Saturday, November 20, 2010

busy busy weekend & predestination

Well my old friend Dan is in town, on tour to promote his new CD so I had to see him play tonight, and I also had to see Claire Warden perform in THE LIBERTINE tonight (review later) and then my mom is coming for a very rare visit to NYC. My daughter and I asked her what sights she wanted to see in town. Her response - St. Patrick's Cathedral. Catholics are obligated to go to Mass every Sunday - although you can do a Saturday evening and it counts towards Sunday - or they go to Hell, I think. Unless they go to confession and get forgiveness in time.

It was the whole confession thing that set me on the path to atheism. When I was about twelve I thought: "so as far as God is concerned, if you got hit by a car before you made it to church to say confession, you deserve Hell, but if you make it in time, you'll go to Heaven - since having said your confession you'll be sin-free. But God, being omniscient, would know that this would happen in advance, and so knew you would not make it into confession on time. So what is the point of all this activity when in the end, and for eternity, you are either in Heaven (perhaps with a stint in Purgatory if your sins weren't too awful) or Hell?"

I didn't bother trying to talk to a priest or a nun because in my experience they got angry if you asked too many questions. In first grade I wanted to discuss the nature of God and I asked Sr. Martin Joseph if God was in some aspects similar to Samantha in Bewitched and she just about had an attack of apoplexy at the question. Although she was an especially unstable individual, it's true and at one point in my first-grade year got into a scuffle with a first-grade boy and swung him around by his arms. The boy's parents took him out of the school immediately (Our Lady of Fatima in Cornwells Heights PA if you're interested) but Sr. Martin Joseph hung on until the end of the school year - but when I returned for second grade she was outta there. I heard she dropped out of the nunhood pretty soon after that.

You can see why the Church would establish a weekly Mass obligation - because they collect money from the congregation during Mass. I always wondered why Protestants dropped that feature, but I think I have an idea now, having to do with my 12-year-old questions about God's omniscience and damnation and confession.

The Calvinists state the most explicit belief in predestination, although Lutherans and other Christian sects buy into the concept to some degree. Predestination means that God has decided in advance whether you are going to Heaven or Hell, and there is nothing you can do about it. I think that predestination was devised in order to address the logical incompatibility between "free will" and an omniscient god. The Calvinists in effect (although they deny it) simply dispensed with free will.

Now this would appear to thwart one of the most socially useful aspects of religion, to get people to do good and not bad out of fear of Godly judgment. The Calvinist response, according to Wikipedia is: "God's irresistible grace will make his elect live in a Godly manner and not vice versa."

So from the Calvinist (and other "Reformed" Christian sects) if you do bad things it is a clear sign that God has not elected you for Heaven and you are one of the damned. If you do good things - like give money to the church - it is a sign you are one of the elect. This method of social control works best in a small tight-knit society where everybody knows who is living in a "Godly" manner and who is not.

So how can Calvinism survive in a large non-tight-knit society?

According to a recent study many religious people don't know much about religion especially compared to non-believers - this would tend to preserve Calvinism and other predestination groups since, without a clear understanding of the tenets of their own denomination, Calvinists will tend to assume their tenets are similar to those of the larger Protestant sects, including Godly judgment based on "works."

And then there is the tendency of people to simply accept whatever religion they were raised with.

Another factor though is that Calvinism is a very small sect to begin with - according to the Pew Forum Statistics on Religion in America Report it is (under the name "Reformed") only 0.3% of the total Protestant population. They don't appear to lose any members from childhood to adulthood, but they don't appear to be gaining any converts either. Which would make sense.

In any case, thanks to modern technology, it's no longer necessary to compel the church membership to show up in person in order to get money out of them. Sending out Godly email reminders works well too, I imagine. And then you could post who gave what on the church web site. This could be a real benefit to Calvinism and the creed of predestination.