Rushdoony’s Compaint

As I read information about Calvinists from time to time, I found something deeply amusing from one of the e-mails I read earlier today about a complaint that these Calvinists had with the philosophy of Neoplatonism [1].  The complaint that was made is that Neoplatonism is to blame for a crisis within Christianity that looks at the physical world (including the grubby world of politics) as being dirty while praising private pietistic inward faith.  The reasons why the authors are so upset about this popular aspect of Neoplatonism, a dualistic approach that is familiar even to those parts of the Christian world that claim to be very negative towards the ideas of Greek philosophy, are fairly obvious.  To the extent that sincere Christians are so disgusted by the moral imperfection of involvement in the affairs of this world, the corrupt behavior of those who have no such qualms has correspondingly fewer people acting against them.  Whether or not this same level of disgust would be present in a world where the real and the ideal were more closely aligned is hard to say, but so long as people hold to a two-kingdoms view that discourages involvement in earthly realms because of a firm belief of citizenship and commitment in the Jerusalem that is above, it is likely that these people will continue to complain.

I do not wish at this point to comment on the question of the legitimacy of political involvement, as that itself is a serious question fraught with all kinds of complications.  I would like to point out that the authors of the e-mail have a point when they criticize Christians for a lack of involvement in secular politics on several grounds:  pragmatic grounds of pointing out that a more active voting public with high moral standards could have a noticeable effect on our own political culture and help arrest the moral decline we see all around us, even if we do not believe that nations can be saved through political means, as well as the grounds that the involvement of believers in church politics is just as unseemly as our involvement in worldly politics, for there is no genuine divide between secular and religious when one is dealing with a God whose jurisdiction is over all aspects of human behavior.  As someone who is fascinated by observing politics, I must admit that my own ferocity in dealing with questions of politics makes me a less than ideal critic of politics and our involvement or interest in them, even if I can definitely understand that it is at times difficult to know which of two unappealing candidates is the lesser of two evils at times.

I feel it necessary, however, to point out that the complaint of these Calvinists against Neoplatonism is unwise, not least because Calvinists themselves are so dependent on their worldview upon Neoplatonic thought.  After all, one of the foremost figures in baptizing Neoplatonic thought into Hellenistic Christianity was one Augustine, and it is difficult to imagine the Protestant Reformation and Calvinist thought and practice without having recourse to Augustine.  Some of Augustine’s more unpleasant and unpalatable ideas are precisely those ones which were adopted wholesale and in a fairly extreme form by Calvin and his followers.  These ideas include original sin, which not only held that the world and people had been warped and bent by sin but that people were born morally culpable as a result of the repercussions of the sins of Adam, meaning that there is no innocence even in newborns.  In addition to that, Augustine wrote about predestination at considerable length, one of the aspects of Calvinist thought that has proven to be immensely problematic in contemporary society.  And if original sin, and predestination were not enough of a Neoplatonic problem for Calvinists to deal with coming from Augustine, it was Augustine himself whose writing on the two cities was instrumental in separating Christians from the rough and tumble world of secular politics which contemporary Christian Reconstructionists find so objectionable.

What all of this means is that the philosophical foundation of contemporary Calvinism is on somewhat problematic ground.  To reject Neoplatonism in toto would involve rejecting a great deal of the deeply intellectual writing and reasoning of Augustine that Calvinists view as a powerful bulwark of their own theological perspective in order to defend the legitimacy of their desire for political power to enforce their vision of biblical law.  It should go without saying that I do not find their vision of biblical law very appealing, not least because it lacks the grace of a genuine Sabbatarian view that I happen to hold.  I am, however, deeply in sympathy with their struggle.  After all, I have a great deal of hostility to the malign influence of Hellenistic thought, including Neoplatonic thought, on Christian belief and practice.  That said, though, it is a very hard thing to be an intellectual without finding that one thinks and speaks in terms that are deeply influenced by that philosophy.  I cannot criticize these Calvinists too harshly for finding themselves paradoxically both dependent on Neoplatonic thought as well as hostile to it.  Many of us find ourselves at odds with ourselves because different longings and wills within us conflict.  We must all wrestle with the fact that we have all kinds of longings, including the longing for respect and honor as people of great intellect and sound reason, and sometimes our longings are in contradiction with the biblical standard that we claim to support above everything else.  Let us therefore judge not, and complain not, lest we shall be judged ourselves for the same sins and inconsistencies that we condemn in others.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Rushdoony’s Compaint

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Treatise Of Ruling Elders And Deacons | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Necessity Of Reforming The Church | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Calvin On Prayer | Edge Induced Cohesion

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