I’m kind of weirded out by people who express nostalgia for John Calvin, and call themselves admirers of his. I think it a useful correction to this nostalgia to actually recall what it was like, exactly, to live in John Calvin’s Geneva in the 16th century. Here’s the historian Will Durant (from his book, The Reformation, 1957, pp. 478-479) on an incident of high religious tension in the city:
On June 27, 1547, Calvin found attached to his pulpit a placard reading:
“Gross hypocrite! You and your companions will gain little by your pains. If you do not save yourselves by flights, nobody shall prevent your overthrow, and you will curse the hour when you left your monkery. . . . After people have suffered long they avenge themselves. . . . Take care that you are not served like M. Verle [who had been killed]. . . . We will not have so many masters. . . .”
Jacques Gruet, a leading Libertin, was arrested on suspicion of having written the placard; no proof was adduced. It was claimed that he had, some days previously, uttered threats against Calvin. In his room were found papers, allegedly in his handwriting, calling Calvin a haughty and ambitious hypocrite, and ridiculing the inspiration of the Scriptures and the immortality of the soul. He was tortured twice daily for thirty days until he confessed—we do not know how truthfully—that he had affixed the placard and conspired with French agents against Calvin and Geneva. On July 26, half dead, he was tied to a stake, his feet nailed to it, and his head was cut off.
You can’t turn the other cheek if you don’t have a head, can you? In any event, this is the kind of “George Bush” Christianity that John Calvin practiced. (Oh, maybe that’s what people mean when they say that they admire John Calvin. He was like George Bush. Okay then. Never mind.)