Fridays With Fanon: Universalism

Or Universalism as Imperialist, Take Two

On a previous post, I labelled Christian universalism as essentially imperialist.  Quite a few persons will disagree with me and argue that universal is a tool to fight empire, such as the limiting of salvation to a select few individuals (and therefore, consequently, the control of the world).  If Christ is for everyone, then, some would say, that it can only mean that a political system open to everyone is preferable. However, this is not my beef with universalist views of salvation.

In eschatological as well as moral terms, the idea that the entire human population shares a common fate presupposes, on the part of those who generally agree, that all human beings will someday make the same religious, moral, and political choices, and thus denying the possibility of diverse outcomes in the future.  When giving an example of the political struggle between two separate African nations and the French colonists, Franz Fanon asserted, “There is no common destiny between the national cultures of Guinea and Senegal, but there is a common destiny between the nations of Guinea and Senegal dominated by the same French colonialism. […] they would not be absolutely identical since the people and the leaders operate at a different pace.”[1] In a theological context, I would argue that there is no common destiny for each religious culture because each religious community makes various decisions; therefore, the purpose of each missionary/religious devotee differs according to each context.  This position, in my opinion, leaves room for a diversity of experiences when the new creation brought about by God occurs.  The secret behind Christian universalism is a general moral determinism, and therefore limiting the wide options of possibilities that come with human being who are created in freedom.  For both Fanon and Spivak, the indeterminancy of human agency is vital to resisting colonizing and overdetermining discourses.[2] Hence, it is essential that Christians develop an eschatological vision where God’s reign is understood as both a heterochronic and heterotopic event (i.e., taking place at a range of times and places) while developing a missiology that takes both human freedom and plurality seriously.

I prefer the logic of  Baptist theologians E.Y. Mullins and Herschel Hobbs, who also advocated freedom in the New Creation :

“Indeed, our dignity of free choice reaches even beyond this life. If by one’s own choice he [sic] rejects Christ as Savior, he [sic] alone is responsible for being in hell for eternity.  But even there, the Bible teachers degrees of punishment (Luke 12:47-48).  Paul said that both Jew and Gentile (pagan) who reject Christ will be judged by the degree of opportunity  against which each sins (Romans 2:11-16).  It is proper to be concerned about the heathen who never hear the gospel.  But in light of degrees of punishment in hell, we should be even more concerned about the man [sic] in a community filled with churches who regularly hears the gospel and yet never chooses Christ as Savior.  Furthermore, the Bible teaches degrees of reward in heaven (Matthew 24:14-23; Luke 19: 12-19)”


[1] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 169. (underline emphasis mine)

[2] Cf. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” 302-305 as well as Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 7;18.  Gayatri Spivak takes aim at the discourse used by the British colonists to describe the “good Indian wife” as the one who burned herself after her husband’s death.  The British reductionist account excludes the other possible ethical options that Indian women could have chosen.  Frantz Fanon rejects determinist philosophies with my favorite quote found on page18: “The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion. Fatalism relieves the oppressor of all responsibility since the cause of wrong-doing, poverty, and the inevitable can be attributed to God.  The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”  The colonized subject, with all of her choices limited according to the ideology perpetuated by the status, acts according to the possibilities that she accepts.

0 thoughts on “Fridays With Fanon: Universalism

  1. hulk54

    I actually disagree, Rod. I think if you come at universalism from a starting point that doesn’t assume that salvation means going to heaven and not going to hell, universalism isn’t that bad. But here is where I come down. With Barth. Many have accused Barth of being a universalist. He vehemently denied this accusation. As I argue here (http://eikonchurch.com/myownpath/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Barth-on-Election.doc), Barth’s view is that any view of heaven/hell/election/salvation that doesn’t allow the possibility for God to offer salvific grace to everyone, limits God and places a cap on the limits of God’s grace and love. But Barth isn’t a universalist. Why? The possibility of all being “saved” is not the same as the assertion. Barth also believes that while God’s love makes salvation for all a likelihood, to assume that is going to be the case is likewise reducing the freedom of God to act from God’s own will. Thus does Barth warn against those who assume they will be saved and use it as a license for ill. God does indeed judge and God reserves the right to withhold grace and exercise punishment in God’s freedom.

    None of this assumes that God will force anything upon anyone, only that the possibility of salvation is there for all, with or without humanity being the cause. Once again, the danger here is reading “Salvation” strictly in terms of an afterlife of bowing the knee to a God that won’t have things any other way but his. I don’t find that to be necessarily what salvation implies.

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      My problem is not with the possibility of salvation for everyone, my problem with universalism is that it is a hope with limits people’s choices/freewill in the hope that they will all make the same choice, and have the same experience in the afterlife. I believe salvation is for everyone; let me be clear, i am not a calvinist. What I am talking about is a diversity in experiences in the new creation.

      Reply
      1. Optimistic Chad

        Agreed, but the presupposition you are going with is that for the saved, the afterlife will be monolithic and uniform. I rather think of it as an eden 2.0, wherein humanity will be free to live as intended, without the cloud of sin choking us off from the Holy Wind.

        Reply
        1. Rod of Alexandria

          Actually, I think that for the “saved,” their experiences will different as well. In the book of Revelation, some people are experiencing the new creation as martyrs, others as elders, and so forth. I think it is difficult to say they are not in the same location. There is one event, but many locations.

          Oh, and as a partial “Moltmannian,” I believe that the new creation is something entirely different from Eden, even though there are some commonalities, but we can never go back.

          Reply
  2. Joel

    I don’t want to get into this much here, as I am rather busy, but let me state this.

    If one is concerned about God imposing Himself upon the salvation of one, then they should be worried then of the Son’s act of obedience required to rectify the sin nature imposed upon all of us by the judicial act of God.

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      God actually does not impose the fall on anyone. The fall is a choice, that begins (for me) in Eden and culminates in the fall to empire (Nimrod and the tower of Babel). God’s gift of language is a blessing to start the destruction of death dealing human imperial structures, which still remain as curses. God’ salvation begins with the Word, from the start. Jesus, as the Logos of God, acted in perfect obedience because he had perfect freedom, because He is divine and human.

      Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria

      Well, it is an idea I am working on. Maybe I should spell it out more in a post.

      But in S. Mark Heim’s “Saved From Sacrifice” he argues that there is a fall to violence that God saves us from. I think he is right, but that it is a more complex form that is political and religious, what we call empire.

      Reply
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