Quaker Universalist Conversations

More on Laughlin’s typology

The following reflection on our A typology of universalisms post is offered by Spears, clerk of the Quaker Universalism Friends steering committee.

The QUF archive to which he refers is found on our Publications page, especially through the links to articles and journals.

I appreciate the reminder of the Laughlin QUF publication. There is a rich mine of materials in this QUF archive.

I agree that there is ambiguity in Quaker understanding and use of the term universalism, which is equal with the misunderstanding and misuses of the term by those in other religious groups. It is a constant source of misunderstanding. I wish we had a better overall term to point more precisely to this important reality in our human experience and our stewardship of our lives.

Regarding Type I and the doctrine of salvation, it is true to my understanding that redemption extends to all, if redemption is needed. If redemption is not needed because it is already accomplished or is itself a misunderstanding of the human condition, we can move on to Type 2.

Regarding Type 2, it is true to my understanding of the Quaker experience regarding the nature of spirituality that “that of God” is the basis for the intrinsic, inseparable value of human persons (hence the basis of international human rights) AND, additionally, a testimony to the non-extinguishable reality of spiritual awareness in the condition of all persons.

Regarding Type 3 concerning Quaker attitudes toward religions and the existence of truth, it is true to my experience that truth exists and it is one truth for all persons. But, Laughlin, in my current thinking, is mistaken in focusing on the similarity and differences among religions. Each religion is only a categorical construction masking wide varieties of understanding and practice within each religion. It is, in my current view, clearer to focus on the fact that all persons are on spiritual journeys within culturally diverse contexts, which contexts create pointers and filters for their perception of that single truth in reality. Religions do their best, but inadequately as well as helpfully. All religions are opaque mirrors that point to truth, but incompletely.

It appears to me that Laughlin’s categories of religions are, in fact, not statements about religions, but about human attitudes toward religions. These varieties of experience within various religious contexts are better expressed as one single truth (exclusivism), some truth (inclusivism, pluralism and universalism) and no truth (relativism). Since we are all on spiritual journeys, albeit in different religious contexts, we are all connected to the one truth, but expressed now in different languages and metaphors. We are doing better,but are not there yet.

I may be now deeper in misunderstanding, but would appreciate clarification in my language as well as in my understanding.


Another way to parse differing uses of the term “universalism” has to do with the question of where the boundaries of one’s “kinship group” lie. Or, as the lawyer testing Jesus put it, “Who is my neighbor?” One way of viewing the social evolution of the human race is to consider our slow, millennia-long process of expanding those boundaries so that more and more people—people of different families, clans, tribes, nations, races, and so on—gradually come to be considered “kin” to us. The great ambition of peacemakers is that we continue to expand these boundaries until they include not only all of humanity but all of life. Approached from this perspective, the different “universalisms” become differing notions of how to draw the boundaries. Are my kin only those who embrace the “means to wholeness” which I embrace? Does the “means to wholeness” in which I trust embrace all people as my kin, regardless of their beliefs and behaviors? Do my kin also include those who have different yet still genuinely effective paths to “wholeness”? Are all human beings (and, perhaps, all living beings) my kin, regardless of their beliefs and behaviors? Will they all eventually earn or discover or remember their wholeness, regardless of their beliefs and behavior? Remember that Jesus “tricked” the lawyer by turning the question back on him. After telling the Good Samaritan parable, he asked the lawyer, “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” I imagine the lawyer walking away, pleased with himself that he had given the Master the “right” answer—“He who helped the man”—and then stopping suddenly as he realized: “Hey, he didn’t answer MY question!” And so it is. Blessed Be, Michael
Michael has presented a good view of earthly kinship. Each person is different and many various groups exist, but in reality, all people have a global relationship. This relationship is not only biological. Our concern for the total environment of this planet is of great importance to all people on earth and its survival.
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