It seems the latest non-Hollywood religious craze, at least according to Molly Worthen of the New York Times, is a revival of Calvinism.
For those who may have forgotten (many of whom would likely be glad they did), Calvinism was a branch of Christianity based on the teachings of, among others, John Calvin. I am far from an expert on the subject, and on Christianity in general, but this is how it breaks down, as I understand it (please feel free to correct me): when Adam and Eve screwed up that whole paradise thing for us, and we were subsequently cast out of the holy garden (original sin), people lost all ability to do good. In our base humanity, we are all incapable of purely good acts, of making spiritual progress. It is only those who are chosen by God that are able to do any good, because they carry with them His gift (and I assure you, in the Calvin faith, God is most certainly a He).
When Christ died for our sins, the Calvinists say, he absolved not the sins of all mankind, but those of a select group chosen by God. These individuals, upon whom God showed great and unwarranted mercy, are predestined to be saved. Everyone else is quite simply fucked. Doesn’t matter what you do. Who you give money to. How many orphans you adopt. Predestined: Hellbound. Sounds like a Steven Segal movie you’d catch on TNT past midnight.
Humans are in a state of Total Depravity (perhaps the rap-metal band that did the soundtrack to that Segal movie). One might think this means we humans do nothing but rape and pillage (admittedly arguable), but it actually has a different but equally sinister meaning: Total Depravity means that we are all equally damned. Total means every human. Except those select few who are saved, that is.
Now would be a very good time for a basic question: what is this that I am reading, and why am I reading it? It seems there’s a hip new face to Calvinism. I know that sounds strange, but bear with me. Worthen’s article told of a Seattle pastor named Mark Driscoll. He represents a change in the image of the church, being young, cool, foul-mouthed and unafraid to approach subjects that would not be addressed in most church sermons. Videos of the pastor giving ’em hell have a huge following on YouTube, and assuming the Times piece has the usual effect, the attendance of his churches will soon pass five figures.
It is easy to see Driscoll’s appeal. He speaks to the sinner in us, and makes us know how horrible we are, but he also manages to make us laugh at the same time. In a popular video (see below) on the subject of masturbation, Driscoll says the subject isn’t mentioned in the bible, so it isn’t a sin. Lust, however, is a sin: “. . .if you can find a way to masturbate that isn’t including lust, I guess you’re not sinning, but you’re weird,” he says.
Calvinism holds to strictly traditional gender roles. The wife (all adult females should be married, obviously to a man) is subservient to the husband. The Times quotes Driscoll devotee Danielle Blazer, who says men and women are “equal spiritually and it’s a difference of functionality, not intrinsic worth.” It seems to me that being equal spiritually isn’t all that much of a hoot considering we’re all damned.
It is not my intention here to belittle these people’s beliefs. Driscoll is receiving a lot of praise from many people. And the admiration comes from seemingly unusual places: his followers include, among thousand of others, four of Seattle’s top tattoo artists. One, Worthen reports, has stopped inking his former specialty, pinup girls.
Driscoll also has many detractors. A quick Google search will give you more information than I can relate in this already wordy report. Let us just say that Driscoll has served to attract a lot of attention to an all-but forgotten branch of Christian thought. I think it is always wise to learn about belief systems, whatever one may think privately. It is also interesting that Driscoll is attracting this following in America’s least religious city.
There are some very valid points to Calvinist thought. Much of the current Christian writing relates a God very much idealized, in an image we would like to believe a loving God to hold. As Worthen puts it, “Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes Divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan.”
Have we got any Calvinist readers? Anyone have anything closer to an insider’s view? We’d love to hear your thoughts. . .