Hello and welcome back. Recently, a young and fervent Calvinist, Robert Aaron Long, decided that the best way to deal with his personal difficulties was to murder a whole bunch of innocent people. His church, Crabapple First Baptist, immediately distanced itself and is doing its level best to pretend their teachings had nothing whatsoever to do with Long’s decision or his difficulties. But I’d venture to guess that the opposite is true. Calvinism teaches adherents to treat people like things, and it does so through its central tenet.
Predestination: The Central Tenet of Calvinism.
Calvinism pushes hard on this idea called predestination. That’s the notion that long ago, the Christian god pre-chose every single person who’ll ever go to Heaven. Nobody else can go. Everyone else goes to torture forever in Hell. If someone’s not on the VIP list, they can’t change this god’s mind at all, ever, no matter what they do. When Jesus died on the cross, in fact, he only “bought” Heaven for those few people who were on the VIP list from the beginning of time.
Conversely, however, nothing the VIPs do could ever wipe them from the list. They could never in a billion years do something to mess up their god’s pre-made plans.
Of course, no few criticisms exist of predestination. Many are even written by Christians. I liked this one by Ben Perry because it very clearly outlines exactly how predestination weaves all through the “five points” of Calvinism. Perry did a good job of outlining just how evil a god would need to be to create this sort of cosmology.
This other one by Ben Crenshaw is more scholarly. It hits at the central heart of the predestination issue more clearly: a god who’d be okay with this cosmology absolutely hates his creation. Rachel Held Evans also wrote about the Calvinist god’s pure unalloyed hatred for humanity in her 2009 post, “Why Calvinism Makes Me Cry.”
And if you think predestination’s effect on Calvinism’s imaginary god is bad, just consider its impact on its very real believers.
The Kings of the World: Calvinism’s Ruling Caste.
India still struggles with a holdover of times past: their caste system. In 1950, India abolished this system. However, it persists still. It’s been a hard thing to shake.
In this system, people are born to a fixed, immutable social station — and they can never change it. They grow up, take jobs appropriate for their caste, marry people in the same or acceptably-adjacent castes, and have children who will grow up and live the same way.
In India, the caste system is tied to Hindu spirituality. Hindus saw — and many still see — people in lower castes as suffering for offenses they committed in past lives (and conversely, they see those in higher castes as being rewarded for living past lives of goodness and holiness). Those in higher castes feel perfectly free to abuse or mistreat those in lower castes — because obviously they deserve it!
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a big 2001 paper on the topic that’s worth a read, if you’re curious. It concerns a 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, a state in northwest India. In recovery efforts, HRW noticed over and over again that the government allocated recovery help according to the old caste system: higher caste quake victims got more help than lower-caste ones.
Similarly, Calvinists think they’re literally divinely set apart from the beginning of the universe to go to Heaven. How d’you suppose they’re gonna treat those who are not?
How Calvinism Becomes a Caste System.
Look no further than caste systems — or to experiments like the infamous blue eyes/brown eyes one — to see what happens next. The members of superior-branded groups quickly begin treating those in other, inferior groups in increasingly-unkind and unfair ways. Nothing restrains them from poor behavior. And nothing checks them when they do wrong.
I see this behavior in Calvinists constantly. They rarely seem to feel the slightest obligation to behave in civil ways, let alone kindly ones.
In 2014, Neil Carter wrote about one of these more egregious Calvinists, Sye Ten Bruggencate. This famous Calvinist was there to participate — sorta, anyway — in a debate with atheists. In every single way, Bruggencate behaved absolutely reprehensibly. He was rude, dismissive, and weirdly dishonest. Afterward, Neil approached him to ask how many people Bruggencate actually persuaded through these antics:
At one point between recordings I asked him if anyone ever “gets saved” through his apologetic method. He quickly dismissed the question and assured me that wasn’t his problem. “It’s not my job to persuade,” he asserted. “That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, I believe him that he does not take any personal responsibility for the ineffectiveness of his methods.
Oof. But I believe Bruggencate, too. Yes, I do. With all my heart.
In his worldview, after all, Bruggencate could not possibly do anything to affect anybody’s election to Heaven or Hell. So why bother being kind and nice to anyone? His god would do what he pleased regardless.
Thus, for a terrible person election represents a powerful permission slip to mistreat others.
(Yes, for those asking: We’ll cover Bruggencate’s recent situation at some point, probably. I’m gathering info on it.)
Evil: Treating People as Things.
What was it that Granny Weatherwax had said once? “Evil starts when you begin to treat people as things.”
Sir pTerry, I Shall Wear Midnight
Imagine that we could set fire to a bit of Calvinism as an ideology, and then measure the color and intensity of the resulting flames like we were trying to identify the fibers in a fabric swatch.
If we could do that, I know what we’d find.
We’d observe a system that sets one set of people aside for eternal life, and everyone else aside for eternal torture. We would measure a system that settles impossible rules on its members, then teaches them that their god refuses to accept anything but perfection. And we would see those members getting taught that they are helpless to shift any outcomes.
In fact, it’d be a system that teaches that nobody — not the elect, not the Hellbound, nobody — can do anything at all outside of their god’s plan. It’d teach the superior caste that there’s no point at all to trying to better the lot of those doomed to eternal torture. It’d scorch any traces of potential blossoming sympathy away.
How could we come out with any results but a group of emotionally-stunted asshats who see the people outside their tribe as objects? As props for their fantasies, obstructions standing between them and their desires, or implements for achieving their ambitions? And a group that doesn’t worry at all about hurting others, too?
Whatever happens is, by definition, just part of their god’s divine plan for the world.
The Broken Roadmap of Calvinism.
Every Christian flavor offers adherents a broken roadmap. Yes. Given. They all tell adherents that this map will take them from Point Here to Point Safety in Jesus-Land. Follow the marked route, the flavor’s leaders tell adherents, do what it says to do at each waypoint, and you, too, can achieve a state of proper Jesus-ing!
But it’s a false route. Whatever each waypoint requires doesn’t actually advance the adherents to the next one. The further out the route goes, the less each point on it corresponds to the road of reality.
The more seriously that flavor takes the Bible and the harder its adherents try to use the Bible as an instructional guide, the more broken their roadmap will be and the less each point will correspond to reality — and the less possible it is for the map’s instructions to work.
As one of the most incredibly authoritarian flavors of Christianity extant, not to mention one of the flavors trying the hardest to use the Bible as a guide to life, Calvinism boasts one of the least reality-based roadmaps of them all.
(For people who claim to believe so firmly in predestination, Calvinists have always struck me as remarkably control-grabby. You’d think they’d be the most live-and-let-live people ever born. But nope!)
Drawing the Line, or Not.
Now, Christians who join these extremist Christian tribes in adulthood kinda get that the roadmap doesn’t work. They’ve got the life experience to know where to draw the line between the Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game and lived reality.
Children, though, do not get that luxury. They grow up immersed in a group of trusted adults who all act like they completely think the Pretendy Game is totes for realsies.
And oh boy, did Robert Aaron Long ever buy in whole hog as a kid.
In his 2018 testimony video, now long gone from his church’s long-gone site but described here, he waxes eloquent about how he was totally “living completely for myself” before realizing his god “wanted” him for Heaven. So like a good little Calvinist, he responded to his god’s demand — like he had any other choice, right — and began Jesus-ing in earnest. His social media sounds like it was the ur-example of a Calvinist mad lad: gun worship, music, and Jesus-all-the-time.
Alas, he just could not rid himself of his illicit sexual desires!
Following the Broken Roadmap.
Since his arrest, Robert Aaron Long’s church leaders have put out word that they absolutely, positively never taught anything that might have supported Long’s decision to murder innocent people to get to Point Sexual Purity.
However, it’s quite clear that Long used the exact roadmap that Calvinist leaders give adherents to try to find that destination. He did it all: the prayer, the fake rehab clinics, the accountabilibuddy system the map demands, and likely even more.
I hope his church leaders are now asking themselves how they could have so disastrously miscommunicated their teachings, if they did at all.
But from what I’ve seen of Calvinism as a whole, Long perfectly absorbed Calvinists’ utter and self-serving lack of concern for those they’ve decided are not in their caste.
When that lack of concern combined with Calvinism’s swivel-eyed insistence on sexual purity and in the absence of real help, the results were purely disastrous.
NEXT UP: How Calvinism’s warped take on sexual purity destroys adherents who take it too seriously. See you tomorrow, friends.
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(Last thoughts: Wish I had a dollar for every Christian who decided it was okay to abuse and mistreat me once they realized I was not ever going to buy their product or comply with their demands. Biff did that all the time, and my crowd used to yell at him for it. He’d just shrug. If he knew that his victims were Hellbound anyway, what difference did it make how he treated them? What, would he send them to Hell EXTRA lots? This was way before Calvinism really swept through our end of Christianity, but he sure had the mindset down pat!)