18. We have hitherto combated the dogma of eternal punishment by argument only; we shall now show that it is in contradiction with positive facts that we have before our eyes, and that it is, consequently, impossible that it can be true.
According to the dogma we are considering, the fate of the soul is irrevocably fixed at death, so that death constitutes an absolute barrier to progress. The one question, therefore, which has to be decided, is this; – Is the soul capable of progress, or is it not capable of progress? On this question the whole subject must be rested; for, if the soul is capable of progress, eternal punishment is impossible.
And how can we doubt that the soul has such a capability, when we behold the immense variety of moral and intellectual aptitudes existing among the peoples of the Earth, from that of the most savage to that of the most civilized, and when we reflect upon the differences presented by the same people in successive periods of history? If we assume that the souls of a given people, at those successive periods, are not the same souls, we must also assume that God creates souls at every degree of advancement, according to some differences of times and places, thus favoring some, while condemning others to perpetual inferiority; but such an assumption is incompatible with the Divine justice, which must be the same for all the creatures of the universe.
19. It is incontestable that the soul, in the state of intellectual and moral backwardness that characterizes the peoples that have not emerged from barbarism, cannot possess the same aptitudes for enjoying the splendors of infinity as are possessed by the soul whose intellectual and moral faculties are more largely developed. Therefore, if the souls of barbarians do not progress, those souls can never, throughout eternity, and even while influenced by the most favorable conditions, enjoy anything more than the low and negative happiness of the barbarian degree. The conclusion is consequently forced upon us (if we admit the justice of God), that the souls of the most advanced peoples are the very same souls that were formerly at the barbarian degree of backwardness, but that have since progressed; and we are thus brought face to face with the great question of the plurality of existences, as the only rational solution of the difficulty. We will, however, for the time being, set that solution aside, and consider the soul in a single lifetime.
20. Let us suppose – what is so often seen – a young man of twenty, ignorant, vicious, denying alike the existence of God and of the soul, and giving himself up to wickedness of every kind, until he finds himself placed among new circumstances, and influences, that exercise a beneficial effect upon his mind. He, then, relinquishes his former habits, enters upon a course of useful study, gradually surmounts his evil tendencies, and becomes, at length, an enlightened, virtuous, and useful member of society. Is not the fact of such a reformation – and we witness such reformations every day – a positive proof of the progress of the soul during an earthly lifetime? The reformed rake, whose moral advancement we are supposing, dies, at length, full of years and of honors, and no one has the slightest doubt of his salvation. But what would have been his fate if some accident had caused his death some forty or fifty years before? At that time he was, in all respects, just in the right condition for being damned, and all possibility of progress would have been over for him. So that, in such a case, a man, who, according to the doctrine of eternal punishment, would have been lost forever if he had died when he was young – which might have happened as the result of some casualty – is saved, simply because his life has been prolonged. But, as his soul was able to progress during his earthly lifetime, why might it not have achieved an equal amount of progress in the same length of time after his death if some cause, independent of his will, had prevented him from achieving that progress at a later period in his earthly life? Why, then, should God have refused to such a soul the means of progressing after death? Repentance, though tardy, would have been awakened in this individual in the course of time; but if, at the very instant of death, his soul had been met by an irrevocable condemnation, its repentance would have remained sterile throughout eternity, and its aptitude for progressing would have been neutralized forever.
21. The dogma of eternal punishment is therefore irreconcilable with the doctrine of the progress of the soul, to which it would constitute an insuperable obstacle. These two doctrines mutually annihilate each other; if either one of them be true, the other must necessarily be a fiction. Which of them is the true one? That progress is a law of nature, divine, incontrovertible, and not a mere theory, is evident; for progress is a fact, the reality of which is attested by experience; and since, on the one hand, progress exists, while, on the other hand, its existence is irreconcilable with the dogma of eternal punishment, we are compelled to admit that this dogma is false, and that eternal punishment has no existence. Moreover, the utter absurdity of such a dogma becomes at once apparent when we reflect that Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, and half the saints of the ecclesiastical calendar, would never, if that dogma were true, have been admitted into “heaven,” if they had happened to die before the occurrence of the various incidents which led to their conversion!
To this last remark it will be replied by some that the conversion of those saintly personages was a result, not of any progress due to the spontaneous action of their soul, but of divine “grace,” accorded to them from on high, and by which their conscience was miraculously touched.
But such a reply is a mere trifling with words. If they began by doing wrong, and, afterwards, took to doing right, their change of action shows that they had become better, in other words, that they had progressed. Why should such a favor have been granted to them and not granted to everyone else? Why should we attribute to God a favoritism incompatible with God’s justice, and with the equal love, which, being just, God necessarily bears to all God’s creatures?
Spiritism, in accordance with the express teachings of the Gospel, with reason, and with justice, shows us that each soul is the artisan of its fortunes, both during life and after death; that it owes its progress and happiness to its own efforts, and not to any favoritism; that God rewards its endeavors to advance in the path of progress, and chastises its negligence as long as it continues to be negligent.