Deconstructing John Calvin
Uncle Dexter was my father’s younger brother and I adored him; worshipped him. He was a Reformed Baptist minister. I chased after his acceptance with everything I had. Because my father was never a father to me, I wanted Uncle Dexter to take on the role of a father, and I sought it desperately for many years. My relationship with him was incredibly complex and incredibly damaging.
I could go into a lot of detail about Reformed Baptist theology, but there are a couple of standouts that color the whole thing ugly.
Original sin is the belief that because of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, all subsequent generations are cursed with the stain of original sin. We are born horribly tainted, we are worthless, full of evil, without hope of salvation, and destined for hell. It is only through the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross we are reconciled and able to attain heaven. Otherwise, it’s eternal conscious torment in hell.
It must be noted this belief is not limited to Reformed theology. Evangelicals embrace the concept of original sin as well. Reconciliation is only available through the embrace of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. No exceptions. So, you’re in big trouble if you never hear the gospel, and we know a majority of the world’s population is never exposed to “the good news”. Hell bound without exception.
Reformed Baptists base their beliefs on the teachings of John Calvin. From Wikipedia:
“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 not to sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. Reformed Christians believe that God predestined some people to be saved and others were predestined to eternal damnation. 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.”
And then we have the Double Mindfuck of Double Predestination. From Wikipedia:
“Double Predestination is the idea that not only does God choose some to be saved, He also creates some people who will be damned.”
Uncle Dexter explained the verse that supports this twisted tenet is Jeremiah 18:4:
“But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.”
He posited when God creates something, He is perfectly justified in destroying it, because God can do whatever He wants, and we are not to question His motives. If God chooses not to call an individual to grace, He’s perfectly justified due to the stain of original sin.
Then there’s Ephesians 1:4–5:
“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
What if that passage was interpreted that God predestined all of us to be holy and blameless? That’s how I interpret the verse. If you know God, how can you believe anything different?
Reformed theology states God decided only some of us were worth loving, and why not just throw the rest of his creation into hell? I couldn’t wrap my mind around that, especially when I thought of real-life examples which didn’t mesh with this belief. For instance, when twins are born, is it natural for a parent to randomly decide one will be loved unconditionally, seen as blameless and wholly forgiven for all “sinful” behavior, while the other is relentlessly tortured? With no reprieve? Only to commence an eternity of conscious torment at death? That makes no sense. There are hundreds, thousands of verses in the bible that testify to the unconditional love God has for all creation.
Predestination paints God as arbitrary and cruel and it never set right with me. Because of my personal experience with the Divine, I found the idea of predestination abhorrent. It is simply not who God is. Predestination is the reason I turned my back on Reformed theology, and eventually cut off all contact with Uncle Dexter and his family.
My relationship with God proves over and over I am loved and accepted wholly and completely. I never feel anything but love when I seek Him. Sometimes, I am able to rest fully in communion with Spirit and am flooded with a feeling of tranquility and joy I cannot begin to describe. That doesn’t happen often because I don’t take the time to consistently engage in contemplative prayer. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it is a manifestation of bad theology and the judgment I experienced from those I loved and trusted most. As a result, on some deep level, I retain the belief I am undeserving of the unconditional love of God. Intellectually, I absolutely know that is a lie. I know that a deep level of connection with Spirit is always available to me. But there’s no magic to it. It takes effort. I have to deliberately enter into contemplative prayer, and bring myself to a place where I can truly rest my mind. Only then can I consciously choose to fully embrace the truth of who I am in God and experience that level of divine communion.
The person who has cost me the most pain and suffering by sitting in condemnation of me is Me. Second to that, the relentless judgment I experienced from people I love delayed my process. I’ve spent a lifetime diligently working to align my self-image with who I know I am in God. My progress has accelerated in the last few years. It was losing everything and making unhealthy decisions which plunged me to rock bottom that have allowed me to come so far. And that is how I know God is good. Like a loving parent, when I fall, no matter how far I fall, no matter how destructive my behavior, God is always there to help me up as I walk it out. I sense Spirit always. She is always with me.
Because I could never buy into reformed theology, Uncle Dexter and his entire family saw me as depraved, willfully sinful, and thoroughly evil. They saw me as an apostate, as someone who rejects the truth of God. According to Uncle Dexter, apostasy is the only unforgivable sin. Should you reject God’s truth (as revealed by John Calvin) you’re stripped of agency. No matter what you do, you’re doomed. Signed, sealed, and served up to Satan. Destined for a life of depravity and an eternity in hell. When you get that message from birth it’s nearly impossible to recover and experience any degree of peace and fulfillment. It has resulted in my lifelong fight, and I do mean fight, for the self-love and self-acceptance that ensures my very survival.
Reformed and Evangelical theology is incredibly toxic, and when unquestioningly embraced, robs people of agency and of any opportunity to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. It’s deadly.
Because I couldn’t align with reformed theology, Uncle Dexter and his family would not enter into close meaningful relationship with me. I was emotionally shunned. I owned that for a while, believing their rejection was merited. But all the while I knew down deep it was utter bullshit.
Eventually, I recognized how destructive those beliefs are, and rejected them completely. I realized it was something I had to do in order to go on living. Literally. Deconstructing the Christian Mindfuck has literally saved my life.
As always, I Persevere, embracing the truth of God through continual communion with Spirit.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11