Speaking of Followers

The post yesterday was on Calvinism, not on all Calvinists everywhere. A reader writes a post I largely agree with:

I dunno. Maybe all the Calvinists I spent several years living, studying, praying, and worshiping with before swimming the Tiber weren’t “real” Calvinists. But they seemed normal enough, and I never met a one who wouldn’t rather go out and have a few beers, talk about life, watch a game, and in short engage in normal human activity rather than stay home and stare at their diagrams. Perhaps this was an elaborate ruse on their part, or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I dealt with them as friends, roommates, colleagues, etc. rather than as opponents in some internet apologetics war. Either way, given the referent experience has given me for the term “Calvinist,” I really have to wince at the title of this post. (Granted, your main referent for the term seems to be James White and his lackeys, which is another matter altogether.)

I would say that you are bang on when you talk about the fact that you and your friends experienced each other as human beings, rather than as faceless entities via the Web. I have a number of quite dear friends who are Presbyterian (one describes himself as a “20% Calvinist”: he believes (or thinks he believes) in total depravity and says the rest of it can go hang. I’m not sold on his *really* believing in total depravity since he is full of such bonhomie and enjoyment of people that it doesn’t really signal the conviction that all his neighbors and himself are monstrous enemies of God except for those lifted out of utter depravity by His Sovereign Act. There’s an emotional disconnect between the doctrine and the behavior. But I’ll grant him his claim.

Anyway, you are quite right that there’s a difference between what is experienced on the Web and the way most Calvinists (or professed Calvinists act) and that most Calvinists are far far better people than their ugly theology. You are only partly right that I have White and his lackeys in view. White, for all his fulminations, has always struck me as somebody who is basically about White, not about Calvinism. My *real* encounter with Calvinism took place via Gary North and the full insane inhumanity of the *system* Calvin proposed was delivered to me by him (and later confirmed by other encounters with other TRVLY REFORMED[TM] types. What I discovered was this basic principle. The more the Calvinist emphasized what Calvinism has in common with the Catholic faith, the more humanely he thought and acted. The more the Calvinist emphasized what was unique to Calvinism (basically it’s anti-Catholic feature which ignore the Tradition and the Magisterium in favor of the Diagram), the less humanely he thought and acted.

Calvinism, being cut off from Sacred Tradition, has been left to fill in the gaps in its incomplete understanding of the Gospel, and has done so in some particularly dangerous ways. Fine. It’s important to make that clear. But that can probably be accomplished with a little less vitriol. (And given the vast number of theologies, Protestant and otherwise, that meet the above description, I’ve never been able to figure out why Calvinism gets singled out for such vitriol by Catholic apologists.)

I can’t speak for “all Catholic apologists”. I can only say that my personal experience of Calvinism is that it struck me as, hands down, the ugliest form of Protestantism. The irony is that some of the people I have come to respect the most among the Catholic converts I know are former Calvinists. Scott Hahn once remarked to me that Calvinism was “monotheism come of age”. His problem arose when he realized that the Catholic Church was “Trinitarian monotheism come of age.” It has, ironically, been Catholic apologist who hail from the Calvinist tradition who have enabled me to see what is good in Calvinism since they look back at with grateful eyes as the path by which God led them into the Church. My own quite visceral revulsion to it would not see these things were it not for guys like Jimmy Akin, who makes an interesting stab at squaring TULIP with Catholic teaching, or the obvious way in which the “culture of rationalism” that is endemic in Calvinism had trained all these former Calvinists to hone their arguments for the faith with logic, biblical erudition, and that knack Calvinist preachers have for the gift of the gab.

Maybe there really is something downright unhuman at the core of Calvinism, and all my Calvinists friends are somehow inconsistent. Again, go to town pointing that out. But, while I don’t know whether or not you’re the one who coined the term “eupocrisy,” I believe I was first introduced to it ’round these parts. Seems like a useful concept in this context.

I think “eupocrisy” exactly explains your experience. It isn’t just Catholics that don’t really believe a lot of what they are alleged to believe. Lots of Calvinists (most really) don’t live out the full implications of their system. With Catholics, that’s *always* bad since the Catholic faith really is revealed by God. But with Calvinists it can be bad or good, depending. A Calvinist who ignores the actual teaching of our Lord is sinning. A Calvinist who ignores the inhuman demands of Calvin’s logic, and say, treats his Catholic sister with a little kindness and respect when she prays for him rather than icily dismisses her by her married name and mocks her publicly? Such a one is moving closer the Christ the faster he moves away from Calvin. A Calvinist who actually engages in conversation with Catholics like human beings, rather than downloading boilerplate, depersonalizing his enemies into the UnElect, and running away is a bad Calvinist, but a good Christian.

So my experience can be summed up this way: Everything in Calvinism that I respect turns out to be the things it shares in common with the Catholic faith. The things in Calvinism I find repellent are the things that are particular to Calvinism. The Calvinist I meet who are tend toward emphasizing those aspects of Calvinism in common with the apostolic faith tend to be the Calvinists who are quite decent blokes. The Calvinists I meet who tend toward emphasizing what is uniquely Calvinist tend to be progressively more and more inhuman and inhumane as they head toward that pole. All this signals to me is that retention of the Catholic faith is what gives the Calvinist system what humanity it retains.

Thanks for your thoughtful critique of what I wrote!

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