Absurdities Exposed: Letters from a Universalist Minister

M.J. Steere (1861)

Absurdity: Man Created for Endless Misery

Absurdity: The Popular Devil

Absurdity: Infants Saved, Adults Lost

Absurdity: Men Fix Each Other's Doom

Absurdity: Heathen Lost

The following are chapters (abridged) from the book Footprints heavenward: or, Universalism the more excellent way, by Steere, M. J. (Boston: J.M. Usher), 1861. The electronically scanned book is part of the University of MIchigan's Making of America collection at http://moa.umdl.umich.edu.
NOTE: Originally, writings were personal letters to an orthodox Christian acquaintance. 


Universalism proper contemplates one single truth, well worthy to swallow up all others, viz., the Bible doctrine of the final salvation of all men from sin; and this in opposition to their being forever annihilated, or forever damned. 

Certainly, rational and scriptural as your penal doctrine seems to you, to me it involves the most alarming absurdities. Some of these latter I will now consider; and First. Your faith implies that "God, the Father," casts vast multitudes of intelligent, immortal beings, in his own image, and places them in this world of trial, either foreordaining that he will, or foreknowing that he shall, damn them forever. And this seems to me an absurdity. 

The Creator dwells in his own self-sufficiency. Of course, he is independent of everything outside of himself, and, therefore, can have no occasion, in creating, or in dealing with his creatures, to seek selfish ends; a thing, which is alike forbidden, by the revelation of his essential nature. "For God is Love." Now that such a God should interest himself in begetting immortal beings, "of his own will, and in his own image, to feel his wrath forever — to be forever dying, but never dead, — to have their capacity for suffering forever filling up, but never full, does seem to me absurd in the extreme. 

For, mark, no matter how long the creature's probation may be, ten minutes, or ten years, or ten thousand years, eternity equally follows; and the eternity of the creature's anguish was equally present to the Creator, when he set him up in being. 

You may say, as an Arminian, — not as a Calvinist — that God did not foreordain the creature's ruin; but you will not deny that he endowed the creature with a susceptible nature, which, coming in contact with the world, into which he thrust him, he foresaw would work his certain ruin. And what you will not deny is, in the premises, all I ask you to admit. For, either way, the creature's endless misery was present to the divine mind, at the moment of his creation. 

I do not intend dwelling long on this point. But permit me to ask if the doctrine in review, considered in its relation to the creating hand of God, does not appear to you absurd? so absurd, that, as you steadily contemplate it, your whole soul does not reel and stagger as with the very giddiness of skepticism itself? And here let it be borne in mind: 

First. That it was optional with God whether to create the subject of foreknown, everlasting misery, or not. 

Second. That, having created such a being, it is optional with him whether to sustain him in his anguish forever, or to permit him to sink out of it into nought. 

Now to say that a God of infinite Love and Justice should sink under his endless curse, the beings whom he has thus created, endowed, and circumstanced! 


Your creed implies that God, the Father, sustains a mighty being called Devil, filled with all malice against every thing good, in going about to effect the endless misery of his human creatures. And this all seems to me an absurdity. In discussing it, no question need be raised about the personal existence, origin or character of this evil being, further than to say: 

1. That, whatever Devil there is, God the Father made. That, however he may have been originally created, and whatever evil character he may have since taken on, the Creator has not been disappointed in him. 
2. That, whatever strength he now has to do mischief, the Creator gives him.
3. That the Creator can control him, or destroy him, at pleasure— which is, indeed, implied in the third of these propositions. 

The Devil, then, is the offspring of God, no less than we. And it is in God that he, no less than you and I, "lives, and moves, and has his being." He, too, is one of the Father's great family of intelligent moral beings, and, as such, is bound to all the other members, by the ties of a lofty relationship. 

Now that God should create such a being, foreseeing what he would be and do, what havoc he would make of his other children, and that, having created him, he should preserve and sustain him in his work of inseparable devastation through his realm, seems to us exceedingly absurd. And in view of it, we think the simple question of Crusoe's man Friday, "Why not God kill Debbil," was well put. 

Nor can intelligent Christians ever see anything but absurdity in the notion that God the Father should create such a being, and give him the freedom of the universe for the everlasting destruction of his children. They, too, may well wonder why God does not, at least, shut him up, for the protection of the race on which he preys. We can easily conceive that, when such a being as this Devil enters Paradise, "damnation should follow." But we cannot conceive how it can be possible that, when the infant human race is nestling there in peace, a God of goodness should let him in! 

We are indeed told, that the Devil shall yet be bound " for a thousand years," after which he shall be "loosed" again for a little season." During that happy time, of course, his havoc of human souls shall cease, and perdition's supply of anguish be cut off. But the loving Christian heart, in view of the souls constantly dragged down to the pit all around him, earnestly asks, "Why delays that happy hour? Why comes not the angel with the chain now? Why is not Satan bound to-day, this minute? Nay, why was he ever let loose? And when he shall, at least, be bound, why shall he ever be let loose again? 

For the Devil and his works, as understood by your faith, are matters of the highest, deepest, broadest, longest, most overwhelming interest. I feel it so, as I consider what he has already done, according to your creed, for many of my ancestors and yours, and what he is still doing. When he, himself, first sunk into the pit, Milton makes him exclaim: "Farewell, happy fields, Where joy forever dwells. Hail, horrors, hail! Infernal world! And thou, profoundest hell, Receive thy new possessor!'"

And when I consider what multitudes he has dragged, according to your faith, dragged down with him, my gushing heart can but sympathize in the question of the simplest child of nature, "Why not God kill Debbil?" 

But still you will, perhaps, seek relief from the terrible absurdity of your orthodox position, by reaffirming that God the Father did not create that evil one a devil, but that he has made a devil of himself. Be it so. And what relief is gained? Evidently none at all; for, first, no chance has happened to the Deity. The devil is only the being that God foreknew or foreordained in his creation. And, second, if the question why God created him were satisfactorily disposed of, the question why he lets him run, have free course, and glorify himself in hell, by dragging others down into it by millions, still remains unanswered, or answered only with a glaring absurdity. 

But I must say only two or three things more relative to this matter. And First, we know that God so loved all the individuals of the human race, that he gave his Son "a ransom for all, to be testified in due time," according to the Scriptures. 

And, Second, you, through your creed, virtually affirm that God created the mighty being, called "the Devil," let him loose, and now sustains him in working the endless ruin of the responsible masses whom he gave his Son to save; so out-generaling the Son of God that, while the latter, by the mightiest exertions of his love, succeeds in winning only "here and there a traveler," into the "narrow way" to everlasting life, the former succeeds in perpetually thronging, with his captives, the broad way to the black caverns of endless woe! 

And Third, when asked how you will dispose of the dreadful absurdity here involved, you will say — I know not what. But for ourselves, we see no way of disposing of it, and feel bound to look, with not a little suspicion, upon whatever system of theology involves it. Such system, however time-honored, and however sanctioned by majorities, and by great and worthy names, should, to say the least, be accepted only after the most thorough examination, and under evidence the clearest and most direct from God. 


The popular creed implies that it is only at the most appalling hazard, that a human being survives its infancy on earth; that, for it to die in infancy is to make its eternal salvation sure; whereas, for it to live to the age of accountability on earth, is to be exposed to endless woe, and, probably, to make that woe sure. And this, also, seems to me an absurdity. 

Whatever may be the logical limits of any modern creeds, the salvation of infants is now practically regarded as secure, — afflicted parents are now everywhere taught to dry their tears on the funeral of their infant offspring, under the comforting assurance, that the flower that bloomed so sweetly upon their bosom for a day, withered, not that it should die, but only in process of transplantation to more genial skies. 

Infants then are saved. And if the half and more, who breathe the vital air, die in infancy, then so many are saved, — saved, certainly and necessarily; and that, too, without the least possible spiritual peril or exposure. And thus, a great host is being gathered from earth into heaven, without any earthly probation at all. Such is the faith of the church today. 

And now let us turn and look at the other half of our race, — that portion of it, which by dint of better constitutions, more care, and many prayers, survive their infancy — live on earth till they reach the hour of responsibility, — till they know the difference between moral right and wrong, and begin to act in reference to it. 

Now, saying nothing about total depravity, or original, sin, it is believed, and very justly, that all these latter, become sinners. And becoming sinners, it is believed they are under condemnation to endless woe. And, further, it is believed that from this condemnation there is no escape save by a radical change of heart. And, finally, it is believed that no such change can take place, beyond the grave. Of course then, all sinners who do not experience that change on earth are lost forever. But, obviously, that change is experienced by only a very small part of adult persons who go from earth to the tomb. And, therefore, only a very small part of them are saved; while all the rest sink to perdition! 

And thus, brother, according to your creed, it comes to pass, that, while infants are all saved, in Heaven, adults, — those who come to the years of accountability on earth — are nearly all lost. Perhaps you may query, whether the fact that relatively, so few experience radical regeneration, is so obvious. But it seems to me your mind shall not have gone over the present aspect of our race, and run back through the ignorant, barbarous, pagan past, before you will be satisfied, that, in the light of history and observation, nothing can be more obvious. For, if we know anything about the human race, up to the present time, we know that only an infinitesimal portion of them, have, in this life, been, in the orthodox sense of the term, regenerated, while all the rest have died in sin. 

Now we submit, whether it does not seem very absurd, that the Great Father should deal so differently with those who enter eternity very young, from what he does, with those who enter it only, not quite so young! — that he should take the former directly to himself in heaven, while he leaves the latter, a little time longer on earth, so exposed to the play of passions which he himself ordained, amid circumstances of temptation, which he himself provided, that, for the thousands of years of time past, their absolute endless ruin should be the law, and their final salvation only the exception; so that, while very little children all ascend to Heaven, most of their parents sink to hell! 

The absurdity involved here, seems to me no less than dreadful. Yet is it part and parcel of the popular faith — inseparable from it. So that if that faith is true; this absurdity is true; and if this absurdity is true (I speak in a paradox) what an appalling truth for a family circle, and (pardon me, but I mean it all,) what a temptation to infanticide. Take breath and read on, but find no fault with our illustration unless it is severer than truth. 

A few years since, a fugitive slave mother, overtaken by pursuers, took the lives of her children, rather than see them remanded into slavery. We judge not her bloody act here. Some pronounced it heroic; others diabolical. It was certainly very dreadful. But the maternal perpetrator of the wild deed, comforts herself with the thought that her children are forever free in heaven. 

Here is another mother who believes the popular doctrine of endless punishment. Her only child is yet an infant. She looks upon it, loves it, considers its exposure to everlasting death, if it grow up on earth, kisses and destroys it. This done, she comes forward to the communion table. Arraigned by the church for her unnatural offence, she excuses herself by saying to her pastor in the chair, "You have taught me that if my child die in infancy, its eternal salvation is secure; whereas, if it live to years of responsibility, it probably must sink in hell forever. I could not bear to see it thus exposed to endless woe! No, I could not, for it was the child of my love! And because I loved it, I have saved it. Yes, my sweet little one is now in heaven!" 

And thus addressed, what can the pastor do, but either hold his peace, or deny his faith, or take refuge in mystery. If he says to the mother, "Verily, you have grossly sinned," she easily replies. "Be it so, seeing I have forever saved my child from sinning! It well becomes mothers to sacrifice themselves for their childrens' sake. This I have done!" 

And if the pastor say, further: "God's great sovereignty must not be arraigned;" she easily adds, "Certainly not; I have not arraigned it, but done only what it demanded, at my hand, in view of my dear child's welfare! I have committed my child to God, in the only possible way to make sure of its salvation!" 

And if the pastor further add, with gravity, "You have by this act shut yourself out of heaven," she readily replies, "Be it so, seeing I have shut my dear child out of hell! And yet, how is it that I should be sent to that dreadful place for using the only certain, or even probable means of saving my child from it?" Thus this infanticial mother might proceed. 

And what, I again ask, in all seriousness, could her pastor and church do, but take her strange case into charitable consideration? What could they do less than this, when they considered that she had acted only in view of the plain logical consequences of the creed they had put into her hands. 

Perhaps you will shrink from this illustration, as too dreadful! And it were too dreadful for any purpose under heaven, other than that for which it is introduced. And yet, in view of that purpose, it falls infinitely short of the fact — it is tameness itself! For, infinitely more dreadful is the thing illustrated! Only just think of it, — an infant, immortal, crossing the line of accountability at the imminent hazard of everlasting death! Think of it, did I say? It cannot be thought of more than in part. For the damnation of the popular creed to which the little innocent is thus exposed, infinitely surpasses all knowledge, all thought. Its perdition is a wide-spreading wilderness, dark with woe, which no imagination can traverse; a boundless ocean of sorrow, over which no thought can wing itself! 

And how must the Christian mother, whose eyes are open to the subject, feel, as from day to day she hears the tramp of burning surf, nearer and nearer at hand, as her child nears the fatal line of accountability. How can she then but wish her child secure? And what can seem to her too unnatural or rash, if it but promise it a safe asylum? How can she but wish it in heaven? And should she, in the frenzy natural to her dilemma (for to such a dilemma frenzy is but natural), do as did the slave mother, mentioned above, would she not be, at least, as excusable? Nay, more? For what are the few years of hard bondage to which that slave mother could not bear to see her child doomed, compared with the endless bondage of black despair? 

So your creed — so orthodoxy! And shall we not, as men of common sense, common candor, and common humanity, seriously suspect the truth of any exposition of the divine word which involves an absurdity so cruel, crushing, crazing; so dishonoring to our father God? 

How true it is that on absurdities absurdities grow — each new one more glaring than that from which it sprung! 


Your creed plainly implies, that men, both good and bad, may, and often do, determine the endless destiny of their fellow beings, by determining the length of their probation, virtually putting them into heaven, by cutting off all liability to lose it, or into hell by cutting off all opportunity to escape it. And this, also, seems to me an absurdity. 

We have already presented one illustration of the above proposition, in the supposed case of the mother who made the "calling and election" of her infant sure, by taking its life. Another is found in a sad accident, which occurred at one of our New England seminaries a few years since. Two young gentlemen were in their room, amusing themselves with a musket, quite unconscious of its being loaded, when the one innocently shot the other, thereby determining his soul at once to heaven or to hell forever. 

And still another illustration is found in the death of the drunken rowdy, who fell, at the head of the rum-sellers' mob, at Portland, a few years ago. The balls which, at the order of the resolute city marshal, laid him low, cutting off all opportunity for repentance, carried his soul directly to endless torment. Illustrations to our purpose are also presented in war. Two armies meet. Fearful are the imprecations! Dreadful is the carnage! Balls and bayonets are the swift instruments of everlasting death! 

The soldier perishes forever, who might reform and be saved if permitted to return to his home of piety. At the hand of his fellow man, he falls lower than the grave. Nor may any tell how many of our revolutionary colonists are now, in endless despairs sent there by the hired Hessians of George the Third. Nor how many of those whose bones have been brought from the plains of Waterloo, as a fertilizer of British soil, are now in the endless despair to which they were consigned by British swords. 

And this, especially, when it is considered, that, of all conditions, that of a soldier, in active service, seems least adapted to promote fitness for heaven. Of course, it is a mystery to us how orthodox Christians can advocate war, or their chaplains kneel mid guns, and swords, loaded and barbed with everlasting death! For these, in their view, are the terrible arbiters of souls' destiny, cutting off their probation, and thereby saying, as with the authority of the Infinite, You shall have no more chance to escape. 

These are they that rise up in the place of God, and "shut to the door" against their victims forever. Alas! for the orthodox advocate of war! Let me do him the justice to say, that I think he believes in his creed less than in humanity and common sense. 

But, further, our point finds illustration under the operation of the code duello, — that miserable product of dark ages, — that most foolish, meanest mode of settling difficulties — that wretched footman of chattel slavery, accompanying its desolating car, as it dashes into the fair fields of Christian civilization. 

The duel settles more than questions of chivalric honor. Instance a case. A and B meet at a public house, drink, altercate, challenge, and accept, choose their seconds, retire and fight. The question of honor is settled by the death of B. And not only that, but the question of B's endless damnation also. The fatal ball settles both. For, while A blows the smoke from his pistol, and retires a victor, leaving the body of the slain to his surgeon and friends, its spirit, prematurely driven out, and thereby excluded all chance of salvation, is met by evil angels in the threshold of eternity, and dragged down into the pit forever.

Thus, according to your penal view, is a question greater than honor settled by the duel. And what does the highwayman do? He meets the moneyed worldling in the way, robs him of his treasure and his life, and throws his body into the thicket, or leaves it in the ditch. But is that all? O no! He also robs his soul of all chances to repent, and tosses it into the thick darkness of despair — buries it alive in hell forever! 

So your creed. But the absurdity we are exposing finds a fuller illustration, in cases in which the murderer repents in prison, and finally dies, regretting that he sent the murderer into perdition. Such cases used to be, by no means, very infrequent. 

We recently read of one, but have not the details now at hand. Let us suppose such a case, and see its bearing upon the subject in hand. A young lady, respectable, but not converted, is met and ravished, under a dark night, by a villain, who destroys her life to escape detection. Sent thus hurriedly to her God in sin, she is, by the conditions of your creed, of course, lost. No cycle of eternity but shall witness her unrelieved despair. Her soul is assassinated. Out of a dark night of time, she is hurled into a darker night of eternity. The brutal hand that cut her probation short off, thereby plunged her infinitely below the sphere of possible life, shut her up in woe, bolted the door upon her, threw away the key, and left her to pine in anguish forever. 

So your creed! And now, leaving her there in her woe, let us turn to look after her murderer. As "murder will out," he is detected, arrested, executed. But, while in prison, blessed with a probation which he forbade to his victim, he comes to himself, heeds his spiritual advisers, repents, exhorts the multitudes from the scaffold, and swings from it into Paradise. And there, because he had much forgiven, he loves much, and never ceases to give thanks for the prison confinement through which the mercy of God reached him. 

Thus in heaven the murderer sings. But the young lady, his victim, where is she all this time? Lost! lost! He may have time for repentance, but not she. That was forbidden her, by the red hand that plunged the dagger to her heart. Mercy may come to his prison, but not to hers. That red hand of his may live to be washed, and forever twine wreaths for the immaculate brow of Him whose wrath she must forever bear. 

Now, brother, your creed, taken in connection with the history of crime, obviously involves multitudes of cases, similar to any and all which we have stated above. This, you will admit. And, admitting this, can you, as the heart of a man beats in your bosom, fail seriously to query whether that creed is not at fault? Can you be confident in that theology, which thus makes the frantic mother, the officer of justice, the warrior, the duellist, the highwayman, and the libertine, the arbiters of the eternal destiny of their victims; so that, in the case last stated, if it was the hard fate of the young lady to be abused, scared into frenzy, and murdered, it was her harder one to be, by her murderer's hand, consigned to the bottomless pit; while he, by the grace of God, which he denied to her, has space for repentance, and goes up to sing in heaven! 

Be your own commentator upon what I have said. The notion that the Living Father has made the endless weal and woe of men thus dependent upon the frenzy, ambition, lucre, lust, and brutality of their fellow beings, well, "he that can receive it, let him receive it." But let him be very sure that he has an unmistakable "thus saith the Lord," on which to rest, a faith so at war with reason and all the humanities. 


This green earth, and you and I walking over it! These spangled heavens, and you and I walking under them! Grand conceptions. How they overwhelmed the Psalmist, when'" at eventide," lifting up his eyes in the contemplation of the immensity of God's works, he exclaimed, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?" 

But the Psalmist was, in this case, hardly peculiar. All thinking men are, sometimes, consciously rapt in Jehovah, as king David was. And when I, in my humbler measure, have been so carried away in thought, I have felt a strong sympathy with the man who, on being told that an aged neighbor, recently deceased, was probably in perdition, coolly replied, "I think the Author of this vast universe can find some better business than to be damning forever that poor old man!" 

But, you will say, this is a strange opening for a familiar letter; and yet, if you will consider it well, I think it will not prove an unprofitable one. But to bring our thoughts into line again, we proceed: That a very large proportion of all who have lived upon and left the earth, up to the present time, have lived upon and left it, heathen. This is the fact. Your creed implies that they are lost. This is the seeming absurdity. Idolatry very early appeared among men. Its prevalence is attested by very early records, and from the dawning of historic ages down to the present time, it has been the law, and truer worship only the exception. 

Very important, therefore, is the question, what has become of the countless millions of our great brotherhood who have died in idolatry? Paul would not have his brethren ignorant "concerning those who had fallen asleep," even though they had fallen asleep heathen. No more would we be ignorant of the condition of the multitudes of our heathen relation, who, after groping their dark and evil way on earth, have fallen on sleep. Well is it that the geologist deciphers the records of material paleontology upon the charred tablets of our crusted globe. But far better is it, that the religious antiquarian should inquire after the spiritual, which accompanied the material — after the millions upon millions of immortal spirits which have, from age to age, been leaving their bodies behind them, in the dust of the grave. 

This question of the heathen's eternity is a vast one, everywhere stirring men up, either to the abandonment of the popular penal creed, or to such modifications of it, as require the abandonment of the stereotyped plates from which have been stricken off a thousand editions of it. This, as we have before said, is the creed. 1. Death does nothing to fit a soul for heaven. 2. No soul can be fitted for heaven after death. 3. Therefore all who die unfit for heaven are lost forever. 

Under this view the heathen are disposed of in a syllogism, thus: 1. All who die unfit for heaven are lost. 2. The heathen die unfit for heaven, and therefore, 3. The heathen are lost. With so simple a word, are the heathen of all ages disposed of under the popular creed, — the creed which, probably, finds no more truthful expositor, than the Rev. Dr. Wayland, long president of Brown University, one of the clearest reasoners and thinkers of the age, and whose published works are giving him a just celebrity upon two continents. In his "Moral Dignity of the Missionary Enterprise," a discourse whose sublime completeness, makes it well worthy to stand at the head of a volume of discourses on missions, the doctor says: 

"We have considered these beings, [the heathen,] as candidates for an eternity of happiness or misery, and we cannot avoid the thought that they are exposed to endless misery. Hence, you will observe, the question with us, is not, whether a heathen, unlearned in the gospel, can be saved. We are willing to admit that he may. But if he be saved, he must possess holiness of heart; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. It is in vain to talk about the innocence of these children of nature, It is in vain to tell of their graceful my theology. Their gods are such as lust makes welcome. Of their very religious service, it is a shame even to speak. To settle the question concerning their future destiny, it would only seem necessary to ask, what would be the character of that future state, in which those principles of heart, which the whole history of the heathen world develops, were suffered to operate in unrestrained malignity? No. Solemn as is the thought, we do believe, that, dying in their present state, they will be exposed to all that is awful in the wrath of Almighty God."
Thus does this clear thinker and writer give the only fair and legitimate exposition of his creed, in reference to the heathen. All different ones set that creed at naught. To be consistent, we must either abandon the cardinal principle of that creed, or else believe that the vast multitudes of heathen who have, from age to age, swarmed up in the earth, and swept away into eternity, a broad deep rolling river of immortal beings, are now swarming in Hell; that they are there this moment, and there forever to remain, suffering all that is awful in the wrath of Almighty God!" — This was the thought which the doctor could not avoid without denying his faith. And, surely, it is "solemn," and can but make us shudder — shudder for the heathen, shudder for the honor of God, and shudder with the exclamation, "what if we had been born heathen five thousand years ago!!" 

But is not this thought so solemn that it degenerates into an absurdity? Is it not so expressive that it expresses nothing; so overdone that it does nothing; so shocking to common sense that the heart, on reflection, cares little for it. For, surely if the heathen do, for want of the Gospel, go thus quickly down to hell, over the sulphurous gateway by which they enter, to come up no more, might well be written in emblazoned characters, which should shine out like live coals upon the dark, "CHILDREN of God, drinking the WRATH of God, for want of OPPORTUNITY to ESCAPE it!" 

Do you not feel that the doctrine I reject, whether true or false, by the terribleness of its absurdities, sets all human language at defiance! Are not some of them such, that, shrinking from their contemplation, your only rest and safeguard against what is called heresy, is in putting an interdict upon your common sense and consciousness. Do not some of the absurdities noted in these letters meet you at every turn, and often confront you so boldly, that you are obliged to attempt to deal summarily with them, while at the same time, you are astonished that they will not more readily "down at your bidding?"

We close this letter, praying that, under the sure guidance of the word and spirit of God, you may find your way out of them; and that way I think you will have discovered, when you sufficiently consider Jesus as the exponent of the Father’s love.