14 Aug The Long Arc of the Moral Universe – Theodore Parker

President Barack Obama has many times hit the refrain that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. Obama has attributed the quote to Martin Luther King, who invoked the long arc of the moral universe in relationship to African-Americans’ struggles for equal rights.

Martin Luther King though did not coin this phrase about the moral universe. He was quoting from the passionate Unitarian Minister, and 19th century progressive Christian, Theodore Parker, who once said:

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I can calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see, I am sure it bends toward justice.”

Theodore Parker’s keen sense of the moral universe and its long arc toward justice extended not only to his views of life here on earth, but also to his progressive Christian perceptions of heaven and hell. In one of his most memorable sermons on Christian morality and immortality, Parker says:

“If it were true that one human soul was immortal and yet was to be eternally damned, getting only more clotted with crime and deeper bit by agony as the ages went slowly by, then Immortality were a curse, not to that man only, but to all Mankind” for no amount of happiness, merited or underserved, could ever atone or make up for the horrid wrong done to that one miserable man.

I say the thought of one such man would fill even Heaven with misery, and the best man of men would scorn the joys of everlasting bliss, would spurn all heaven and say, “Give me my brother’s place” for me there is no Heaven while he is there!

Now it has been popularly taught that not one man alone but the vast majority of all Mankind are thus to be condemned; immortal, only to be everlastingly wretched. This is the popular doctrine now in this land. It has been taught in the Christian churches these sixteen centuries and more, taught in the name of Christ!

Such an immortality would be a curse to man, to every man; as much so to the “saved” as to the “lost,” for who would willingly stay in Heaven, and on such terms? Surely not Jesus, He who wept with weeping men!