The A-Z of Believing: U is for Universalism

Ed Kessler, head of the Woolf Institute, presents the 21st part in a series on belief and scepticism

Friday 04 January 2019 18:37 GMT

The universality of moral concern is not something we learn by being universal, but by being particular. Because we know what it is to be a parent, loving our children, not children in general, we understand what it is for someone else, somewhere else, to be a parent, loving his or her children, not ours – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

It is often assumed that some religions are universal in spirit, such as Christianity, while others are more particular, such as Judaism. Yet, it won’t be a surprise to regular readers/listeners of this A-Z of Believing that the picture is more complicated, and that generalisations like this suffer from over-simplification.

For example, Christianity does indeed possess particularities of faith, a term which refers to those points religions regard as being of fundamental significance and, in a sense, non-negotiable elements of their relationship to the divine. From the Christian perspective, particularities include the Christian conviction that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God acted decisively for all humanity. In other words, Christianity is a religion that combines a claim to be universal in scope with the particular demand of exclusiveness in belief: Christ is lord of all and the saviour of all.

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