Freedom and bound: fear for freedom


At the beginning of the evening Carla, Man en Narrator meet each other in the Vijzelstraat with a view on the Gouden Bocht [1] at the Herengracht.
Gouden Bocht Herengracht[2]
“This is a beautiful place to continue our quest for “a personal relationship with God”. At this place in Amsterdam the merchants and wealthy had placed in stone the legitimacy and grace of their personal relationship with God in the 16th and 17th century.
Gouden Bocht Herengracht 2[2]
During the Dutch Reformation, Calvinism – with the doctrine of the predestination of God’s grace – has radically changed the worldview of merchants and wealthy in the Amsterdam.
Within the Scholastic worldview before the Dutch Reformation, God’s grace was determined in the course of a lifetime in synergism [3] between God and human actions. Through good deeds, humans could obtain God’s grace, and by sin and mortal sin, humans lost God’s grace partially or even completely. When a large number of sins were committed during life, humans had to spend a certain time in purgatory after their death for purification before they can be adopted again in God’s grace.
During the Reformation, Luther has stated his doctrine of God’s monergisme [4]: only God determines the justification of het His grace for individuals in His infinite omnipotence. According to Luther, a man can only lose the grace of God by losing faith in God; man has a free will to preserve faith in God.
Within God’s monergisme of Calvin, the grace of God is solely determined by God. Man has no free will to obtain the legitimacy and the grace of God; man obtains and retains this grace solely through the election of God. By predestination God preserved his grace only to His elect.

Genade Gods[5]
The merchants and wealthy in Amsterdam regarded themselves as the elect of God by their Reformed faith based on Calvin. As a result, they must – as stewards of God – realise God’s work on earth during their earthly lifetime constantly. These canal houses are the fruits in stone of their stewardship of God”, says Narrator.

“On the one hand, the merchants and wealthy had received their puissant wealth naturally by the wind in the sails of their merchant ships. On the other hand, they had worked constantly so hard with the devil on their heels to fulfill this earthly stewardship of God in order to decrease the uncertainty about the destiny of God’s grace; one was never sure of this grace, and a prospect thereof in the here and now was more than welcome. In addition, the merchants and wealthy were of the opinion that by God’s providence and by their wealth they were entitled to the stewardship of God. This stewardship gave them the right to usurp their rightful share of earthly possession and to manage it in the name of God”, says Man.

“Erich Fromm [6] had examined and described in his book “Fear of freedom – the flight into authoritarianism, destructiveness, conformism” [7] the impact and consequences of Calvin’s predestination on humans during the Reformation and on humanity in the 20th century. According to Calvin, the complete omnipotence of God includes the complete impotence of man. Human faith is rooted in human powerlessness. Only on the basis of this powerlessness we can trust in God’s omnipotence, that – if it pleases Him – will lead us to the arrival of a new, better world. According to Calvin, man is not in any way a master of himself; the pursuit of virtue as a goal in itself is for Calvin unacceptable and would only lead to vanity. The salvation of man from this earthly life through God’s grace or eternal damnation is already fully determined by God before a human life begins; no good or bad deeds can change this. Only God in its absolute omnipotence determines the election of a man wherein man cannot and should not penetrate. Although Calvin projects all justice, charity and love in God, according to Erich Fromm the God of Calvin possesses the characteristics of an absolute tyrant with no compassion; the God of Calvin is not in harmony with the Christian God of the New Testament according to Erich Fromm.
The doctrine of predestination has two psychological faces according to Erich Fromm. Man is deprived of every freedom to change her/his life here and hereafter by own actions: man is only a powerless instrument in God’s hands. At the same time man is deprived of every doubt to be in God’s omnipotence constantly.
The God of Calvin has emerged from the Reformation that had brought massive social upheaval in Holland, Germany and England. In Luther’s Germany this social upheaval caused a general unrest; especially the middle class, but also the peasants and the urban proletariat felt their existence threatened by the disappearance of the old certainties and long standing interrelationships of a society founded on religious scholasticism, the rapid dissemination and direct accessibility of this change, the increase in knowledge by the printing press, and the rise of capitalism. By the Reformation and the increasing individualization, the “common people” in Holland, England and France felt themselves null and void, alone, frightened and powerless within a life wherein every human endeavor seemed pointless. Calvin’s predestination gave the “common people” words to these feelings of powerlessness and it gave purpose and meaning to this powerlessness.

Synode Dordrecht[8]
By Calvin’s predestination, the realization of complete inferiority is moreover sublimated into an absolute superiority of God’s elect; they are from the beginning of time to eternity in the grace of God’s omnipotence, nothing and no one can ever alter that election. As we have discussed before, the adherence to the right faith in a personal relationship with God and acquiring success is a sign of this election. Every hour of her/his existence a God-fearing human will establish His works in the sweat of her/his brow according to His predestination – out of conviction, of duty and of coercion –, because Calvin and his followers had the absolute conviction to be among His elect. By this direct relationship with God as His chosen, the Calvinists considered themselves as utterly superior to the dissenters and hereby they were destined to act as a steward of God in His world order.
Calvin’s predestination offers the traders and wealthy in Holland – the Nouveau Riche of the 16th and 17th centuries who have emerged from the “common people” – a justification for the sometimes questionable acquisition of their capital: by His election, the Calvinistic merchants and wealthy merchants regard themselves as absolute Stewards of God.
Calvin’s predestination offers a Calvinist captain of a Dutch trading ship in that time the justification to be Skipper besides God. By God’s election, the captain was absolute ruler of the boat, its crew and cargo; a rebellion against him was a revolt against the absolute power of God. This doctrine of predestination also offered justification for the Dutch to rule over its colonies and – more than one century later – to trade slaves as God’s steward over the non-elect inferior beings.
Rembrandt van Rijn, twee moren[9]
Calvin’s predestination produced according to Erich Fromm a flight from freedom in the following ways:
• docility to the Calvinist doctrines and the worldly authority on earth that was established by God,
• destructiveness of other dissenters and other cultures that do not accept God’s order
• conformity to the Reformed (Calvinist) Church.
Calvin’s predestination has sublimated fear, uncertainty, futility and helplessness to absolute superiority of the elect. This causes that it is extremely important for Calvinists – as elect – to have a direct relation with God whereby it helps to follow the pure beleive and to belong to the only true church; this motive for the absolute pure belief within the only right church has caused many divisions in families and in the Reformed churches in the course of time. [7]
Shall I continue tomorrow with the rise of capitalism during the Reformation where the doctrine of Calvin partly originated from and where Calvinism has given shape to a some extent?”, says Carla.

“Catholicism – that I met in my youth in South Limburg – has many shortcomings and the doctrine of the chosen people of the Jewish religion has caused much suffering and sometimes made hardship bearable. Because of these shortcomings, I never felt myself completely at home in both religions.
I finished Grammar school at a Christian Reformed school. In the beginning after my youth in South Limburg I regarded humility, purity of the letter and overzealousness in this belief rather strange; after some time I got used to it. But I retained difficulty with the steepness, the smugness and superiority of the front benches in the Reformed Church as I always kept struggling with the condescension of the notables in the Catholic church.
I had read Fear of freedom by Erich Fromm at the beginning of the 70s just like you. With your explanation of sublimation of powerlessness to superiority of the elect, you give an interesting addition to this book. The same sublimation of nothingness and helplessness to absolute superiority took place in the 30s in Germany with as consequences authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformism [10] by the other regime in Germany until the end of World War II”, says Man.

“The sad consequences of this sublimation can be read in the history books and some of us still feel the impact of these horrors on a daily basis.
Will Indra’s Net – wherein each and every glass pearl forms and simultaneously reflect the entire network – also show the insignificance and powerlessness within each pearl, wherefrom to acquire a real or perceived inner superiority by sublimation?”, asks Narrator.
“Interesting question. I think that the origin of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and this branch of Zen Buddhism have also emerged from deep feelings of nothingness, futility and helplessness in human life and within society. Herewith these Oriental religions are connected with the origin and cause of Calvin’s doctrine. But I’m sure that on one hand Indra’s net may easily comprise and reflect Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, but probably by many other lights Indra’s will not radically and definitely move to the ultimate consequences of Calvin’s predestination”, says Man.

“I am not so sure. I think that Indra’s net can indeed produce an extreme belief as the Nazi regime in Germany; as we saw earlier: Indra’s net can also be ill. But I doubt if every pearl will spontaneously decide to sublimate its insignificance and powerlessness into superiority; there is too much counterweight within Indra’s net just like there was also a counterbalance present in Germany during the Nazi regime; unfortunately in Germany this counterbalance was completely overshadowed by the mainstream of conformity to the authority of the leader and destructiveness of dissenters. The three streams of authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformism are timeless, like the ongoing cycle of honor/power – pride – wrath – revenge for warriors in antiquity. Unfortunately at this point I am realistic pessimistic”, says Carla.

“I agree with you on this realistic pessimism and I would like to add the Bodhisattva ideal with its limitless compassion whereby compassion also includes the acceptance of points of view where I totally disagree with”, says Man.

“A beautiful ideal that gives hope”, says Narrator.

“Without hope for a better future, it is difficult to live for many people”, says Carla.

“I think noting is excluded within the metaphor of Indra’s net”, says Narrator.

“Shall we continue tomorrow? Let’s now enjoy this beautiful evening”, says Carla.

“That is good”, says Narrator.

“Let’s have a drink, what do you want?”, says Man.

“For me some soda”, says Carla.

“For me a beer: that is needed after our overview of Calvin’s predestination”, says Narrator.

[1] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouden_Bocht
[2] Source images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouden_Bocht
[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synergism_%28theology%29
[4] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monergism
[5] Source overview and see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology)
[6] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Fromm
[7] This argument by Carla Drift is a free rendering – with several additions – of the pages on this subject in: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 67 – 138 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)
[8] The-Synod-of-Dort-in-a-seventeenth-century-Dutch-engraving. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Calvijn
[9] Painting “Two moors” by Rembrandt van Rijn. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt_van_Rijn
[10] See also: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 104 – 138 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)

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