Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

9
The Calvinist's
Conundrum:
Unconsciously
Engineering Good
Omens

“… [God] has mercy on whomever He chooses, and He hardens the heart of whomever He chooses. ” (Romans 9:18, NRSV)

—Saint Paul (?-67 C. E. ), Apostle to the Gentiles


BACKGROUND

In 16th—century France, a religious reformer named John Calvin broke away from the Catholic Church. He founded a Protestant faith whose roots lay in the teachings of Saint Paul and Saint Augustine. These saints had emphasized the absolute sovereignty of God and the need for His grace. Calvin duly took on board these views and then pushed them as far as they would go. The result was an austere and uncompromising creed, capable of instilling much fear and trembling in its adherents.

Calvin preached that people were so inherently corrupt that nothing in their nature could possibly incline them toward God. He did accept, however, that some people were genuinely devout. How was this possible? The answer, according to Calvin, was that God had predetermined that this would be so. God had, before creating the world, elected to grant a special minority of people a grace that would redeem them from Original Sin, and so make it inevitable that they worship God during their brief spell on Earth. So redeemed, these favored few, God's Elect, would enjoy a wonderful fu-

-103-

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