Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Cognative Dissonance of Calvinism.

Christian theology is weird, man. It's a bizzare combination of ideological concepts and cobbled-together working theories that rarely work together very well. I'm saying that as a Christian who loves theology. When you realize that most of our concepts of Heaven and Hell come from Paradise Lost, that some (if not most) of our cultural prohibitions come not from theological sources but from Pre-Christian racism and cultural bias...your brain kinda starts to implode. It's as if the religion itself is two different things. The first is the personal relationship with God and Christ and your fellow Christians...and the other is the great theological conversation that carries more life-baggage than a backpacker on holiday. Possibly the hardest thing I've had to accept is that outside of "God loves everybody" nothing is exactly clear. There's too much human bias. There's too much human involved.

Calvinism, like a lot of theology, can be rather confusing if you don't have a background in basic principals. The thing that sets it apart from a lot of theology, however, is its theory of predestination. This is the idea that God created "Vessels of Wrath" and "Vessels of Righteousness". The idea is, basically, that God has Elected some to salvation, that He chooses You and not the other way around, and that means that he gets all the glory.

(If you're a long-time reader, you already know that I think God finds glory in our choices as much as he does our creation. Because the mark of a healthy relationship is being able to give your beloved their headway. In short:

But what becomes interesting is that the same group that denies choice exists (IE you cannot choose God) and that the only individuals that will be saved are the Chosen among God's Elect are the exact same people who insist that homosexuality is a choice and that this means a gay person cannot, therefor, be among God's elect.

Even though, by that logic, that means he made them that way in the first place.

I just had a conversation with someone that proves these two ideas (The concept of Election and the choice of homosexuality) are completely divorced from each other. God chooses his elect and choice does not exist...unless you happen to be gay.

It is, then, rather cruel of God to have the only choices in the universe be a choice for sin. If you choose sin, it's your fault, but if you choose God you were made to choose him and it's not your choice at all.

There are quite a few people who have correctly identified this concept as abusive--that only bad behavior is yours to own. Unfortunately the result of this bad theology--and, my dear readers, I believe that it is--is that many people have to leave the religion entirely. I don't fault them for that, and I don't believe that God does either. I believe that he favors intellectual honesty over blind acceptance of something you don't truely believe--because the only way to come to truely believe in him is to first admit that you don't. You can't change your mind on a concept if you are in denial about what you really think.

I do believe that God chooses his followers. But I believe that this choice is "Preferably, all of them." See, for every place where it says that it's not your choice to believe, it says that it's God's choice that everyone believe. "He is not willing that any should perish."

This brings us to the cognative dissonance in a great deal of Protestant theology, thanks to folk like Mr. Calvin.

First, you have the idea that God made people with the intention of them choosing him, that he guided their lives and orchistrated every event, every desire in their heart and every thought in their head so that one day this individual would look up and go "Oh, so you are the one I'm looking for", and that, by extension, choice does not exist.

Second: you have the idea of a God who is not willing to lose anybody. That it is not in his will or his heart that any part of creation should perish.

Third: You have the idea that people choose sin and thus fall out of his favor and are damned.

This is best highlighted by Christian condemnation of GLBT lifestyles. We believe that God Chose Us, and in the same breath we deny a gay man the right to claim the same, because he has "clearly" chosen sin and has "clearly" displayed himself to be a Vessel of Wrath AKA not one of the elect. But it's present in everything. Listen to the wrong music? You're not pleasing God. Get divorced? Not pleasing God. Watch movies with witches and wizards? Not pleasing God. And if you're not pleasing God then you are "clearly" not one of the Elect and, therefor, we who ARE "clearly" the elect now have the right to shit all over you.

And yet against that, you have "love (agapeto) your neighbor as yourself." You have the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which one who is forgiven much is punished because they refuse to forgive little. You have a verse in the bible (Romans 14:22) that says "You may have faith to believe there is nothing wrong with what you are doing." You have Jesus, who IS God, who MADE the Law, breaking human definitions of it to help the broken, outcast and unclean. When asked what the most important law is, Jesus replies with two: to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself. And again, that word is agape, unconditional and unselfish love. When Paul speaks of how married people should love each other, the comparison is as Christ loves the Church. Again: agape. Unconditional. John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world," and that word is ēgapēsen, the past-tense of agape. God's love for the world--for all of us, for every soul on the globe, is unconditional. 

And if you place the verse in context, it  gets even better:

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 So how do you reconcile this vision of a love so pure that the Law himself denies his own satisfaction so that his beloved can survive with the idea that God made us with all our choices included with the idea that our choices leave us damned?

My answer is this: I do not get to tell you what God has and has not permitted you. I do not get to tell you how you were made. I do not get to tell you that something within your heart is invalid. What I get to tell you is that God loves you, and that this love is unconditional. It's not "As long as you choose not to have gay sex" or "as long as you choose to stay with your assigned-at-birth gender" or "as long as you follow every law as we define them". It's without condition. 

Perhaps from the eternal perspective, we are made with all our choices in place, because the Eternal Perspective sees all of our choices at once, the way someone high above a parade sees every float, or a traffic camera, every car on the street. But I don't believe this means that we do not have choice. And I do believe that our choices, good or bad, give God glory reguardless. Because if it is within our power to make a wrong choice, it is within God's power to deny us that wrong decision in the first place. It should, therefor, be possible to say "Great is the Patience and Faith of God, that he gives us the choice to be wrong." This does not give our wrong choices any value, or our right choices any greater glory--even a dog can choose obediance, after all.

And if God, in your heart, has told you that you are are.

I have faith my God is big enough for that.

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