lunadelcorvo: (Foucault discourse)
(They are gonna get good and riled over this one!) I recently assigned an essay where my students have to advance a position either in agreement or disagreement with Calvin's Predestination. I have gotten a couple of questions, and my classes have struggled with this essay in the past, so I decided to give them some nudges. It's a care theological question, and one which, to my mind, exposes some of the inherently irrational nature of 'traditional' thinking on the subject of God. So I thought I'd share:

"In response to a student question on Essay 3, I thought is might be helpful to share part of my response.

Consider the augments for predestination we have discussed in class, according to Calvin's Formulation (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace, Limited Atonement, Perseverance of Saints) as well as anything you have learned or experienced that seems to argue against it. Then choose a position, and argue it using the critical thinking with which we began our course. Regardless of which side you choose, however, you need to argue your case from a logical, rational, critically-based position, not solely from a faith perspective. Naturally, your position may be informed by your experiences or things you have learned, but one cannot make a rational argument based only on belief.

As you proceed be careful; whether you argue for or against predestination, you must address the very real questions and corollaries that each a position entails. If you argue for predestination, it follows that one does not have the choice to believe or not believe; that too is predestined. Effectual calling turns you to belief irresistibly, you cannot 'not believe.' This is a very different thing than feeling you are a believer because you have been raised to be a believer, or feel strongly about your belief.

If one is predestined to be as you are today, are you in effect, 'running on a rail,' following a course set out for you? Are you able to deviate from that course? If you argue for predestination, you must also defend the fact that you are unable to deviate from the course set out for you, much as a train cannot deviate from its track. You may regard decisions along the way as forks in the track, but remember, it is not the train that chooses which route it will take, but the switcher, who routes trains where he wants them to go. Similarly, if salvation is predestined, and grace is irresistible, you do not choose which route you will take; the Holy Spirit moves you in that direction irresistibly. This does in effect deny free will, or at least functional free will (e.g. you can want to deviate from the course set out for you all you like, but you cannot actually do so).

Consider, too, how the notion of God having a plan for each individual life interacts with predestination. Is God's plan for you like those rails, from which you cannot deviate? Or do you have the free will to choose only among possible routes on those tracks? What if you choose a path that does not take you to your predestined destination? Could you even choose such a route? Or is it God's plan a 'plan' in the same way that we might make vacation plans, only to be foiled by the unexpected? Can things turn out differently than God plans them? Can we 'surprise' God? Can we 'foil' God's plans, by will or by accident? If we cannot, can we really say we have free will?

But if we can make choices which God does not expect, does not desire, or did not plan, then we are back to Elie Wiesel's question in the face of the Holocaust, and that of Europe in the face of the Black Death - if God is not in control, then why call him God? If we have the free will to act in ways that God does not anticipate, can we say that God is omniscient? If we have the ability to do things God does not want us to do, or to violate his plan, is he omnipotent? Certainly we would think God's plans far better devised than our own, so how could they go wrong merely because of choices we humans might make? If the fate of each soul is NOT predestined, is God able to save all humans, but chooses not to? Or is he unable to? These are some questions you must address if you argue against predestination.

Remember, these are difficult questions, and theologians have debated them for centuries. However, as scholars and thinkers, as people with curiosity and intellectual honesty, we cannot choose to back down from questions because they are difficult. We cannot simply shrug our shoulders, call it a mystery and walk away. Don't feel you need to solve the riddle (you'd be the first in human history to do so), but reflect on the problem with reason and critical thinking, not faith. Remember, for the purposes of our course, we approach questions as thinkers, not believers."

(P.S. I will take this chance to strongly urge each and every one of you to read Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is an absolutely seminal work, and one that I think is of supreme importance an relevance in Western Society, now more than ever. It's a dense read, but worth the work. Really. Go, buy it now! :D


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Things I need to remember:
• Asking for help is not, as it turns out, fatal.
• Laughing is easier than pulling your hair out, and doesn't have the unfortunate side effect of making you look like a plague victim.
• Even the biggest tasks can be defeated if taken a bit at a time.
• I can write a paper the night before it's due, but the results are not all they could be.
• Be thorough, but focused.
• Trust yourself.
• Honesty, always.

Historians are the Cassandras of the Humanities



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