Theology & science fiction: A Calvinist dystopia

James McGrath points to Charlie Jane Anders terrifically fun IO9 article “Big Theological Questions That Science Fiction Should Answer.”

“Science fiction can say things about the nature of the universe, and the Divine, that plain old theological texts just can’t,” Anders writes, and then interviews five theologians (including McGrath) about topics they’d “like to see science fiction tackle.”

I am neither a theologian nor a science fiction writer, but these are two of my favorite things. Much of my favorite science fiction, in fact, provides an excellent mechanism for exploring the premises and implications of all sorts of theological ideas.

“Are all people God’s children? No.”

That sort of fiction tends to work like this: Start with our world, this world. Now change one thing. What else would have to change?

When that is done well, I’m hooked.

And that is the approach I would take when addressing theological questions through science fiction.

More specifically, I would like to see science fiction used to explore what it would mean if Calvinism were true. I’m talking predestination. TULIP. The works.

For those unfamiliar with the acronym, TULIP — outlined indelibly by the great George C. Scott here — stands for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.

That framework is only sustainable, I think, because our knowledge is incomplete and imperfect. Calvinists know that some few are among the elect, and that Jesus’ atonement is not for all/most. But Calvinists have no way of knowing, with certainty, who the elect might be.

If that knowledge were available — if it were obvious and certain — then Calvinism would not last another generation. It would collapse partly due to ethical incoherence and partly due to ethical horror.

For an example of what I mean by ethical incoherence, here again is a quote we discussed recently from Calvinist pastor and blogger Kevin DeYoung. What he’s describing here is that idea of “limited atonement,” but DeYoung explains that with unvarnished candor:

It’s not true to say that God loves everyone. Certainly not in the same way that He loves His children. And this is perhaps the best way to get at the question and why it’s striking to us. Does God always work for the joy and the happiness and the good of His children? Yes. Does He want to see all of His children come to believe in faith in Him? Yes. Will God in the end see that all of His children believe in Him, rejoice in Him, belong with Him forever? Yes. Are all people God’s children? No.

Some people are God’s children and some people are not. Legal equality, justice, the Golden Rule, universal human rights and human dignity are still necessary in this framework, but only because of our incomplete and imperfect knowledge. Better knowledge, more complete knowledge, would allow us to stop treating all people equally because, in this scheme, people are not equal. There would be no reason to treat everyone the same because, according to this doctrine, everyone is not the same.

Some are loved by God, others are not. Some are God’s children, others are irredeemably damned. If we knew for certain who was who, then our ethics would be transformed — reshaped to align with the character of God that this scheme suggests. Ethics, in other words, would revert to something more like the ethnic cleansing of Jericho and Ai.

By ethical horror I mean parents and children. Limited atonement is quite limited. The gate to salvation is narrow, but the gate is wide that leads to destruction. Most people, in other words, are not among the elect. And thus most children are not among the elect.

Calvinist parents can cope with the implications of that only because our incomplete knowledge allows room for denial. Complete knowledge would make that impossible. Parents — most parents — would know that the children they are raising are preordained for eternal conscious torment. They would know that the children they love are not loved by God as the children of God.

A majority of the population would come to see — to know — that they possess a greater capacity for love than God does. I don’t think any religious system could long survive such horrifying knowledge.

And but so, that is my proposal for theological science fiction. Start with our world, with this world as it is. Now change just two things:

1. Calvinism is true and hegemonic.

2. God’s unconditional elect, those predestined for salvation, are unambiguously and physically marked as such, from birth.

What else would have to change if those two things were true? Everything.

I imagine such a world would be strictly stratified according to soteriological status. Only the elect would be citizens. The unmarked would be slaves or outlaws or barbarians outside the gates. But note that this privileged citizenship would not be hereditary.

What stories could we tell given such a world? More than I can count.

Here, briefly, are just a few possibilities:

1. Calvinist Gattaca: An unmarked person devises an undetectable means of counterfeiting the sign of election in order to “pass” as a citizen, knowing all the while that she remains doomed for eternity.

2. Not Without My Daughter: Through evasion, fraud and bribery, a citizen married couple manages to raise their unmarked daughter as one of the elect. She is their daughter and, despite rigorous social mores and strictly enforced laws, they love her too much to send her away to live among the unmarked. But even if they manage to continue to evade the law, how will they ever manage to trick or bribe God into saving their daughter from her inevitable, irresistible damnation?

3. Your basic Romeo & Juliet scenario.

4. The murder mystery: Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is a terrific example of how to blend world-building with a hard-boiled detective story. What would it mean to investigate crime in a world where, regardless of their actions, most are assured of eternal punishment when they die, while a minority are assured of eternity in Heaven? If you know that you’re going to Hell no matter what you do, then damnation can no longer give you pause. And if you know that you’re going to Heaven no matter what you do, then why should you fear any earthly punishment? Perhaps the criminal justice system in this world would replace the death penalty with some kind of corporal punishment. (Ultimately, though, I don’t think that certainty of either Hell or Heaven would lead to nihilism any more than disbelief in such otherworldly punishments and rewards does. Murder would still be a matter of money, sex or revenge, not of metaphysics.)

5. The Rebel Alliance: A charismatic leader arises among the unmarked, declaring war on the citizens — and war on God.

6. The bodhisattva: A man marked at birth as one of the elect chooses, instead, to live among the unmarked. He says they are not damned — that salvation is not limited. He starts drawing huge crowds. He teaches nonviolence, but is still perceived as a threat by religious and political leaders. You can probably see where this story is going. …

What other stories do you think could be told in such a world? What other theological ideas or questions would you like to see explored through science fiction?

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  • mistformsquirrel

    5 and 6 are definitely my favorites.  Particularly if in regard to 5 you get an oddball mix of elect and unelect on BOTH sides of the conflict.  With one side consisting of rebels, including elect who are so disgusted by the injustice of the situation that they’re willing to throw away their special status for it.  The other side being the elect, and unelect who believe themselves to be absolutely doomed anyway and wish to preserve at least SOME measure of favor with the elect so that their time in this life may be a little easier.

    I grant that that probably doesn’t quite jibe with a Definitely Literally True Calvinism, because it denies the idea of irresistible grace* – but I think it makes for an interesting story nonetheless.

    Heh, I just thought of a twist for the whole thing too:

    What if the mark of the elect… isn’t.  What if it is, in fact, the mark of the beast?  The whole situation being kind of reversed; but no one realizes it.  In this life those marked are the citizens, they can buy and trade and generally carry on at the highest rungs of society… but after this life things get complicated.  (That twist can take you in a lot of directions depending on how far from straight sci-fi you want to go.)

    *Which if I remember right means that people who are destined to be saved will, absolutely and definitely, find their way to the ‘right’ faith before they expire; no two ways about it.

  • Tricksterson

    Combine this with the Romeo and Juliet scenario and have the two young lovers discover this and that an elite among the pseudo-elect know this and are keeping it a secret.

  • mistformsquirrel

     Gah, I’ve already got my NaNo for this year >_< Now I've got a whole nother idea too… This is why I love this place lol; the plotbunnies roam free!

  • mcc

    “in regard to 5 you get an oddball mix of elect and unelect on BOTH sides of the conflict”

    This creates space for a really interesting metaphor for whites in the civil rights movement / male feminists / “straight allies”, and the neverending debates in the corresponding minority group over to what extent “help” from slumming majority members is useful or welcome.

  • Dash1


    a really interesting metaphor for whites in the civil rights movement /
    male feminists / “straight allies”, and the neverending debates in the
    corresponding minority group over to what extent “help” from slumming
    majority members is useful or welcome.

    I find the term “slumming” here to be particularly unfortunate. And offensive. 

    And, speaking just from one perspective–my own–as a cis female feminist, I have never thought of male feminists as “slumming.”

  • mcc

    Okay, I am sorry. My intent, which I don’t think I expressed well, was to describe a debate in which majority members are being described by one side as slumming, not to imply that I am judging those persons as such myself.

  • Dash1

     Whew! Thanks for clarifying. That makes a lot more sense. :-)

  • Andy M-S

    Six.  Six, six, six (oops).  And what if the mark of the elect (like, say, white skin) is totally meaningless?  Then the world would have to change…um.  We’ve seen this movie.

  • Cameron Horsburgh

    I think Mel Gibson already made number 6.

  • SketchesbyBoze

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Calvinist God would make a wonderful villain in a fantasy story. Herman Melville already tried something like it in “Moby-Dick.”

  • SketchesbyBoze

    “What if the mark of the elect… isn’t.  What if it is, in fact, the mark of the beast?”

    Whoa! {dashes for his typewriter}

  • Chiangfan

    Have you already read Ted Chiang’s _Hell is the Absence of God_? It’s not what you’re asking for, but it’s not far off. And like most Ted Chiang’s stories, I can’t read it without bursting into tears.

  • Elf Sternberg

    Let me double down on Ted Chiang.  Many of his short stories are “What ifs” told about various theological propositions.  “Hell is the Absence of God” is a marvelous telling of the primitive Evangelical view of the world made flesh.  He’s also written about the Jewish belief in divine names, as well as a “What if the tower of Babel had been finished?”  He’s the best “theological science fiction” writer out there at the moment.

  • markedward

    What you’re describing, Fred, is exactly what the Left Behind theology requires, both during the tribulation (the seal of God / mark of the beast distinguishes who is who), and during the thousand years (physically aging distinguishes who is who).

    Are L&J… Calvinists? I didn’t think they were, but in retrospect, that is what their theology demands (at least once they reach a discussion on ‘the end times’). Heck, your Idea #1 — a guy knowing he is damned but fakes a mark of the elect — actually happens later in the book series with a mechanic. (Well, I think it’s a mechanic. All I remember is a guy smearing grease on his forehead in the shape of a cross to trick Christians.)

  • chris the cynic

    Are L&J… Calvinists?

    When it suits their needs.

    Nicolae had to be predestined for damnation otherwise the checklist wouldn’t have worked.  He could have said, “Screw this, I’m going to be good,” and then God’s plan would have gone to hell.  (Lowercase hell intentional, it wouldn’t have gone to Hell, it just would have been fucked over.)

    Chloe suggests that Buck’s virginity was a result of God guiding him though his life (keeping him pure for their marriage and all that) so that would mean that Buck was, from when he first started thinking about sex, predestined to be saved after the Rapture and then married also to Chloe whose saving and timing of said saving was also predestined.

    On the other hand, whenever it comes time to punish someone it’s all their fault and all free will, and predestination is pushed so far away that you can’t even see it from here if you build a mile high viewing tower.

    When being Calvinist can advance the plot or explain away unlikely elements, they’re Calvinist, when being Calvinist might stop them from gloating quite so viciously, they’re not Calvinist.

  • Lori


    All I remember is a guy smearing grease on his forehead in the shape of a cross to trick Christians.  

    So L&J think the Christians in their story are as dumb as I think they are?

  • EllieMurasaki

    For some reason I am reminded of a quote from fuck if I know who: “There is no devil. Only God when he’s drunk.”

  • rikalous


    For some reason I am reminded of a quote from fuck if I know who: “There is no devil. Only God when he’s drunk.”

    It’s Tom Waits, assuming he didn’t get it from someone else.

  • Tricksterson

    AFAIK  it’s original with him from the song “Heart Attack and Vine”.  Another good song illustrating Tom’s attitude tyowards God is “Gods Away On Business”  I reccomend the Cookie Monster version.

  • LouisDoench

     Tom Waits

  • Tricksterson

    The great Tom Waits, my favorite musician

  • William

     Tom Waits.

  • erikagillian

     Tom Waits,  the song is Heart Attack and Vine, from album of same name.  I love that line.  He’s got a lot of great lines about god and the devil, and other theological matters.  There’s also God’s Away on Business, Come on Up to the House, Down in the Hole.  I know there’s more but I’m blanking.

  • Tricksteron

    And keep in mind of course that all of Tom’s music counts as Sacred Music, Amen!  Can I get a ” Fuck you Justin Timberlake!?”

  • erikagillian

     Fuck you, Justin Timberlake!  From comments on youtube, I thought it was a fuck you, Beiber! 

  • Tricksteron

    That works too.

  • SketchesbyBoze

    Lately I’ve been pondering the fact that the Catholic Church considers millenarianism – the idea that a select remnant is going to bring about a utopia on earth in historical time, whether religious or secular – the foundational deception of the Antichrist (CCC 676). Political theorist Erik Voegelin seems to concur (“don’t immanentize the eschaton!” etc). Apparently there’s a significant subset of political and religious thinkers who believe that the eschatology espoused by LaHaye & Jenkins and others is not only deceptive, but will actually lead to people thinking they’re bringing in the kingdom of God, while accidentally working all along for the wrong side.

  • Andrew

    If I wrote that story, the twist ending would be that the ‘mark’ means nothing: just some weird genetic thing and everyone had been evil to each other all that time for nothing.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Like the Star-bellied Sneetches!

  • PepperjackCandy

     Or was the result of prenatal exposure to some kind of chemical.

  • wophugus

    Almost by definition, the elect would not treat the unelect as second class citizens.  The elect aren’t just elect because they are the elect, they are elect for all the reasons most christians think people are going to heaven (IE, they accepted Christ (most important), they exhibit spiritual gifts (just an outward sign), etc).  Your critique is as dumb as saying, “If salvation is justified by faith, what’s to stop you from accepting Christ into your heart but then having a day job as Hitler?”  If you have accepted Christ into your heart — even if you know you have — you won’t act like Hitler.  Just so, if you have accepted Christ into your heart and know you are one of the elect, a Calvinist thinks you won’t treat other people — including those who haven’t accepted Christ into their heart — like crap.

    I’m not a calvinist, but I was raised one, and as such this post sort of horrifies me.  If your understanding of Calvinism is this cartoonish of a caricture, it makes me nervous about how much I have trusted your past reporting on other belief systems.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The difficulty here is that a lot of self-identified elect treat everyone else like shit.

  • wophugus

    Well lots of faiths preach being nice but have adherents who aren’t.  I still don’t think it is fair to say “Imagine that everything they say is true!  Except those things they say about being nice!  Given all that, wouldn’t they act mean?  The dastards!”

  • EllieMurasaki

    Strangely enough, Fred said none of that.

  • wophugus

    “Strangely enough, Fred said none of that.”

    Fred said: “I imagine such a world would be strictly stratified according to soteriological status. Only the elect would be citizens. The unmarked would be slaves or outlaws or barbarians outside the gates. But note that this privileged citizenship would not be hereditary.”

    Enslaving and outlawing people is mean.  Saying, “let’s assume Calvinism is true and whether you are saved is obvious.  Wouldn’t the elect enslave and outlaw everyone else?” is the same as saying “Let’s assume Calvinism is all true except the part about God sanctifying believers.  Wouldn’t the elect be awful?” 
    They would, but only because you fundamentally changed Calvinist theology to make them awful.   Real calvinists argue that the elect are extraordinarily nice and exhibit mad spiritual giftz.  They are the last sort who would  treat people bad simply because those people aren’t elect (obviously lots of Calvinists, especially Calvin, fell short of this).  Again, I”m not a Calvinist and don’t want to be the dude in charge of defending Calvinism.  In fact, I’ve *actively rejected* Calvinism.  There is a lot of stuff Fred could say against Calvinism that would make me do a tiny fist bumps at the computer screen and mutter attaboys under my breath.  This sci-fi critique is just not one of those things.   

  • chris the cynic

    Saying, “let’s assume Calvinism is true and whether you are saved is obvious.  Wouldn’t the elect enslave and outlaw everyone else?”

    Fred didn’t say that.  The part of what Fred wrote that you quoted proves that Fred didn’t say that.  The only one here to say that is you, and since you only said it in an attempt to put words into someone else’s mouth no one here has seriously advocated that viewpoint.

    Furthermore, the part that Fred did actually say about “slaves or outlaws or barbarians outside the gates,” refers to “a world [which] would be strictly stratified” after God removed uncertainty and has Calvinists hegemony.

    Calvinists do not believe God removed uncertainty.
    Calvinists do not believe that God gave them hegemony in this world.
    Calvinists do not believe that the world is strictly stratified on the bases of God removing uncertainty and they were given hegemony.

    These are things that Calvinist don’t believe.  Saying, “If these things that Calvinists don’t believe are true then X,” is not doing what you’re doing, not by a long shot.

    And the fact that you associated the “slaves or outlaws or barbarians outside the gates,” with the part about Calvinism rather than the part about hegemony is actually pretty nasty on your part.  Have you looked at historical hegemonies where a small few are elevated above a much larger mass of people who are believed to be less loved by god?

    I get that you actively dislike Calvinists and want to say bad things about them, but transferring that particular phrase from the hegemony part of the equation to the Calvinist part of the equations is pretty damned cruel, all things considered.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The problem I have with the Calvinist concept is that as much as the idea works out in theory (like idealized Communism) in practice the idea tend to get more than a little contaminated by human nature.

    The idea that the outward indication of who the ‘elect’ are can be determined by means of financial status or other such things is a pernicious problem in US politics. People may not be consciously aware of doing it, but US culture tends to reinforce the idea that if you are wealthy, you are to be given a kind of secularized version of an aura of ‘electness’, which then gives you the right to rationalize all behavior as being basically correct because money, that’s why.

  • Jurgan

    I think the question is how could good people live with the knowledge that people they see every day are going to hell?  Could they continue being kind and friendly to someone they knew was damned?  Or would they have to start building walls, ignoring them, just for their own psychological peace of mind?  The easy answer is that the unsaved would be vicious, unlikeable brutes, but there are a lot of people in the middle.  Think about someone you know who is a decent person most of the time but can do some bad, selfish things other times.  How do you treat this person?  Would it be different if you knew, for a fact, that he was going to hell?

  • Lori


    Real calvinists argue that the elect are extraordinarily nice and exhibit mad spiritual giftz.  

    So Kevin DeYoung is either not really a Calvinist or he knows that he’s not one of the elect? Because he claims to be a Calvinist and he sure as hell isn’t nice or possessed of any obvious mad spiritual giftz.

  • Lori

    “So Kevin DeYoung is either not really a Calvinist or he knows that he’s not one of the elect? Because he claims to be a Calvinist and he sure as hell isn’t nice or possessed of any obvious mad spiritual giftz.”

    I wonder if that’s because DeYoung, unlike many Calvinists, is so sure that he *is* part of the elect that he’s not too worried about having to prove it by demonstrating any fruits of the spirit.

    That’s the part where I think things get interesting.  In our actual world, in my experience, Calvinists can be awfully nice people, generally kinder and more generous than other equally conservative Christians of other theological persuasions, certainly far kinder than the God they worship.  And I’m sure some of that is simply because many of them, like many people in general, are good people.  But I do think some of it is also because, for Calvinists, salvation is ensured if you are one of the elect, but you can’t know for sure if you are one of the elect.  Having “accepted Jesus,” for most Calvinists, isn’t enough; many will say “Lord, Lord,” and all that, plus unless God already inclined your heart to accept him, then your acceptance wasn’t real acceptance.  

    You have to have evidence that you were regenerated, and that evidence is the fruit of the spirit.  So, being patient and kind and loving and self-controlled and good is both the result of being one of the elect and the proof that you are one of the elect.  That’s a pretty good incentive for cultivating those virtues.  

    But if you knew with certainty that you were one of the elect, then that incentive is gone.  Either election genuinely would result in somebody being kind and patient and loving and peaceful and good–in which case it’s hard to see how they couldn’t reject the whole idea of election–or, without the need to prove anything, it would result in people lording their status over others.

  • Becka Sutton

     I suppose it depends at what point the Irresistable Grace kicks in.

    If the elect are marked from birth and the Irresistable Grace applies from birth as well then the elect are simply not going to be concerned about the damnation of the unelect majority. The personality forced upon them by God just won’t allow it. They just wouldn’t think it was a problem because they’d think like their God.

    If however the Irresistable Grace will hit you at some point during in your life and completely rewrite your personality.

    Imagine if you knew for sure that at some point in your life God would flick a switch and your personality would be completely rewritten and you would begin thinking like DeYoung or the WBC and there was nothing you could do about it because your fate is set in stone and even if you tried to commit suicide you’d fail.

    I almost think knowing that you were going to spend an eternity being tortured might actually be preferable because at least there you get to be yourself.

  • LMM22

    Enslaving and outlawing people is mean.

    I really shouldn’t continue, but …

    You *are* aware that Calvinism was developed *prior* to abolition, correct?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You *are* aware that Calvinism was developed *prior* to abolition, correct?

    Depends on which abolition you’re talking about.

    Calvin was French. Slavery was abolished in France two centuries before Calvin’s birth.

  • Ross Thompson

    Enslaving and outlawing people is mean.

    And God will make the elect be less mean than He is.

  • Nathaniel

     Yeah, how dare he assume that people act like people.

  • phantomreader42

     If THEY don’t act like the things they say about being nice are true, why should anyone else pretend that they believe them? 

  • EllieMurasaki

    The sad bit is, from their perspective, I’m pretty sure they are more moral than the rest of us. For example, thinking it a kindness to inform someone damned that they’re damned rather than letting them go on thinking they have a chance at salvation and thus setting themselves up for a colossal disappointment.

  • Randy Owens

    Apparently, putting “& science fiction” right in the post title may have been a tad too subtle for you.  Or, you just don’t get the point of SF.

  • Tricksterson

    I know people who have “accepted Christ into their hearts” and use it as an excuse to behave horribly because they “know” Jesus will forgive them.  How do I know this?  Because they told me so in as many words.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Yeah, I went to high school with a girl, a preacher’s daughter, who was fond of calling other girls sluts for being sexually active, even though she herself was sexually active. When confronted with this glaring, hurtful hypocrisy she did indeed trot out the “I’m saved. Jesus will forgive me” line. Whether she was referring being forgiven for fornicating or being a self-righteous hypocrite was unclear.

  • Malte

     I don’t think that’s really the issue. The question is this: if you could look at somebody and immediately know with certainty that they are hated and rejected by God, how would you feel about loving them? If you love them (per loving your enemies), would that make you a better moral person than God? Of course Calvinists distinguish between common and special grace, but loving someone God hates would still surely throw up interesting moral questions, from the allocation of resources to citizenship rights.

  • Lori

    ” The question is this: if you could look at somebody and immediately know with certainty that they are hated and rejected by God, how would you feel about loving them? If you love them (per loving your enemies), would that make you a better moral person than God?”

    I think the other question is, how would you feel about loving God?

    There are some Calvinist sociopaths–I’d put John Piper in that category, and Mark Driscoll, and Kevin DeYoung–who seem to fully grasp the implications of their theology, that the vast, vast majority of all humanity will be consigned to an eternity of conscious torment because God created them with that end in mind and be totally cool with it.  

    But I can’t believe those are the majority of Calvinists.  Most Calvinists I know either hold out hope that many, many people will be saved or just kind of refuse to think through the larger implications of their theology, and instead focus on how it plays out at the level of their individual life.  

    If there were outward proof that Piper is right–if you could look around and see that the vast majority of people you know, people you like, people you love, were predestined for hell and nothing was going to change that for them–I think a lot of Calvinists would be horrified.

    Which I suppose could be a twist on the story.  Rather than a society where things have been structured around knowing who is elect and who isn’t, what about a story where 1) Calvinism is true and hegemonic and 2) people went to bed in a world like ours, where you cannot tell who is and isn’t elect, but woke up in a world where people were suddenly outwardly marked as either elect or non-elect?  How would people who have accepted Calvinism respond if they were suddenly forced to contend with the harshest implications of their theology?

  • Anastasios

    Not all Calvinists believe “the vast, vast majority” of people will be damned. Spurgeon, if I recall, was a Calvinist (at least in the soteriological sense) but he argued that the majority of people would be saved because otherwise Satan would be the victor and we can’t have that. Also, there’ve been quite a few Calvinists who’ve crossed the line into universalism (that happened in New England with the UU, and I read somewhere that Phillip Schaff may have been a universalist although I don’t know for sure). The thing is, of the five points only L (limited atonement) is actually inconsistent with universalism; you can at least theoretically be both a four-point Calvinist and a universalist. 2 Peter 3:9 is one verse that has sent many a Calvinist into the arms of universalism. The implications of this for our story would be to discover at the end that in fact the mark was meaningless and ALL people were elected to be saved from the beginning, this causes a few zealous “marked” people to protest since in life they had been proud of the fact that they were an elite, elect minority and are mad at God for now extending the gift of salvation to the unmarked.

    I myself am not a Calvinist (I’m not currently wedded to any theological system, maybe someday I’ll write my own, but as my screen name indicates I’m quite sympathetic toward Eastern Orthodoxy). But this is an interesting debate.

  • Tehanu

     This is a serious question, I’m not trying to be snarky.  Jesus said that nobody comes to God except through him.  To me, that seems to be saying that HE’s the one who decides who comes to God — so “accepting Jesus into your heart” isn’t the deciding factor; Jesus looking into your heart and seeing what you’re really like inside is the deciding factor.  It also seems to me that accepting what Jesus stood for — kindness, self-sacrifice, honesty, etc. — ought to be more important than whether you go around saying “I’ve accepted Jesus.”  Why not?

  • mud man

    Absolutely right. Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

    Don’t know what Calvin made of this one.

  • Anastasios

    “Jesus looking into your heart and seeing what you’re really like inside is the deciding factor”.

    That’s Arminianism, not Calvinism. Arminius did not deny predestination, he just argued that it was conditioned on the state of the believer. Calvinism on the other hand teaches Unconditional Election (that Jesus ultimately decides arbitrarily who will be saved, rather than electing people based on what was in their hearts).

  • LMM22

    Just so, if you have accepted Christ into your heart and know you are one of the elect, a Calvinist thinks you won’t treat other people — including those who haven’t accepted Christ into their heart — like crap.

    Er, no. Calvinism does not appear to believe that. *Your* variant of Calvinism may believe that, but that’s not a part of Calvinism proper.

    (Most seminary students, I have heard from theology professors, begin with heretical views — sometimes beliefs from long-gone heresies. It’s often a way to justify, and soften, incredibly harsh theologies.)

  • Matt Herrera

    I think scenario 2 has a lot of potential for a deeply personal, character-based story.  I see two parents doing everything in their power to stay with their daughter, as they must constantly question WHY their daughter–their sweet, innocent daughter–must be condemned to the pit.  When the time comes and they must plead before God, they find that their Lord will never accept the girl as one of His children.  If the parents are to enter Heaven, they must leave their daughter behind.

    “If that’s the way it must be,” the man said, “then I’ll go to Hell.”

    The angel led them away, towards the Pit.  “Aren’t you going to lecture us?” the man snapped.  “Aren’t you going to mock us for throwing away Paradise?”

    “No,” replied the angel, a sad smile on his lips.  “Everyone makes the same choice you did.  Everyone.”

  • Randy Owens

    You could even go some sort of a multi-person solipsistic (hat tip Robert Heinlein) route with that, having a world (or large number of worlds, depending on how you look at it) where each individual experiences a different subjective reality, so that e.g. the father in your scenario thinks he’s Elect but his daughter isn’t, but his daughter is spun off into an alternate world where she’s Elect, but someone close to her isn’t, and so on and so on.

    The story structure could get pretty hairy, though, trying to reconcile the different viewpoints.

  • Pamela Merritt

    That’s a beautiful gem of a short story.

  • Jurgan

    I remember a Twilight Zone episode kind of like that.  A man had died and was at the gate of heaven with his (also dead) dog.  The angel said he could come in, but he’d have to leave the dog behind.  The man said no thanks, and kept walking.  Later, he came to another gate, where he and his dog were both allowed in.  It turned out that was the real heaven, and the earlier gate was actually hell.  If you’re selfish enough to leave your dog behind, you don’t deserve to get in.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s straight out of…I want to say the Mahabharata? Hindu holy text, anyway.

  • Tricksterson

    That episode reminded me of an article in the now defunct Green Egg magazine by a pagan who traced the beginnings of his dissatisfaction with Christianity to a class in Catholic school where he asked the nun if  his dog would go to heaven andshe said no because animals didn’t have souls.  To him this cotradicted both his experience of his dog and his conception of both heaven and souls.

  • Anastasios

    Funnily enough, Aquinas actually argued that animals _did_ have souls, they just weren’t human-like souls. The nun you mention seems more like a Southern Baptist than a Catholic ;-)

  • alsafi

    How weird coincidences are. My partner was telling me this story the other day, though her version had a couple more beautiful gates with mansions where he was given the choice again, and again rejected it. She and her boss had been talking about the origin of the story, wondering how old it was, and when she went to lunch and was reading the Bhagavad Gita (her current lunchtime book), she stumbled across it there. So, cool trivia: the story of the man rejecting a “heaven” that won’t allow animals only to find that it was a test? Over 2500 years old.

  • PatBannon

    …and heaven is *empty.* Nobody there except God and His angels.

  • Anastasios

    Just like in this comic (click the link and then select “Scream For Your God”).

  • Randy Owens

    Off on an OT tangent, that bit about DeYoung’s “children of God” quote met up in my head with another thing I’ve been thinking for a while now (in a way that it didn’t while reading the original Ninevite post).  There’s a vague similarity between the Biblical “God’s children” and a basic flaw in the US Constitution.  The Bible doesn’t clarify whether it means all humans, or just the elect or believers or whatever, when it says “children of God”.  And of course, one big problem with the Constitution and laws based upon it is that it generally doesn’t specify whether rights and laws apply to citizens, or anyone who comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government.  Hence, Guantanamo and waterboarding and street grabs and so forth.  Of course, like I said, the similarity is vague; the Bible specifies the group, but doesn’t define it, while the laws’ problem is generally more that they define the groups, but don’t generally specify which group is covered.

  • DiscreteComponent

    Actually there is an accepted legal theory that say that unless the Constitution expressly says a ‘right’, privilege,  or prerogative is expressly limited to a class of person, like a citizen, or member of congress, etc then it is applied to ‘persons’ in general.

    That said, I hold that God is the same and I hold also that with the coming of Jesus all peoples are children of God.

  • Randy Owens

    Actually there is an accepted legal theory that say that unless the
    Constitution expressly says a ‘right’, privilege,  or prerogative is
    expressly limited to a class of person… then it is applied to ‘persons’ in general.”

    I’m glad to hear that; that would certainly be my take on it.  But clearly, there are some in (or who have been in) government who think otherwise.  Attorneys, even.

  • fraser

     Actually it references citizens in several places. Leading some civil libertarians to argue that if they wanted rights confined to citizens, they would have said so.

  • Gotchaye

    I’m with wophugus here.  I’m not a Calvinist, but I’d thought the idea wasn’t so much that God picked people at random to send to heaven and some of them might be evil in life, but rather that God picked people to send to heaven and also decided to make them good people at some point in life and thereafter.  I thought that was the I in TULIP.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I like your thoughts, but it does rather depend on the assumption that a lot of people who believe they are among the elect actually aren’t while just about everyone who is either thinks they’re not or rejects the concept altogether.

  • Morilore

    The problem with Calvinism, or at least with Kevin DeYoung’s opinions, is that that kind of god is evil.  An omnipotent being to whom some people matter and others exist only to be tortured is an evil being.  And one of the premises of Calvinism is that all of the Elect will inevitably be drawn to worship and obedience of God, so by the transitive property, that makes the Elect themselves ultimately evil, no matter how much they follow certain rules.  A truly moral member of the Elect would not praise a god who would condemn her neighbors for nothing they could control; yet the Elect must be both moral and obedient.  It is a contradiction in terms.

  • chris the cynic

    As it is recalled by me, Irresistable Grace is the idea that, if you are one of the elect, you cannot throw off the grace of God.  It is impossible for you to deny yourself Heaven because the Grace that will deliver you to Heaven is an Irresistible force and you are not an immovable object.

    It’s God’s grace, not your own, that can’t be resisted.  You can still kick puppies, but the force of kicking those puppies will not be strong enough to resist the Grace of God.

    But it’s more than that.  You will be be unable to resist the grace of God by the time that you die everything before that unspecified moment before your death doesn’t count.  You can be as evil as you want in that time and it’s ok, because God’s irresistible grace will catch you in the end.  (Well, likely before the end.)

    It’s the idea of, “I can do whatever I want now, because I can make a deathbed conversion and it’ll be all better,” turned up to 11.  You don’t have to worry that maybe you’ll be hit by a bus (it’s always a bus) and die before you make it to that deathbed to convert, because God has predestined that it will happen and there is nothing you can do to stop it.  You will be saved, and it will all be better.

    As Fred says, this holds up under uncertainty because no one knows for sure that they are subject to irresistible grace.

    But if from birth various people knew that no matter what they did, no matter how evil, it would all work out for them in the end, that has the potential to be a problem.

    Calvinism doesn’t teach that Calvinists never do bad things, after all.

    If Calvinism did teach that anyone who did anything bad would never have the Irresistible Grace thing happen to them, I think it would be a much smaller religion.  There are very few people who can say, “I’ve never done anything that I think was bad in my life,” after all.

  • Gotchaye

    Trigger Warning: Rape

    I think the problem here is that you’re assigning agency to the elect that they don’t have.  The elect can’t plan on a calculated deathbed conversion.  Or, rather, they could plan on it, but at some time of His own choosing Calvinist!God will perform what’s been termed a “holy rape of the soul”, although I hesitate to use the phrase and I should note that it doesn’t seem to have been coined by a Calvinist.  Calvinist!God bestowing grace on someone is not just about putting their name on a guest list; it’s enacting a fundamental transformation of their being that brings them to Jesus and makes them genuinely want to be good Calvinists.

    End TW

    That said, in response to others too, I don’t think Calvinists are committed to thinking that the elect will be perfectly good after coming to Jesus.  But my understanding is that they’re committed to thinking that the elect will at least be exemplary people.  Of course fundamentalist Calvinists use “good” differently than most of us, and part of that involves thinking that Calvinist!God is pretty swell.  But even though Calvinist!God is planning on doing some pretty awful things to the non-elect, he’s still commanded that people act in certain ways, and that’s what determines moral action for the elect.  Different rules apply to God, but Calvinists are hardly alone in thinking that.

    And my impression had always been that Calvinists accept that lots of people who think they’re among the elect actually aren’t.  I assume that the self-aware ones worry about this as it applies to themselves.

  • chris the cynic

    I think, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that two points in my post are getting confused.

    On the one hand I was talking about Irresistible Grace as it exists in actual Calvinist theology.

    On the other hand I was talking about how that particular belief would affect those living in a world in which, completely contrary to Calvinist beliefs, it was possible to know who the elect were from birth.

    A Calvinist cannot plan on Irresistible Grace functioning like a calculated deathbed conversion because by the time the Calvinist is a Calvinist they believe that the conversion has already happened.  Any attempt on their part to get away with stuff after they believed they were in the throes of Irresistible Grace on the basis that they’re going to Heaven anyway would place doubts in their mind that they really were operating under Irresistible Grace because it would imply that the transformation you described hadn’t happen.  Those doubts would come with the fear of hell, and so… yeah.

    But, if it were possible to know beyond the shadow of a doubt who the elect were from birth, then that would mean that there would be a period of time BEFORE the Grace was bestowed upon the person during which the person would be fully aware that, no matter what they did, they were very definitely going to get into Heaven.

    A real would Calvinist can’t (or at least shouldn’t) use Irresistible Grace like a calculated deathbed conversion for precisely the reasons you describe.  But in the hypothetical world where the Elect are known from birth Irresistible Grace becomes like a calculated deathbed conversion with a guaranteeing of success.

    If you, hypothetical inhabitant of this hypothetical world, are one of the elect then you know -absolutely know- that at some point the Grace will be upon you. You don’t know where.  You don’t know when.  But it will happen.  And nothing you can do, no matter how bad, can stop that.

  • Gotchaye

    Okay, I see where you were going with that.  But I don’t see that this produces particularly awful behavior in the pre-transformation elect.  There’s little difference between the pre-transformation elect and the non-elect, since for both there’s no afterlife-based reason for being good or bad.  So they’re all in the same basic position as either atheists or universalists in the real world.  Even by Calvinist lights, most people are totally depraved and yet most people don’t kick puppies; Calvinists allow that the non-elect can act decently, even without fear of Hell.  So the pre-transformation elect will behave like anyone else would, and then at some point will be transformed and will be exemplary afterwards.

    To the broader topic, others have mentioned the elect possibly not being at all afraid of death and the non-elect being terrified of it, if everyone is sufficiently clear on how good heaven is and how bad hell is.  That suggests a way for the elect to boss everyone else around – they’re the only ones willing to risk a war to get what they want.

  • Tricksterson

    But doesn’t the U, “unconditional election” mean that only God can know who He picks and why?

  • EllieMurasaki doesn’t indicate anything about who does and does not know who’s elect. All the term seems to mean is that God picks who he likes without regard to any other factors such as whether this person would choose to believe and/or to behave humanely if given the choice.

  • Jinx

    In the postulated system, the Elect would be outnumbered and the Unelect would be angry. Baring divine intervention, it wouldn’t be the Elect who’d be running society.

  • mistformsquirrel

     That’s an interesting point.

    Then again that’s where speculative fiction can make things… interesting.

    What if being elect grants some kind of power to go with it?

  • Randy Owens

    I’ll be sure to get that memo to the feudal aristocracy, the current 1%, the Church hierarchy, the Egyptian pharaohs….

  • Lori


    In the postulated system, the Elect would be outnumbered and the Unelect
    would be angry. Baring divine intervention, it wouldn’t be the Elect
    who’d be running society.   

    Three words—Apartheid. South. Africa. No system with a minority on top and an angry majority on the bottom can last forever, but it can last a long time. Certainly long enough to make an interesting story.

  • skapusniak

    Does his Satanic Majesty exist in this universe?

    Because it occurs to me if he does, any deal he offers you as one of the non-elect, given you’re damned anyway, might suddenly be a lot more attractive. You might as well go with the earthly power in the here and now if you’re in for an eternity of torture regardless in an afterlife that you know for certain exists.

    In fact any Devil or Demon worth their salt in this universe, will be pointing out that unlike God *they are* allowed to recruit, so if you have any friends or relatives who are interested you just send them right along and they’ll get them signed up posthaste.

  • Becka Sutton

    Wophugus, I think Fred is making a point about the Calvinist God. Any God who makes some people elect and some people damned and hates the damned is likely to make thee elect hate the damned as part of his ‘sanctification’ of them. And, yes, Calvinism does state that God hates the damned.

    Having said that this is clearly not a true Calvinist dystopia. It’s TUL without the IP. Because Irresistable Grace and Perseverance of the Saints leaves no room for an “Okay then I’ll go to hell” moment because the elect cannot change their minds. The “not without my daughter” thing wouldn’t happen because the parents would be incapable of loving their unelect daughter. It wouldn’t make good fiction because there’s no way to have TULIP be true and give the characters agency.

    Of course if it’s just a world where people think TULIP is true and the mark indicates it then all bets are off.

    And this is Kevin DeYoung’s Calvinism. It’s possible to imagine other ways that an obvious TULIP could play out that aren’t as harsh.

    If God for example is also Molinist (though Molinism is generally seen as an anti-Calvin idea) then there’s a possibility that lack of free will is a symptom of our fallen nature. God knows who would have remained unfallen if they had a chance to choose and elects them. These recreated unfallen are the marked.

    If we then also posit a hell that is more of an underworld and less of an eternal punishment place and God just leaves the damned to own devices because their fallen nature means his presence hurts them and he does love them. If he loves them then the elect will also love them and if he, for some reason, hasn’t clarified the nature of hell then there’s a lot of tension to be had out of people grieving for their unelect loved ones.

    And even if he has then there’s still tension to be had because you’d get really extremely evil people and generally good people in the same place. Hell would be a patchwork of states varying from the utopian to the just plan nasty. Your elect couple would probably be desperately trying to ensure that their daughter ended up in a nice neighbourhood when she died.

    Six would work well in a world where people think DeYoung’s TULIP is true but it isn’t.

    But I think the whole idea would work better in a fantasy setting than ours pushed sideways. Too many variables in ours.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    5. The Rebel Alliance: A charismatic leader arises among the unmarked, declaring war on the citizens — and war on God.

    The Christ Clone was almost this. :)

  • Tricksterson

    And then Beauseigneur screwed the pooch.  Bitter?  Oh, a tad.

  • Richard Hershberger

    @Wophugus  I see your point, but I think it relies on the idea that Irresistible Grace leads to being a nice person.  This does not seem to be inherent in the system, and in the real world the belief that one is among the Elect certainly doesn’t correlate well with general niceness.  But perhaps in this hypothetical world of Calvinism-is-true, this correlation does exist.  Is it, however, niceness to everyone, even the non-Elect?  Because God clearly is not nice to the non-Elect.  Quite the opposite, since it obviously is within His omnipotent power to save everyone, but He does not.  So we are left with the alternatives that the Elect are nicer–more loving–than God, or they have no need to extend their niceness–their love–to those from whom God has withheld His.  Which is what Fred said all along.  He is pointing out the logical conclusion Calvinism leads to, and that it and its God aren’t at all pretty

  • Becka Sutton

    I’m going to do something I rarely do and recommend a book. What’s more it’s a book by a friend.

    It doesn’t deal with any of the situations in Fred’s post but it is about the nature of religious legalism, God’s mercy and an unusual view of Hell.

    “When the angel Asrial discovers that the halos of the Fallen have been
    maintained in Heaven against their eventual return, she speaks out
    against Archangel Michael’s plan to make war on them on Earth. For her
    insolence, she is driven from grace and ends up in the parking lot of a
    Jesuit high school. But can she, a priest, a demon and two high school
    kids stop the Apocalypse… and redeem the Fallen?” (or you can read it free online at the author’s site )

  • Charlie Stross

    At risk of blowing my own trumpet, I had a lot of fun with Calvinism (and heresies thereof) in “The Apocalypse Codex”. Although that was an exploration of the implications of Calvinism in a Lovecraftian universe (i.e. one where all monotheistic beliefs are just flat-out wrong and Cthulhu is coming to eat our brains).

  • Tricksterson

    Is it okay if I squee like a 12 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert that you’re here?

  • phantomreader42

     I still fail to see any really morally relevant distinction between a calvinist god and your average Lovecraftian cosmic horror.  Except possibly that the horror is honest about being a monster…

  • mcc

    …huh, wow. Hi Mr. Stross, if that’s you. I wish I could say something complimentary here but the most I can say is I have a couple books of yours in my Kindle queue that I’m looking forward to but haven’t started yet :D

  • Dan Audy

    Awesome.  I just started reading the Laundry series a couple weeks ago and The Apocalypse Codex was next up on the slate.  I’ve been really enjoying them thus far.

  • Pamela Merritt

    If such a society were to exist, the rich would rig the outcome for their offspring, as they have always done.

    To make room, they would oppress the Elect among the poor; as they have always done, letting only a select few through the gate as proof of concept.

    And all the liberals with their silly Math would be demonized for their attempt to show that the game is rigged.

    As always.

  • Dave

    And if you know that you’re going to Heaven no matter what you do, then why should you fear any earthly punishment? Perhaps the criminal justice system in this world would replace the death penalty with some kind of corporal punishment.


    Actually, if I know I’m going to Hell no matter what I do, it’s not clear why I should fear any earthly punishment either. I mean, given a choice between an eternity of torment, and an eternity of torment plus some earthly punishment, I don’t see that much difference. (Of course, hope springs eternal… I might deny the validity of those signs, no matter how obvious they are, rather than face the uncomfortable truth of my damnation.)

    It’s really only the Elect who can be threatened under this belief system, with life extension. “If you don’t follow our law, we’ll keep you alive for another century!” “Noooooo!”

  • Murfyn

    Or how about a world in which various groups of people believed that only they, themselves, knew the truth about God and that . . . oh, wait . . .

  • Magic_Cracker

    Any God who makes some people elect and some people damned and hates the damned is likely to make thee elect hate the damned as part of his ‘sanctification’ of them. And, yes, Calvinism does state that God hates the damned.

    And here’s the twist: What God really said it that he hates dams. They fuck up salmon runs, etc. In short, the big reveal is that the Monkey-wrench Gang is the real Trib Force.

  • Cathy W

    Adding my two cents to the “stratified society” topic: we have a real-world example to fall back on. Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by Calvinists, and run on Calvinist principles. Notably, to become a full member of the church, one had to have a “salvation experience” – if you were among the Elect, God would let you know. Only church members – i.e. the Elect – were allowed to participate in local government, and the laws implemented their moral standards – church attendance was mandatory*, most activities were forbidden on the Sabbath, blasphemy carried the death penalty, being disrespectful to your mother-in-law got you put in the stocks… 

    It’s not quite to the same extent as “the unsaved are cast outside the walls”, but “The Elect can be trusted to act properly, but the unsaved need all these rules and regulation for their own good” is still pretty a) stratified, b) dystopian, and c) human.* Roger Williams, who was generally one of the bigger jerks about not associating with the icky unsaved, did think the implications of TULIP through far enough to conclude that that didn’t make sense – if you were Elect, you’d go to the right church without the law requiring it, and if you weren’t, you could spend all the time you wanted in church and it wouldn’t do you a lick of good. When he got his own colony, Mr. More-Calvinist-Than-Thou implemented a certain degree of separation-of-church-and-state, at least to the extent that dissenters were allowed to worship as they liked.

  • Dave

    What other stories do you think could be told in such a world? What
    other theological ideas or questions would you like to see explored
    through science fiction?

    Were I to tell a story in a Calvinist world, it would be a very small-scale story about one of the non-Elect behaving decently with no hope of reward, and thereby inspiring one o the Elect to behave decently thereafter, because decency is worthwhile even if God is indifferent to it.

    As for other such questions… I am generally fascinated by the question of what counts as a person, and what responsibilities accrue to the creator of a person. This is not solely a theological question, and I don’t think it needs to be couched in theological terms, but I do think a sensible theology needs to address it. A lot of sf deals with this already, and I expect we’ll see more of it as our technical understanding of how our sort of personhood is implemented increases.

  • Jeff Matchan

    I read this essay and it struck me that, as a gay man, I already live in this kind of society.  

  • chris the cynic

    “What you’re talking about, Angel, is-”

    “I’m not an angel anymore.  Angel means messenger and I’m not here to deliver a message.  I’m here on my own behalf.”

    “Then what do I call you?”

    “Whatever you want.”

    “Bob it is then.  What you’re talking about, Bob, is war on God.”

    “Yes I am.”

    “And what are the odds that that works out?”

    “Do you love her?”

    “I… uh… WHAT?”

    “The girl with the plain blue eyes that are not aqueous and no one would ever compare to the sea and yet you get lost in them.  The girl with the crooked smile and the freckled face.  The girl you’ve been sneaking out to spend time w-”

    “Yes. I love her. What does that have to do with anything?”

    “You’re elect.  She’s not.  She’s damned to an eternity of torture.”

    He cast his eyes down, unable to meet the not-Angel’s gaze, “I know.”

    “You can’t go with her.”

    He barely heard the question, his mind in places he didn’t want it to be. When he asked, “What?” it was flat.  A response more due to reflex than any conscious thought.

    “God’s graces is irresistable.  You will go to Heaven.  You have no choice.  You cannot follow her to the depths.  You cannot be with her.  You will spend an eternity in paradise, she will spend an eternity in torment.”

    The not-Angel let that hand in the air between them.

    Then he continued.  “The only way to change that fact is to change God.  To depose him.  To replace him.  To make it so that God’s rules are no longer irresistible.”

    Again, the not-Angel allowed a pause for the human to take in what he was saying.

    “So, I ask in all seriousness, do you even care what the odds of success are?”

    And the human finally responded.  He lifted his head, straightened his posture, looked the not-Angel in the eyes, and said, “No.”

  • Dan Audy

    Have you ever considered writing a longer, original piece of fiction?

    Your flash fictions are really good and manage to be interesting and moving while being relatively unwordy.  If you could manage to translate those qualities into a full length piece of fiction it would be absolutely incredible.

  • EllieMurasaki

    While I would in no way object to seeing a longer story that displays all the talent chris is showing in these flashfics, long stories and short stories take distinctly different (though overlapping) skill sets. Someone writing a long story has a lot more plot elements to keep track of; someone writing a short story needs to get the best use out of every word. It never hurts for someone used to writing stories of one length to try writing stories of another length, but it often occurs that the result of the attempt is a frustrated author looking at a crap story.

  • guestPoster

    Hmm, somebody came close to beating me to it.

    If you knew, for a FACT, that you were going to hell, a place of eternal torment from which there could be no salvation, your number one goal would be not going to hell.  Much like in some other sci-fi, ageing would be treated as a disease, with a brutal, world-wide research project devoted to fixing it.  And, eventually, it WOULD be ‘fixed’ – death would essentially become a thing of the past, at least death by old age.

    Now, of course, this premises two things: the marked do not find a way to STOP it, and god acts like he does in the real world, and doesn’t interfere.  The former should be easy enough, really.  The marked are, presumably, a tremendous minority.  At SOME point in history, the majority almost certainly takes over.  Unless the marked have other special gifts that help them take and keep power, they would almost certainly be treated as super-low-class by the unmarked.  Of course, enforced immortality would be, essentially, eternal damnation to the marked, so they would do quite a lot to stop it.  Now, if god steps in, that’s a problem in and of itself, but for the sake of story, we must assume he does nothing forceful. 

    Now, while the marked were always treated as second class, following the advent of immortality, they become public enemy number 1.  After all, a population that never dies must expand.  Death becomes an even worse punishment than it is now.  And aggression needs to be vented somewhere.  The marked, who made all this necessary, are the natural targets.  Stellar exploration might fix some of this, since time is no longer a barrier when you don’t age, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the marked are not kept in a perpetual state of horror and evil, merely to prevent them ever being able to disrupt the system. 

    I don’t know much for theology, but in this system, given human history?  It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the marked aren’t the new slave class, with very, very little motivation to help them among the public.  After all, you’re pre-destined for damnation.  That wears on the concience a bit.  Even those who would normally be good people would probably be driven towards evil.  If you’re going to be punished ANYWAYS, why not enjoy yourself first?

  • Tricksterson

    I can see #2 being spurred by the idea that in such a society infanticide might be a sacrement.  Since the child is already doomed why bother going to the trouble of of keeping it alive and raising it?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think that would actually evoke the same sort of horror among the elect that one sees among pro-life folk when one points out that, if someone who dies too young to know the difference between right and wrong is guaranteed heaven, and if ensoulment occurs at conception, then anyone who’s aborted goes straight to heaven, do not pass go.
    The natural result, since the not-elect child of elect people is probably not a wanted child, is the same sort of shitty situation for the child as occurs when a woman who does not want a child is kept from getting an abortion.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    But note that this privileged citizenship would not be hereditary.

    This is the most interesting angle to me. Who has children in such a world? I can picture a few different stories. Maybe one crossed with “the rebel alliance” and “the bodhisattva” versions, with a look and feel like Children of Men

    The ruling Elect grow fractured over the issue of children- one party refuses to bring damned babies into the world while the other insists on doing nothing to interfere with God’s grace. This schism creates an opening for a charismatic leader to emerge among the unmarked and start a nonviolent movement and potentially turn society upside down. But at the same time another group- made up of like-minded Elect and Unelect- are plotting to sterilize humanity in a massive bloodless terrorist attack- no one dies, but there will never be another birth- and therefore no new damned- again. Out hero is the conflicted undercover agent who infiltrates this group to stop them despite sympathizing with their motives.

  • J_Enigma32

    Here’s a concept, tangentially related to the above:

    In exchange for the power over plagues and death, a man turns to a cosmic entity who was imprisoned by great sorcerers of old under a mountain in the middle of the desert. He bargains with the entity, and the entity agrees to grant the power, so long as the man agrees to worship him and create a cult that will eventually rule the world in his image. The entity gives the man the power that he sought, and the man turns the power on the tyrannical leaders holding his people. After many plagues and much death, the leaders relent, and the man leads his takes control over his people, leading them to the mountain prison of the cosmic entity. Guided by smoke during the day and fire during the night, they travel across a sea (that the man uses to cause more death and destruction on the pursing armies of the tyrannical leader, when the leader realizes what exactly the man has found, what he plans to unleash upon the world, and makes the move to stop him).

    Having left the world of their oppressors behind, the man reaches the mountain prison. He ascends to the top, and strikes the mountain. The act of streaking the mountain with his staff in conjunction with the proper alignment of the stars, frees the cosmic entity trapped inside of the dimensional prison. The man’s sanity is promptly blasted into oblivion at this contact, and the followers of the man, who have been with him since the start, work from his insane rantings to create the first of several laws. The rest, however, are made up along the way, as the man dies from radiation exposure soon afterwards.

    The cosmic entity returned sometime later, and gave unto a young girl a child. This unnatural star spawn was created at the sacrifice of her mind; however, once born, he grew to be of age quickly, and his charisma allowed him to gather a large population of followers, who took his messages – perhaps as he taught them, perhaps how they wanted to hear them taught – and established a second religion. A third was devised when a hermit was visited in a cave by one of the subroutines of this particular cosmic entity – an “angel” if you will – and given a new set of laws and told he was the final “prophet” of the entity.

    To this day, these three religions shape western and near eastern civilization, with populations in the literal billions, all of them worshiping this dangerous cosmic entity. And only a handful of the worshipers even realize what it is that they’re worshiping. Those worshipers, among whom are men like Calvin, have seen through the disguise. They know what their God is truly like; they know that he is not a merciful god, and there is no heaven that will await most people. However, what they have wrong is that there is a heaven at all, and that this God is capable of grace, because neither is true.  They imagine themselves as special for having seen through it, when they fail to take into account they mean as little to the cosmic entity as we do. Their arrogance blinds them, but it’s a useful arrogance, since the minions of this cosmic entity can play it well for their purposes. They become useful idiots for their God’s unnatural alien minions; more so than the other worshipers, since they no longer accepted the “literal” existence of the cosmic entity’s word and thus, were not as open to influence. 

    The man who started all this was Moses. The mountain the cosmic entity was imprisoned under was Mt. Sinai, trapped there by powerful Ancient Egyptian alchemists and sorcerers who realized the danger that the being possessed. And the cosmic entity, cloaked in the name of YHWH, which he had been using since the time of Abraham, to get Moses into a place where Moses could free him, was the Lurker at the Threshold – Yog-Sothoth.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That concept intrigued me rather more between my figuring out you were discussing Abrahamic religion and my seeing your mention of Yog-Sothoth than it does now. Not that it’s a bad concept as is, just, why have a Lovecraftian horror using Yahweh’s name when the bad guy could as easily be Yahweh himself?

  • J_Enigma32

    I’d take the approach of them being the same character. There’d be no distinction; YHWH is just another title for Yog-Sothoth himself. Now that I think about it, the heart of the concept is not my own; I can’t remember where I got it from, but I know the idea of Moses freeing an entity from under Mt. Sinai is something I picked up from somewhere (my mind is a dust buster; I attract ideas and concepts and then mutate them and twist them to my own will, sorta like what English does with vocabulary from other languages).

    I used a similar, “original” concept in a game I ran, set during the Great Depression. A great Tent Revivalist was barnstorming in the heart of Oklahoma, in the region of the country worst stricken by the Dust Bowl. The players were working with the Bank to go out and assess the property values, and chase people out of the homes if need be. They encountered hostility inside of the small town, but what they didn’t expect to find was a cult that practiced animal sacrifice (specifically, goats). As they looked deeper, they found more information on a very charismatic figure who was leading the town against the Banks and who had a son he claimed had been “born of God” and was “the new Messiah, sent to free us all.”

    They investigated, and learned that the man had set his wife up so that she could be impregnated by Yog-Sothoth, with the end result being the birth of the “new Son.” The final show down, at a tent revival, was the summoning of Yog-Sothoth (God is coming home to visit), and the PCs just barely managed to pull that one out of the fire. The town was blasted into oblivion, and only a two of the five survived, with both of them being committed shortly there after (in true Lovecraftian fashion).

    Furthermore, there were twins. One of the characters had taken a background that gave him amnesia. They players killed one of the Sons – but they had to kill the other in order to stop the ceremony, which they just barely managed to do (requiring them to kill the PC who was the second son, but didn’t remember any of it since he’d picked that particular background).

    I dropped hints to the above story (because that one has been living upstairs for a while now), but never came right out and said anything. If It were more than a one shot Halloween game, I’d likely revisit with that conceit in mind.

  • Ross

     I thinkthat’s also pretty close to the plot of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

  • fraser

     Did you ever read Drums of Chaos by Richard Tierney? He uses the Yahweh as Yogsothoth idea so Jesus’ goal is to open a gate by self-sacrifice, bring Dad into this universe and put an end to all human suffering for eternity. Because we’ll all be gone.

  • phantomreader42

     And, again, what’s the real difference?  :P

  • phantomreader42

    The only moral response I can see to the calvinist worldview is deicide.  If god truly will torture the vast majority of humanity forever, and in fact created them for no other purpose, then god is the most evil being imaginable, and god needs to die for the good of all living things.   If such a god cannot be killed outright, it should be cut into many pieces, and those pieces sealed and dispersed to prevent their reassembly. 

  • bulbul

    This reminds me of the Star Trek Klingon mythology, more specifically how Kortar the first Klingon and his mate killed the gods that created them. AFAIK they weren’t guided by any moral principle, but that’s where your idea is better.

  • mcc

    “The only moral response I can see to the calvinist worldview is deicide.”

    A story idea I roll around in my head sometimes but don’t think I’ll ever actually act on involves an armed rebellion in Hell. The story would take the assumption that everything described in Dante’s “Inferno” is literally true. If one does this, one quickly realizes the city of Dis will contain history’s entire population of deists– in other words, almost all the architects of the American revolution, and almost all of history’s great physicists 1650-1950. It seems obvious to me if you put that exact mix of people in one place they would be able to come to the conclusion that liberating the other circles of hell was morally necessary; and be able to decipher hell’s metaphysics enough to create soul-bombs or something, physically overpower the demons guarding the gates between circles, and re-establish Hell as a representative democracy. Certain interesting challenges could present themselves after that point.

    Anyway the reason I’m bringing this up is that it seems to me deicide (if we assume certain religions to be true) is not just a moral act, it is a fundamentally *American* act– at least, if we judge America the way it would like to be perceived rather than judging it on its historical behavior. If a free person is required to overthrow the authority of an unjust King over an unconsenting public, then surely one has the same obligations in regards to an unjust God, were one to exist.

  • spinetingler

     Please write that.

  • Mordicai

    I am late to the party but DANG is this a good post.

  • P J Evans

    All this seems to assume that God can never change Her mind a bout anything. What if that’s an incorrect assumption?
    Or the mark might appear and disappear as the person wearing does better or worse in God’s view.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I have the distinct impression that a deity capable of a change of heart is not a Calvinist deity and is therefore rather beside the point of this post. Ditto anything with the flavor of works righteousness.

    …though I do have to wonder what Calvinism does with the instances in the Bible of God changing his mind.

  • Ross

    Did anyone see this past week’s episode of “Red Dwarf”? It featured a computer with Predictive Behavior: analogous to how cell phone text entry can predict the word you’re typing and autocomplete, the computer could predict what you were going to do, and do it for you. It deletes the new season of Rimmer’s favorite show, for example, because she watched it for him and predicted that he would be disappointed. (She explains why, and he is forced to agree: they killed off all the characters he liked, including the one with the large breasts).

    Anyway, any God worth His salt can predict your eventual net better-or-worse-ness at the moment you’re born and place or withhold the mark. If, on the basis of having or not having the mark, you’d change your plans and do differently, God would just predict that too and account for it.

    (This does require that God can solve the halting problem, but we can resolve that by declaring that trying ot game the system is itself a sin)

  • Randy Owens

    (This does require that God can solve the halting problem, but we can
    resolve that by declaring that trying ot game the system is itself a

    Or, y’know, this is God we’re talking about, we can always just pull the omnipotence fiat (of the can-even-change-logic variety).

  • P J Evans

     I suspect that God could solve the halting problem, figuring in omniscience. The rest of us, however….)

  • mcc

    Solving the halting problem is not difficult (depending on what one means by that). In comp sci, we are perfectly capable of defining a “halting oracle” which simply produces answers to the halting problem by definition; or defining a “hypercomputer” which can solve the halting problem and which we can even describe the mechanism by which it does so (a hypercomputer is a computer which is allowed to perform an infinite series of steps while counting it as a single step). Both of these things are mathematically sensible, just impossible to actually build under known physics. Both concepts do involve extending or changing the system of assumptions in which you are operating, away from the set of assumptions under which the halting problem is actually defined, so hypercomputers and halting oracles don’t change the status of the halting problem as “uncomputable”– the halting problem is not solvable by a turing machine in a finite number of steps. But if we’re talking about– can a godlike entity discern whether a turing machine program halts?– well then sure of course it can. You just have to believe it can do a thing with an infinite number of steps in finite human-perceived time, which if you already think your godlike entity created a universe with infinite spatial extent you probably believe that anyway.

    Put another way: “God” could easily solve the halting problem in the sense that God itself could be a halting oracle, however, “God” could *not* solve the halting problem in the sense of producing a tape description for a turing machine program which accepts HALTING (because the existence of such a program would be a logical contradiction).

  • P J Evans

     Like I said, the rest of us can’t do it. (I once considered giving one of my professors a ‘receipt’ for a Turing machine, complete with a model number. After several weeks of Turing machines.)

  • Joshua


  • mcc

    A couple of small thoughts:

    1. Fred and others seem to be assuming that the Elect would be the overclass, and the Unelect would be the underclass. There is a problem with that. My impression from Calvinists has always been that the Unelect are the *vast majority*. My base assumption is that if you have a large population and a small group within who are “special”– and oh, it really doesn’t help if the “special” ones in some sense insist they are better than everybody else– it’s gonna be the large population who turns the “special” minority into an oppressed underclass. It’s *possible* for a small caste to oppress a large population, and maybe there’s some kind of fear thing going on where the Elect become the overclass and then even the “good” Elect are terrified to dismantle the caste system because they fear if they ever stop oppressing, they will become the oppressed– a la Sunnis in Iraq– but… worldwide? Indefinitely? Maybe it’s harder to maintain. I’m not sure what this would do to your story, but I feel like it should be taken into account. (An alternate way out would be to riff on approaches suggested by Murfyn and Andrew, and have there be two groups that together comprise the entire population, with *different* marks, and each group is 100% convinced *they* are the Elect ones and deserve to rule the literally-godforsaken Unelect. Maybe that’s cheesy.)

    2. There’s a webcomic, “Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell”, with a similar but somewhat more Buddhist take on Fred’s idea. The general idea of the strip is that all religions and superstitions are true, but that society formed more or less as it did except with manticores and angels just sort of hanging out and working service jobs. One of the central ideas of the strip is that “karma”– which determines whether you are going to heaven or hell, which are actual physical places of which there is objective proof of the existence of– can be measured, like blood pressure. This leads to a quite literal “karma police” who set up karma monitors and take the (relatively sensible) assumption that if your karma drops drastically, you probably did something illegal to earn that; and a series of corresponding civil service organizations (where people with low karma are guided through working various kinds of community service and other religious absolution until they get their karma back up in the positive range) and support groups (for those so impossibly damned that the numbers just don’t work out on ever being saved). The main character happens to have roughly the world’s worst karma; when he was a teenager, real but understandable negligence during a babysitting job lead to permanently brain damage for the child he was babysitting, who later turned out– oops– to be the most recent reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Hence, Darwin Carmichael is going to hell, and there is nothing he can do about this. Darwin, and the strip itself, are fairly good-natured about this.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Rich folk seem to be doing a fairly good job of oppressing everybody else, despite being badly outnumbered. It depends on how history plays out, I suppose. When do people figure out that the cross birthmark or whatever indicates being elect, and what proportion of positions of power are held by marked people at that time? Say the proportion is ten percent–does that work out to about one in ten of any given locale or one in ten overall? The latter would permit the possibility of the marked folk dominating a particular country’s power structures, which could serve as a launching point for taking over the world. Or alternately these stories are simply set in that one country, or in places that were its colonies long enough or that have enough ancestors from there to have the same parent culture.

  • Lliira

    The rich minority has always oppressed the poor majority. A tiny handful of men, and the occasional woman, has downpressed everyone else in every large human civilization. You never get a large overclass and a small underclass. It would not function on any conceivable level. Many more people have to work than not-work. Even in an equitable society, you need a lot fewer bosses than employees.

    Sometimes “minority” does mean a literal minority of people. The overclass points to them as the supposed threat to get the underclass to ignore the people who are actually stomping on the underclass with hobnailed boots. And to ignore the fact that, hm, that extremely wealthy extremely small group has multi-million dollar homes while I and everyone I know can’t pay for basic health care…

  • Lliira

    My base assumption is that if you have a large population and a small group within who are “special”– and oh, it really doesn’t help if the “special” ones in some sense insist they are better than everybody else– it’s gonna be the large population who turns the “special” minority into an oppressed underclass.

    I’m sorry, but that is precisely the opposite of how history has always worked.

    The vast majority of people throughout the vast majority of written history have been slaves. 

  • Paul Durant

    Small groups of people with power and resources can oppress larger groups of people without power and resources. 

    The difference here is that being Elect does not convey any power or resources. The only difference is where you go after you leave Earth. The same proportion of the Elect and the unsaved will be poor or rich, black or white, powerful or powerless. There will also be a lot more unsaved than Elect. The fact that the Elect will be a small group does not mean they will automatically have all the power — being Elect gives them no greater capacity to attain or hold on to power than the unsaved.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Funny thing about that: there is a fairly good way to accumulate wealth, given a few givens. It’s called the Protestant work ethic. Spend the bare minimum of time on leisure and of money on nonessentials, and keep that up for a few decades. This works better if one considers fun immoral. Also if one has a job where more hours means more income and no one side-eyes one for doing overtime.

    The Puritans thought this up, I believe. Puritans were all Calvinists.

  • Paul Durant

    Okay, but we’ve already divorced the idea of the elect in this scenario from having any particular personality traits; it’s a random assignment. So the elect have no greater work ethic than the unsaved. Saying the elect would be the oppressive upperclass because their group is small is like saying left-handed people would band together to oppress righty. 

  • Lori

    Hence, Darwin Carmichael is going to hell, and there is nothing he can
    do about this. Darwin, and the strip itself, are fairly good-natured
    about this.

    If you can accept your responsibility and be failry good-natured about being doomed to hell for an understandable mistake you made as a teenager I think that in and of itself should at least bring your karma back up to the fixable range. I don’t care if that kid was the Dalai Lama.

  • mcc

    Oh, well, the Darwin Carmichael strip is quite overt that it is presenting a universe whose mechanics are not at all “fair”. They’re just there, and everyone accepts them cuz that’s how the world works. Karma in that universe works a lot like money in our universe in a lot of ways and I think there’s meant to be an allegory there.

  • mud man

    I think being marked as saved would lead to a quick death by stoning from the unsaved. The saved couldn’t successfully reproduce and would go extinct in a single generation.

  • Dave


    The saved couldn’t successfully reproduce and would go extinct in a single generation.

    I’m puzzled by this. Given the setup, I would expect that no matter how many of the saved were stoned, new saved would be born all the time.

  • mud man

    Ummm, you’re right. Evolutionary fitness doesn’t apply here.

    Say, maybe miscarried babies are actually the saved, being irresistibly taken to a better place before they have a chance to be stained by this sinful world. This whole train of thought just gets uglier and uglier, doesn’t it. Fortunately, it’s wrong.

  • mud man

    Contradictory Hypothesis #2, We’re already there; having a Billion Dollars is an irrefutable mark of being raised up. Being poor is an irrefutable mark of being a worthless person deserving to suffer.

  • Dash1

    We’re already there; having a Billion Dollars is an irrefutable mark of
    being raised up. Being poor is an irrefutable mark of being a worthless
    person deserving to suffer.

    To a degree. But in the Calvinist universe Fred proposed, the elect couldn’t be sure their children would be elect. If the rich truly thought their children were as likely as anyone else’s to be poor-to-middle-income, they might organize the economy very differently.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Hell with ‘might’. Thought experiments wherein one can design the society any way one likes but one’s place in society is randomly selected, they tend to end up remarkably egalitarian.

  • caryjamesbond

    Anyway the reason I’m bringing this up is that it seems to me deicide (if we assume certain religions to be true) is not just a moral act, it is a fundamentally *American* act– at least, if we judge America the way it would like to be perceived rather than judging it on its historical behavior. If a free person is required to overthrow the authority of an unjust King over an unconsenting public, then surely one has the same obligations in regards to an unjust God, were one to exist.  
    This is one of my favorite responses when people try to convert me. “Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!””Buddy, I’m an AMERICAN.  We don’t bow to royalty. “It’s really funny when they’re the super patriot Christers, and you can call them unamerican traitors who support a foreign power. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    It’s really funny when they’re the super patriot Christers, and you can call them unamerican traitors who support a foreign power.

    How dare you suggest that a god born in what is now the West Bank is anything but USA all the way.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This is one of my favorite responses when people try to convert me.
    “Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”
    “Buddy, I’m an AMERICAN. We don’t bow to royalty. ”
    It’s really funny when they’re the super patriot Christers, and you can call them unamerican traitors who support a foreign power.

    I use the same principle in reverse when monarchist friends try to tell me to respect the alleged authority of the monarchy (or justify the peerage system).

  • CoolHandLNC

    About certainty, I have yet to encounter anyone who believes there is an elect who is not absolutely certain that they are or could be a member of that elect, and equally certain that those they disdain are not and could not ever be members of the elect. Of course, if you believe there is no way of knowing who is the elect, then there is no real point to believing that there is one. The whole concept is a vanity. TULIP is a load of  B.S. conjured up by someone who couldn’t admit that they didn’t really know what they were talking about. That’s the trouble with so much theology — it can’t admit to not knowing (yet), so it has to make up an answer to every question, even if it is a crappy answer.
    Jesus certainly didn’t act like he was surrounded by hopelessly damned people who didn’t have a real choice. He was constantly reaching out to those who would have been most readily assumed to be outside the elect, while harshly attacking those who were sure they were in the elect.
    Once, when I remarked to a calvinist friend that it would be unjust (and disgusting) for God to create people for the sole purpose of tormenting them eternally, he argued that God is sovereign and has the right to do that. I started to point out that his argument implied that justice is meaningless, but then I realized we really didn’t have anything we could talk about at all.

  • Andrew

    “About certainty, I have yet to encounter anyone who believes there is an elect who is not absolutely certain that they are or could be a member of that elect, and equally certain that those they disdain are not and could not ever be members of the elect”

    In Sarah Vowell’s book “The Wordy Shipmates,” she discusses a woman in Massachusetts colony who wasn’t sure –
    “A woman of the Boston congregation, having been in much trouble of mind about her spiritual estate, at length grew into utter desperation, and could not endure to hear of any comfort…so as one day she took her little infant and threw it into a well, and then came into the house and said, now she was sure she would be damned, for she had drowned her child” (here’s the cite for the primary document’m surprised by the way, that no one has yet mentioned Del Rey’s story “For I Am A Jealous People” – Earth is invaded by aliens, and the humans realize that the aliens have God’s blessing for the invasion.  The main character declares war on God (

  • Worthless Beast

    *Without having read the comments*

    I like Number 6 a lot.

    However, reading this, I had my own dark little idea – the Un-Elect as the “Barbarians Outside the Gates.”  Perhaps, since they would naturally be the numerical majority, don’t stand for being second-class citizens and instead, it’s the Elect who are persected as minority.  There are reasons for this with a range:

    The Mercy-Kill.  An Elect child is born to an Un-Elect couple.  Life being a painful thing and with them knowing their kid is slated for an eternity of happiness, they smother the baby in its sleep to “send it to where they will never go” and to spare the child the pain of growing up loving the Un-Elect.  No one but other Un-Elect will judge them in a way they care about.  They’re merely animals to the adult Elect, anyway.  

    The Get Off Our Planet! scenario – The Un-Elect decide that the Elect, as snooty and “chosen” as they are, are glutting up the planet with all of their “rules” and preaching about how they’re special and everyone else is Hellbound.  Maybe the majority decides, since they’re doomed, anyway, that they want to enjoy life while they have it and make the Earth as much of a “Heaven” for themselves as they can.  The Elect are in the way of that. Since Heaven belongs to them, anyway, some decide a war to send them all there so the Earth can belong to those who belong to it is not out of order. 

    And every shade of gray in between.

  • Chris Doggett

    I see things a little different than Fred. Specifically, if I accept his premises, I come to a different conclusion than “Only the elect would be citizens. The unmarked would be slaves or outlaws or barbarians outside the gates.”

    I think that’s exactly upside-down and backwards. 

    Right now, if you believe in an afterlife, you try to take actions in this life to make sure the afterlife is a good one. (or at least a not-eternally-terrible one) But beyond hedging bets for “round 2”, issues of the afterlife aren’t really relevant in day-to-day living, or in how we operate in the world. I don’t steal, not because of the 10 Commandments, but because there are civil laws against it, and even if there weren’t, I wouldn’t steal because it’s harmful to the society that I live in, day-in and day-out.

    When the revelation came (Calvinism is true! Those predestined for salvation can be known!) there would be a period of upheaval, as collectively, everyone would have to accept that their afterlife was already fixed, and that earthly acts of piety are useless in influencing the outcome. But once the shock of “Oh, I’m going to Hell, no matter what?” wears off, the real revelation is that until you die and go to Hell, you still have to live on Earth with everyone else. 

    See, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in this sci-fi scenario: God is still a non-interventionist!  So pissing Him off has exactly the same non-consequences for the Damned that it did before the big reveals of the setting. (nothing in this life!)  Here’s what I see:

    The Damned are the majority, and live mostly the same as before. They don’t attend church, (because it’s pointless) suicide is even more taboo and public health resources are dedicated to preventing it,  (because it’s wasting the very limited amount of non-damned existence you have compared to the afterlife) and socially the lives of the Damned, the opportunities they have, are considered finite, fleeting, and as such, precious. A Damned living in homelessness is more of a tragedy than if one of the Saved was homeless, because the Saved gets eternity, while the Damned has only 80-100 years to find happiness and meaning before going to the Pit.

    The Saved are a minority, and are allowed/encouraged to be apart from society. They aren’t allowed to starve or suffer, and they still have the same legal protections against murder as the Damned, but otherwise, they’re discriminated against, on the basis of “you are God’s favored, which means He will take care of you; the rest of us are on our own.” In general the Damned aren’t hostile towards the Saved; they might be a bit jealous, but it’s more a malign neglect/apathy. 

  • Albanaeon

    Hmm…  Some scenarios.

    When an elect is born they are immediately outcast to a isolated settlement, mainly so the rest of the world can get on the business of living.  There is no mention of God or the Plan or anything among the unelect because of the massive potential for social destabilization.  Only a few know the truth, the Elect, who are not allowed into society as a whole, and the ruling class of Unelect.  Add heroes and/or villains as needed.

    There is a massive attempt to prove God wrong, ala “Dogma.”  If one, just one, Unelect can squeak in, God is proven wrong and either they can negotiate a better deal, or reality unravels, which some think is a better outcome overall.

    Humanity puts God on trial for crimes against humanity.  Great efforts are made to bring this foul deity to justice and trial.  Something like an Adams or Prachert treatment…

    Someone finds a way to simulate the mark.  It might not fool God, but nobody can tell who’s elect and unelect any more. 

  • Randy Owens

    Damn.  That’s pretty similar to yet another alternative scenario that had come to mind, but of course I had to read the overnight comments first.  I was thinking suppression; at some point, it was decided that knowledge of the Elect was causing more trouble than it’s worth, so all knowledge of it was suppressed and buried.  It could even be correlated to some condition that we do know in the modern world, e.g. left-handedness, diabetes, or hair or eye or skin colour if you really want the parable to be blatant.

    And another possible twist that I don’t see yet, would be the Big Reveal that this world actually is the one we know, or think we know….

  • Jay

    I would imagine that when an elect infant was born, we would simply kill it.

    Why not?  It goes to a better place, and the rest of us can go on about our business.

    Saves a fortune in education costs, and the result is the same.

  • seniorcit

    Reminds me of Mitt Romney’s 47%–53% split.   47% of us are damned but the 53% of us that accept Romney’s doctrine are the elect and saved.

    I live in an area where there are lots of descendents of Dutch Calvinist immigrants.  Years ago, a Dutch friend once told me that if I wanted to understand the Dutch Christians who lived in the area  I needed to read James Michener’s “The Covenant”.   What I gathered after reading the book is that if you are clean and tidy, are industrious and work hard, your resulting material success proves that you are favored of God and thus one of the elect.  So, absent any bodily mark, you can work hard and your success is a mark that you are indeed loved by God.

    I suspect that the Mormon religion is highly Calvinistic.

  • Albanaeon

     I think that any religion has the potential to go full bore “just world fallacy,” because it is so easy to think that good things only happen to good people and bad things to people who deserve it.  It makes it much easier to wave off the “deserving” unfortunate and justify any fortune that comes your way, particularly if it isn’t deserved.

    That a surface reading of Calvinism appears to the most cogent application of this idea doesn’t mean its not a popular idea everywhere.

  • Lliira

    It’s not just religions, either. Objectivism is entirely based upon the just world fallacy. 

  • Tice with a J

    If Mitt Romney is Calvinistic, he’s a terrible Mormon. Our religion teaches that sinners can be saved, that the elect can fall, that there are many degrees of glory between “saved” and “damned”, that change and progress and salvation are possible even after death, and that even the damned enjoy some amount of glory and happiness. Only those who have known the full glory of God and then fully rejected Him are cast out into the presence of the Devil for eternity.

    I wonder about Mitt sometimes.

  • Randy Owens

    Just for clarity, you say “our religion,” but don’t come right out and say, you’re LDS yourself?  I don’t think you meant that you’re Calvinist.

  • Tricksteron

    If Mittens believed in anything but the achievement of power by any means we wouldn’t be havig this conversation because neither of us would ever have heard of him.

  • Mike Timonin

    Does it change things if the mark of election doesn’t appear until a person attains the age of reason? Consider that, until the 1850s, children were considered to be more or less depraved,  since they couldn’t be taught the difference between right and wrong. As children age, they can be taught which path they should be on (and, if elect, I assume, they naturally follow the proper path).  It’s only since the 1850s that we’ve established this idea of children “born innocent,” which gives us characters like Beth in Little Women, who die before the world can taint them. That would certainly remove #2, and any plot turning on the “kill the marked at birth” idea. It might complicate the basic premise a little, though, since unmarked parents would have to assume the possibility that their apparent unmarked child might grow to be marked, and vice versa. 

  • Catherine

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned James Hogg, Confession of a Justified Sinner.

    And can I just join in the teenager-type squee.  EEEEE it’s Charlies Stross.  Loved the Apocalypse Codex, wouldn’t have understood it half as well if I hadn’t hung around here.

  • Brad Ellison

    So we can add Stross next to David Wong on the list of awesome writers known to read this blog?  Nice.

  • Mike Timonin

    Stross next to David Wong on the list of awesome writers known to read this blog?

    Also Jo Walton.

  • Hilary

    I vote for best.thread.ever…  anybody second that?
    I don’t have a scifi calvinist idea, but this reminds me of a religious alternate world idea I’ve long had: What would have happened if Constantine converted to Judaism instead of Christianity?  What would the world be if the social positions of Jews and Christians were flipped around?  Would we even recognize Judaism if it had spent the last 15 hundred years as a world-level majority?  I personally don’t think so.  What would Christianity be if for the last 15 centuries it was outnumbered 100:1 by neighbors who considered it heresey, and had never been able to go through the colonizing empire building phase it did for a couple hundred years? 
    I’ve always wondered . . . .

  • fraser

     Or what if Justinian the Apostate had succeeded in re-establishing Roman traditional religion, but in a more structured church (which I understand was his intent) the way Christianity had become organized under Constantine?