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?

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.horsburgh 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • http://reasondecrystallized.blogspot.com/ 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.

  • 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!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Herrera/100000106872183 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.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    Strangely enough, Fred said none of that.

  • 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.   

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ 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?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

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

  • http://skapusniak.livejournal.com/ 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.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens 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.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ 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. :)

  • 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

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ 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.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon 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?”

    http://www.amazon.com/A-Rosary-Stones-Thorns-ebook/dp/B005PR6C6E (or you can read it free online at the author’s site http://stardancer.org/project/arosaryofstonesandthorns )

  • 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).

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ 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.

  • Pamela Merritt

    That’s a beautiful gem of a short story.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ 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.

  • 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.

  • LouisDoench

     Tom Waits

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ 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.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ 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!”

  • http://ifindaudio.blogspot.com/2010/02/joe-hill-sung-by-paul-robeson.html 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

    Like the Star-bellied Sneetches!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ 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.

  • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

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

  • 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?

  • EllieMurasaki

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

  • 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.matchan Jeff Matchan

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


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