Posts Tagged ‘Calvin’

Does America have a destiny? A lot of people think so; it’s part of our culture, part of our heritage.  It’s also the misguided rationale for an extraordinary amount of cruelty, theft, murder, and neglect that has taken place, by the leaders of this land since the Puritans formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629.  When John Winthrop gave his famous City Upon a Hill speech to the arriving Puritans (followers of the misguided proponent of “predestination”, John Calvin) he exhorted them to obey all the commandments  so “that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it”.  The only problem was that this land they came to possess was already taken – it belonged to the Native Americans who greeted the arriving Puritans and helped them survive their first winter.

The Puritans believed that they were following God’s will when they came to America, and it was in the name of God that the elimination of those troublesome original owners of America began. By the early 1800’s their idea of Destiny was almost universally accepted by American leaders and it was used to justify the theft of much of the land from its owners. The idea was even given a name, it was Manifest Destiny: God’s will made clearly known to all.  President Andrew Jackson was an ardent subscriber to this theology/philosophy of American Destiny, and it was this “knowledge” that empowered him to take the final step in the theft of America: the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This piece of legislation gave the U.S. government the authority to remove Native Americans from their land and resettle them west of the Mississippi River. By 1837 about 25,000,000 additional acres of land, formerly occupied by Native Americans, had become available for white settlement and the introduction of slaves.

It seems that Andrew Jackson was well pleased with himself and never doubted for a minute that he might have done the wrong thing. Does this mindset remind you of a much more recent President?  Does any recent President come to mind who seems to believe that he is carrying out some Divine Destiny? Does any President come to mind who seems to have no conscience, who can watch citizens of our own country drown and do nothing, who can launch a “Shock and Awe” blitzkrieg against Iraq without a valid cause? What about a President who can order American soldiers into battle and then, when they return wounded and broken, allow them to be poorly treated or even ignored by a failed VA medical system? Do we have a President who truly believes that nothing is his fault because everything is the will of God?

From the Puritans to George Bush there is one thing, one concept, one mistaken belief that has informed too many of our leaders and has been the cause of centuries of injustice: the belief that they and this country have a God-given Destiny and they know what it is.  It is this belief that they are doing the will of God that allows them to sleep at night, knowing that in doing the will of God they could not possibly be sinning.  The idea that one can know one’s destiny is all a grand delusion.  This concept of individual and national predestination was clearly enunciated by the teachings of John Calvin in the 1500s – although there is no doubt that some form of such beliefs were held by various leaders for millennia before.  It has been America’s grand delusion, but the time has come for Americans to recognize it for what it is: the contamination of the noble American ideals of liberty, equality, and justice by errant, self-serving, religious beliefs.  It is because of religious errors like this that our Constitution demands that we separate Church and State.  The brave rebels who brought forth this country out of English domination and tyranny knew one truth very well:

Our forefathers may have been able to build a “city upon a hill”; but that does not mean that our elected leaders are  “the light of the world”.

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There are some financial experts who say that we are standing on the brink of a precipice.  Nouriel Roubini, a New York University Economics professor, who predicted the current economic meltdown, says that “things are going to be awful for everyday people” in 2009. There are several other experts who agree with him.  Mr. Roubini attributes the economic disaster to the bursting of a credit bubble – not a housing bubble. I would add that the continuation of the disaster is due to the abject failure of the Bush government to take effective action to prevent or mitigate the collapse of our, and the world’s, economy.  The question we should ask is why? Why hasn’t the Bush government taken decisive action? One might say that perhaps George Bush is an indecisive man, but if we reflect only for a moment on his actions in Iraq we will quickly see that he can be very decisive.  So why hasn’t there been any decisive action taken to prevent the collapse of our economy? Why is it that the only action taken by the Bush administration was to protect the investment banks?

Remember when Barack Obama and John McCain were campaigning against each other and John McCain stated that raising the tax rate to what it was under President Clinton for people who make more that $250,000 was class warfare? Today there is anger in Congress that the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds are not being used to combat the rising tide of mortgage foreclosures. Fed Chairman Bernanke predicts that 2.25 million homes will be foreclosed upon this year and the U.S. government is doing nothing to prevent it, even though the TARP was supposed to be used to alleviate the problem. My question is this: When a government that is run by the wealthy elite of America stands by and does nothing, refuses to help even when money has been made available to help the middle class and the poor, isn’t that class warfare?

It seems clearer than ever that our country is divided into two groups: the wealthy elite (the Elect?) who favor Hoover/Bush economics and the great mass of ordinary people who favor Roosevelt/Obama economics.  The question is this: who will prevail? It seems that Mr. Roubini and many others believe the Hoover/Bush group will prevail because otherwise they would be more optimistic about the economy for the next several years.  They might be right. Even as I write, legislation to provide a relatively puny bailout for the auto industry has been stalled by the House Republicans, the representatives of the wealthy elite, who are instead calling for the auto industry to file for bankruptcy. The fact that millions of ordinary Americans will promptly lose their jobs is apparently of no concern to them.

Here’s a question: is this just a difference of opinion on economic theory or is it something else? Could it be that it is really a difference of opinion about the purpose of government? Clearly this government acted urgently to save the wealthy elite owners of the banks, yet they drag their feet when it comes to saving the ordinary man.  Does anyone else see the long shadow of John Calvin standing over our Congress? Save the wealthy Elect, but when it comes to Katrina or Detroit, Asians caught in a tsunami or an earthquake, or Africans dying of starvation – well, just let them die. After all, if God has already decided who shall be saved and who shall be damned why should these wealthy Senators and Congressmen feel guilty? It’s not their fault is it?  The members of our Republican Theocracy has already saved themselves and their fortunes, and now they are about to strike against the poor once again.

My questions for the Republican Party is this: remember when that most famous Republican of all, Abraham Lincoln, said that America was a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”? So what was that all about? Was he some kind of pinko socialist or communist or what?  What sort of mental gymnastics do you do to somehow claim that you are the party of Lincoln when you are, in fact, the party of the wealthy elite (Elect) and you stand against everything Lincoln stood for?  It is obvious that if he were alive today Abraham Lincoln would be a Democrat. Today’s Republican Party is nothing more than the failed party of Herbert Hoover and George Bush.

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When we learned U.S. history in the eighth grade we learned Thomas Jefferson’s words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”  Fine words, indeed. Today, most of us simply accept that these words mean that we all have equal opportunity in America and that we are all entitled to be treated equally.  Fine words too, I suppose, but that wasn’t what Thomas Jefferson was talking about.  The Declaration of Independence, which begins with these words, was addressed to the King of England and it was making a specific point.  Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots were clearly saying that they did not recognize the right of the King of England to be their ruler because they did not believe that one could be born with the right to rule. All men were created equal at birth – noble birth was a fiction invented to benefit the family members of the King and the King himself.

Thomas Jefferson was not a member of an organized religion and, perhaps, it was easier for him to write this than some of the more religious members of the colonies.  For the most part the original English colonists had arrived seeking religious freedom in America.  For example, the Pilgrims, a group of Puritans, who had arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 had fled religious persecution in England. These colonists would certainly have disagreed with Jefferson because, as Puritans, they were followers of the teachings of John Calvin, the French theologian who took over the leadership of the Protestant Reformation after the death of Martin Luther.  It was Calvin’s teaching of predestination that, for the Puritans, would have led them to strongly disagree with Jefferson.  It is Calvin’s teaching that men are born either saved or damned.  He taught that nothing men do in their lives can change their fate because God had made up his mind before they were born.  The Puritans believed that one way to recognize whether someone was saved, i.e. they were a member of the Elect, was to see if they were successful in life. Those who were financially successful were obviously saved while those who were poor and miserable were obviously among the damned.  This was the origin of the work ethic in New England – everyone wanted to prove that they were among the Elect.

It is this teaching, among others, that led the Church of England to adopt Calvinism, instead of Lutheranism, as the set of teachings that informs their outlook on the world.  The King of England was also the head of the Church of England and therefore the American rebellion against the King was also, implicitly, a rebellion against a core teaching of the English church.  Jefferson would have no trouble with this rebellion against Calvinistic thought, but it is likely that some of the other, more religious, members of the rebels had to perform some mental gymnastics to be able to say that they really believed that all men are created equal.  The “all men are created equal” sentiment has become a secular notion these days. The meaning has conveniently been morphed to connote equality in civil rights, thus allowing many people, whose philosophy of life derives from the teachings of John Calvin, to continue to believe that we are not at all equal when we are born.

Where is the Pope when you need him?  John Calvin’s unfair and non-Christian teachings were never condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike Martin Luther who was reviled and excommunicated, the Roman Church in some ways admired Calvin and even compared him to Saint Augustine.  The thing the Roman Church has never realized is that this single insidious teaching of non-equality at birth has, at times, infected our national leaders  to the great detriment of our citizens.  I’ll have more to say on this in my next blog, but the question I wonder about is this: is it possible for our government leaders to disassociate themselves from their religious convictions when they make the important decisions that affect each of us?

I think the answer is no, and with that simple observation we can begin to understand a great deal about our present government and its actions.

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