Arbitrary and capricious gods, from ancient times to modern

Today at lunch, Don Quixote and I ended up talking about predestination and free will.  Along the way we touched upon whether prayers are necessary (if God is omniscient, doesn’t he already know what we want?) and funerals (definitely for the living, although one doesn’t want to disrespect the dead).  We also talked about the Christian concept of Grace, and the Puritan ethos of living a “holier than thou” lifestyle so as to make it clear to the neighbors that one had indeed embraced Christ and, presumably, been embraced right back.  (I know that’s a bit facetious and facile, but I’m assuming you all are reasonably familiar with the Puritan’s religious doctrine, religious practices, and lifestyles.)

We eventually ended up talking about the fact that God’s enormity makes him unknowable — yet so many are nevertheless certain that they can speak for God, predict his actions, and know his desires.  In that context, a little paradox flashed into my brain.  Pagan gods, rather consistently, are very human, and usually not in a very nice way.  If you cast your mind over the Greek and Roman panoply, you’ll see that the gods were greedy, lustful, vengeful, jealous, mischievous, vindictive, and impulsive.  And always, these characteristics showed themselves randomly.  The one consistent thing about the pagan gods was that they were unpredictable, arbitrary, and capricious.  For all that they mimicked human behaviors, they were impossible to understand.  One could only try to avoid and placate them.  For that reason, just like the children of abusive parents, pagan worshippers weren’t motivated by morality.  Rather, their goal, always, was to avoid abuse, no matter what it took.

The Jewish God was a different thing altogether.  Although abstract and invisible (no beautiful Aphrodite, thunderbolt-toting Zeus, or chariot-driving Apollo), the Jewish God did something unthinkable in the pagan world:  he entered into a fixed contract with his Chosen People.  He imposed an obligation upon himself to make these people his own and, in return, he imposed upon them a few specific, overarching moral rules (the commandments) and a raft of behavioral rules.  He never promised that his behavior would be comprehensible, but he make it clear that, if the Jews followed the rules, they would be his Chosen People and would not be at fault for the unknowable events that might affect their lives.

The irony, of course, is that humans, being human, haven’t been able to resist analyzing these practical and ethical obligations in an effort to reach into God’s mind and personality.  “If he tells us to do X, that must mean that he is (or wants) Y.”  The pagans didn’t bother to try to figure their gods out.  Doing so was like trying to herd cats or collect soap bubbles.  The Judeo-Christian God, though, by presenting humans with a rational template of behavior, gave the illusion that he is knowable.

As it happens, I don’t believe God can be knowable.  All we can do if we’re religious is follow the rules (whether Jewish or Christian), and take comfort from the fact that we’re holding up our side of the covenant.

Incidentally, because I can’t resist a bit of punditry myself, would it be too obvious if I suggested here that modern pagans, who rejoice in the “Progressive Environmentalist” label, engage in behaviors very similar to that practiced by the Greeks and Romans, in thrall to their own unpredictable earth goddess?  Because the earth they worship imposes no fixed moral standards or behavioral codes on them, they constantly take her temperature, trying to figure out if she’s running too hot or too cold.  And if the results of these investigations frighten them, they desperately try to placate her.

The human sacrifices the new pagans make aren’t as immediate as they once were — no people lobbed into swamps, buried in pits, tossed in volcanoes, or creatively eviscerated — but they’re just as real.  Thanks to the new pagans’ decision to abandon the petroleum products that have served us so long and so well, and their desperate move to turn crops into energy, rather than food, they’ve created starvation and unrest throughout the world.  (It’s been a while, but it’s worth remembering that Egypt was ripe for unrest because of skyrocketing food prices caused, in part, by the fact that food crops have been diverted to ethanol.)  If the immolation of large parts of the Middle East doesn’t count as a sizable human sacrifice to the unreliable, arbitrary and capricious Gaia, I don’t know what does.


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  • David Foster

    “because the earth they worship imposes no fixed moral standards or behavioral codes on them, they constantly take her temperature, trying to figure out if she’s running too hot or too cold.  And if the results of these investigations frighten them, they desperately try to placate her.

    G K Chesterton:

    “All the same, it will be as well if Jones does not worship the sun and moon. If he does, there is a tendency for him to imitate them; to say, that because the sun burns insects alive, he may burn insects alive. He thinks that because the sun gives people sun-stroke, he may give his neighbour measles. He thinks that because the moon is said to drive men mad, he may drive his wife mad. This ugly side of mere external optimism had also shown itself in the ancient world. About the time when the Stoic idealism had begun to show the weaknesses of pessimism, the old nature worship of the ancients had begun to show the enormous weaknesses of optimism. Nature worship is natural enough while the society is young, or, in other words, Pantheism is all right as long as it is the worship of Pan. But Nature has another side which experience and sin are not slow in finding out, and it is no flippancy to say of the god Pan that he soon showed the cloven hoof. The only objection to Natural Religion is that somehow it always becomes unnatural. A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull’s blood, as did Julian the Apostate. The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshipped. Stars and mountains must not be taken seriously. If they are, we end where the pagan nature worship ended. Because the earth is kind, we can imitate all her cruelties. Because sexuality is sane, we can all go mad about sexuality. Mere optimism had reached its insane and appropriate termination. The theory that everything was good had become an orgy of everything that was bad.”

  • jj

    Don’t give in to it!  There is no such verb in the English language as “to disrespect.”
    “The pomp of funerals has more regard to the vanity of the living than to the honour of the dead.”  (La Rochefoucauld – Maxims)
    Already been through the old testament, probably don’t want to go there again.  It is the classic of sheer perversity.
    And the pagan gods.  Ah, the poor old pagan gods, who had much more tolerance and acceptance of things outside themselves – like each other, and new and different ideas and learning – than the jealous Jewish/Christian version ever did.  (Though what the hell, at least he was honest, and warned everybody right out front: “I’m jealous.”  Kudos for straightforwardness.)  There were many libraries in Rome prior to the advent of Christianity, and we know of at least five big ones, that had somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 – perhaps in two cases as many as, or up to, 500,000 – scrolls housed within themselves.  This kind of dissemination of ideas, thoughts, philosophy, etc. was fine with the pagan gods.  In a thousand years they never once ordered any of their adherents to go burn any of them.  But – not one of these libraries was still there ten years after the Christian god came to the big town and took over – they were all burned.  Would Christianity itself have ever found a foothold and an opportunity to take root without the tolerance of the pagan gods?  A question rarely asked.

  • ExPreacherMan

    Wish I had been there.. 😎
    One must understand the the God of the Universe, the Gos of Israel and the Savior of all who put their faith alone in Jesus Christ (all the same) offers a unilateral contract for eternal life.. It is not a reciprocal agreement.. but an offer by God’s Grace — not by behavior. It has always been that way. Just take the Messiah Jesus freely by Faith. 
    The Law was given to show man his inherent lack of righteousness and Jesus Christ came and fulfilled the law by giving Himself as the sacrifice for our unrighteousness. Abraham was tested by God in the sacrifice of his son Isaac.. But God, at the right moment Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the Lamb of sacrifice — the beautiful picture of faith and salvation.
    Genesis 22:8     And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. 
    Galatians 3:6     Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 
    Righteous before God cannot come by works, actions, etc but only by Faith alone in the Messiah of Israel, the Christ of the Bible, Jesus Christ.
    I could preach on this for half an hour or more — but I won’t.
    In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  • ExPreacherMan

    Obviously the incorrect spelling in the phrase above “Gos of Israel” should be “God of Israel.”
    Thanks, Jack

  • Danny Lemieux

    Book, prayers are necessary because you must ask of Him. It’s about free will. He will answer if you knock on the door, but you need to ask. In how I and my co-religionists perceive God, it is a sin to claim to speak for him. I never had much use for the ideas of Puritans and other “Old Testament” Christians, myself, although I certainly respect them as fellow Christians (or believers in God).

    As far as funerals, I can say those that I have attended have largely been eulogies to lives well spent. We spend them out of respect for the dead and to honor their passing on this earth. Those of us of my Christian persuasion also tend to believe that the spirits of the dead linger before they move on. Ergo, they likely partake in the celebration. I am sure they appreciate the “thank you” we emote.

    David Foster, love it! A man who quotes Chesterton on cue. You never cease to amaze! Do you live in the Chicagoland area?

  • Charles Martel

    I’ve always wondered how somebody can know that “God is unknowable.” The statement presumes a certain level of knowledge, which in the case of the topic under discussion, makes little sense. 
    Perhaps the better formulation is that God is unknowable in that a finite mind cannot grasp an infinite mind, nor limited sapience hope to understand total sapience.
    But that doesn’t at all mean that the “unknowable” is or can be only that. There remains the possibility (for Jews and Christians, the certainty) that the “unknowable” might intelligently work out a way to reveal something of its nature to its creatures.
    My dog looks in wonderment at my ways. From a metal object in the kitchen, I produce an apparently endless stream of food. From a crinkly bag beneath the oven, I pour out endless kibble. He could never in a million years “know” how I do these things, only that I do them. Yet, though I am unknowable in the sense that his form of being can ever understand me in the way that we would presume to understand God, he does know something about me. He knows that I love him. He knows dimly that my insistence that he obey my commands, even though his doggy nature cannot see rhyme or reason to them, has something to do with his good. 
    I am going to presume that if I, only a few DNA strands and IQ points removed from my dog, can make myself somewhat understandable to him, that a being with infinitely greater mental mettle than mine can figure out a way to reveal Himself to me.

  • Bookworm

    That, Charles, is precisely what I meant about unknowable.  We know only the information that is available, but we are too finite to have any deep understanding of the infinite.  (Or maybe I just like thinking of myself as a happy doggy.)

  • Bookworm

    jj:  You’re right about the grammar error!  Ack.  When did I slip into that little bit of modern speak.  As for pagans being open-minded, you’re right.  But I like justice and I like things that aren’t arbitrary and capricious, and the pagan world was dedicated to propitiating the Gods — an impossible task, of course, and one that did not lead to any type of moral stability.

    Danny:  Your explanation of prayer explains the free will component.  I guess the ritualistic aspect, though, still eludes me.  If the thought forms in my mind, shouldn’t God know it?  Is the physical supplication of many prayers a necessary aspect?  Is it simply a sign of respect?

    ExPreacherMan:  How nice to hear your voice again!  I think I do understand the Grace part.  But I also know that, historically, the Puritans, to ensure that their neighbors didn’t get any mistaken ideas about grace — or, more accurately, the lack thereof — were especially zealous about behaving perfectly to provide outward proof of their Godly status.

    David:  You have an uncanny knack for the good quotation.

  • David Foster

    Danny…no, never lived in Chicago. I’m in the DC metro area.

  • Charles Martel

    I’m not all that sure about the open-mindedness of pagans. The Polynesians, some of the best damned pagans ever, used to love to murder people who committed even the most insignificant breaches of tabu. And those wonderful open-minded Romans, routinely crucified tens of thousands of people for various treacheries. If I remember correctly, they open-mindedly put to death close to 1 million intolerant Jews in 70.
    Do even get me started on the pagan cannibals who used to run Mexico—until a bunch of closed-minded Spaniards forced a menu change.

  • gpc31

    Really good post and comments.
    Concerning your statement, “…God’s enormity makes him unknowable.”

    Is “enormity” the word you want?  From Job’s perspective, yes.

  • MacG

    Martel is on to something.  What child knows her parent?  She knows that with her parent wants her to know and in proper time.  The wise parent will share age appropriate information but always knowing more than the child until adulthood and that’s where the analogy breaks down. Does the child really know her parent?  Does she appreciate/love her less?  God is knowable in as much as he chose to be known.  For the Christian Jesus is the “visible expression of the invisible God”. “He that has seen me has seen the Father”.  Like the child knows the parent in part so we can know God inasmuch as He was revealed in Jesus.
    Grace vs holier than thou.  The Christian doctrine of Grace comes from Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  Grace is granted, good works ensue out of gratitude love born out of the release from the wages of sin(death).  While holier than thou performs the works for proof is rooted in pride and the rewards in this life from such is reward in full.
    Why pray if God is omniscient?  Because we are not.  Abraham pleaded with God to not destroy Sodom if there were fifty righteous in it. God assures Abraham that he surely would not. Abraham persists fearing for Lots life, how about 40 righteous?  OK.  30? 20? 10? God assured Abraham that if there were ten He would not destroy Sodom.  Abraham was satisfied but God still knew more.  Jesus prayed. The one considered equal with God prior to the incarnation once incarnated, prayed. He instructed the disciples to pray that the ‘abomination the causes desolation’ would not happen in winter as it will be a hard enough time on its own.  It is also an act of humility and submission.  Some may remember the Passion of the Christ opening scene was the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His arrest by the Romans: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39 
    Additionally all of the Apostles prayed and not for show but as a part of being a follower of the one called Christ.  Prayer cannot be fully covered here but suffice it to say as I read about prayer and the encouragement to pray not for myself but for others indicates not all is written in stone just because ‘God knows’ for if he knows ‘if’ is true, he knows ‘else’.  His will be done.  It has been said God will not make do that which is against your will but he sure can make you willing, just ask Jonah.
    The last funeral I went was last week.  For an 8 month old little girl did not make through eye surgery.  This happened before Christmas.  The Church service was amazing.  A celebration of her life and as we believe she is in the presence of her Creator where she has been spared the pains of life and as to her loss of joy in this world, nothing compares to His presence.  That funeral was for the family a homecoming as it were.  The image was that of Noah letting a dove out of the ark and finding no land it returned to Noah and he took it back in.
    Any verses presented here are not to convert but to grant insight as to how some Christians view things.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Book, you got it. It is not the act of praying but the thought and motivation and sentiment of praying – for e.g., is it genuine and from the heart? Sometimes we Christians pray out loud in church as part of the liturgy (the Lord’s Prayer, prayers for the people) and as an expression of our unity within the community, but mostly we pray silently in the calm of our thoughts. He hears them all.

    My morning and evening prayers are my thoughts as I lie in bed to start (“please help me”) and end (“thank you for the blessings and please forgive me for my screw-ups”) the day.

  • pst314

    David Foster: “Danny…no, never lived in Chicago. I’m in the DC metro area.”

    So you’re one of the Chicago Boyz in spirit, but not in geography.

    Well, like Bookworm I always appreciate your quotations.

  • riw777

    “He never promised that his behavior would be comprehensible, but he make it clear that, if the Jews followed the rules, they would be his Chosen People and would not be at fault for the unknowable events that might affect their lives.”

    IMHO, this is a massive misreading of the Tanach. It’s more like this: God said that men don’t really understand well enough to consistently do the good, so he gave Israel a set of rules to live by with the promise that if they followed them, he would bless them. This is all predicated on faith in God’s knowing what is good, what makes for blessing, etc.

    The way you’ve phrased it makes God sound just as capricious and random –“here, I’ll give you some fixed rules that really don’t have anything to do with anything, other than I promise that if you follow them, I’ll bless you.” In other words, you’re arguing that “good,” isn’t a matter of God’s character, but simply what God says it it.

    This idea that good is simply what God says it is flows naturally from your conception of God: “As it happens, I don’t believe God can be knowable.  All we can do if we’re religious is follow the rules (whether Jewish or Christian), and take comfort from the fact that we’re holding up our side of the covenant.” The problem with this underlying conception is that if God is unknowable, then you can’t trust his promise to bless you if you follow his rules.

    In other words, you must be able to know enough about God to know that he can be trusted, that he’s not capricious, just making up rules because he feels like it –rules that might change tomorrow. You’ve confused knowable with exhaustively known.

    What the Tanach says is that good is a characteristic of God, that God’s definition of good comes out of his own existence and attributes. God values love because God is love. God values justice because God is just. Anything else and you have Allah, not Yahweh. Obedience, by the way, has always been a matter of faith –faith in God’s promises, and faith in God’s character. This is why the branch of Christianity I belong to states that salvation (getting right with God) has always been a matter of faith, even in the Tanach. The object of faith never changes –God– though the precise content of faith might (what we know about God). :-) Russ

  • riw777

    Urg. I hate it when it strips out my carriage returns. I also forgot to press the track button. Urg.

    [I made some educated guesses and put paragraphs breaks in for you. –Bookworm]

  • Ymarsakar

    Unknown unknowns is the term in question.
     There are many things humans understand in terms of their limitations. They know they have no real idea whether life exists in other planets or stars, or how things work in other solar systems, without physically going there and seeing it for themselves. But there are also blind spots, things world views are not aware of. Thus there are things humans aren’t even aware that they are lacking.
    Prayer is a form of concentration, thus a known unknown is whether humans are tapping into a well of power using their own power or whether humans are simply borrowing somebody else’s power. Like religious qi gong, the goal is to open the Third Eye and become Enlightened. In Christian speak, that means speaking to and hearing God in your heart and mind. Both prayer and Chinese qi gong have mysterious energy consequences which are documented, but currently unexplained by science. Although some recent advances have led to a reconcilement of Chinese medicine with Western medicine. 
    The actual explanation is complicated, and feeds off of various things which are perhaps not easily understood by the general public. For one thing, people who have almost died are closer to the Divine than those who have always been safe. There’s a reason for that. On the other hand, individuals that have killed to survive, are also closer to the Divine than those who have not killed. You can call it soldiers in foxholes if you want, but that’s only a general description. The real description is more complicated. The reason why all of these are so is because humans were once in tune with nature and very aware of what was really going on around them using their senses and intuition. Because human society has prioritized lying, deception, and stupid stuff like politics or “IQ”, human beings have closed off their Third Eye and are no longer able to even sense what could once be sensed. Those that are closer to death, experience the world through the altered senses of the lizard brain, an ancient relic of long past evolutionary days. Through that lens, one becomes more aware of spiritual matters. This level of concentration and awareness of truth, however, can also be achieved through other methods such as prayer, meditation, etc.
     In order to open up the senses, the mind also must be purified. Fasting allows the liver to cleanse the blood of impurities and for the kidneys to reduce the work load, allowing more energy to be focused in the mind. This allows a person to see the world more clearly than they could before, and hopefully achieve spiritual awakening. Again, whether humans are using quantum perception powers to “generate” the cause and effect or whether humans are opening up a channel to a higher power or whether a higher power is connecting to humans, are unknown factors. It doesn’t really matter though. All that matters is that it works. But like a lot of things having to do with human free will and “stuff working”, humans can use it for good or evil. Nothing was guaranteed just because a human’s Third Eye has been opened. They could still mess up. They didn’t become immortal, invincible, a god, or omniscient.
    The problem with paganism is that once humans give a name to nature, it is no longer nature they worship. They are now worshiping a human construct, designed for human ends, and has little to nothing to do with the Divine. Christianity calls it “idol worship” which is the same general idea. The Protestants complained about the Catholic Pope precisely because they called them idolaters, or worshiping through ornamentation when that was not the true faith. Once you give something a name, it is now constrained by human limitations. Even if it once existed in the divine, once we “observe” it, we can no longer understands its full nature. That sounds suspiciously like quantum mechanics. It just happened to be how humans categorize things however.
    Most cultures when they started worshipping nature, eventually became simply trying to manipulate the powers of nature for their own gain. That has nothing to do with Divine Truths or Natural Cycles. Then came the human sacrifices. Again, attempts to control human power hierarchies. One has the left the Way, and become more lost with this.
    Currently I am studying things like Tai Chi Chuan, philosophy, Chinese classical history, and Qi Gong in both Eastern and Western interpretations. Strangely enough, I find that my life experiences directly apply to understanding spiritual matters when it is connected to Chinese Qi Gong, because they have something called martial arts Qi Gong. Breathing and meditation specifically designed to improve the expression of physical power and speed. By re-tracing those elements from my experiences, I was able to understand conceptually what medicine and religious qi gong could be. A calm mind, without attachment to life, is a state I understand from the samurai or warrior mindset. Something that can make calculated judgments correctly, intuitively, without going through any obvious steps mentally. Devoid of emotion, expressed through focus, and conditioned based upon hard work.
    Those that pray, like Danny here, do it regularly. This regular work is Gong Fu, or dedicated hard work over time. This opens channels between the mind and body. When you lose your eyes, your ears adapt. Learning to hear the voice of the Divine or the spiritual, requires one to shut off all other senses and focus. Because humans never got anywhere without doing the Work for it, you understand. This path to success is much easier to understand and accept than some random happenstance that produced a prophet ordained by a future only God understood. The Western materialist setup never could sufficiently explain things for my taste, other than from a quantum physics perspective. The Chinese classical history has provided interesting ideas for me to test. Only recently was such information unlocked and translated, however. And only recently has Western medicine been able to “scan” the human body to verify that many traditional Chinese claims were pretty accurate.
    The point is, I can see the “physical effects” from Qi Gong and martial arts training. That is pretty obvious. To then leap the gap between the physical and the spiritual, is what Chinese history and philosophy provides. Something Westerners still lack. The various interpretations of factions in the US are due to their own experiences and dogma, but they have not been collated and organized over centuries. They exist as personal accounts and it is left to the viewer to try to understand their connections. That was the same case with the Chinese, except they did this over 2000 years and had something called war to speed up their R/D. Western medicine is about theory and logic, not feelings and emotions. It’s why it costs so much. It’s also why it is immediately effective. 
    On a theoretical plane, the system of theories I described are harmonious. Information just comes together on this issue. Usually when I verify a claim, I require two independent sources of confirmation, plus the original claim data. When I read the explanation between how the Chinese sought the Third Eye through Taoist and Buddhist breathing meditation, and how that related to Christian prayer, more than a dozen facets of information all came together to support the relationship.
    I have already given my analysis of the quality or worth of religions in America, specifically Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Christians of various sects. I have described my experience and the historical analysis. But I never gave a theory explaining why this was. I only said what it was my experience and the experience of humanity supported in terms of conclusions: that prayers work, that divine providence existed otherwise the US would be nonexistent.
    To those that lack a base plane of experience to perceive such things, all I can say to them is “do you have the abilities to see a fast punch coming and the coordinated reflex to catch that punch”? Without training and work put into it, you aren’t going to stop anything. You won’t even see it coming. If you can’t even see something coming in physical reality, what makes anyone think they can perceive the metaphysical without sufficient training and work? Do they think the government or the universe, will give value to them for free? Is there some cosmic welfare check they are waiting for? If God is omniscient, then you don’t have to do any work…. Are you kidding me? That only comes from people with a cultural and world view steeped in government charity and centralized authority. One might want to check one’s premises before assuming they are true, using something called “independent verification”. Do the work.
    The form is meaningless. It follows function. The spirit and intent is everything. With it, people can punch through household doors by purging minute hesitation: martial artists cannot break the target when they subconsciously hesitate before a hit.. they’ll just break their hand. With it, people can fight and win battles where the odds are against them. Without it, they will lose battles they should have won. Without the intent, the will, opportunities will slip them past and they will complain about the “system” putting them down. I’ve known that was true for awhile now. Most people think of “intent” as desiring or wanting something. They have usually never seen real intent before. Real intent is something else entirely. It is often dangerous and felt more than explained. There are some people on this planet that radiate a willingness to do violence that thugs and criminals just smell from across the room for some reason. There are some people on this planet that radiate optimism and risk taking, and they will often drag many others into their dream, which may or may not succeed. But such a charisma is seen and believed. Is that any less real than the spirit?. Most people think of “intent” as the basic good vs evil setup. “I intend” to do good, but things turned out evil. Or “I ended to do evil, but things ended up working well (because someone else came in and helped)”. In Western language, intent is divorced from reality and work. It doesn’t matter what you did, so long as you “intended” good, the Left says your “intent” is what really matters. That is both wrong and right at the same time. Like most deceptions, the best ones are based upon mostly truth. In this case, true intent, not simply desire or wanting something, can bend reality itself. When a person has achieved supreme will power and intends to achieve a goal, they’re not just going to sit down and talk about it. They are going to work day by day to get closer to that goal. If they fail, it’s because their motivation and their will were weak. Not because of luck, but because they didn’t take advantage of opportunities. Those that believe in the work ethic, shouldn’t all of a sudden contradict themselves and say that an omniscient God must give everything in the universe on a platter to lazy bums. Just saying.
    Frankly, I believe that if you wanted to do good and you ended up facilitating evil, your intent was a bunch of BS and Satanic contract hustling. You were out for yourself. Had nothing to do with anything else. Any claims of good intent was simply human self-deception, like Hollywood movies. They exist. But they don’t really exist. When you can meet eye to eye contact for 5 minutes straight without looking away, perhaps I will believe you had something called “intent”. Otherwise, it’s games children play to entertain themselves with fantasy stories about marriage, playing house, and tea parties.
    Also, any human that cannot maintain eye contact for at least 30 seconds with someone else (4 ft), without being the first one to look away, does not have a strong independent identity capable of resisting enemy propaganda, manipulation, psychological conditioning, societal punishment, fear of legal consequences, or any other “puppetry” techniques. You cannot perceive the Divine as a puppet. I hope everyone here sorta understands the reasons for that intuitively. Whatever higher existence is out there, doesn’t deal with puppets. It’s not going to communicate with you. And you’re not going to use any higher powers just because someone else pulling your strings told you to do so. Any more than a boss can order all his employees to kill themselves, and be obeyed. So the first requirement to religious awakening is that you have to have something called self-discipline and independence. Religions based upon coercion and controlling others like puppets, has little to do with spiritual awakening and more to do with controlling humans like radio cars.
    There are plenty of ways to figure out the existences of higher powers. You can even perceive them using normal human senses. Those that lack the willpower and intent to put in the actual work required for this, however, don’t have a stool to stand on when making judgments about what is or isn’t real. Pain to some people is more real than reality. Pain to me is a passing illusion. Who is right in the end? The guy that argues he knows the truth because of what he feels or the guy that argues he knows the truth because he controls what he feels?
     I know who I’m putting my money on concerning the identity of the one that will bend reality. In short, the conclusion is get off your butt and do the work; ignorance is no excuse; omniscience is no excuse; being lazy and wanting a higher power do it for you is no excuse; being human and weak is no excuse. Only being evil or a Leftist, is an excuse.

  • MacG

    Another thought about prayer in the Christian sense and it follows theologically from Genesis on through is relationship, it at times talking with God, waiting to hear as well.  There is a connection made in prayer if one was to read the passages involving prayer (not just instructional verses but also where one is praying) you would see relationship.  Even one of the core Christian doctrines about God is about relationship, the Trinity.  For instance Philippians 2″Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” There is relation ship there within the God-head the Son becomes obedient.  One cannot be obedient to the uncommunicated request.  In my quote above when in the garden of Gethsemane there was a relationship intimately revealed.  The Son had in mind to pass on the crucifixion (imagine that) if at all possible but he knew his Father’s will for him to be the perfect lamb for the sins of the world and continued in submission.  But the story did not end there for Him. Picking up at verse 9:”For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
    Relationship within the nature of God, we are created in His image, He sought out Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the evening prior to their disobedience; relationship.   Prayer is the communion with the creator.  TO be without it is to go hungry. This is why things can’t satisfy in the end.

  • Old Buckeye

    I think like MacG, that prayer is a dialogue. It is a natural extension of a loving relationship where one side talks and the other listens, then the roles are reversed. Many marriages founder when there is lack of communication. So goes prayer life.  Also, in reference to Russ’s comments, and what MacG and others mention, my understanding is that natural law–that which guides us because we are made in the image and likeness of God–is written on the hearts of all men. Sin clouds that natural law and that’s why God handed down the commandments carved in stone–to remind man of our side of the covenant, which is to act like someone who was created good. As sin is rampant in the world, we  break a few commandments along the way, but it is in our nature to be good. I think that’s probably what infuriates the devil most!

  • Bookworm

    I told Don Quixote at lunch that, if we put these religious questions out at my blog, we’d get very thoughtful, well-informed answers.  I was right (of course).

    By the way, I want to touch upon something MacG said: “Any verses presented here are not to convert but to grant insight as to how some Christians view things.” 

    I hope all of you know that I never feel harangued or bullied here.  I’m very appreciative of your willingness to share your beliefs, knowledge and insights. 

    American Jews, perhaps unsurprisingly given centuries of Jewish history, are a bit tetchy and sensitive about perceived efforts to convert them.  I’m not.  I appreciate very much that American Christians promote their faith through conversation and that they do so out of a genuine desire to share the blessings of their lives with others.  This is a far cry from other cultures, past and present, that convert murderously out of a terrible fear that the “other” in their midst might corrupt them. 

    This last always strikes me as a sad commentary on the converters’ belief in their own faith.  How strongly can you believe in your God if you’re so dreadfully afraid that your faith is vulnerable to the slightest external contamination?  Faith needs to be cherished and vigorously defended, but it’s pretty frail if the best you can do is forced conversions.

  • Mike Devx

    Book says,
    > Today at lunch, Don Quixote and I ended up talking about predestination and free will.  

    Ah the Calvinist conundrum.  IF God knows all because God is omniscient; and if in particular God knows in advance every one of my actions including my sins, where is free will in all of this.  It’s no surprise that some, in pure faith, arrive at the concept of predestination, and that there is, in fact, no such thing as free will.  Accepting complete omniscience leads to vexing metaphysical questions.

    But God is unknowable, at least in the sense that Martel describes above, which I like.  And even at our level of conception, I see us making two assumptions that I don’t think we have the right to make:

    1. Because God is omniscient, God knows every detail of the entire future of our lives and our Universe.

    We assume God has CHOSEN to know the future.  It is entirely possible that God chooses not to examine the future.
    But this leaves open the question: If God were to choose to examine the future, would he still know, due to omniscience, every moment of our thoughts and actions?  If so, then the conundrum of predestination vs free will hasn’t changed.

    2. Did God create a deterministic Universe?  Or did He deliberately create a non-deterministic Universe?

    Everyone assumes ours is a deterministic Universe, where all actions, in every way, are determined by an endless network of causes and effects.  Comprehending the entire net, through all of time, would mean omniscience.

    But at the quantum level, there are strong indicators that cause and effect do not rule.  That’s enough to at least allow one to ask the question:  Would God create a non-deterministic universe: One in which the future is NOT predictable, and not knowable, not even to God himself?  Especially for the purposes of allowing free will on his creations, the idea that God would create such an “unknowable” Universe would make perfect sense.  Thus predestination would be refuted, and free will allowed to reign.


  • Charles Martel

    What Old Buckeye and MacG say about prayer being a form of dialogue resonates with me. Yes, there are the formal prayers that religions teach all to say, much as there is a form to other special events in our lives, such as black-tie dinners or the awarding of a medal for bravery. Such situations demand a set level of honor and respect.
    But along with the formality comes the opportunity for informality. While the guests at a sit-down dinner must dress and eat, and even converse, in a certain way, conviviality and relaxation soon enter the picture. They begin to chat, laugh, and commune in comfortable ways. So it is in the dialogue with God. Jesus called his father “Abba”—the equivalent to Daddy or Papa—and in doing so made it clear that there was to be an actual warm conversation between Creator and creature.

  • Ymarsakar

    American Jews are insecure wretches. That is why they are nervous. Has nothing to do with their history. The reason is simple. I can grab anyone with a violent and bad childhood, and he actually experienced this personally not through “history”, and if he is secure, he won’t be nervous about other people’s beliefs. But if he is weak and unable to tolerate competitors, he will be “nervous” and act on that fear.

    American Jews are afraid. They vote Democrat because they are afraid. No other reason than that. 

  • Old Buckeye

    Since Charles Martel brought up how his dog doesn’t know what he’s doing, I had to post this link to an article that says your dog knows what you’re thinking! :)

  • Ymarsakar

    I know from experience, as well as fact, how people perceive Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon missionaries. And I know that I behave very differently from the norm. The people who behave insecurely, are not all Jews. Why is that, do you think. It’s because they don’t need Jewish history. They’re insecure because they are insecure. I’m an agnostic or technically a Deist, and I have no problems explaining my view to missionaries. I have no problems giving them a chance to speak their piece either. Why is that, do you think. Wouldn’t I be one of those people most afraid of being converted by talking to them. Half of my peers I know are “afraid” someone will “convert” them by “talking” to them. As if Rush Limbaugh has cloned himself.

     People are weak. Accept that fact. History is not a valid excuse for much of anything.

  • MacG

    Martel trip the formal prayer wire.  In His instruction of prayer Jesus warned to pray as the Gentiles do that is with many words and then goes on to give the only ‘formula prayer’ that He dictated and in it he address omniscience and interaction/relationship:
        “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.“So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
          “Pray, then, in this way:
             ‘Our Father who is in heaven,
             Hallowed be Your name.
    Your kingdom come.
             Your will be done,
             On earth as it is in heaven.
    ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
    ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
    “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions”
    It is odd that he spoke about babbling on (AKA Vain repetitions or rote prayers) and then gave a prayer that has become for many a vain repetition.  Look at the flow of the prayer and compare that with Danny’s above and you will see he likely avoids the vain repetition because he gets the gist of the so called Lord’s prayer.
    Now Jesus’ instruction after the prayer is the kind of thing that makes Christianity as GK Chesterton said “Christianity has not been found tried and wanting but rather difficult and not tried”.  It also makes for some lively debates.

  • gpc31

    Mike @ 21:

    You wrote: “Ah the Calvinist conundrum.  IF God knows all because God is omniscient; and if in particular God knows in advance every one of my actions including my sins, where is free will in all of this. ”

    I don’t necessarily see a contradiction or Kantian antimony between omniscience and free will.  A philosophy professor once used an analogy to describe it thusly:

    “Suppose I am lecturing in front of a class of students.  I see that there are 3 redheads in the room.  I ask all redheads to raise their arms.  I can predict with almost perfect certainty who will raise their arms, yet I did not cause anyone to do so.”

    Now, when in addtion to omniscience and free will, you add omnipotence to the mix…I don’t know what happens.  (No surprise there!)  

  • Indigo Red

    “… at the quantum level, there are strong indicators that cause and effect do not rule. That’s enough to at least allow one to ask the question: Would God create a non-deterministic universe: One in which the future is NOT predictable, and not knowable, not even to God himself?” ~  Mike Devx

    It makes sense to me when multiple universes and Schrodinger are added to the mix – the outcome of any event or action is unknown and unknowable until a decision is made. Once a decision is taken, events go on quite rationally and seamlessly while each subsequent decision sends events careening through perceived time which exists only so everything doesn’t happen at once. Though I’m an Atheist, I will say that, according to the story, God may have created the universe(s) and all the possibilities, God left the decisions – free will – to mankind and whatever other intelligent life there may be. Otherwise, the scripted story would be pretty damned boring to the author credited with creating the okapi and platypus.

    Ironically, the new age pagan environmentalists eschewing the use of petroleum products today usually are unaware that petroleum was, in fact, the alternative energy source that saved whales from total extinction.   

  • MacG

    Predestination has been mentioned a few times here.  From my point of view and I may be wrong but I think that the term predestination my have more than one meaning.  In this thread I hear that it means to some that it is all scripted and we may just be watching it all go by as time rolls on.  This may be where my less than stellar GPA lays bear any ignorance but here goes.  The only direct biblical reference to predestination that I know of is in the following verse:  Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” 

    As I read this it seems to say that what is predestined is to be conformed into the image and likeness of his son and only of those He foreknew who would love Him not that everything is written stone.  This is not about the salvation of the individual but the predetermined end.  Given that we are adjured by virtually all of the Apostles in the Epistles to not let the world squeeze us into its mold, to strive to be more Christ like to sin less I fell that the road is not set in stone and that the choice is ours to make.  Whether God knows what we will do is beside the point the decision and choice to live for Him is ours to make.
    I like to think of foreknowledge like the parent who knows to look back around the corner to catch the child who was just told “No” to a cookie trying to get into the cookies jar.  The parent’s knowledge is not the cause of the child’s disobedience.  Knowing that your car will run out of gas before it reached 500 miles on a full tank is not what makes run out of gas.

  • Old Buckeye

    MacG, your explanation of predestination makes a lot of sense, and I especially like your analogies.

  • MacG

    Thanks OldBuckeye :)
    There is one verse that I forgot about, one of my favorite verses that ties into biblical understanding of predestination.  Unlike lineal Western thinking it allows for the relationship leaving God still in control for His ends while giving us freedom.  “In his heart a man plans his course, but it is the Lord that determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 New International Version
    “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” Proverbs 16:9 New American Standard Version
    The last explanation that I heard was imagine seeing an arched entry into a garden and written on the arch was the word WELCOME.  Many pass by the garden entrance but you go in.  Once you enter and look over your shoulder you read “YOU WERE CHOSEN”.  This fits with the verses such as “many are called but few are chosen”, “Broad is the path to destruction, narrow is the path to righteousness and few are they who find it.”

  • ExPreacherMan

    For your illustration to be valid, the sign over the doorway to the Garden (Heaven) must also of necessity be duplicated over the gates of Hell..
    “Chosen — NOT to believe.” . But that does not describe the God of the Bible.
    God’s will —  “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4
    God chooses none for eternal life nor Hell but leaves that up to the individual. John 3:16-18
    In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  • MacG

    ExPreacherMan,  Thanks for your input, I knew there was a reason why that last example had a kink somewhere but I would have to take its meaning in light of predestination chosen to be conformed into the image and likeness of His son not necessarily about salvation.  I took a look at 1Tim2:4 and provide more of a context:
    2:1ff “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    I put the preceding verses in because it speaks to this threads question of why pray if all is predestined?  Of course this is from Christian POV, it seems again that not all is set in stone or the writer Paul (formerly know as Saul the Pharisee of Pharisees), only knew how to pray in a scatter gun fashion rather than in (as I have heard in some circles), an intelligent way.  What is does show though is that God is interested in relationship, in the affairs of men and how He may get involved as well. 
    Additionally I re-posted the verse you presented from another version to show the value in multiple versions for those who are not literate in the original languages (MacG raises hand). The King James (I think) that you posted reads by itself like God saves all.  Whereas in other versions it shows that God desires that all will be saved.  These are two very different things and would lead into a different discussion of omnipotence (God really can’t make a rock so big the He cannot lift it , George).  The NASB as I understand it is the closest to a word-for-word English translation this makes it a bit clunky to read at times.  However its rendering of the verse fits well with your choice of follow up John3:16ff  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  It seems that Jesus knew not all will choose to follow. 

    Before I found the BibleGateway I used a hardback parallel bible with 4 versions printed side by side to help pick up on some of the nuances that are chosen during translation which in turn helps me on occasion have a fuller understanding.   If that does not help for my reader response type interpretation then I have determine if its a hill worth dying over and whether to dig deeper.
    Grace and Peace, Brother

  • ExPreacherMan

    Thanks, you are right to clarify those verses – especially about God’s will/desire to see the salvation of all. God’s omnipotence never overrules man’s recalcitrance and aversion to putting his faith in the Savior, the Messiah of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    You said, “It seems that Jesus knew not all will choose to follow”  True — and I would add — He knew knew that not all would believe in Him as their Savior as well — and even further — among those who do believe/trust Jesus as their Savior, there will be some who will not “follow” or be disciples.. yet their eternity with Christ is just as secure as the most ardent, dedicated, believing disciple. That is God’s amazing Grace that so few understand.
    Jesus said, “And I give unto them [believers] eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” John 10:28
    Book, thanks for allowing these twists and turns in your discussion of predestination.
    Predestined (believers) to be conformed to God’s image, not salvation.
    Elect/chosen for service (not for salvation) because we who have believed in Christ are already eternally secure in Christ’s imputed salvation.
    In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  • MacG

    Thank you Jack for the affirmation.  Your comment of Jesus knowing that not all would follow triggered a memory of a recent conversation about Church hypocrites or what are perceived as such.  In any Church there the weeds the enemy has sown into it – these are the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Then we have social clubbers – they like the general atmosphere of a particular church body. Then we have the believers ranging from mature (still fallible) believers to the brand new believer.  This last category, the new believer is one of the most difficult because the ‘just got religion’ they are most times ecstatic that their relation ship with God has been restored with all spiritual debts forgiven and can’t wait to share it but they are not yet mature or have not had much time in being sanctified (process of living a genuine Christian life dying to ones self and becoming more like Him).  An example is when a pastor I know became a believer he was a drug addict, meth and alcohol.  The morning after his conversion he flushed is meth and never went through withdrawal and never went back.  Now quitting smoking tobacco was another issue that took time.  So basically a critic could point to this enthusiastic young man and say “Some Christian, he smokes like a chimney”.  This makes for a lot of targets for the critic but what critics do when they point to the ‘hypocrites’ is miss construe what the Christian experience is and nothing makes the enemy happier.  There is no perfect Church even Jesus’ first twelve had a Devil in it. How are we expect that there would be anything better in His wake?  All too many throw Jesus out with the bathwater of the Church and too many in the Church think that water is holy.

  • MacG

    Book I’d like to thank you as well for your openness for these types of discussions.  You are truly a gracious and open minded hostess.
    Blessings to you and yours,

  • Bookworm

    ExPreacherMan and MacG:  My pleasure.  I opened the topic and I always learn from your responses.

  • Ymarsakar

    God is a sort of Absolute Observer in Quantum Mechanical interpretations. He’s the one that is above it all, looking down, and by dent of observation, reality is made. So if God does not know you chose A instead of B, that’s because A was never a choice you would ever have made in a trillion possibilities or God is not omniscient and thus does not know. It’s either or on this matter.

    Those that are still stuck on “God is omniscient so there is no free will” have yet to comprehend basic scientific theory concerning quantum mechanics. Let alone theology and religion. That’s their hang up and lack of perception clogging up the works. 

  • BrianE

     ” We also talked about the Christian concept of Grace, and the Puritan ethos of living a “holier than thou” lifestyle so as to make it clear to the neighbors that one had indeed embraced Christ and, presumably, been embraced right back. (I know that’s a bit facetious and facile, but I’m assuming you all are reasonably familiar with the Puritan’s religious doctrine, religious practices, and lifestyles.)”- BW

    I suppose the Christian concept of Grace makes little sense in a rights-entitled society where everything is demanded and nothing is not deserved. But then, if “God is love”, what makes more sense than an expression of “unmerited favor” at the core of God’s demonstration of love. “While we were yet antagonistic to God, God loved us.” It is certainly an idea that is to be emulated– though I would suggest not very well in today’s society.

    Of course, there is another dimension of God’s nature– that of holiness, a holiness that demands justice. Without justice, everything is capricious, which is certainly a characteristic of the pagan god’s of time past and present. 

     It’s easy to dismiss that their desire for holiness was a result of God’s grace and a desire to live a life pleasing to a God who was so gracious. Of course the command “be holy as I am holy” shouldn’t be ignored either. Certainly the Puritans weren’t immune to the human frailty of turning the spirituality God desires into a formula– and in so doing bulding stone statues to worship rather than the living God who exists in us. It’s so much easier to worship that which we can see.

    As to prayer, God’s command to us is to “pray without ceasing, in everything giving thanks”. That’s God’s will for us. While our current hedonistic and superficial society bristles at the idea of God commanding anything, I would suggest that the parent-child relationship throughout the Bible is more of the ‘brush your teeth’ variety. It is for our good, and bad things will result if we ignore the admonition.

    I agree that on a certain level God is unknowable, since he said so. “My ways are not your ways” kind of thing. Once we understand the nature of matter, we might reverse engineer a deeper understanding of the mind of God, but right now He is very knowable, and is actively seeking a relationship of “pappa” with each of us. Enough of his nature is revealed in the Bible to have that intimate relationship.

    I think the story of Elijah is certainly worthy of note. It didn’t take Elijah long, coming the from lofty heights of demonstrating the power of the living God, to abject depression. It was in the stillness that God spoke. Today, in the superficial hedonism and frantic pace of our lives, hearing God’s still small voice requires an attention and detachment from this world that most are unwilling to pursue. Prayer is as much an exercise in conforming our will to His as a list of things we want from Him.

    We dismiss the Puritan life as vain, not worthy of respect and admiration but then turn around and embrace the notion that we are merely super-smart monkeys with nothing to curtail our pursuit of personal pleasure.  How’d that turn out in the past?   I’ve often thought that the power of God is revealed in the fact that our free will and the resulting chaos happens inside a framework where God’s will prevails.

    I think the Puritan’s have gotten a bad rap.                              

  • Danny Lemieux

    Interesting comments, BrianE.

    They remind me that the Puritans were rebelling against a very corrupt, larcenous, libertine, ideological, self-absorbed and appetite-driven society of early-17th Century England.

    Something akin the degradation of our society today, perhaps?

  • MacG

    Well said Brian E. Well said.

  • Ymarsakar

    The primary problem with Puritans is that they believed in living as a commune where communism is practiced. Their one point of virtue is that they figured out, by doing it, that this didn’t work.

    Contrast that with the moral and intellectual self proclaimed superiors who have neither tried commune living, yet still say “communism” and “socialism” will work when it is done “right”. 

  • ExPreacherMan

    About Bookworm’s question on the Puritans..
    We know Puritans had their “moral” view of how society (and their assemblies) should operate. Sounds like a good idea until we understand that Puritans were Calvinist and predestination proponents. They held witch trials in Salem and demanded to impose their “moral” values on all of society. On the surface that might sound OK to some but taken to its end, becomes a Theocracy of man’s making and subsequently encouraged a persecution of those not so “chosen” for salvation by God (according to their false teaching).
    In order to separate from other “religious” influences Puritans set their own rules which were pushed to the point that God’s Salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ became the opposite — the false teaching of man’s Works (contrary to God’s Word). This teaching obscured true Grace salvation in Jesus Christ alone — because the church hierarchy demanded their idea of visible evidence of salvation or else — not unlike the present day false teaching of Lordship “salvation” (probation) so prevalent in religion today (Calvinists John MacArthur, Francis Chan, Piper, et al).. In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  • BrianE

    Sounds like you’re beef is with James.

    I don’t think you could characterize the Puritan’s form of government as a Theocracy, and non-practicing people were allowed to live among them, though with limited rights. Those that believed differently were free to leave and did. 

    The hysteria and subsequent hanging of those accused of witchcraft is certainly a blemish on the Puritan memory, though the Mather’s did preach restraint in dealing with the issue.

    The Puritans did give us a strong work ethic (everyone should have two callings– to serve God and a vocation to serve himself and his community.

    Puritans did encourage a strong education and they did give us Harvard (OK, maybe that didn’t work out so well).

    Being raised a five-point Calvinist, there’s plenty of scriptures to draw one to that point of view, and my brother was a staunch Baptist preacher and Calvinist to the core. Calvinists are separatists at heart and are more likely to withdraw than to force their beliefs politically.

    Besides, the Dutch were just as intolerant in their own way as the Puritans.                        

  • riw777

    Let’s not confuse the book of James with the sacralism of the Reformers, and let’s not confuse modern Calvinism with the Puritans. The Puritans were, in fact, setting out to build “a city on a hill,” a purely Christian place that would be the foundation of the Kingdom of God that they were building, and would eventually spread throughout the world. This wasn’t all bad, of course –as you note, they did give us the idea that work is a calling, something the modern church has lost hold of, and needs to get back to an understanding of.
    But don’t underestimate the tie between church and state in original Calvinistic thinking, or in Anglican thinking, or in Roman Catholic thinking (why is there an Anglican church, after all?). We can’t conceive of the sacralism in Islam because we don’t really understand how sacralist Christianity broadly was up until about 100 years ago. And the sacralist past we think we’ve left behind is quickly coming back to haunt us, only it won’t be a real Christian sacralism (it will be called Christian, but it won’t be any more Christian than Roman Cathocilism was in the Middle Ages). Think of the Obama commercial where there are just people chanting/singing “Obama” in the background –we are increasingly imbuing our political leaders with religious meaning, and our government with religious functions.
    A great book to read in this regard is The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. It lays out the case very carefully and fully that the entire basis for the American separation of church and state comes from the Anabaptists, not from the Reformed/Calvinists side of Christianity. Calvin, after all, ruled Geneva with an iron fist for many years, and approved of burning people at the stake for heresy.
    Most modern Calvinism, for all it’s insistence, is not walking in the footsteps of Calvin at all (some modern Calvinism is clearly walking in the footsteps of Calvin, having dominist strains, and insisting on using government force to impose “social justice,” which is just “dominism light,” in many ways).

  • BrianE

    Thank you for the explanation riw777.

  • Ymarsakar

    Every society has problems using epistemology to determine the truth. For Calvinists it is determining what is God’s Will, by looking at the social status and wealth of their fellows. One doesn’t necessarily need to serve God to be rich, healthy, powerful, etc. One can easily serve the Devil of the Pit and get the same benefit, if not more, in this world.


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