The New Calvinism

TIME Magazine has a feature on “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” It’s one of those eye-grabbing attempts to spot future trends in their infancy; a secular oracle for its mainstream readers. They’re mostly positive and it’s not unreasonable to expect that some of them will have a major impact in coming years. They include such beginning trends as recycling suburbs to something more sustainable and “ecological intelligence.”

I want to comment on Idea #3 – “The New Calvinism.” I don’t follow conservative religions closely, but I do read several religion blogs, and I’ve noticed far more discussion of Calvinism than I ever remember hearing when I was growing up in the Baptist church. Apparently it’s really taking off in conservative Evangelical circles, most notably the ultraconservative Southern Baptist Convention.

Here’s a key quote from the TIME piece: “Calvinism … offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything … by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second-guess.”

There are two groups of people who are attracted to Calvinism. The first are Biblical literalists. If you read the Bible literally, John Calvin’s Five Points are a logical conclusion – God has chosen some for salvation and others for damnation; we have no free will. I’ve already said plenty about why reading the Bible literally is a bad idea – I won’t repeat it again.

The second are people who want a simple, definitive religion; people for whom cold, cruel, arbitrary certainty is preferable to warm and loving ambiguity and randomness. In this country those folks are attracted to Calvinism; in other parts of the world they’re frequently attracted to Islam.

Unitarianism and Universalism arose in the early days of the 19th century largely as a response to Calvinism. They provided a positive, hopeful alternative for both this world and the next. And they were hugely successful – so successful that their theologies were adopted by much of mainstream Christianity (including some branches of the Calvinist-descended Presbyterian church), which left Unitarians and Universalists without much to call their own. The New Calvinism is, I think, a counterrevolution two centuries later.

If Life is a river, Calvinism is a jagged rock in the middle of the stream. Some people prefer to cling to its cold, barren stability rather than flowing with the current or swimming on their own. If that helps them get through the challenges and sorrows of Life, so be it.

As for me, I prefer worshipping a Goddess and God of love, freedom, possibilities, and at times, the regenerative power of chaos.

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