David Bentley Hart, "Is Everyone Saved? Universalism and the Nature of Persons"

I was debating whether to post this, but we (@Mark , @Michael_Callen and I) did talk a bit about universalism a couple of weeks ago. So, for those who are interested.

Not a huge DBH fan.

Why does he think he should refer to everyone that disagrees with him as “infernalists”? Haha. That means that more than half of those in the Orthodox Church throughout the centuries have been “infernalists.” I don’t think universalism is heresy, and I’m certainly a tentatively hopeful universalist (in the sense that I think it’s possible, and I hope and pray for it, but I don’t endorse it as absolutely true), but I feel like Hart’s version of it doesn’t respect human freedom. Nicholas Loudovikos in his book on Maximus characterizes Hart’s theology as totalitarian, and I tend to agree.

His book on Christianity is interesting, but he plays he same game as Dawkins rather than moving above it, rhetoric-wise. Beauty of the Infinite, I’m sure, is excellent, but I don’t know enough contintental philosophy to follow it too well. The “Consciousness, bliss…” book was interesting, but I don’t agree with his Thomistic understanding of God. I think David Bradshaw shows where this goes wrong. And if you don’t agree with Hart about that, then almost half the book loses its punch.

Sorry @Djordje. Give me David Bradshaw, John Behr, Andrew Louth, Peter Bouteneff, John McGuckin, and Bulgakov (who Hart also LOVES). I 100 percent agree with Kallistos Ware’s article on universalism. Not too keen on Hart though I know he’s probably a freakin’ genius.

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Thanks for posting. I’m curious to see if it’ll get many hits. I’ve noticed that people are WAY more interested in science or science AND theology, but theology by itself doesnmt tend to gather that much interest on Peaceful Science.


Yes, he can, on occasion, be too much. But yeah, he is a freaking genius.

Have you read ‘Traditio Deformis’, his paper? I think it’s pretty good, albeit, very rude.

And I do believe his humoristic rudeness is merely a way to hold complete attention. People tend to drift off when they’re bored.

No, I haven’t read. Can you link to his paper?

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Come on peaceful science forum. Isn’t SOMEONE interested in something other than science?

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It’s not “Peaceful Theology”, is it?


It is interesting he is published in a conservative magazine like First Things.

I don’t know, Jesus had some rather frightening warnings he said against the religious hypocrites he faced, and he forgave ordinary sinners but also usually charged them to change their ways.

He’s a regular writer there.

He’s a rather popular philosopher and leads some work in Notre Dame so there’s no way they’re gonna let him go, whatever his belief. Plus, he’s a Greek Orthodox, and universalism isn’t considered heresy here.

A few thoughts:

  1. Pretty sure Hart is not a Thomist by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe take another look before dismissing him on that front. One of his most frequent punching bags is Ed Feser, a Thomist.
  2. The rhetoric I think is lots of fun. I know that Hart means it that way. His sense of humor is adolescent, and he knows it. It does put some folks off. But theology has always been polemical, and he’s participating in a long tradition there.
  3. Folks on here would probably be most interested in knowing that his argument for universalism is argued from a particular, and rather persuasive account of creation from nothing. That can be found in his excellent and challenging article here: God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilo | Hart | Radical Orthodoxy: Theology, Philosophy, Politics
    That article would make a rollicking discussion on here I bet.
  4. His short book Doors of the Sea contains echoes of the argument for universalism, but has more to do with ‘natural theology’ and also might be worth reading if you’re interested.
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One other thing. If you don’t have time to read the article linked above, think about what it might mean for God to be good, but to plan or decree or in some sense intend (even need?) some to be lost, so that the Big Plan works out right in the end. Is such a ‘goodness’ still good, or does that call into question our ability to use a word like ‘good’ to describe such a God? You may note that the Westminster Confession, to reference one example, nowhere affirms God as either ‘love’ or ‘loving’. Hart thinks that for it to be both true that God is good, and that God made creation ‘from nothing’, it must be finally unnecessary that any be lost. And for God to ‘allow’ someone to be lost is a failure of goodness even as much as allowing your child to ‘freely’ step in front of a speeding car would be. Take a look at the argument, and see where or if you think it goes wrong.



I think the argument is interesting but I think it results in a God who doesn’t allow us the freedom to do wrong. His example of a father allowing his child to stick her head in the fire doesn’t really capture a lot of conceptions of hell. Fot instance, like many Orthodox, it seems plausible to me that hell is simply God’s love experienced as horrible for the person who hates God. If this is hell, why can’t God allow people to hate him for eternity? Makes it too close to an ego case of, “everyone MUST love me!”

If Hart tweaked it a bit and clearly said that universalism is true because, in the end, all will FREELY CHOSE to love God rather than themselves and their passions, this would make me much less uncomfortable.

I find Ware’s hopeful universalism much less prone to metaphysical totalitarianism. And I would probably say the same for Bulgakov and Nyssa’s theology as I would for Hart, though I dearly love them both.

I think Hart identifies most closely with Platonism, but his book the Experience of God takes the thomistic conception of God rather than Palamas’s, written about in David Bradshaw’s “Aristotle: East and West.”. I agree with Bradshaw. It all hinges on one’s interpretation of Dionysius. I read this a long time ago, but here, Fr Aidan says that Hart identifies most closely with Platonism. Hartian Illuminations: Being as Gift and Beauty | Eclectic Orthodoxy

Could you link to where he throws some punches at Feser? I’m very interested.

I really appreciate this type of universalism as well. Permit Me to Hope | Eclectic Orthodoxy

Extremely hopeful but not dogmatic.