Not Hell, But Hope:
Writings from the Heritage of American Universalism
Compiled by Karen E. Dau, Archivist
New York State Convention of Universalists
“You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light
and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women.
Give them, not hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”
Alfred S. Cole
(fancifully imagined as a revelation to John Murray)
“On a Sunday morning the bells of the three churches in the village called all to come to
meeting, for the church was still spoken of as the meetinghouse. The bells did not interfere with one another; whichever bell started ringing first would pause after two or three minutes and let the others
take up the summons. All three bells had individual tones easily identified. The loungers on the hotel steps, who never went to church, not only recognized the notes of each, but were able interpret
what they said. According to their insight,
the Methodist bell shouted ‘Repent!
The Presbyterian bell urged ‘Church time!’ Church time!' Only the Universalist bell held out a cheerful promise. ‘No hell! No hell!’ it said. The loungers felt safe in staying where they were.”
Anne Gertrude Sneller
“If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury,
but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any
Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the
spirit in the bonds of peace.”
“From the east comes the sun, bringing a new and unspoiled day. It has already circled the
earth and looked upon distant lands and far-away peoples.
It has passed over mountain ranges and the waters of
the seven seas. It has shone upon laborers in the
fields, into the windows of homes, and shops and
factories. It has beheld proud cities with gleaming
towers, and also the hovels of the poor. It has been
witness to both good and evil, the works of honest men
and women and the conspiracy of knaves. It has
seen marching armies, bomb-blasted villages and
‘the destruction that wasteth at noonday.’
Now, unsullied from its tireless journey, it comes to
us, the messenger of the morning; harbinger of a new
Clinton Lee Scott
“We have all of us, whether rich or poor, whether high or low, of whatever nationality and
religious conviction, the same supreme necessities and the same great problem and infinity of love. This old world has rolled on through countless stages and phases of physical progress until it is the
home of humanity, and it has, through a process of evolution or growth reached an era of intellectual and spiritual development where there is ‘malice toward none and charity toward all,’ and when, without
prejudice, without fear, and in perfect fidelity, we may clasp hands across the chasm of our differences and speed and cheer each other on in the ways of all that is good and true.”
Augusta Jane Chapin
“Time was to change my ideas about God, the devil, the Bible, and the Sabbath; but integrity, honesty,
truth-telling, and the overwhelming sense of the sovereignty of whatever made and governed life, no matter how named, were in my guts as in my mind, and not to be ousted.”
“Universalism is essentially a battle for the freedom
of the common person.”
Clarence Russell Skinner
Russell Skinner] was doing for his time — and challenging us to do for our time —
is to continually reshape the churches that we
inherit — whether as ministers or as laypeople
— so that they can face up to the new
challenges and opportunities of the days that lie
ahead . . . We must
continue the kind of work that Skinner made central to his life's ministry — always building a new kind of church [— a]lways reaching out for a vision of the church that lies just beyond our grasp but with hard,
dedicated work can be conjured into being.”
“Often I have felt that I must praise my world
For what my eyes have seen these many years
And what my heart has loved.
And often I have tried to start my lines:
‘Dear Earth,’ I say, and then I pause
To look once more.
Soon I am bemused
And far away in wonder.
So I never get beyond ‘Dear Earth.’”
“We arrive out of many singular rooms, walking over the branching streets. We come to be
assured that brothers and sisters surround us, to restore their images on our eyes. We enlarge our voices in common speaking and singing.
We try again that solitude found in the midst of those who with us seek their hidden reckonings. Our eyes reclaim the remembered faces; their voices stir the surrounding air. The warmth of their hands assures us, and the gladness of our spoken names. This is the reason of cities, of homes, of assemblies in the houses of worship. It is good to be with one another.”
Kenneth L. Patton
“I defy the tyranny of precedent.”
“Were I to personify Justice, instead of presenting her blind, I would denominate her the
goddess of fire. . . Of unbending integrity Justice should feel, hear and see; but truth alone should be the polar star by which she should shape her movements, and equity only should constrain her
Judith Sargent Murray
When love is felt or fear is known; when holidays and holy days and such times come; when anniversaries
arrive by calendar or consciousness; when seasons come — as seasons do — old and known, but somehow new; when lives are born or people die; when something sacred is sensed in soil or sky; mark the time.
Respond with thought or prayer or smile or grief. Let nothing living slip between the fingers of your mind, for all of these are holy things we will not, cannot, find again.”
Max A. Coots
“The spirit of Love will be intensified to Godly proportions when reciprocal love exists between
the entire human race and each of its individual members. That love must be based upon mutual respect for the differences in color, language and worship, even as we appreciate and accept with gratitude the
differences that tend to unite the male and female of all species. We do not find those differences obstacles to love.”
George de Benneville
“A candle must give itself away.
In the giving, the spending, the spreading, the sending,
it finds itself.”
“Dear Friends, stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it.
There is nothing in all the world so important to you as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before you the loftiest ideals, which has comforted you in sorrow, strengthened you for noble duty, and made the world beautiful for you. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that you are worthy to be entrusted with this great message and that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation.”
“There are two alternatives, and only two, before us. First, which is unlikely, is that
we unscramble our modern interdependent culture, returning to separate and isolationist lives. . .
Such a world would not demand greatness. The other alternative is to so expand our spiritual powers that we vastly increase the range of our understanding and sympathy. There is no middle way. It is greatness — universalism — or perish.”
Clarence Russell Skinner
“The mission of the Universalist church has been a double one, first to contravert the one-time
prevalent idea of an endless hell.
This part of the mission has practically been accomplished. . . But the second and more important one awaits fulfillment . . . a fight which shall continue until the real, actual hells, before our very eyes, are destroyed.”
Henry Clay Ledyard
“Dead fish float with the tide;
live ones swim against it.”
To know the worth of love and beauty, and grace and form,
and not to store the treasure but increase it by your own life span
for all the world to see and know — isn't that a pleasant prospect?
And, you know, it just might be true.”
Albert Frederick Ziegler
“In our time, Universalism as such, like a spinster lady late in life, took a husband, and although
they agreed to hyphenate their married name, by now the offspring of that union often simply call themselves by the husband's name, and in time may not recognize her name at all.”
“What in the wide and erring world would be pleasant, or even supportable, without the comforts
and energies of our holy faith? Every day does it not grow brighter, and stronger, and more consoling?”
Sarah Edgarton Mayo
“The present is a time fraught with danger; it is an age of freedom, mostly counterfeit.
Thousands on thousands are delighted with the
consciousness that they can do as they please, that old
restraints and catalogs of forbidden pleasures are a
thing of the past. They also rejoice that there are
today so many and such diverse interests to satisfy
their desires. So they are out to get and have all
they can. And responsibility, social or other, is
hard to find or spasmodic in its manifestation.
Never before was there such a need to educate young
people to make right choices, to develop within them
some aim, some purpose that will control their desires,
coordinate their interests and guide them wisely amid
all the myriad things that clamor and appeal to their
passions and desires. This is particularly the
function of the liberal. We must teach that one must
justify the freedom in which one rejoices by showing
that there is some inner purpose . . . and that freedom
is just for this and none other, that one may obey the
higher purposes of life.”
John Murray Atwood
“Universalism is more than cushioned seats and no hell.”
Lyman H. Squires
“There must be room for penitence to mend Life's broken chance;
else noise of wars would unmake heaven.”
“Universalists believe that all of us are going to end up together in heaven, so we might as
well learn how to get along with each other now.”
“Hell is, in fact, a burning issue
for it is the issue of separation,
whether we can, with safety and impunity,
set up little islands in the human experience
and therefore protect ourselves
against any relationship with the mainland.
And Universalism says unequivocally, it cannot be done.”
Gordon B. McKeeman
“Our work as Universalists is
not simply to sow seeds, but to cultivate harvests.”
Elbridge Gerry Brooks
“It may be thought that in our church we sometimes spoke lightly
of what other churches held dear. We were not irreverent in our hearts,
and we never meant to sin against the holy spirit.
The mission of the Universalist church was to free the minds of [people]
from the cruel prisons of dread and fear, and to help them to understand that God and life are kinder than they supposed.”
Gertrude Anne Sneller
“Our best searching will only give us indications of that truth which is infinite.
Yet this is no reason why we should not be looking for it, and stating it when we think we have found it.
John G. Adams
[A] comparatively small portion of scripture bears on immortal life and the great end of our course.
Conduct is three-fourths of life. This present
life is the great pressing concern. . . A solemn reserve is thrown over future life; the great emphasis is on the present time. This is precisely as it should be.”
Phineas Taylor Barnum
“Life is inconvenient, no doubt about it.
It is mystery wrapped in an enigma and surrounded by a quandary,
all in the shape of a question mark.
It is often more question than answer,
more doubt than faith.
It is defined by contradiction, paradox, ambivalence and
That is why human beings invented
religion—to figure it all out.”
Richard S. Gilbert
“A vast encompassing universalism has
ever been the condition of our world. . . . Beyond the orbit
in which we move is the pulsating, ever-changing universe. Individually we grow with the growing awareness of our relatedness to all that is.”
Clinton Lee Scott
“A belief in God's universal love to all his creatures,
and that he will finally restore all of them that are
miserable to happiness,
is a polar truth. . . It establishes the equality of [humanity]. . .”
“We need to understand that religion is not a matter of . . . playthings for the Sabbath. . .
It needs to be a power for good, finding daily expression in the lives of those who claim to be the children of God.
Ellsworth C. Reamon
“And though around our path some form of mystery ever lies,
And life is like the calm and storm that checker earth and skies,
Through all its mingling joy and dread, permit us, Holy One,
By faith to see the golden thread of thy great purpose run.”
Edwin Hubbell Chapin
“Let us imagine ourselves on the solid earth in plain view of a noble ship, freighted with human
beings, contending with the wind and waves.
We are expecting every moment to see hundreds sink from our view forever. And then let us behold a pilot as he goes to their relief; let us see him bring everyone on the shore, not leaving a single soul to perish; let us hear the shouts of joy and the hymns of thanksgiving from the tongues of those who have been rescued from a watery grave . . . Such a scene might give us a fair conception of the joy in the transition from the torments of the doctrine of endless sin and sorrow to the glorious certainty that all shall be safely landed on ‘the other side of Jordan.’”
Levisa Barnes Buck
“I do not ask for this faith because I shrink from paying the great debt of nature. But I ask for
it that I may have respect for myself
—that I may feel life is worth living—
that good is worth striving for above and beyond its mere return of earth.
And above all else, I ask for that faith because it makes life grand,
and gives to us sublime possibilities. And further,
it gives a substance of joy and bliss which nothing earthly ever gave,
and which nothing of earth can take away.”
Eunice Waite Cobb
Be human with human help.”
“To be able, in any way, to benefit, interest, or even amuse any of the weary beings that toil their
way through this ‘vale of tears,’ whether our efforts are known and appreciated or not;. . . to have it in our power to wipe one tear from the cheek of the despondent, to cast one ray of light upon the haggard features
of misery. . . The bare idea of its possibility has guilded the dark images of life with a glow which they never wore before.”
Julia Kinney Scott
“I hold the restoration of all souls;
because having myself been the chief of sinners. . .
God. . . granted me the mercy and pardon of all my sins,
and plucked me out of a brand of hell. . .
I could not have a doubt but the whole world
would be saved by the same power.”
“The Universalists believe
that God is too good to damn [humanity],
while the Unitarians believe
that [humanity] is too good to be damned by God.”
Thomas Starr King
“How near another's heart we may stand,
Yet all unknowing what we fain would know,
Its heights of joy, its depths of bitter woe,
As, wrecked upon some desert island's strand,
They watch our white sails near and nearer grow;
Then we, who for their rescue death would dare,
Unheeding pass, and leave them to despair.”
Julia Fletcher Carney
All kind of marvelous things go on.
I don't see how anyone who has looked, and seen,
can do ought but say, ‘where I stand, wherever I stand,
I am on holy ground.’
“In a way (perhaps a superficial way) I know more than I really want to about several of our UU
greats. I do not minimize their achievements; I simply note that we may emphasize them to the neglect of other worthy contributors to our movement. If we fill up tee shirts and coffee mugs with these names are we more likely to content ourselves without even pursuing the contributions of our less prominent UU's?”
“Always it is easier to pay homage to prophets
than to heed the direction of their vision.”
Clinton Lee Scott
“As our [life] experience deepens, we realize that the whole world is one vast encampment, and that
every man and woman is a soldier.
We have not voluntarily enlisted into this service, with an understanding of the hardness of the warfare, and an acceptance of its terms and conditions, but have been drafted into the conflict, and cannot escape taking part in it. We are not even allowed to choose our place in the ranks, but have been pushed into life . . . and cannot be discharged until mustered out by death. Nor is it permitted to furnish a substitute . . . We may prove deserters or traitors, and struggle to the rear during the conflict, or go over to the enemy and fight under the flag of wrong. But the fact remains that we are all drafted into the battle of life, and are expected to do our duty according to the best of our ability.”
Mary Ashton Rice Livermore
“We dread frost more than fire. From the beginning . . . Universalists have been in favor of pure,
warm, ardent feeling, in the cause of religion.”
“If we want Universalism to continue to exert its historic influence as a constituent part of the Unitarian Universalist
Association, we must become articulate about our belief and choose those actions which will demonstrate that we do not just talk about compassion and love and understanding, but that they are values which we
incorporate into our inner frame of reference.”
Dorothy Tilden Spoerl
“There is no hell for any of us to fear
outside of ourselves.”
Quillen Hamilton Shinn
“The old theologies are dying;
souls are adrift; minds are questioning and doubting.
Hearts are hungering. Life is largely without centre or mastery,
except from beneath. What they need is spiritual arrest, quickening, anchorage. Ours it is, if we actually have any business in the world,
to answer these great uses.”
Elbridge Gerry Brooks
“Let's keep the wind singing in both ears,
and pray for the courage to interpret and act
upon what it brings to us.”
Angus H. MacLean
“Universalists are often asked to tell where they stand.
The only true answer to give to this question is that we do not stand at all;
Lewis Beals Fisher
“I brought my spirit to the sea
I stood upon the shore.
I gazed upon infinity
I heard the waters roar.
And then there came a sense of peace
Some whisper calmed my soul.
Some ancient ministry of stars
Had made my spirit whole.
I brought my spirit to the trees
That stood against the sky.
I touched each wand'ring careless breeze
To know if God were nigh.
And then I felt an Inner Flame
That fiercely burned my tears.
Uplift, I rose from bended knee
To meet the asking years.”
Max A. Kapp