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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

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

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ 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. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ 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…

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

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

  • 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.

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

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

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 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.

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

  • 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 . . . .
     
    Hilary

  • stly92

    hmm… I could see such a situation where there would be an eternal tug of war between the saved and the unsaved. In some countries, in some times, the saved are the top dogs and everyone is subservient to them.  In others, at other times, the unsaved have taken power, and the saved are killed or subservient. (After all, they got theirs, why make this life comfortable for them too?) And perhaps the real reformer, the real religious movement, is someone comes along with the idea that everyone should be treated equally in this life even if there’s demonstrable inequality in the next.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • http://audioarchives.blogspot.com/ spinetingler

     Please write that.

  • 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).

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    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.

    I am reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote “General ideas are no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of the human intellect.”  General ideas allow humans to make quick judgements, but they are necessarily broad and vague, and can never take every element of any one instance into account.  de Tocqueville believed that the mind of God, a mind that knew everything in absolute detail and could process all that detail at a glance, would have no need for general ideas.  To put it in his own words:

    The Diety does not regard the human race collectively.  He surveys at one glance and severally all the beings of whom mankind is composed; and he discerns in each man the resemblances which assimilate him to all his fellows, and the differences which distinguish him from them.  God, therefore, stands in no need of general ideas; that is to say, he never feels the necessity of collecting a considerable number of analogous objects under the same form for greater convenience in thinking.

    I think where de Tocqueville’s interpretation and Calvin’s interpretation differ, is that rather than dividing people into tiers, de Tocqueville saw that all people were different, and thus all individuals could be judged in God’s mind on their own individual details, and not in general categories of “saved” and “not saved”.  

    Heh, sorry, this is getting a little tangential.  To return to the point, this kind of story is one which is ripe for existential questions like this, which is the kind of thing I find really interesting about science fiction.  

  • Mike Timonin

    Another possible twist – why would the elect have to be a small minority? I understand the human impulse – we all want to be part of an exclusive group – but why assume that the elect in Fred’s universe are a tiny group? What if they were a large minority – just slightly less than half of the population? What if the population fluctuated?

  • 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.

  • Lori

     

    but why assume that the elect in Fred’s universe are a tiny group? 

    We’re assuming that Calvinism is true and the book it’s based on says that the elect are a minority. Narrow is the gate that leads to salvation, but broad is the way that leads to damnation.

    You could have it fluctuate, with the elect being a minority over the long term, but a larger group or even a majority at some given points in time. That could be interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 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.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 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.

  • 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.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com 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)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Another possible twist – why would the elect have to be a small minority?

    I vaguely recall a SF story similar to this concept where you can tell whether a person has a soul or not. Ultimate disposition of the soul is as indeterminate as it is in our world, but for the soulless this life is all they get. They’ll also have difficulties with this life too – empathy, for instance, is something they’ll have to learn to fake. Very few people are born soulless; IIRC the story is about parents who discover that their newborn child is one of them.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Gail Carriger, Parasol Protectorate? Or something with a similar premise that I have yet to encounter? My money’s on the latter; Parasol Protectorate is quite emphatically steampunk fantasy, not sci-fi.

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

    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….)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    No, I’d never heard of that. It was one of those very short ones, just long enough to set up the premise and leave you thinking about all the implications.

  • El Durazno de la Muerte

    Parasol Protectorate is interesting because Alexia seems to have a functioning sense of empathy and imagination (like when she was wondering if cities could have souls), and it really makes me wonder how much of her personality was a result of being told at a young age that she didn’t have a soul.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 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).

  • http://danel4d.livejournal.com/ Danel

    Not necessarily in time, but it’s easy enough to see how there might be different numbers of elect in different places.  It’s a big world, after all – you could have all sorts of different societies that react to the saved/unsaved dichotomy in different ways.

    How, in turn, would these societies interact?

    If we go with the idea that the saved are chosen by random chance, then by probability alone you’d have areas with a higher percentage of saved born. People, being people, would likely not believe that this was just by chance, and think there was something special about that place. What could follow from that?

    Of course, if the saved are chosen because an omniscient God knew they’d be worthy before they were born, you could have other interesting repercussions. It wouldn’t necessarily mean that upbringing was useless, just temporally confusing. 

    So you’d have some societies more likely to produce saved than others – wouldn’t expecting parents be clamouring to have their child born there to, as much as possible, ensure Baby’s future salvation? It’d be like middle-class parents struggling to buy a house in the right catchment area. 

    Then I had the idea of the “City on the Hill” – it’s a glorious utopian society of such essential decency that almost everyone raised in it will…have been… saved. Of course, you’ve got unsaved at the gates, desperately trying to get in for one reason or another. The lovely paragons of the city would never keep them out – they have no idea of what’s out there, since the city is secretly ruled by a conspiracy of unsaved willing to do anything for the salvation of their families. 

  • Mike Timonin

    You could have it fluctuate, with the elect being a minority over the long term, but a larger group or even a majority at some given points in time. That could be interesting.

    That’s what I had in mind.

  • 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 documenthttp://depts.clackamas.cc.or.us/banyan/1.1/moss3.htm)I’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 (http://sfgospel.typepad.com/sf_gospel/2007/09/lester-del-reys.html)

  • 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.)

  • http://mostboringradical.tumblr.com/ 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.

  • http://mostboringradical.tumblr.com/ 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?

  • Dash1

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

  • Flyfish

    So how do you interpret Romans 9.


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