If there's one form of Christian belief which gets my "if this were true" goat more than any other, I would have to say that it's the hard-line calvinistic idea of predestination. The Fount Of All Knowledge™ puts it well:
Reformed theologians teach that sin so affects human nature that they are unable even to exercise faith in Christ by their own will. While people are said to retain will, in that they willfully sin, they are unable to not sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. To remedy this, Reformed Christians believe that God predestined some people to be saved. This choice by God to save some is held to be unconditional and not based on any characteristic or action on the part of the person chosen.
They wilfully sin but they are unable not to sin—the very definition of "not wilful." Huh?
People who hold to such beliefs often put it even more succinctly. You must open your heart to God's/Jesus's message, they'll tell you. But they'll also tell you, though rarely in the same paragraph, that only God can allow this opening of hearts, should he so choose—and he doesn't choose to do so for everybody.
I can see the theological problem. It's that thorny issue of omni-everything again. If God really is all-this, all-that and all-everything-else, then the assumption has to be that everything which happens, including any particular person opening or closing their heart to his message, has to happen because he wills it—because he's decided that that's what must happen. The logical conclusion though, is not very morally pretty…
I have here a rubber ring with which I may save people from drowning, but sometimes—quite often in fact—I simply choose not to throw them the rubber ring. What kind of inhumane, immoral, murdering bastard am I, you may be wondering. Which is my point regarding the god they portray, yet in the same breath call him loving.
Then, of course, there's the sheer, unmitigated hubris involved. 'cause you can be damned sure that the person spouting this hypocrisy at you will count themselves amongst the Elect, the Chosen, the Saints, God's Favouritest Chilluns. And you can be equally sure that all the while they're pretending to try to save you (How can they, if it's God's choice?), they'll be thinking of you—the sinner, the heretic, the apostate, the atheist, whatever—as being amongst the eternally damned.
And then there's the part where you pause and think "You didn't think this through particularly well, did you matey?" If all this predestination claptrap is true, then there is no theological or spiritual point in acting in a godly manner (whatever your definition of "godly"). For the unelect, no amount of piety, not even a deathbed repentance, can save them and, for the elect, no amount of drunken debauchery or whatever can damn them. If God's already chosen them, then they will be unable not to make the allegedly necessary repentance! As an encouragement to "sin no more," I have to say this carrot-and-stick seems to be lacking any trace of carrot.
And now, Gentle Reader, I shall take my rhetorical life in my hands, and skate dangerously close to the event horizon of the black hole known as the No True Scotsman argument. I think I've just about avoided spaghettification. (May FSM protect me!)
The central tenet of the Christian faith, as I understand it, is that through his sacrifice, Jesus somehow offered humankind—all of humankind—a chance that they may redeem themselves in God's eyes if they act upon his message. Christians may disagree over what that message is (Believe in me, Do good works, whatever), but I've not met one—not even a predestinationist—who would beg to disagree with that central tenet.
But from all the muddled logic of predestination emerges the plain fact that—though they do so consciously or not—predestinationists do disagree with that central tenet. If I'm stood on the river-bank holding the rubber ring, it can make no difference whatsoever if Jesus stands next to me shouting to the drowning person, "Grab the rubber ring!," because only I, not Jesus, have the power to throw them the ring, and thereby save them, no matter how much they may be willing—or desperate—to follow his advice.
Jesus, in the strict predestinationist's view, then, can only be a meaningless distraction; he has no power to give redemption. Only God can do that.
Predestinationism, then, and the view that only God, not you, can open your heart in order that you may be saved, is, by definition, not Christian.
Does this mean I can start calling Bob Hutton a heretic?
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