Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calvin without Hobbes

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, there's an article entitled "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" about Mark Driscoll and an apparently surging movement of neo-Calvinism in the Pacific Northwest.

Yep, Calvinism. As in John Calvin. As in the Puritans. As in predestination. As in every man, woman, boy, and girl, is predestined, preselected for heaven or hell. As in beyond a rather fuzzy notion that those chosen for paradise are likely to engage in the sort of good works we would associate with being heaven-bound, nothing that you do during your relatively short life makes any difference vis-a-vis the eternal results -- not even, presumably, whether you, say, actually believe in God.

Now, that may, in fact, be a endpoint of logical necessity given a few other tenets of traditional Christian theology (namely, God knows everything and nothing that you do could ever, ever, ever make you worthy of such a gift as God's grace), but, you know, come on.

The article, in any case, is fun. As it should be. There's a great quote from Driscoll claiming the modern conception of Jesus to be "a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ... a limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture."


But what struck me, really struck me, what made me actually want to write about the thing for a few minutes, to use this online journal to make some thoughts relatively permanent, was this paraphrased claim from a member of Driscoll's church: Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty.

Right. And then, of course, you have to make a choice, a choice that any honest person should make: believe wholeheartedly (and, again, honestly) in a God that is truly omnipotent, that truly acts in the world in all things, that truly has a plan-with-a-capital-P, that not only grants you the life that you have but also takes it away, that not only grants some people freedom from pancreatic cancer but also gives it to others, that not only made the acorn but also the Huntington's disease; or wholeheartedly (and, again, honestly) reject the very premise of the existence of such a sovereign being.

No fuzzy middle-ground. Take your beliefs all the way to their logical ends. No subscribing to ultimately contradictory notions like "everyone chooses his own fate" or "everything is a part of a grand plan and I choose to be a part of that plan."

But, then, even the theoretically non-fuzzy Calvinism has, at its heart, fundamental fuzz, as the article's author points out: "God has predestined every human being's actions, yet we are still to blame for our sins; we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law."

(No need, even, to point out the fuzz in the point at which John Calvin's beliefs and his life meet, the point that allows him to order heretics burned to death).

By chance, we just finished reading The Stranger in AP English.

And, in another pleasant dovetailing, the "Uber-Jesus" article is followed by Steven Pinker thoughtpiece exploring our genes' influence on our behavior.


Country of Cali said...

I thought you were going to show me a comic strip of a little boy talking to himself... like Jim in those clever Garfield sans Garfield strips.

Honkymagic said...

Nope. But the article is almost as funny, no?