Posted by: brian | January 15, 2009

I don’t understand fatalistic religion

Truth be told, I don’t understand any religion, but the fatalistic sort presents a particular conundrum.

A “rebel” minister in the Seattle area is trying to repopularize Calvinism. I’m no religious scholar, but I do have an internet connection and access to Wikipedia, and as a result feel adequately qualified to comment on the topic.

As I understand it, according to Calvinist ideology, humans are innately flawed, sinful, depraved, and incapable of choosing salvation of their own accord. God, meanwhile, has preselected which humans he’ll save, and the decision is wholly arbitrary. If you are among those chosen for salvation, God will basically push you onto the salvation track. You have no choice in the matter, and are simply meant to follow the path that God selects for you.

My question, then,  is, “Why bother preaching this message?” If God makes all the decisions, then those chosen for salvation will come to God whether you preach to them or not. And the rest of us, whether we behave as saints or as sinners, are screwed. How does this belief system convince me to not go on a meth-fueled spree of raping dogs, killing hookers, and stealing money from Girl Scouts, whom I then kill and rape?



  1. This question was also asked by groups like the Anabaptists who were considered antinomians by orthodox theologians:

    Though reading an article on Calvin in Wikipedia is a good start, it’s not the last word on the man or the movement. You might ask yourself, why were his teachings be attractive to so many for such a long time? Consider them in their historical context: in a world of uncertainty, where you are always close to starvation and death, the idea that God has created a master narrative for the universe and you are a part of it may be very attractive. For the last seventy years or so mainstream thought in the West has told us that science will remove all life’s uncertainties and dispel the shadows of ignorance. And yet, if our science is so powerful, why is it unable to keep us from starvation and death? Imagine that you just lost your job because of the financial crisis, and it turns out your financial manager took off with your entire savings. Then you learn that the anti-depressant drugs you have been taking increase your chance of having a massive heart attack ten fold. (This is the news story:,0,3295418.story) You might start to think that all the optimism of scientists and economists was pie-in-the-sky foolishness. And you might year for the certainties of an all knowing, all powerful God.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I realize that religion does offer people certain comforts, but it’s difficult for me to really understand the appeal of this particular brand. I appreciate that the context in which it arose was vastly different from the world we now live in.

    I can understand why people would be drawn to a religion that teaches them that they can take actions to influence their fate, but surrendering your free will to a capricious and arbitrary deity, and hoping that you’re one of the chosen few, strikes me as utterly silly.

    And under some circumstances, I could see myself wishing for the certainties of an omnipotent and omniscient being, but that desire doesn’t translate, for me at least, into belief.

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