9,15) says: "The period which includes the whole time of one's life is called the aeon of each one." Hence it often means the life of a man, as in Homer, where one's life (aion) is said to leave him or to consume away (Iliad v. 685; Odyssey v. 160). It is not, however, limited to human life; it signifies any period in the course of events, as the period or age before Christ; the period of the millennium; the mythological period before the beginnings of history....
The adjective aionios in like manner carries the idea of time. Neither the noun nor the adjective, in themselves, carry the sense of endless or everlasting. They may acquire that sense by their connotation, as, on the other hand, aidios, which means everlasting, has its meaning limited to a given point of time in Jude 6. Aionios means enduring through or pertaining to a period of time. Both the noun and the adjective are applied to limited periods....
Words which are habitually applied to things temporal or material cannot carry in themselves the sense of endlessness. Even when applied to God, we are not forced to render aionios everlasting. Of course the life of God is endless; but the question is whether, in describing God as aionios, it was intended to describe the duration of his being, or whether some different and larger idea was not contemplated.
Unity Church, Religious Science, Divine Science are denominations within the New Thought movement. Each teaches that there is a common thread of truth at the heart of all religions. New Thought is an ever-evolving belief system which will incorporate Truth where ever it is found, hence the name New Thought. All is God, But God transcends all.
Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a theologically liberal religion characterized by a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a result of that search and not a result of obedience to an authoritarian requirement. Unitarian Universalists draw from all major world religions and many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.
While having its origins in Christianity, UU is no longer a Christian church. As of 2006, fewer than about 20% of Unitarian Universalists identified themselves as Christian. Contemporary Unitarian Universalism espouses a pluralist approach to religious belief, whereby members may describe themselves as humanist, agnostic, deist, atheist, pagan, Christian, monotheist, pantheist, polytheist, or assume no label at all.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was formed in 1961, a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association, established in 1825, and the Universalist Church of America, established in 1866. It is headquartered in Boston, and serves churches mostly in the United States. The Canadian Unitarian Council became an independent body in 2002.
Islam recognizes to a certain extent the validity of the Abrahamic religions, the Qur'an identifying Jews, Christians, and "Sabi'un" or "baptists" (usually taken as a reference to the Mandeans) as "people of the book" (ahl al-kitab). Later Islamic theologians expanded this definition to include Zoroastrians, and later even Hindus, as the early Islamic empire brought many people professing these religions under its dominion, but the Qur'an explicitly identifies only Jews, Christians, and Sabians as People of the Book., , The relation between Islam and universalism has assumed crucial importance in the context of so-called political Islam or Islamism, particularly in reference to Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and one of the key philosophers of Islam.
There are several views within Islam with respect to Universalism. According to the most inclusive teachings, common among the liberal Muslim movements, all monotheistic religions or people of the book have a chance of salvation. For example, Surah 2:62,256 states that:
Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve...let there be no compulsion in religion
However, the most exclusive teachings opinion differently. For example, the Salafi refer to Surah 9:5,29:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters [mushrikun] wherever ye find them, and take them, and besiege them, and lay in wait in every stratagem of war. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the jizya, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful [...] Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture [i.e. people of the book] as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the jizya readily, being brought low [in submission].
The interpretation of all of these passages are hotly contested amongst various schools of thought, traditionalist and reform-minded, and branches of Islam, from the reforming Quranism and Ahmadiyya to the ultra-traditionalist Salafi, as is the doctrine of abrogation (naskh) which is used to determine which verses take precedence, based on reconstructed chronology, with later verses superseding earlier ones. The traditional chronology places Surah 9 as the last or second-to-last surah revealed, thus, in traditional exegesis, it gains a large power of abrogation, and verses 9:5,29,73 are held to have abrogated 2:256 The ahadith also play a major role in this, and different schools of thought assign different weightings and rulings of authenticity to different hadith, with the four schools of Sunni thought accepting the Six Authentic Collections, generally along with the Muwatta Imam Malik. Depending on the level of acceptance of rejection of certain traditions, the interpretation of the Koran can be changed immensely, from the Qur'anists and Ahmadiyya who reject the ahadith, to the Salafi, or ahl al-hadith, who hold the entirety of the traditional collections in great reverence.
Traditional Islam views the world as bipartite, consisting of the House of Islam, that is, where people live under the Islamic law; and the House of War, that is, where the people do not live under Islamic law, which must be proselytized using whatever resources available, including, in some traditionalist and conservative interpretations, the use of violence, as holy struggle in the path of Allah, to either convert its inhabitants to Islam, or to rule them under the Shariah (cf. dhimmi); since the abolition of the Caliphate, there has been debate about the proper role of divisions of the world in Islam, and whether the traditional bipartite division is sufficient to meet the needs of the ummah (world community of Muslims) and world moving into the future.
The Ash'ari school of Sunni aqidah (theology) holds that those who had never heard of the message of Islam, by virtue of isolation, can still be saved by the grace of Allah, similar to Karl Rahner's concept of the Anonymous Christian. Sufis generally hold to a much more inclusivist and tolerant view of other faiths and religious systems than other Sunnis and Shi'a Islam.
In Bahá'í belief, a single God has sent all the historic founders of the world religions in a process of progressive revelation. As a result, the major world religions are seen as divine in origin and are continuous in their purpose. In this view, there is unity among the founders of world religions, but each revelation brings a more advanced set of teachings in human history and none are syncretic. Within this universal view, the unity of humanity is one of the central teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í teachings state that since all humans have been created in the image of God, God does not make any distinction between people regardless of race, colour or religion. Thus, because all humans have been created equal, they all require equal opportunities and treatment. Thus the Bahá'í view promotes the unity of humanity, and that people's vision should be world-embracing and that people should love the whole world rather than just their nation. The teaching, however, does not equal unity with uniformity, but instead the Bahá'í writings advocate for the principle of unity in diversity where the variety in the human race is valued. Operating on a worldwide basis this cooperative view of the peoples and nations of the planet culminates in a vision of the practicality of, the progression in world affairs towards, and the inevitability of, world peace.
Some varieties of Zoroastrian (such as Zurvanism) are universalistic in application to all races, but not necessarily universalist in the sense of universal salvation.
Hindu Universalism, also called Neo-Vedanta and neo-Hinduism, is a modern interpretation of Hinduism which developed in response to western colonialism and orientalism. It denotes the ideology that all religions are true and therefore worthy of toleration and respect.
... an imagined "integral unity" that was probably little more than an "imagined" view of the religious life that pertained only to a cultural elite and that empirically speaking had very little reality "on the ground," as it were, throughout the centuries of cultural development in the South Asian region.
Hinduism embraces universalism by conceiving the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity.
This modernised re-interpretation has become a broad current in Indian culture, extending far beyond the Dashanami Sampradaya, the Advaita Vedanta Sampradaya founded by Adi Shankara. An early exponent of Hindu Universalism was Ram Mohan Roy, who established the Brahmo Samaj. Hindu Universalism was popularised in the 20th century in both India and the west by Vivekananda and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Veneration for all other religions was articulated by Gandhi:
After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that  all religions are true;  all religions have some error in them;  all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one's own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible.
Western orientalists played an important role in this popularisation, regarding Vedanta to be the "central theology of Hinduism". Oriental scholarship portrayed Hinduism as a "single world religion", and denigrated the heterogeneousity of Hindu beliefs and practices as 'distortions' of the basic teachings of Vedanta.
In Sikhism, all the religions of the world are compared to rivers flowing into a single ocean. Although the Sikh gurus did not agree with the practices of fasting, idolatry and pilgrimage during their times, they stressed that all religions should be tolerated and considered on equal footing. The Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains the writings of not just the Sikh guru themselves, but the writings of several Hindu and Muslim saints, known as the Bhagats. Although Sikhism does not teach that men are created as an image of God, it states that the essence of the One is to be found throughout all of its creation. As was said by Yogi Bhajan, the man who is credited with having brought Sikhism to the West:
"If you can't see God in all, you can't see God at all". (Sri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan)
The First Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak said himself:
By this, Guru Nanak meant that there is no distinction between religion in God's eyes, whether polytheist, monotheist, pantheist, or even atheist, all that one needs to gain salvation is purity of heart, tolerance of all beings, compassion and kindness. Unlike many of the major world religions, Sikhism does not have missionaries, instead it believes men have the freedom to find their own path to salvation.
Yi Guan Dao
Yi Guan Dao (loosely translated as "Universal Taoism", "the pervasive truth", or "the consistent path") incorporates elements from Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and recognizes the validity of non-Chinese religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam as well. For this reason it is often classified as a syncretistic sect, along with other similar religions in the Way of Former Heaven (Xian Tian Dao) family.
Universalism is not only a set of values, but a worldview to which any can subscribe if they observe and believe in the universality of the human experience — and that of all sentient life — and work to uphold the principles, ethics, and actions that safeguard these fundamental things.
Indeed, many Universalists may be attracted to the logic of universally applicable principles, rather than any belief or dogma. Human unity, solidarity, and the perceived need for a sustainable and socially conscious global order are among the tendencies of non-religious Universalist thought.
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