Universalism is a set of concepts which can be either theological, philosophical, and religious that center on the belief that all human beings exist under one universal umbrella. In terms of theology, “universalism” is defined as the belief that all people are recipients of God’s love and that universalist theology is, in fact, a divine ideology.
A Universalist community or church, sometimes called a Universal Church, espouses the belief that all religions are interconnected by universal beliefs and that each religion therefore contains valid aspects
In terms of Christianity, universalism is the belief that Jesus Christ is the savior of all humanity and that the entire human race is destined to join God in heaven after death. Apokatastasis is the similar ideology that every mortal will eventually be joined with God, the dark angels, and the Devil. Universalism was a popular (albeit controversial) idea in the early period of Christianity and, during its first six centuries of existence, there were four different schools of theological thought which were universalistic. These schools included those of Alexandria, Caesarea, Edessa, and Antioch. The two other schools of thought at the time were the school of Ephesus which believed in conditional immortality and the school of Carthage which believed that the damned experienced eternal punishment. Despite being a widely accepted idea, two theologians in particular, Tertullian and Augustine, opposed universalism. Christians, during the 17th and 18th century, began to believe that God would redeem all human beings and that the entire human race would be saved. These reformers were then known as Universalists.
Hinduism, another type of universalist theology, views all religions as deserving of respect and that each of them should be viewed with tolerance. Gandhi, perhaps one of the most notable Hindi of all time, himself stated that all religions were true while at the same time containing error. A specific branch of the religion, Ananda Marga, states that cosmic consciousness is responsible for all matter and energy meaning that the whole human race is connected. Ananda Marga is an extension of the concept of humanism, which believes that all humans are all descended from one supreme deity.
Sikhism also holds the belief that all religions should be tolerated and considered equals. Despite espousing the validity of other religions, Sikhs do not believe in idolatry, pilgrimages, or fasting which are predominant in many other theologies. The Sikh Scripture, which is known as the Guru Granth Sahib, not only contains the writings of Sikh Gurus but also those of Muslims and Hindus. Sikh religion believes that the Supreme Being’s entity exists in all aspects of the world although they do not believe, as do other religions, that each human is created in the image and likeness of God. According to the Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, God does not distinguish between religions no matter what they believe. The only necessity to achieve salvation is a pure heart, tolerance for humanity and empathy. Also, unlike other religions, Sikhism believes that people should not be converted but should instead personally decide what they believe.
Judaism believes that the Jews were personally selected by God to be missionaries to all people and to be a living testament to their covenant with God. This covenant and mission can be found in the writings of the Torah, the Jewish holy book. Although Judaism is not a Universalist theology per se, there are no writings which denounce the idea that God has a relationship with people of other beliefs and theologies. Instead, it is believed that God has a relationship with people of all religions.
Muslims believe that Islam is meant to bring clarity to humanity through the instructions which they believe have been given to them by God. They believe that throughout history Allah has given them numerous prophets, the last revelation being the Holy Qur’an which was given to Muhammad. Islam states that the older monotheistic religions, namely Christianity and Judaism, were legitimate but became corrupted. Muhammad and his followers believe, as is stated in the Qur’an, that Jews, Christians, “Sab’um” or Baptists, and Zoroastrians deserve to be recognized as valued religions. Although this was the accepted belief, there were many who contradicted it. Muslims believe that Islam is the final true religion and that their religion is the best way to achieve eternal salvation. The universal symbol of Muslim brotherhood, the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, draws approximately three million people a year who travel there in their worship of God. Although some Muslims believe in predestination, the majority believe that each individual is responsible to their own salvation.
In the Farvardin Yasht, a Zoroastrian Scripture, Zarathustra followers stated that the righteous and the holy from all cultures should be respected, a clearly universalist idea. Zoroastrianism, which had a strong influence on the development of Christian Gnositicism, was a topic of much discussion among the Christian clergy and many other religious and philosophical thinkers of the day would meet with Zoroastrian priests for religious discussions. The Parsis or Indian Zoroastrians were particularly influenced by universalism during the late nineteenth century as a result of the writings of Madame Blatavsky. In 2008, a specifically universalist Zoroastrian group named Ohrmazd Mandal was founded.
The Baha’i faith states that the religions of the world were revealed in the order of progressive revelation. This means that God sent each religious founder to the world to progressively advance religious teachings. The Baha’i faith believes that God has made the whole human race in his image and that he does not distinguish between his creations in terms of race, culture, or religion. Because of the equality of the human race, the Baha’i faith emphasizes the importance of accepting the entire world instead of one’s particular culture and nationality. Unlike other universalist religions, however, the Baha’i writings do not state that the human race is a whole but celebrates the variety of religions and the differences among people.
The New Thought movement, whose denominations are Unity, Religious Science, and Divine Science, teaches that a common link exists between all religions tying them together. Instead of being a religion which is founded on an all-encompassing truth as is the case with Christianity, New Thought believes that truth can be found in many places thus making the movement a dynamic, ever changing, school of thought.