Liberation from WHAT?

Guys like Luther and especially John Calvin had a problem: God’s omniscience implies predestination — if God knows everything that will happen (which is the definition of “omniscience”), then obviously He knows everything you’re going to do, which means He knows, and has always known, whether you’re going to Heaven or Hell.  But if that’s true, then what did Christ die for?  Dying for our sins is pointless — the slate is wiped clean for that second, and only that second, because we’re just going to go on sinning, as God Himself knows full well.  For Christ’s death to have done what it did, we must have free will… which means God doesn’t know what we’re going to do minute-to-minute, any more than we ourselves, His poor creatures, do.

There’s an answer for this, of course* (read it later), but it only applies to God.  For everyone else selling a Determinist philosophy — Marx, the Stoics, even my beloved Hobbes — the problem is insurmountable.  If the Revolution must happen, comrade, then what’s the point of all this “activism”?  Y’all are, as the man said, like a group of astronomers who know with mathematical certainty an eclipse is coming… but who immediately form a Party and start murdering people, to make sure it comes.  The very foundation of your philosophy has a crack, and all the ugly neologisms in the world can’t fill it.

The problem is: Nobody looks at the foundations anymore, so you get weird stuff like this (safe link to RS McCain)

Despite my fears, I remain open to parenting because of my friendships with trans, non-binary, and queer activists of color whose parenting is bound up in their quest for liberation. Their existence dares me to dream of parenting one day.

The author(ess?) is a self-described “Displaced Southern queer millennial womanist organizer/writer …They & she pronouns,” and the gist of her complaint — well, the chief among They’s many, many, many complaints — is that “sperm costs too damn much” for They and They’s lesbian partner to have a baby the old fashioned way.  But if one ignores all that — and ignores the blue lipstick, weird hairdo, bow tie, and all the other stuff (I should’ve warned you to bring eye bleach before clicking) — one finds theyself inevitably asking:

Liberation from what, exactly?

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Marx et al had an answer.  It was even a good answer — read up on conditions in turn of the century Tsarist Russia, and you too will want to hurl a bomb at a capitalist.  That the cure was much worse than the disease does not mean the disease wasn’t real.  For Russia’s serfs-in-all-but-name, “liberation” meant something real, obvious… and seemingly obtainable.

Nowadays, though?  Borrowing a phrase from Marx, the early 21st century West is the only place with the “objective conditions” that allow a “displaced Southern queer millennial womanist organizer/writer” to exist.  Everything about this… being… and They’s partner-being exist, and can only exist, thanks to the culmination of decades of unprecedented material prosperity and its consequent mental enstupidation.  In my time in a college town I met quite a few people who make up their own pronouns, and trust me, they should be required to talk in footnotes — everything they say or think is lifted wholesale from Jezebel, Feministing, or the Guardian.  If they were my students, I could fail their entire lives for plagiarism.

This has the interesting consequence of making the folks in Our Thing the real proletariat.  Just as the de facto serf in 1905 had an answer — a very detailed, specific answer, right down to a list of who to murder first — to the question “liberation from what?”, so do normies.  Not to put too fine a point on it, the answer is: “liberation from the tyranny of “displaced Southern queer millennial womanist organizer/writers.”  If I were the leader of a burgeoning Alt-Right…. “study circle,” let’s say, I’d make up big, full color posters of They and paste them all over campus, with the slogan / hashtag “this is your master.”  The usual suspects will shriek, of course… but they won’t be able to explain why, which sets up the second phase of the two-pronged attack: A poster of They, with two captions:  “This is your master” and “What’s wrong with that?”, the second question ideally linking to the syllabus from any given Wymyn’s or Queer Studies course at the local U.  Given that these types of classes quite openly preach the destruction of heterosexuality, patriarchy, etc., such statements will be easy to find.

Liberation from what?  MAKE THEM ANSWER.  Then sit back and watch the fun.  You’ll make more converts in a day at the protest rally than you could in a year on the Internet.

At least, that’s what I’d do if I were in charge of such a thing.  Which I am not, and I completely disavow it all.



*As I recall, the answer is: Predestination in Calvin’s sense implies that God exists within the stream of time — He is, in a way, bound to the forward progress of His own creation.  But that can’t be true, either, as it violates God’s omnipotence.  Therefore, God exists outside the stream of time — He knows, and has always known, every possible outcome of every possible choice we could ever possibly make.  It’s very sci-fi — we each exist, in a way, in our own personal universe, which veers off into another of infinitely many possible universes each time we make a moral choice.

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14 thoughts on “Liberation from WHAT?

  1. P_Ang

    I read a book somewhere, from someone (detailed, I know…something about being both a scientist and a Christian) that talked about how God could see all, and that is why the author believed He was omniscient. He gave an example, easily understandable to dunderheads like myself. You put your hand in front of your face. On one pinky you have a star…a burning Sun the size of our solar system. On your thumb, you have a tiny speck that is an Earth-sized world covered with living beings. All this is equivalent to our solar system. The star blinks out of existence…perhaps you’re a cruel and heartless god, or a liberal, and blew that Sun out like a match. You know, in eight minutes time as measured by the people of that world, what is going to happen to that entire population…

    1. Severian Post author

      That wouldn’t solve the predestination problem, though, as it implies that God is still bound to OUR stream of time — in your scenario, He knows that the world will end in 8 minutes, Earth-time, but it doesn’t say anything about the fate of all the souls involved. Either God is giving them 8 minutes to get right with Jesus — in which case, He doesn’t know what they’re going to do, and is therefore not omniscient — or He’s not (which means he knows where they’re going, Hell or Heaven, which makes the Passion meaningless).

      The only way Redemption works is if we have free will. The only way omniscience can be squared with free will is if God somehow exists “outside” His creation, watching the stream of time — or, more precisely, all the streams of all possible times — going by. (Plus that, since God is indivisible, if He existed “within” his creation, then everything is God, i.e. pantheism — Eriugena (I think) maintained this, and got condemned as a heretic for it).

      But anyway, what do you think about the rest of the piece? 🙂

      1. P_Ang

        Good, great, awesome, eclectic, ecstatic…I can’t come up with the words to describe the pure magnanimousity of the piece…it’s pure photosynthesis, and that’s saying a lot from someone with an English degree who worked hard to imbue his speech with professor-talk.

        But you KNOW they’ll never answer…there’s always a deflection, and they’ll have you on the ropes again in no time. It’s what they do. Consummate deceivers.

        1. Severian

          No, obviously not. I know what Napoleon did at Waterloo. Did he not have free will when he was doing it?

          Plus, again: The problem with Predestination (the Calvinist doctrine) isn’t that God knows what you’re going to do — it’s that IF he knows you’re going to Hell (because of His omniscience), then Jesus’s sacrifice was in vain. It makes the Gospels absurd and pointless.

          Christ died for our sins, opening salvation for all (I’m pretty sure He Himself said this at some point, though I’m no scholar). But if we’re predestined to hell, then… not.

          I’m pretty sure Erasmus covered this in his debate with Luther, but I read that in Humanities 101, when I was composed of equal parts horny and beer, so I might misremember. But this is certainly not MY argument — Calvin has been taking fire for 500 years now, from much smarter folks than me.

          1. Andy-in-Japan

            When you focus on the salvation of those who DO believe, your comment changes to:

            “IF he knows you’re not going to Hell (because of His omniscience), then Jesus’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.”

  2. Severian Post author

    @ Andy-in-Japan,

    Obviously. But that still doesn’t address the core problem of Calvinist predestination. Let me try this one more time:

    — Jesus Himself said he died for the sins of ALL mankind.
    — Calvin’s Predestination makes that pointless, since this specific person, Tim Smith, of 732 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield USA, was always going to Hell, per God’s omniscience.
    — Therefore, IF Calvin’s Predestination is true, THEN either a) Jesus’s sacrifice was pointless, because Tim Smith by definition isn’t affected, or b) Jesus lied, because the set {all men} includes the subset {Tim Smith}.

    I really don’t see what’s so hard about this. But if I can’t explain it to y’all’s satisfaction, try the 500 years’ worth of criticisms of Calvin out there — start with Erasmus and work your way forward, until you’re satisfied one way or the other.

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  4. Al from da Nort


    I suppose you can’t accept ‘There be paradoxes. They be bewildering and beyond our finite mind’s futile grasp.’ General Revelation shows that there is a God. Special Revelation tells us some of who He is and what we need to do to gain His favor. When you do that your world changes for the better and you know it. Yet it, paradoxically, looks the same.

    1. Severian


      I’m fine with the paradox — but the “solutions” folks keep proposing are meaningless. E.g. “IF he knows you’re not going to Hell (because of His omniscience), then Jesus’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.” Yes, by definition this is true, but it does nothing to solve the issue.

      Similarly: “If a time traveler came to you from the future, saying he knew what you were going to do, BUT DIDN’T TELL YOU what that choice was – has your Free Will been taken away?” No. Anyone who has been around small children, people in love, etc. has been in a situation where they KNOW, as sure as the sun will rise, that the person will do X… and then the person does in fact do X, but it was — obviously — their own free choice.

      These are non-solutions, and so “non” that I honestly wonder if those proposing them even understand the problem.

      The fact is, no theologian I’m aware of (and I am not a Biblical scholar) maintains that Predestination is compatible with Free Will. Luther wrote a whole big book called The Bondage of the Will, arguing precisely this — we don’t have free will, because Predestination. Calvin’s collected works run to many thousands of pages, and he maintains Predestination = NO free will as well.

      So: EITHER Predestination, OR free will. Not both. That was Calvin’s, and Luther’s, and my, point. I honestly still don’t see what’s so hard about that. If y’all want to maintain that both are possible, because it’s a “paradox,” well, be my guest — Hobbes somehow maintained that we have free will, even though the rest of his philosophy is against it (we’re free to assent to the last mental impulse we’re forced to have, I think is how it went).

      But that’s not what Calvin meant.

  5. Jeff Z

    Omniscience does not mean to know everything; it means to know everything that can be known. As the Bible makes clear right from the (literal) start of humanity’s existence that the omniscient Creator does not know which way Adam and Eve are going to roll, it cannot be known, hence omniscience is irrelevant to the outcome, which is the essence of the great mystery, free will.

  6. roger

    God by, definition, is omniscient, omnipotent, and ubiquitous. These requirements put him outside of any human knowledge (i.e. his existence is outside of our logical system (in the Gödel’s sense)). All reasoning we can make is based on false premises, i.e. our own, not his and can’t be guarenteed to be valid – check the truth table for false premises

  7. philmon

    I read a lot of Alan Watts back in my relative hippie days.

    There was a pretty good answer to the paradox in there somewhere. I will paraphrase and summarize and color it with a few of my own metaphoric ideas. Because the real answer is, we don’t understand, and we can’t.

    But …

    Just imagine yourself an omnipotent, eternal being. All alone in the universe, forever. Do the math. Forever is infinity, and just as zero times anything is still zero, infinity divided by anything is still infinity.

    So God existed for an infinite time before he created what we know as creation.

    He was bored out of his mind. And had nobody to share it with.

    So He … being omnipotent… chose … to forget that he knows. And he created beings to share it with. In his own image. Little mini sub-versions of his intentionally crippled omnipotent self.

    Intentional amnesia. I mean, if God is omnipotent, can he create a rock he cannot lift? Yes. Well, sort of. If he chooses to forget he can lift it. Can he choose to forget? He’s omnipotent, man. Of course he can. Until he chooses to remember.

    Dude, I need to find some weed, man.

  8. Kirk Forlatt

    Not to get all faggoty-feely, but another aspect of the free will vs. predestination debate that has always fascinated me is…love.

    I’m a former Presbyterian, served as an ordained officer for years, taught and preached and all that stuff, and even when I was in the high grip of Calvin Fever, I could never stop thinking about the constant scriptural (and cosmic) message that God loves His children. Any man who loves his children naturally wants them to love him back. But if a man were able to program one of his children to love him, and chose not to program one of the others in that way…would the “I love dad” child’s love really mean anything? I mean, I can program my computer to say “I love you, Kirk!” every time I walk in the room, but does that mean anything to me? Does it make me feel loved?

    I cannot count the number of arguments/debates in which I was involved in those pew-years, and I will never forget the insufferable smugness of the Calvinist types. The ever-present vibe from them was “I KNOW I’m one of the elect, so I like predestination. I like it because no one’s gonna get away with anything…justice is gonna be served.”

    Come to think of it, I’ve never met a Presbyterian/Reformed/Calvinist type who WASN’T absolutely sure that he/she was one of the elect. Not one of them ever said, “Well, ya know, I’m not sure. I might be on the wrong team.” Funny how that works.

    Superb post, my friend.

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