Paul Manata over at Triablogue is arguing that my objections to Calvinism bear no weight because they appeal to moral intuitions. He says that I begin from intuitions, and the Calvinist begins from Scripture. He is saying that if we're going to argue about Calvinism versus Arminianism or anything else, I should fight like a real man, based on Scripture passages, rather than like a girlie man, employing moral intuitions.
Or rather, I am arguing on the basis of moral intuitions, which are human and fallible, as opposed to God's Holy Word, which is infallible and inerrant.
There are several problems with this construal of the situation. First, even if Scripture is inerrant (and what that amounts to needs to be clarified), exegetes and Bible scholars are not infallible. There is no consensus amongst biblical scholars that the standard Calvinist proof texts really prove Calvinism, or that the Arminian or even universalist proof texts to not support those doctrines.
I think that Calvinist interpretations of passages that teach God's love for all people do violence to the meaning of those texts and essentially trivialize them. Paul no doubt thinks the same of Arminian interpretations of Calvinist proof texts. There isn't going to be any slam dunk here.
But it's when I back away from the exegeses of particular texts and look at what all of this means for God character. In Calvinism is false God's goal is the eternal salvation of every human creature. There is plenty of mystery concerning what God does to achieve that ultimate goal, but that goal is consistently pursued in all his works. "His mercy is over all his works," says the Psalmist, (Ps. 145: 9), something a Calvinist in going to have trouble consistently saying. This makes it possible to explain why some evils exist, others are mysterious, but here at least goodness is a fairly clear idea. The kind of goodness that God instills in me as I conform my life to his image is a reflection of the character of God, especially as revealed in Christ. The picture is morally coherent.
I don't mean that God is obligated to do what we are obligated to do, but rather God's character as a good being must be the kind of character that we are supposed to have. "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus."
But what are we asked to believe if Calvinism is true? We are asked to believe that God decreed the deeds of everyone before the foundation of the world. The Holocaust, the killing fields of Pol Pot, the 9/11 attacks, and the entire content of Dawkins' The God Delusion were all decreed before the foundation of the world. The CD was made in eternity and plays out in time, just as it was intended. The deeds that are sinful are nevertheless deserving of everlasting punishment for the humans who perform them, even though the creatures who perform them cannot do otherwise, given those decrees. Of these sinners, God elects some to everlasting life and the rest he allows to suffer the "just deserts" of their sins, which is, as indicated earlier, eternal suffering in hell. God could have decreed that no one ever sin, or God could have decreed that everyone receive the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but apparently it results in greater glory to himself if he damns, probably, the vast majority of the human race, especially those where the Gospel hasn't reached. Nevetheless, God is a perfectly good being. The acts we perform which merit us eternal punishment if we perform them are the same acts that God Himself ordained before the foundation of the world. Even though performing those acts as humans deserves everlasting punishment, decreeing those same actions before the foundation of the world is simply an exercise in "the potter's freedom."
Paul says he doesn't share my intuitions. Look, given this picture, if you don't have at least notice a prima facie problem with God's conduct from a moral point of view, then you don't need an argument, you need help. It could all be OK, but then I could be a brain in a vat, Hitler could have been a nice guy who had a good reason to do what he did, and Elvis might still be alive.
If I were to have an argument with Jeffrey Dahmer about his, uh er, culinary practices, and I were to say that I found his actions reprehensible, he could say, "I just don't share your intuitions. Of course I suppose I could quote to him out of a book with leather covers that says "Thou shalt not kill," but there are lots of purported holy books out there.
There are, of course, some intuition pumps that can be used here to raise doubts about the moral acceptability of all of this. One picture that is often used is one in which makes it sound like a bunch of sinners just showed up in God's courtroom, all deserving punishment. God punishes some according to their deserts, and then others he saves by his grace through the sacrifice of Christ. What gets left out of the picture is the fact that these people are sinners wholly and completely as a result of God's eternal decree. On my view, which I know not everyone shares, these people are simply not responsible for their actions, because they had no choice, given the past, to do what they did. Even if they can be held responsible, isn't there an "accessory before the fact" in their sins? Think of a Nazi commandant who gets Jews in his concentration camp to commit capital crimes and then executes them for those crimes.
Another intuition pump that Paul uses is the idea that criminals like child molesters deserve to be punished and put away. If this is so horribly wrong, then why should any of us "child molesters" get into heaven through Christ paying the penalty for our sins? It's the Calvinists, in spite of their ardent denials which border on out-and-out subterfuge to me, who make God the author of sin. Paul thinks I have a low view of sin. What??? I have such a high view of sin that I don't think God ever decrees it. I don't think God would decree sin because, also, I have a high view of God.
Paul references a book called "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God." Doesn't that title tell you a lot? God's love for humans is a difficult doctrine? On my view, that's the easy part.
I have a serious problem with any action retributively deserving everlasting punishment, since all sins only to a finite amount of damage. The reply is that they are against an infinite God, but do we give tougher penalties for people who commit crimes against, say, the President? Hell is possible not because someone retributively deserves it on my view, but rather, because someone continues to freely rebel. God can't make someone happy without a submitted will, and God can't guarantee that without making the submission unfree. At least, on my incompatibilist view.
There are some elements in Paul's post that are disturbing. He explicitly says that some people are not our neighbor and we are not obligated to love them. What about all the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek to those who seek to harm you, proying for those who despitefully use you, loving your enemies. What about the Good Samaritan, Jesus' brilliant response to those who would circumscribe the circle of "neighbor" to exclude others. If you can exegete your way around those, you can exegete your way around anything.
The Calvinists at Triablogue had some debate with me over waterboarding a few months back. But since they knew I wasn't a Calvinist, they avoided using their best argument. They could say "Look, we know these terror suspects are Muslims, which means they're probably vessels of wrath headed for the fire anyway. If we can get some information out of them, why not give them a little foretaste of the future?"
(OK that was dirty. I slap my face.)
In confronting issues of theodicy, I have to admit, like any sane, sensible Christian, that a good deal is mysterious. But if Calvinism is false I can see through a glass darkly and maybe see why a good deal of evil exists. If Calvinism is true, then I'm blind as a bat. I admit the logical possibility that it might all be justified, but then it is just possible that Elvis is at the McDonald's nearest my house.
Given the fact that there is no overwhelming biblical case for Calvinism, it seems to me that I am justified in choosing a view that is morally coherent over a view that strikes me as being about as morally incoherent as a position could possibly be.
I think I am going to rest my case here. I am sure there will be some salvo back from Paul and company, but I think I will leave the job of responding to the Calvinists to others.