Do Arminians have the same problem as Calvinists?
Paul Manata offers a response to my article “Calvinism preaches a God of love, and yet…” The response was a tu quoque, an argument form which functions like this:
Randal and Paul were walking home from the Barry Manilow concert when Paul was surrounded by a group of growling headbangers who were focused on his powder blue concert T-shirt. Just before the headbangers began to pummel Paul he pointed in Randal’s direct and said: “He’s also wearing a concert T-shirt. It is just hid underneath his jacket.” So the headbangers beat up Randal too.
Gee, thanks Paul.
My claim was that Calvinism has a problem in that it takes the position that the God of love opts not to elect all for salvation. But how can God be loving to all and yet choose that some suffer eternal damnation?
Paul’s tu quoque is to retort that Arminians have the “SAME problem”: I’m wearing a Barry Manilow t-shirt too. As he says, “Arminianism teaches a God of love, . . . and yet.”
And yet what? Arminianism doesn’t claim that God chooses to damn some. So what’s the what?
“SAME problem vis-a-vis apparent actions that SEEM inconsistent with a “good” God. You say, “If God loves all men, how can it be that he leaves some in a sinful state leading to damnation.” I say, “If God loves all men, how can it be that he allows little girls to be rapped without stopping it.” At some point I will make the Arminian resort to some kind of appeal to inscrutability, then I’ll ask why there’s a problem with my appeal to inscrutability.”
That is a problem. It is a problem that I am well aware of and which I discuss in You’re not as Crazy as I Think. In that book I talk about the case of Carmina Salcido. Carmina had her throat slit by her psychopathic father when she was just three years old along with her two sisters. The three bodies were found a day later in a field, with Carmina incredibly still clinging to life. I think theists always need to talk about evil in concrete situations rather than conceptual abstraction. And the question of how a loving god could allow Carmina’s father to commit such a heinous act is a problem for any theist (even the open theists by the way).
But even if Carmina’s case is a problem for the Arminian, it is not the same problem faced by the Calvinist. I may be wearing a Tom Jones t-shirt. But that’s not the same thing as Barry Manilow. And it is not nearly as likely to get a person curbed by a pack of headbangers. (Tom Jones has a certain machismo that a headbanger can sort of respect, almost like he could have been Henry Rollins’ dad.)
Let’s put it like this.
The Calvinist/Arminian problem: God did not prevent the attempted murder of Carmina and the murder of her siblings.
The uniquely Calvinist problem: God was the primary cause of Carmina’s father’s free actions. God could have willed Carmina’s father freely to choose to love and nurture Carmina rather than to slit her throat.
So I admit I’ve got the first problem, but I don’t have the second one.
Now let’s move to eternity. The headbangers are eyeing my Tom Jones shirt, confused. “Who’s Tom Jones?” one of them barks.
“You know,” I reply, hoarsely. “What’s new pussycat?” The headbangers look confused.
Paul interrupts.”But he’s wearing a Barry Manilow pendant!”
Thanks again Paul.
This is the second problem, the Arminian problem of hell. Here is what Paul says:
“Moreover, what sense does it make to say on the Arminian system that God doesn’t intend or will to damn some yet also love all? He knew people would be damned if he went ahead and created, yet he did so anyway. What does it mean to say he didn’t in some sense desire or will that outcome? Some Molinists, like Craig, claim that God did what was best over all, achieving the best ratio of saved to damned. This is the Roger Dorn theodicy, i.e., the “take one for the team” theodicy. God instantiates a world where some are in circumstances that they will reject God. In hell they cry out, “Why did you put me in these circumstances, there was a possible world where I choose you!” God replies, “Yeah, but I got the best ratio with this world, the saints in heaven thank you, Dorn.”
I could quibble with aspects of Paul’s statement. But never mind, even based on Paul’s own words is that really the equivalent of a Barry Manilow pendant? No. It is not. Compare and contrast:
Calvinist: God could have willed that all people freely chose him but God opted not to do so.
Arminian: God could not have willed that all people freely chose him so God created the maximally favorable conditions for as many people to choose him freely as possible.
There’s a chasm separating these two views. The Arminian view of providence and election may still be troubling in certain respects, but it is nowhere nearly as bad as the Calvinist. On the Arminian view God is limited to a lifeboat on the Titanic and fits in as many as he can. Is it really fair to complain that he didn’t fit in more when he simply couldn’t? In contrast, on the Calvinist view God could have willed a lifeboat the same size as the Titanic in which everyone is saved. But God chose not to. That’s quite a difference. That’s quite a problem.
I pull out the pendant while the headbangers wait.
It isn’t a Barry Manilow pendant after all. “Boy George and Culture Club” it says. The headbangers’ faces immediately brighten. “Culture Club? We love Culture Club!” And with that we all begin singing ”Karma Chameleon”. Even Paul, bruised but none the worse for wear, gets in on the act.