John Calvin was born 500 years ago, in 1509, but I have a hard time understanding what, exactly, we should celebrate about it, or how to celebrate it. John Calvin, afterall, looked askance at merriment, drinking, and dancing, so what exactly do you do to celebrate John Calvin’s birthday? In terms of what to celebrate, I know that John Calvin put quite a spin on the theological world, and I find some of his ideas interesting. I also know that Emile Durkheim used to attribute the evolution of capitalism to Calvinism, but really now! What does one celebrate about John Calvin in the 21st century? A Reader at Trinity Church, Norwich, said this about the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth:
Somewhat to my regret, I’ve made rather more this year of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth than I have of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’ s birth.
What’s to regret about it? I don’t get it. Some help here? Wasn’t, for example, John Calvin’s Geneva a theocracy? What can be learned from such a social model in the 21st century (except to avoid it)? And Calvin was so retrogressive, even in his own time, that he didn’t even accept Copernicus’s science! I mean, aside from his theology (which you either believe, or you don’t), does Calvin really have anything to teach our global civilization, half a millenium later?
Below is a 16th century image of Calvin’s zealous followers trashing a Catholic cathedral. Do we celebrate John Calvin by simply looking the other way with regards to his actual practice of religion in 16th century Geneva? What does it mean to celebrate a theocrat and iconoclast who had no compunction about cutting off the heads of heretics and murdering “witches”? Maybe I’m missing something simply wonderful about John Calvin, but if so, what is it?