Over at Wheat & Tares (where we’ve had a facelift, if you hadn’t noticed), I have decided to write a new post on accepting the possibility of going to Hell. Check it out here.
This post has been inspired by several things I’ve read over the years, but very recently, on the Christianity sub-reddit, someone asked the question of whether someone could be a Calvinist who wasn’t part of the elect. This intrigued me greatly, since…if you’ve paid attention to the title of this entire blog, then you might have guessed that I’ve thought about that idea a lot. As I wrote back:
Although I don’t think I have similar experiences to you (I don’t want to brag or anything, but I feel pretty “OK” with my life), I do think it’s possible to be a Calvinist that is not one of the Elect. To me, Calvinism appeals to me because I am not really convinced in libertarian free will, and the Calvinist conception makes sense to me instead.
OTOH, I accept that I don’t feel persuaded to believe in God; I don’t find the arguments in favor of God convincing, don’t see evidence the same way Christians talk about it, etc., etc., etc., At best, I feel that if God exists, he basically doesn’t want to have anything to do with me (and I feel OK with this. I don’t feel “desperate” to discover God or anything, and I think that is consistent with the idea of reprobation. In other words, I feel the idea of God is “irrelevant”.)
So yeah, the idea of a non-elect Calvinist makes sense to me, at least.
A Calvinist believer found that to be a very interesting position for an atheist to have, so they asked for some followup information. And so I responded:
I guess probably a relevant fact about my background is that I grew up Mormon/LDS. Without derailing into a discussion of the heretical beliefs of Mormonism, the relevant issue I had with it (at least, for this discussion) was its hardcore libertarian free will position, because that did not match my own experience. The Mormon church tries to raise children to believe that belief and faith are a choice, so for someone who is not able to believe, there’s a lot of guilt/shame/blame on that individual for not working hard enough to believe. If you don’t have a testimony, then that means you weren’t a sincere enough seeker, etc., It is not fathomable within Mormonism that someone could be doing all that they can, yet they won’t receive a testimony/answer to prayer/etc.,
But to me, belief/faith really about what people do or choose. Some people seem to be inclined to spiritual experiences or testimonies or belief regardless of what they do, while others don’t/aren’t, and it doesn’t really seem that conscious/voluntary choice plays a big deal in which group people are in. Different people react differently to certain life experiences. It seems that whether someone converts says more about how they are built as a person than what they have been doing.
When I found out about Calvinism, it provided another option for looking at it all, and I do think it at least theoretically maps to the data better. If this universe does have a God, then the difference between election/reprobation makes more sense of the data (at least, to me) that some people have spiritual experiences and others do not. If this universe has a God, then total depravity seems to be a better answer for why some people find themselves utterly unable to consciously/voluntarily will themselves into having faith. It is more easily explicable why conversions can sometimes happen in the strangest of circumstances to people who don’t seem to be “doing” the “right” things, because election is unconditional. And every so often, I read some people talk about how they find atheism to be this hopelessly bleak outlook, whereas to me, the exact opposite is true (I could never find hope in theism because it always felt like I was lying to myself; in contrast, atheism feels to me just how the universe is, so I feel OK with accepting things as I see them to be instead of trying to force hope that I don’t actually have)…yet, I can accept that for some people, atheism is distressing and theism is more comforting — the difference in perspectives kinda highlights irresistible grace.
I think irresistible grace also captures another thing. There are a lot of examples of people who either convert or don’t convert in the scriptures that don’t make a whole lot of sense to me from a libertarian free will context. I won’t go through the various Book of Mormon characters because that won’t make much sense to you, but from the New Testament, just consider Saul/Paul. Saul doesn’t make sense from a LFW perspective. His conversion on the road to Damascus did not come from within. But, once you accept that that was not his doing, then you can also accept that not everyone has a Pauline conversion experience. So, there’s limited atonement. It didn’t matter what his actions were as Saul, the persecution he had done, etc., So there’s unconditional election again.
Notwithstanding this, the post at Wheat & Tares is quite a bit different, so you should read that too.