I've had only a nodding acquaintance with Calvinism (TULIP, via Garrison Keillor), though I picked up a bit more thanks to George W Bush and his fellow Marketarian social Darwinists.
It wasn't until I listened to In Our Time on Calvinism, though, that I realized Calvin and I had something fundamental in common. Neither Calvin nor I believe in the myth of free will, or the myth of responsibility. (Though I do treat both as a useful fiction - especially with the kids.)
If you're a Christian, and you don't believe in free will, then you have to believe that either nobody is saved, or everyone is saved, or that God is capricious.
The first two options are simpler, but the first makes Christ seem rather pointless and the second can't create a successful social movement. Only the third option, that God is capricious, will produce the right mixture of fear, pride, power and scorn - particularly when coupled with the Marketarian principle that God rewards the righteous with worldly power. The principles of natural selection ensure that, absent free will, the theology of a capricious God will win.
I've never liked Calvin, but at least now I understand his logic. Of course, were I a Christian, I'd follow Occam and choose the simpler assumption that everyone is saved. Calvin didn't let his logic get in the way of a good power base, so he made a different choice.
- Bad genes, bad people and a crisis of punishment?
- Addiction and disease: My comments on the TIME Science blog
- Changing attitudes about mind and responsibility: Patricia Hearst
- Diminished responsibility: the next cultural battleground
- Free Will RIP - The Economist on preemptive punishment
- Marketarianism (Label)
Update 4/7/10: Sci Am article - no free will. One more sign of social acceptance.