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Hi and welcome back! Even an inattentive reader around here quickly figures out that I’m not a big fan of Calvinists. And I’m hardly the only one who has big, serious issues with this flavor of Christianity. Recently, I discovered that Calvinists themselves have caught on to outsiders’ near-universal dislike of them. But as usual for extremists, Calvinists’ utter lack of self-awareness has led them to some really wacky conclusions about why that dislike exists. Today, let’s see why people dislike Calvinists — and why Calvinists think they’re disliked.

John Calvin looking chipper
(thierry ehrmann, CC.)

(Related posts about Calvinists: Calvinism and Arminianism: the New SBC Schism; Calvinists Treat People Like Things; Purity Culture in Calvinism; The Hilarious Glory of a Failed Showdown; How Calvinists Convinced the SBC to Go Inerrant; ‘American Gospel’ Accused of Being Calvinist Propaganda. Also, in this post I criticize Calvinism. I’m aware that #notallcalvinists are like this. Some Calvinists are absolutely lovely people.)

Calvinism: A Refresher.

Before we start, it’s probably a good idea to talk about what Calvinists believe.

Calvinism is a flavor of Christianity that operates like a module of beliefs. Any Protestant can add this module to their existing raft of doctrinal beliefs. There are Presbyterian Calvinists and Baptist Calvinists and hosts of other sorts of Calvinists. The adoption of this module makes these groups alike far more than their specific denominational beliefs make them different.

Often, Calvinists call themselves Reformed Christians. There do exist some nuances of shading between the terms, but culturally they seem indistinct.

Lately, really authoritarian, mostly-young-ish evangelicals have been getting drawn like whoa into this sub-flavor of Protestantism. Their laser-focus on correct Jesus-ing latches hard onto Calvinism’s claims.

Sidebar: TULIP and Authoritarianism.

Hardcore Calvinists tend to proudly refer to themselves as “five-point Calvinists” (or “five-pointers”, or less if they don’t buy into all five). This term refers to the five parts of the module of Calvinism. The acrostic TULIP refers to the points.

TULIP stands for:

  • Total depravity. Humans are scum and cannot do anything good. They most especially cannot decide on their own to buy into Christianity.
  • Unconditional election. Yahweh has preselected the people going to Heaven and never changes his mind.
  • Limited atonement. Jesus only died for the people he wanted to see in Heaven.
  • Irresistible grace. If Yahweh wants you in Heaven, you will be there whether you like it or not.
  • Perseverance of the saints. If you leave Christianity, obviously you were never a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ meant for Heaven.

Somehow, these five points combine to make many — not all, of course, but many — Calvinists into utterly reprehensible human beings.

I suspect it’s the combination of TULIP with authoritarianism. As one Calvinist has noted, “Calvinism is a useful tool for jerky people to act like jerks.” And I agree.

Thus, as I proceed I will seek to delineate that group from Calvinists who are decent human beings.

Why People Don’t Like Calvinists: Real Edition.

When I run into Christians who are uber-authoritarians, who are absolutely controlling, judgmental, and snide, who cannot behave themselves in any kind of civil fashion, who snarl insults and cruel judgments constantly, who sneer condescendingly and preen their own feathers endlessly for their imagined superiority, well, I all too often discover that they’re fervent, hardcore Calvinists.

These authoritarian Calvinists tend to go in for the very worst, most controlling kinds of groups as well. In fact, the Calvinists who kick-started the entire Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) see their work as unfinished until they can talk the SBC’s leaders into adopting the super-controlling cultural rules they call “church discipline.”

There are no words whatsoever to describe how poorly Calvinists have consistently treated me and anybody else they think they can abuse without repercussions. Their god literally hates everybody but maybe them, and it definitely shows in how they treat others. As Rachel Held Evans once noted,

That God loves everyone (and not just a select group of people) has always been the most important theological constant in my life…and I feel like Calvinism, were it true, would take that away from me. Replacing “for God so loved the world” with “for God so hated the world” (which I believe Calvinism requires) is so disorienting to me, so dark and frightening and hopeless, that I fear it would lead me to despair.

Christians always craft for themselves a god who reflects their own hopes and fears and desires. Rachel’s god loved the world.

But authoritarian Calvinists have chosen a very different god to follow.

An Apparently Old Complaint About Calvinism.

The other day, I was cruising around Reddit’s Christian corners and happened into a subreddit called “r/Reformed.” It’s for Calvinists who want to talk about all things Calvinism. Interestingly, they were complaining (archive) about a meme someone had posted to another subreddit called “r/DankChristianMemes.” Seriously, that exists.

Here is the meme:


Meanies! Calvinists are upset now!
(Source.) Click to embiggen.

It’s an image from the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In the top frame, a character labeled ‘Biblical Christians’ is at the top of a roof. He extends a hand (labeled ‘God’s love’) to a man (labeled ‘The lost’) falling off the roof to the right.

Then, in the lower frame, Danny DeVito shows up with a 2×4 board. He’s labeled ‘Calvinism’ and the board is labeled ‘God hates some!’ And he’s using the board to separate ‘The lost’ from ‘Biblical Christians.’ In fact, he seems even to be trying to knock ‘The lost’ off the roof with the board.

Now, this isn’t a new meme at all. This post is just over two years old.

Still, the discussion under it caught my attention. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever seen rank-and-file Calvinists really engaging with outsiders’ extremely low opinion of them and their ideology.

And these Calvinists acted like none of the animosity they saw in that other subreddit was anything new.

How Calvinists Reacted to a Dank Christian Meme.

Predictably, almost all the Calvinists who responded to this Original Post (OP) came to one and only one conclusion:

Their critics just didn’t understaaaaand Calvinists. If they understooooood Calvinists, they’d know that they weren’t hateful meaniepies at all.

Seriously. Here’s a selection of quotes:

  • “It’s a common caricature of Calvinism, espoused by those thst [sic] refuse to actually converse with or understand Calvinists.” (This comment prompted a big argument about the difference between Pelagianism, semipelagianism, and Arminianism.)
  • “I assume most garden-variety non calvinists just don’t have any idea what Calvinism is.”
  • “It’s a typical, confused view towards Calvinism. ‘Oh, so you’re a Calvinist. I take that means you are totally against the free offer of the Gospel'”

Once I looked around online, I found source after source confirming this mindset. Calvinists tend to believe that only ignorant meaniepies dislike Calvinists. They universally think their critics don’t really understand what Calvinism involves.

At most, they might concede (as this Calvinist SBC seminary student does) that maybe, just maybe a few bad apples are causing trouble. (Ahem.)

When we see any group acting like this, rest assured: they are awful people who lack self-awareness.

How Calvinists Also Reacted to the Dank Meme.

Hilariously, at the same time we also had Calvinists on that subreddit who fully conformed to the stereotype they all think only sounds believable to the ignorant. Enjoy another selection of quotes (relink of source).

  • “The sovereign decree of God from all eternity to save for Himself a remnant to the praise of His own glorious grace. Or A straw man meme.”
  • “Given that ALL hath pleasure in unrighteousness, the greater mystery is why God had mercy on any of us and chose the elect to be spared from the strong delusion.” (This one also quoted 2 Thess 2:11-12, about Yahweh deliberately sending people “strong delusions” to keep them out of Heaven.)
  • “Grace isn’t offered to the reprobate, and it seems simple as that.”

And then, I saw a hot take that made me laugh:

  • “I don’t get the joke? Calvinists and Biblical Christians are the same :|”

(The accidental joke being made: Literally every TRUE CHRISTIAN™ ever thinks they’re a “Biblical Christian.” In this context, Biblical is a modifier. It means, roughly, aligning with a particular judging Christian’s own quirky li’l take on the Bible and Christianity.)

And, too, as I looked around online I saw plenty of Calvinists who also displayed exactly the same traits we saw here: the traits that make people dislike Calvinists.

Hold the Presses: ‘Cage Stage’ Calvinists.

Then, I began seeing references to something called Cage Stage Calvinists. This is absolutely hilarious.

When a young evangelical first converts to Calvinism and memorizes TULIP, they often go “on a relational rampage,” as this Calvinist, Tim Challies, tells us. They become Cage Stage Calvinists.

Cage Stage Calvinists are newbies who get so obnoxious that their fellow believers wish these numnuts could just be locked in a cage until they learn some dadgum manners and chill out. 

This misbehavior is, of course, a reflection of incorrect Jesus-ing in Tim Challies’ opinion:

Cage-Stage Calvinism happens when the doctrines of grace have clogged up our minds but have never made it to our hearts.

His description of Cage Stage behavior sounds about right, though. Indeed, I’ve met tons of Calvinists who behave exactly as he describes in his post.

What Calvinists Get Wrong About Cage Stage Calvinists.

Tim Challies’ mistakes, however, are huge:

  1. assuming that only a few newbies display this behavior
  2. thinking Jesus-ing correctly cures anything

Ligonier, a Calvinist site, makes the same exact mistakes in their own post on Cage Stage Calvinism. So does The Gospel Coalition.

In fact, it sure seems to me that Sye Ten Bruggencate, once a darling of Calvinism before his recent disgrace, behaved as a Cage Stage Calvinist in that classic post from Neil Carter.

And so have the Calvinists who’ve abused and sneered at me over the years. They weren’t newbies to Calvinism. Many were local leaders in their groups, even, and moderators in their online spaces.

It’s so weird how Calvinists correctly describe this behavior, but can’t accurately identify who’s doing it.

Why These Errors Will Keep Cage Stage Calvinists Frolicking Freely.

As we see when Christians blame their worst problems on a few bad apples, if Calvinists can’t figure out how widespread and pervasive “Cage Stage” behavior really is, and then work out why it happens at all, then they can’t really address it.

As long as Calvinists derisively dismiss obnoxious and judgmental behavior as a product of incorrect Jesus-ing and inexperience, as long as it’s the province of new converts, they won’t be able to rein it in. Heck, I’m not sure their biggest leaders could rein it in even if they wanted to try. As noted, Sye Ten Bruggencate himself displayed these traits!

And as long as Calvinists dismiss criticisms of their behavior as the result of ignorance, as the product of doctrinal ignorance in particular (when really, we don’t need to know a thing about someone’s beliefs to identify them as awful), they won’t feel any need to change.

(It’ll always be easier for toxic Christians to try to silence their critics than fix the problems causing the criticism.)

But that’s the nice thing about Calvinism. Like all wingnut belief systems, this one’s self-reinforcing! If people criticize Calvinists’ behavior, Calvinism itself provides its followers plenty of tools for dismissing that criticism.

Ultimately, the self-reinforcing nature of Calvinism might be why Calvinists like it so much.

NEXT UP: A power struggle at a Florida megachurch highlights some serious issues within evangelicalism as a whole. See you tomorrow!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...