Paul Manata wrote several things in response to my recent article on Calvinism and the contrast effect. Since he sounded particularly exasperated this time around I thought I’d better field some of his comments directly. (However, I must admit that I’m presently slower in responding to comments generally than I’d like because I’m finishing a book manuscript.)
I’ll begin by quoting Paul in full and then coming back to specific points:
Dr. R, why not just admit you’ve bought into that magical and unscientific view of the will known as ‘libertarianism,’ and that it’s just impossible for you to view the world in any other terms. You just aren’t able to think in terms of compatibilism, and so *that’s* why you constantly resort to your intuitions and expressions of incredulity.
Also, Calvinism ins’t really giving us anything different than Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. Anyway, why are you blogging on this topic? You don’t seem very “tentative.” You don’t seem like you’re open to changing your mind. You seem set in your ways. In fact, you seem rather emotionally attached to your view that Calvinism is wicked and evil. Indeed, you give more credit to some atheist arguments and to anti-inerrantist arguments than you would even *think* to give to Calvinism. You’re not really here to have a “conversation” or a “dialogue.” Indeed, it seems to me like you wish Calvinism would just go away. It seems you view it as that retarded cousin kept in the basement in days past. It’s embarrassing to you, a blight on your Christian family.
Paul’s comments are always quality stuff and invite further response. So here goes.
Compatibilism isn’t the issue. Love is.
Let’s start with the first paragraph. Is my problem that I just don’t buy into compatibilism? No, sorry, that’s not it. I would have thought this was quite clear in my ranting over the last week. My issue is not with compatibilism per se but rather with the divine love. (I know why Kant called compatibilism a wretched subterfuge, but I don’t agree. I’d say simply, and with much less rhetorical flare, that it is very implausible.) In other words, to repeat a point I’ve already made, I respect the consistency of a Barthian Calvinist. It is the Bezaian sort that I have a problem with.
The Calvinist view of election has a long history. I never said otherwise.
Next, Paul writes: “Also, Calvinism ins’t really giving us anything different than Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.” Agreed. I never claimed the position is historically novel. But neither do I think that being “Triple A Approved” necessarily means we should accept it.
I can be tentative and still express opinions forcefully and provocatively.
Now let’s consider what we might call the dogmatism charge. Paul writes: “Anyway, why are you blogging on this topic? You don’t seem very “tentative.” You don’t seem like you’re open to changing your mind. You seem set in your ways.”
Yes, it’s true. I call myself the tentative apologist. But does that mean I’ve violated my own mandate? This suggestion strikes me as a red herring. What I need to be, above all, is honest in my opinions. If I’m incredulous toward a position then I think I should share those opinions. Perhaps I can put it this way. To call something tentative is to signal it as provisional. I have some opinions that I hold strongly, others much less so. But I am tentative about them all to the extent that I recognize I could be wrong about them. I’m a fallibilist, after all. However, that doesn’t cash out in having to express myself tentatively on every issue. That’s a confusion.
I never said Calvinism is wicked.
Now this next charge caught me off guard. Paul writes: “In fact, you seem rather emotionally attached to your view that Calvinism is wicked and evil.” I don’t believe that Calvinism is wicked and evil. Indeed, I explicitly renounced such a view within the last week. My view is not that it is evil but rather that if it is true then I should have to accept a profound skepticism about my intuitions concerning the nature of love and divine perfection. I might have to do that. (I am tentative after all.)
I must admit however that charging me with viewing Calvinism as wicked strikes me as a rather emotional charge. And that leads me to the next point…
I’m not emotionally invested in the Calvinism debate.
Paul avers that I am “emotionally attached” to my view. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I suspect he might be thinking of an emotion vs. reason zero-sum game such that the more emotionally attached I am the less reasonable I am.
How can I not observe the irony of this charge? After all, Paul’s comments strike me as laden with emotion. (If one replies that my judgment is a subjective one I retort that it is no less subjective than Paul’s initial emotionalism charge. If one then replies that two wrongs don’t make a right I will then get emotional.) For example, he writes: “Indeed, it seems to me like you wish Calvinism would just go away. It seems you view it as that retarded cousin kept in the basement in days past. It’s embarrassing to you, a blight on your Christian family.”
Retarded cousin? Emotionally laden, indeed. And also terribly unfair. For example, last week I commented as follows in the blog:
“Perhaps scripture is ambiguous [over the truth of Calvinism/Arminianism] for providential reasons such as the transformative communal benefit of having just these kinds of conversations.”
In this passage I suggested that God may have left things unclear so that Christians could learn from each other and be formed by the spiritual discipline of finding unity and understanding in the midst of deep divisions. Does that sound like I think Calvinism is an embarrassment and a blight on “my” Christian family? On the contrary, I welcome conversation and debate on these issues.
My Kumbaya Conclusion
You know the old saying: if you want to have a nice time at the dinner party stay away from religion and politics. The reason, apparently, is that opinions in matters of religion and politics are deeply held. People are passionate about them. And thus if people find themselves in disagreement with others on these issues tempers soon flare. But why should passion and conviction lead to antipathy? There are a million opinions shared on the internet every day that could make you angry if you wanted to be angry. Heck, if you want to be angry you can be angry: you don’t even need to wait for an opinion to be shared.
But I am of a different view. I think we can disagree without being disagreeable. I’d like to think that we can separate the opinion from the person. I’d like to think that we can be honest about our deep incredulity and our rationally and emotionally held opinions without having to feel threatened or aggressive or defensive every time we encounter a different opinion.
So whether you’re a Calvinist or an Arminian, a Catholic or a Republican, an atheist or a relativist, a skeptic or a Baptist, you’re welcome to stick your ripple chip in my bowl of onion dip (as long as you don’t have a cold). And you’re welcome to dip the ladle in my punch bowl (as long as you don’t descend into punches). Everyone is welcome at my dinner party. Gather round, settle down in front of the fire, I’ll strum my guitar, and let’s talk some theology…