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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  • Tricksterson

    The great Tom Waits, my favorite musician

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Tricksterson

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

  • 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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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


    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.

  •  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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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?

  • 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. 

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

  • 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.

  •  Tom Waits.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  •  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!

  • 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?