John Calvin: Jesus’s Bulldog?

In the 19th century Charles Darwin had a bulldog (T.H. Huxley), but in the 16th century Jesus had a bulldog too. And this bulldog didn’t just bite rhetorically. His name was John Calvin, and under the right circumstances he had no compunction about literally taking your head off. Here’s what John Calvin said about himself:

A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.

And Calvin spoke of hell and damnation with a matter-of-factness that chills the blood (at least it does mine):

God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.

2009 marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Some are marking his birth in celebratory terms. Frankly, this baffles me. Could somebody please explain what he said or did that makes him someone worthy to look up to, or model oneself after, in the 21st century?

In any case, during his own era Calvin didn’t like Copernicus. I wonder what he would have made of Charles Darwin, and Charles Darwin’s bulldog, T.H. Huxley. An encounter between John Calvin and Charles Darwin (or one of Charles Darwin’s supporters) might not have made a pretty picture, as this video by a conservative Christian group clearly intuits:

I think it is interesting, in this video, that Darwin is positioned, as it were, as the “other”—the crasher of a patriotic party—and as someone who, in a sense, haunts the psychological ring of the conservative psyche. Darwin must be violently knocked out of the center ring by a more powerful historical figure, a man who insisted on sola scriptura, John Calvin, God’s bulldog.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to John Calvin: Jesus’s Bulldog?

  1. christianclarityreview says:

    “Frankly, this baffles me. Could somebody please explain what he said or did that makes him someone worthy to look up to, or model oneself after, in the 21st century?”

    ah.

    Fundamental error in that type of thinking. When you are deceived you have free will, you need such things as ideal models of behavior to emulate. People who are so deceived need a set of persons to follow. They always want proof that a certain set of ‘how-to’s ‘ will work so they can follow them to the same goal /success. See? It’s not as if they will ever do anything unique. They will only repeat history over and over in the guise of following ‘role models’ and being told exactly what to do in great detail while they simultaneously say “I’m free!”. They need someone to tell them what to do. All the time.

    Those ideal models supposedly take you to some form of paradise, where the free will can do what it wants all day. Note that that really meas the free will isn’t ..free. It’s always really trying to ‘get’ free, even within the confines of its own rationalism that it is already ‘free’.

    In contrast, those who know the will is not free do not seek an ideal model of behavior to earn their way toward some grand goal. They know that God has predetermined what will happen, that He loves us and that He sent His Son and Word to die for us as a substitute for our sins. There is no ideal model of behavior –at all.

    In short, only a free willer would ask what you asked because only a free willer would think that way. ..and genuinely be baffled. I’m not at all saying you were joking. You were voicing your best honesty. Calvin didn’t think that way. Neither does any real, literal new creature in Jesus Christ.

    When you are bewildered about these things, you imply that you side with Satan, with the damned. I point that out because you simultaneously seem to see that as defending the downtrodden or something like that. You have no say in whether you are or are not elect or damned. No one else does either. I don’t either. No one has that control but God. You want to take that control out of God’s hand as a mental construct and place in the mind of men and their attention span in the midst of endless attacks by Satan, only one of which is to always side with the damned.

    It makes sense that Satan would side with the damned. But why would you? You do not know that are in fact damned. Deceived? Yes. Damned? That’s up to God. That’s not up to you. Or Satan.

    you asked..

    John 10:35-38 If he called them gods to whom the word of God was spoken; and the scripture cannot be broken: Do you say of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world: Thou blasphemest; because I said: I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you will not believe me, believe the works: that you may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in the Father.

    timothy

    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

  2. santitafarella says:

    Christian Clarity:

    Free will v. determinism is a very complicated issue for me. Ironically, the very thing that you think rests at the core of religion (determinism) is what I think rests at the core of scientific naturalism and atheism. The very appeal of religion to me (insofar as it has appeal for me) is that it seems to be a route for resisting the determinist reduction of free will. But I know that you don’t see it that way. Your view is certainly more in accord with science than mine is (I think that we might have real, not illusory, free will, and so I think that probably neither Calvinists nor strict materialists have it right about this).

    As for my question about Calvin qua Calvin, what I don’t get is: What did Calvin bring into the world that is recognizably novel, interesting, or different from what the other Protestant reformers (like Luther) brought into the world? In the grand scheme of things, wasn’t he just another religious fundamentalist in an age of religious fundamentalism? Wasn’t he just a dittohead of Augustine, with Protestant glosses? What, exactly, should Calvin’s 500th anniversary be celebrated for?

    I realize, if you’re a Calvinist, why you would celebrate Calvinism (you share his theology, and that’s enough). But is that all there is to the Calvin anniversary?

    —Santi

    • john arioch says:

      Santi,

      By extension of your argument, why read Augustine for that matter, or even Paul? One thing that Calvin left us was his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, which stands not only as one of the greatest works of 16th century French Prose (I recommend you read it in the original, as it stands a monolithic herm at the abandoned crossroads to modernity.), but it also advances Calvin’s greatest legacy concerning the the idea of god’s total sovereignty. One thing that always strikes me about Calvin’s writing is that one gets the sense that he knew how terrified people would be of his doctrine, and how people would misrepresent his God as hateful or arbitrary, when in fact the precious gift Calvin felt he was giving was the simple idea that God’s justice demands that most be damned since all are not worthy of salvation, but in his mercy he elects a few.

  3. Bob Covolo says:

    Please read “The Uncompromised Calvin” by Richard Muller. Then you will have actual knowledge of Calvin, and not just sound bites that display your ignorance of the complexity of the actual historical person.

  4. santitafarella says:

    Bob:

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I believe, however, that you are referring to the Oxford Press book titled “The Unaccommodated Calvin”.

    In your view, is it unfair to characterize Calvin as an authoritarian?

    Also, do you think it possible to state succinctly why Calvin should be celebrated in the 21st century? I think one can do it rather easily with, say, Darwin, but I’m curious to know how one who is predisposed to admire Calvin also does so.

    —Santi

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