On the Orthosphere, Alan Roebuck has posted another piece explaining the Calvinist understanding of predestination: “Predestination Again.” Perhaps against my better judgment, I commented:
Mr. Roebuck, I find this doctrine and the Calvinist tradition in which it plays such a significant part so repellent, blasphemous, and objectionable that I have doubts whether I should even engage this post (could there be any profit to the endeavour?). Nonetheless, I have a question about a step in your argumentation. You state that a man (a Christ-hater) could never begin to notice the good points about the gospel without God’s causing him to notice it so. I agree, but then I would say (without committing to the mechanical specifics, as I do not know them) that God causes all things (qua things . . . that is, all being and true actions of beings). Whenever we do anything good, or turn toward the good, that is because of God, just as our existence is. So, we’re in complete agreement that God is the source of all reality. My objection to Calvinism is that, as I understand it, it holds that God is the one who refuses to turn men toward him, having eternally chosen that they should rather reject him and perish. That is abominable and makes God into a demon and worthy of contempt, as Mr. Bertonneau rightly notes above. Of course, it is absurd that we creatures would be better than our perfect creator, and so we cannot lay the cause of evil at God’s feet (to use a questionable image). So, we’re left with a mystery of why we human beings err — the inexplicable, unintelligible “reason” behind our lack of truth and good will. That is the fundamental story, but the phenomenal level is what I would like to address.
On the everyday level, why couldn’t our previous Christ-hater begin to see the good points of the gospel? As Christians, we come to a fuller understanding of the faith all the time. There are many aspects of Christian doctrine that used to appear objectionable to me until I considered them in a new way, sometimes by reading or hearing a different perspective that I never considered and sometimes from having one of those eureka moments that revealed something novel to me. [Either way, as above, I attribute all journeys toward truth as divinely inspired — revelation from above and below, so to speak. I differ from Calvinism with this in that God is constantly sending such revelations to all men (it’s casually called “life”), often through willing servants — i.e. Christians.] And, as you note, we gain additional information all the time — and we alter our judgments accordingly. Why couldn’t the Christ-hater experience a mind-shifting piece of information — such as a Christian who manifests Christ in his life? That seems to be the most useful evidence in the history of the faith for moving hearts and minds.
You contrast love and desire with knowledge, but I am not convinced of your argument. Take, for example, the common occurrence of someone hostile to Christianity who was raised in a perverse “Christian” home. Our “apostate” never actually knew the gospel; he simply experienced a mind-spinning set of contradictions tainted with hatred and vice. He may mock Jesus the Christ, and I do not disagree that such amounts to blasphemy of a sort, but he really isn’t mocking the Second Person of the Trinity but rather a grotesque caricature of him that exists in his mind. [Let’s bracket the tricky tangential questions about intensionality, and I’ll just say that, in some way, the objects of our consciousness are our mental constructions of them and, in some other way, they are the objects themselves, and one goal of knowledge is to shrink the distance between the two.] For he has never seen Christ, and, having never seen or heard about him, he has never truly rejected him. Then, this fellow encounters Christians (through providence, to be sure, in addition to Christians’ readily accepting to be wielded by their cosmic Field Marshal) who jar his expectations, differing as they do from the repulsive dysfunctional hypocrisy of his past experience. When things do not appear as we expect them, we tend to investigate more — and to modify our opinions as more information becomes available. And so, our lost sheep becomes found. This is not an exceptional story — it happens everyday, thank God.
It also seems that we do change what we love or desire, and this often (maybe always) happens with a change in our knowledge. I do not know whether Calvinism holds that men desire the Good by nature (I doubt it), but I subscribe to that doctrine. Men desire the Good (God) by nature, but they also desire all sorts of lower goods and rank them in importance differently. When men discover that something is truly more valuable than another, they alter their estimations. In such a way, they never change what they desire ultimately, but they frequently modify the ranking of goods, and this happens due to knowledge (or conversely to ignorance — and/or possibly unintelligible sin). We desire what we know and find good — whether people or art or animals or matters of sustenance. Life is a constant barrage of experiences wherein we discover new things — and taste and see whether they are good.
When a man finally witnesses the ultimate Good, he knows that his heart must rest in it (Him). As Christians, we have seen the light; we have found the true faith. The great commission is for us to share that amazing bit of good news to everyone. And in this, we have a purpose in God’s great strategic design — not that of puppets but that of soldiers.
Good-natured Professor Bertonneau responded to my comment by noting how good of a chap Alan Roebuck is. I responded:
I admit that there are many good folks who, sadly, are Calvinists (which makes me hate the error ever the more), but I find certain doctrines of their sect wicked. Blaming God for evil, which is what their doctrine ultimately does, is blasphemy — the worst kind of blasphemy — for it makes God into not-God. Of course, such is impossible, but it is also blasphemy — it “speaks evil.” And I do not expect a reconciliation of that difference. The move is so fundamental — it’s really a radical re-understanding of what (not to mention who) God is. It strikes me as Koranic, as you noted — God the Sovereign Will, divorced from Goodness. As for Augustine, I have a love-hate relationship with him. I love him for who he is (who cannot but love him as one gets to know him through his writings?), but I hate a good deal of his legacy. Yet, we cannot blame the bishop for the history of the West following his death.
Another good-natured Orthosphere writer, Kristor Lawson, once tried to defend my good nature to another Calvinist on the site. Unusual for him, he was wrong. I am not good-natured, at least not in that way. I hate Calvinism with red hot passion, as I have occasionally noted in posts. See, for example, “Ely Cathedral”:
The vistors’ center page mentions that Cromwell (hot coals be upon him) had the cathedral closed during his tyrannical reign, during which he used the cathedral as horse stables. Calvin and his minions were perhaps the most disgusting and worthless creatures to carry the name Christian before the French revolution.
In religion, I take cold, bloodless, intellectualized Calvinism as the most notable disembodiment of harmony between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. It is purely Apollonian, where the emotive, the bodily, and the thirst for transcending the self have been expelled as pagan accretions to popery. This most distilled form of Protestantism rids Christianity of all “religion of immanence”—and religion itself. It turns faith into propositional assent and the Christian life into social morality. In other words, it is a unique form of godless Stoicism interpreted through the languages and imagery of the scriptures.
From “Square Circle”:
Anyway, you can see how Mohammedanism and Calvinism are similar departures from the Christian tradition and from reason. For they hold that God creates arbitrary things arbitrarily. They separate the divine will from the divine reason and the divine essence, and by doing so, they rob God and the world that he makes of reason—their deity and their cosmos are mindless, just like that mechanistic pagan philosophers of old that Socrates attacks (and the mechanistic scientists today who reduce the world to atoms swirling in the void). It requires such a theological position to hold that God could will good to be bad and bad to be good . . . for it makes God’s will arbitrary and incomprehensible—even to God himself. It makes God a being . . . a limited, imperfect being in time, subject to change—divided and irrational. In short, it makes God worse than a good man. Therein, you can see how unenlightened piety can result in terrible blasphemy. For the Mohammedans, like the nominalists and the Calvinists who came later, posited what they did from a sense of piety . . . how can God be constrained? Yet, they understood not what they did, and the consequences have been disastrous.
From “C.S. Lewis: Hellbound?”:
The religion that Robbins holds is a perverse form of Christianity. Indeed, it is a disease of religion, whereby the natural perception and appreciation of the sacred that even the pagans enjoy has been stifled and suppressed. It is no wonder that such a malady of the soul has borne the secular atheism of modernity into our world . . . Ye shall know them by their fruits.
From “Calvinism Redux”:
I single out Calvinism from among the Protestant traditions for two reasons. First, as I just described, I think that Calvinism has been far more influential in shaping American society and religiosity. Lutherans, Anglicans, and even Christians from the ancient faiths in the United States often become Calvinists—mostly unawares—by imbibing their new national culture.
Second, as I have written before, I consider Calvinism to be the purest, most distilled form of Protestantism. This idea is controversial, and perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that Lutheranism and Anglicanism have strong traditional currents. They are breaks from Rome, but they, to varying extents, manage to hold onto the Catholic tradition in many matters. Calvinism, by contrast, is a rejection of the Catholic tradition. When I read Calvin, I was surprised to see how often he mentions the Fathers and their works. He often refers to councils, creeds, and ecclesial precedents. However, he employs such reference not as an authority for himself but as a foil to Roman doctrines and authority. In this, he does not transgress argumentative rules. It is permissible and useful to wield someone else’s authorities against him to show his inconsistency. Such does not imply that one holds them as an authority for himself. For Calvin and his followers claim for themselves an unadulterated understanding of Christian doctrine through their interpretation of the scriptures. The apostolic patristic ecclesial experience holds no authority for them when it conflicts with their peculiar interpretation of the Bible; in other worlds, it holds no authority.
I understand Protestantism as the spiritual form of modernity (I write a bit more about this here). Its specific difference, more than anything else, is a rejection of the past and of the past’s authority. It is inherently anti-traditional, which is why it continues to fragment doctrinally. Any new religion has doctrines that distinguish it from other religions, and it maintains such doctrines over time through its own tradition. Yet, if it is an inherent characteristic of the religion to throw off tradition, it will continually generate new religions. Indeed, Protestantism excels in the proliferation of new religions. When you witness inter-Protestant ecumenical rapprochement, it almost always occurs among groups that have lost interest in doctrine . . . Why worry about such differences? Just give us that mere Christianity . . .
The Reformation created various religious traditions that make up the essence of Protestantism, but in every way, Calvinism shows itself the more radical and, therefore, in my opinion, the more fitting representative of Protestantism. If you think that Protestantism is simply a movement to regain the religious teaching and practice of the early Christian community—without papist distortions—then you could argue that Anglicanism or Lutheranism or whatever else you hold to be true is the best exemplar of Protestantism. I, obviously, reject that definition of Protestantism; it is utterly ridiculous, given the distortions and innovations to which Protestantism has subjected the legacy of the Christian faith. The Reformation has more to do with post-scholastic philosophy and nominalism than with the world—and world view—of the New Testament. Calvin is but a pious Hobbes who works on different problems. . . .
Calvinism renounces the “religion of immanence,” which is, ultimately, all religion. The particular Christian and, in my opinion, archetypal version of the religion of immanence—the sacramental understanding of the world—is cast into the outer darkness by Calvin and his followers. In doing so, Calvinism has rendered the modern understanding of the world void of the divine. In place of seeing God in all things, we have a world thoroughly secularized. It is but a short distance from the profane to the dead, and our modern lifeless world of mechanism and chance owes its pedigree to Calvinism’s rejection of religion.
With Calvin himself, Calvinism ceases to be a religion. However, the Calvinist tradition has functioned as a deficient religion for its adherents over the last five centuries. As I suggested in the previous entry secundum Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the inherent secularism of Calvinism may have channeled its people’s energies into extraordinary secular pursuits that brought about the Anglo-American modern world. Nonetheless, Calvinism’s Sunday services, reminders of divine sovereignty, and culture of biblical literacy kept most Calvinists Christian. However, century by century, the interior rot of spiritually starved Calvinists led many sects into consciously and openly post-religious existence. Consider how the Congregationalists became Unitarians and theosophists. Their most faithful descendents today pass their Sunday morns in the United Church of Christ, in light of which, decadent Calvinism is not even irreligious social morality but rather social immorality. Lest I scandalize those few pious Presbyterians left, I acknowledge that Calvin did not have Jeremiah Wright in mind when he exhorted the men of Geneva to preach Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, as the United Church of Christ, various Presbyterian assemblies, and other Reformed bodies show, Christian praxis, divorced from the sacramental life and the traditions of the Church, becomes mere social morality. In place of theosis, the secular Calvinists trumpet faddish interpretations of social justice.
One may argue that we cannot blame the sorry state of contemporary Western Christians on poor John Calvin. One could argue that the spirit of secularism has invaded all religious bodies, rendering cultural Catholics just as secularly minded toward their religion as people from the Calvinist tradition. However, I would respond that the spirit of secularism largely originates in Calvinism. We can thank John’s cursed gift for ruin on a ecumenical scale.
Of course, there have been many good and pious Christians who come from the Calvinist tradition. They suckle poison in their milk from birth and still manage to grow into men. Unlike Calvin’s view of man after the fall, I do not think that the Reformation reduced Protestant Man to a state of total depravity. Like the Mormons, Calvinists still read the holy scriptures, though with a sickly hermeneutic tradition. In the spirit of Augustine, I suspect that even the most egregious heretics benefit from proclaiming and hearing the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Reformers managed to keep, piecemeal, elements of the Catholic tradition. I do not deny that, despite itself, Calvinism has nourished many souls. Nonetheless, it has served them poorly.
Jack the Ripper [the commentator whom I was addressing] finds my tangential attack on Calvinism to be a cheap shot. I think that it fits, and I have more than a general disdain for Calvinism. My hatred for it runs deep and wide; I see its deleterious effects everywhere. It has marred the civilization that I love and spiritually stunted, if not damned, millions of Christians who were trained to fear God but not to love him—or anything else. Clerical rhetoric aside, how does one love something that is ugly? Calvin’s depiction of God is ugly. Honestly consider the doctrine of God’s eternal plan to create men in order to damn them to everlasting hell and tell me that you do not find it revolting. Contrast the message of Calvin with that of Saint Paul in his second epistle to the Church at Corinth (5:14-21):
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
I do not wish to engage in scriptural warfare, with contrasting passages, because it solves nothing. The tradition of the Church is not the tradition of John Calvin. The seed of Calvinism can be found in Augustine’s errors, novel in his own time and sensibly rejected for a millennium before the Reformation. If you wish to see thorough traditional biblical commentary with regard to Calvinist doctrine, the web provides an endless resource.
In short, Calvinism is a shameless abomination in Christian history. For centuries, it has given scandal to the name of Christ. Countless Christians have gone into apostasy not from sin but from a sense of decency and justice because all that they knew of God was through Calvin’s hideous blasphemy. Well-intentioned heathen have sunk further into hopelessness and despair or have chased idols through empty appetitive pursuits, art, scholarship, and political utopianism to quench their thirst for God, having found no living water in the dry well of Geneva’s lord.
Weber was likely right. Calvinism played the midwife for so many accomplishments—and for how many lost souls?
With the former, worship devolves into an intellectual act. Calvinists historically have attempted to remove all non-cognitive aspects of worship from their services and from their architecture. The sermon became the central act of a Christian service; instead of the holy mysteries, Calvinists receive unending catechesis. High walls were built around family enclosures so that the congregants could only hear the preacher’s words. Visual representations of Christ, the saints, and the holy stories were banned and destroyed in iconoclastic fits. The body no longer was useful for such cerebral work. Only the voice—and mostly the voice of the preacher—was allowed to excel in its natural talents to glorify God. I suspect that many crusty preachers in their secular academic robes—note well the relevant fact that Calvin did not wear vestments to his services but rather his university robe—considered hymns a condescension to human weakness. What perversity—but how fitting a perversion for the new Cartesian modern man of only mind and will. Whereas the Christian temples of East and West testify of God the creator, maker of heaven and earth and of all that is therein, whereas they celebrate in color, in glass, and in stone the providence of God throughout history, from Adam unto our very days, whereas the worship performed in them addresses men as bodies, souls, and spirits, Calvinism reduces the Word to words and worship to harsh Sunday school lessons.
From “Forgiveness Sunday”:
As a modern, it is difficult to approach the statements of Christ without hearing them through the medium of the contemporary world view, just as it is difficult for someone who has been tainted with Calvinism to read Saint Paul without seeing in his works Calvin’s ugly theology.
Clearly, New England was always a seedbed for political and religious lunacy. Mary Baker Eddy had a lot of company back then. We should not expect the progeny of utopian Calvinists to have turned out well balanced. Look at the history of the nineteenth century, and you will see that New England’s “progressivist” social engineers have been misunderstanding man and the human community for many generations. Perhaps, New England’s transformation was simply the maturation of its cultural life cycle. Maybe, secular Leftist Massachusetts is the existentially logical consequent of Congregationalism. Having no love for either, I still find it sad to know that the latter became the former.
I love how various feasts involve the blessing of something basic and earthy . . . water on Theophany, palms on Palm Sunday, eggs at Pascha, fruit on the Transfiguration. Irreligious and deracinated Protestants sometimes find such practices to be pagan, but they make manifest the Christian doctrine of Christ’s recapitulation and perfection of all creation. Even the pagans recognize the sacred. Calvinists do not excel in spirituality by dismissing the sacred. They rather lose all sense of transcendence. The logical conquence of Calvinism is indeed the United Church of Christ—faddish politics occasionally wrapped in scriptural swaddling clothes.
From “Mercer on South Africa”:
I do not find Mercer’s argument convincing. How is it that the Protestant Anglophone (or the Protestant Dutch) world did rather fine for itself for four centuries before it began to self destruct? I never have a good word to say about Calvinism, but I do not see how we can blame the English speaking peoples’ slow ethnic suigenocide on Calvinism, aside from its general deleterious effects on the souls of its confessors.
From “Mormons and the Church”:
As far as the lamentable history of the Puritans’ children, well, I think that their original Calvinist and egalitarian errors have evolved into the chief perversions of American society. Look at the intellectual history of New England since the eighteenth century, and you will find one malady of the spirit after another. Those WASPs have done much to destroy the world. Had they been mediocre or weak folks, they would not have done as much damage. So, I suppose that Mormons were part of this story, yet their own mutations were far more beneficial. I would rather live in a country populated by Mormons than one populated by Unitarians or the average congregants in the United Church of Christ—those religious cultures most directly descended from the Mayflower.
Like Charlton, I am impressed by how Mormons have semi-corrected many of the problems inherent in the Protestantism of their ancestors. Mormons respect and acknowledge hierarchy, reject iconoclasm, and have some sense of sacramentality, though without decent metaphysical support. Mormons do a fine job in seeing one’s life as the setting of both spiritual warfare and the preliminary taste of paradise rather than a mere test that determines one’s everlasting fate in “real life.” Mormons abandoned the bibliolatry of their forebears, though they kept the mistrust and outright ignorance of the continual apostolic tradition of the Church. In other words, Mormons are extremely fascinating.
From “Ancient Jewish Icons”:
The exhibit as well as my amateur archaeological adventures in the Holy Land contradict the iconoclastic notions of biblical Israel held by certain Protestant groups—as if the detailed descriptions of the two Temples and of the Temple rituals in holy writ were not enough to dispel the folly of white walled Calvinists. The Lord, the Lord our God, is a Lord of color and form. Let the iconoclasts seek after their nihilism; we worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.
It seems rather funny now that I seriously considered attending Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Incidentally, my first formal Trinitarian instruction occurred while I shadowed a theology course there. Moreover, I must admit, heresy or not, Calvin College had the most attractive student population that I have ever seen—that lovely Dutch-American blood . . . which reminds me of perhaps the greatest indictment against Calvinism, yet—to have marred such a gorgeous and genial people as the Dutch. One might as well have rendered an elf into an orc!