Predestination -- and a small reflection on the Calvinist culture into which I was born
"It was meant to be". "It was all planned out before we were born". Such statements are the essence of Calvinism. And I think that they are still common in at least some Christian circles. In the English-speaking world, the home of such doctrines is the Presbyterian Church -- in its various incarnations. But very few modern-day Presbyterian churches still preach it from the pulpit.
Yet it has a good foundation in scripture. See Ephesians chapter 1, for instance. And because of that foundation a very theological version of the doctrine even appears in the famous 16th century 39 "Articles of Religion" of the Church of England. There was a time when the Church of England respected scripture -- and you had to assent to the 39 articles to be an Anglican priest, in fact. These days the only faith that most of the Anglican clergy seem to have is in homosexuality and global warming.
Despite its venerable historical and scriptural roots, however, it seems to me that predestination is still not generally a well-articulated doctrine. It is more an instinct than anything else.
I was born into a family that was not at all religious but was still somehow Presbyterian. I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School as a kid and still have the fondest memories of that time even though I have been an atheist for all of my adult life. Yet my mother and my aunties would all from time to time come out with the statements with which I have introduced this post. What is not now preached from the pulpit still survives among the people. And the lady in my life -- Anne -- who also has a Presbyterian background but is no more religious than my mother and my aunties -- also comes out with such utterances to this day.
And Islam seems to have a very similar doctrine.
So I think that we should respect religious feelings even if a searching examination of them reveals large logical difficulties. Feelings are important. Anne does not in fact appear to believe in God. Yet she believes in a planner and a purposer. I have no difficulties with that -- even though I personally do not remotely share such beliefs.
Religion is much more a matter of feeling than anything else and I am delighted that I myself once shared such feelings. People who attack religion are in my view incompletely human. I don't in fact think that a true atheist feels any need to attack religion. Crusading atheists like Dawkins seem to me to be very religious themselves. They too are feelings-driven.
And while I am about it, I want to pay tribute to the immense power of the New Testament faith. Virtually all present Christian churches stray extensively from that faith -- as my commentary on the NT sets out in great detail -- but even that fragment of the original faith that Christians generally possess has survived, flourished and conquered for 2,000 years. And I have every confidence that there is at least another 2,00 years of life in it yet. Forget church doctrine and pagan preconceptions. Just read the NT and soak in it. It probably still has the power to transform you if you let it. It has certainly been the biggest single influence on my life.
A small addendum to that: There is one large diocese of the Church of England that does still hew closely to the scriptures: The Sydney diocese of the Anglican church of Australia. And their theological seminary -- Moore college -- is overflowing with around 300 young people (male and female) studying the faith. By contrast the local Roman Catholic seminary has about six students. Getting close to the NT is the key to power in Christian faith.