Tag Archives: Calvin

Review: A History of Religious Ideas 3: From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms

A History of Religious Ideas 3: From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms
A History of Religious Ideas 3: From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms by Mircea Eliade
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third volume of “A History of Religious Idea – From Muhammed to the Age of Reforms” by Mircea Eliade covers the vast religious area between:
• Religions of Ancient Eurasia including shamanism, paganism, and the “Celestial God”
• Christian Churches in the eighth and ninth century
• Muhammed and the unfolding of Islam
• Western Catholicism from Charlemagne to the start of the Reformation
• Judaism in the Middle Ages
• Zwingli, Calvin and the Catholic Reformation
• Tibetan Religions

Similar to the first two volumes, this vast area of religious ideas is described in a considerable depth in this third volume, although experts will certainly notice significant major omissions at once; e.g. the Reformation in Holland is not covered.

Although I have the impression that Mircea Eliade could not finish this third volume: highly recommended!

View all my reviews


Freedom and bound: to have or to be

The next morning Carla and Man meet on the Beursplein.

“Last night I was too outspoken about Calvin’s predestination. Maybe I had the excesses in mind – e.g. the slave trade, the precipitation of revolts in the Dutch colonies, and the pursuit of capital – and I had too little attention to its merits, such as keeping livable a large piece of land below sea level and a large tolerance often based on a good business attitude. I am often too outspoken, more mildness would suit me”, says Carla.

“I admire Holland for its pictorial art, its pragmatism, its relatively good housing for everyone. This too is the result of the business attitude and God’s stewardship that has also taken shape in a socialist manner in last century. You have aptly expressed a number of starting points for derailments that were partly caused by Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. Any movement or sect that considers itself superior, has a strong tendency for derailment over time. There is Narrator”, says Man.

“Have you already been waiting a long time before this cathedral of capitalism? In many early Christian churches no regular church services take place anymore, because the believers have disappeared or have gone elsewhere. This capitalists’ cathedral is no longer in use, the followers of this religion have left for more profitable places like the South Axis in Amsterdam or the stock exchanges in London and New York”, says Narrator.
Berus van Berlage[1]

“That’s right, the capitalists pursuit maximization of profit [2], and hereby they are biting their own tails similar to players of a pyramid scheme. The sources of capital are enormous, but finite: once they will dry up.

Capitalism had already a long history before Calvinism had partially emerged from capitalism and gave further shape to it. Let me first tell you this long history in a nutshell.

Probably the meaning of capitalism is derived from the Roman word “caput” [3], which means head (of a person). This origin underlines the importance of private property within capitalism.
The onset of capitalism has probably been the use of devices by individual people to perform specific activities easier and/or faster. Among the hunter-gatherers such devices were stones to crack nuts, weapons to hunt animals and later devices combined with ingenuity to domesticate animals for food or for help during the hunt. In addition, hunter-gatherers needed a large environment as a means for their existence. When this environment or living conditions – also the possession of women and children – were threatened by other hunter-gatherers or groups of hunter-gatherers, these capital resources had to be defended.

Capitalism got a new dimension in nomadic societies of herdsmen; the capital of these nomadic herdsmen were their flocks and their pastures. The corresponding capital resources – such as animals for transport and for herding cattle – were used for tending and defending the herds of cattle, or men needed these devices – such as women and children – for survival. A religious expression within these societies of herdsmen was the cattle cycle [4]. In the Proto-Indo-European world, women represented the only possession of real value [5]; men needed the possession of livestock as a means of exchange to obtain women. In the Roman Catholic and Lutheran version of the Ten Commandments, we still see a relic hereof in the form of the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s wife” prior to the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s house” [6].

Within the agrarian capitalism of arable farming, the disposal – and later the possession of – land and water was necessary capital needed for survival [7]. In the course of time, the agrarian capitalism of arable farming has driven nomadic societies of farmers to the remote areas of Western society by occupying fixed crop lands. The introduction of the three-field system in arable farming during the early Middle Ages – in combination with limited cattle breeding – eventually allowed more people a living on permanent farmland.

Within the societies of herdsmen and farmers, bartering was needed, because people within these societies were not completely independent in their existence and because the need for specialized tools or services increased over time. There was barter needed at local markets or during fairs. The barter proceeded initially in kind; later rare objects – first rare stones or metals, and later coins with an image of a leader as trustworthy “person in the middle” – were used as “objects in the middle”.

During and after the Crusades in Western society in the second half of the Middle Ages, the trade in special items and services took further shape. Hereby, and also by the decay of feudalism arose a new economic organization during the Renaissance in Western Europe, where trade supported by the (city-)state in the form of mercantilism [8] increased further in importance. With mercantilism, the importance of coins as a trustworthy “object in the middle” also increased. Possession of coins became more and more an independent worthwhile life purpose in itself, because with money, all life goals could be obtained even remission of sins for a good afterlife through indulgences [9] within the Catholic Church.

By mercantilism, the attention within the lives of people moved more and more from “to be” to “to have”. In the earlier world of scholasticism, one was a human in a predefined order of life in which one ought to live virtuously. In the new world order, ownership of money became a great good in itself whereby a good place in life and in the hereafter could be obtained; owning and maintaining money rose in esteem, and gaining profits changed in the course of time from despicable act in a praiseworthy activity.

This form of mercantilism boomed in the Dutch Republic enormously, because of the unique position of Holland in a major river delta, because of the lack of arable farming land in Holland whereby cereals must be obtained by trade like the city-state of Athens in the fifth century BC, and because of a unique system of collective management of the polders. Additionally, the merchants and wealthy citizens in Holland – the Nouveau Riche of that time – initiated far-reaching adaptations and innovations of mercantilism.

One of the changes was the replacement of coins as “barter in the middle” by bonds [10]. Without a direct purchaser of the cargo – after examining – a shipload could be exchanged on the Dam in Amsterdam for securities. The traders in Holland did everything to perpetuate confidence in these securities

One important innovation was issuing of shares in corporations of merchants in order to make risky trading on a large scale to distant overseas colonies possible. Herewith the initiative of issuing of shares moved from nobility or (city-)state to initiatives by private individuals.
Waardepapier van de VOC uit 1662[11]

These modifications shifted the importance from coins – minted out of precious metals and imprinted with the image of a confident ruler – to securities issued by merchants and wealthy. This change shifted the economic initiative form the nobility and the (city-)state to merchants and wealthy individuals and corporations thereof.

For the “common people” of farmers, local traders and craftsmen in Holland , this new form of mercantilism meant a landslide; their whole economic existence could completely disappear in a short time by a cause from outside; others – often in modified form – may easily take over their livelihoods. They could not influence this change in any way.

Within this change of the environment of the “common people” – from a world modelled after the medieval scholasticism to a new world of mercantilism – Calvinism arose during the Reformation in relatively prosperous Geneva [12], and it found a fertile ground in the Netherlands of the 17th century AC.

By Calvinism in connection with mercantilism, the main focus of people’s lives changed from “to be” to “to have”. While in Calvinism – with its the doctrine of predestination – “being” in God’s grace was of supreme importance. But on one hand the gratitude and obligation for the elect to be God’s steward and on the other hand the constant desire for success as forecast for the election by God, meant that “to have” in earthly life is of immanent and immeasurable importance for “to be” in this life and especially in the afterlife.
In continuation of his work “Fear of freedom”, Erich Fromm states in his later work “To have or to be” [13]:

“We live in a society that is based on the three pillars of private property, profit and power. Acquiring, possessing and making profit is a sacred and inalienable right – and a duty as God’s steward according to Calvin’s predestination – of an individual human being in the new world order that has emerged from the mercantilism. Thereby it does not matter where the property comes from, nor whether there might be obligations attached to one’s property” [14].

Calvin’s predestination – embedded in mercantilism – considers “having” possessions as a predestination of God, and therefore an immutable right and duty for God’s stewards. Dorothee Sölle states in her work “Mysticism and Resistance – Thou silent screams” that Erich Fromm rightly makes a meaningful distinction between on one hand the functional properties of utensils to be used for our existence and on the other hand property for enhancing the social status of the ego, guaranteeing security in the future or just for the convenience of self-desire. About ownership of the latter kind of property, Dorothee Sölle says – I think rightly –, that it destroys the relationship with the neighbour, with nature and with the I [14]. And she states freely rendered: the forecast of a hereafter in God’s grace through the pursuit of earthly possessions soon degenerates into a prison on earth and a herald of hell. Francis of Assisi had only allowed money on the dunghill. [14]

In our modern times, paper money is exchanged for virtual bits in computer systems that offer – via monitors – access to terrestrial resources. These virtual bits had started an environment of its own, wherein mankind will be more and more a servant – or slave – to the many forms of bitcoins in these computer systems. Having access to this world of bits and monitors overshadows “being” in our daily life. Through a long detour, the emptiness of the virtual bits and monitors have confiscated the richness of our existence. This is in a nutshell my introduction to capitalism”, says Carla.

“So much in so few words in front of this cathedral of capitalism. Near this building and during your introduction, I am reminded of the haiku by Rӯokan after thieves had taken everything out from his hut:

From my little hut
Thieves took everything
The moon stayed behind [15]

The moon stands for the unshakable believe of Rӯokan”, says Narrator.

“To have or to be. After this truly somber picture of human existence. I would like to show you a different kind of emptiness: the emptiness of the Waddenzee. The next few days the weather will be good. May I invite you for the last sailing trip with my small sailboat; soon I will give the boat to a good friend who is much younger. On the sailboat we may prepare “emptiness” – the next part of our quest”, says Man.

“Shall we this afternoon look into what we still have to investigate on this part of our quest?”, asks Carla.
[1] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beurs_van_Berlage
[2] Another explanation about Capitalism is given at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism
[3] Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins – The hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z. London: A & C Black Publishers, 2008
[4] See also: Origo, Jan van, Wie ben jij – een verkenning van ons bestaan – deel 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Uitgeverij, 2012 p. 33
[5] See: McGrath, Kevin, STRῙ Women in Epic Mahābhārata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009, p. 9 – 15
[6] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments
[7] See also: Beyens, Louis, De Graangodin – Het ontstaan van de landbouwcultuur. Amsterdam: Atlas, 2004
[8] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism and http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschiedenis_van_Europa
[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence
[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism
[11] A bond of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie from 1622 AC. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waardepapier
[12] See also: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 67 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)
[13] Free rendering of paragraph from: Fromm, Erich, Haben oder Sein. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2011, p. 89 (Fromm, Erich, To have or to be?. New York: Harper and Row, 1976)
[14] Sölle, Dorothee, Mystiek en verzet – Gij stil geschreeuw. Baarn: Ten Have, 1998, p. 327 – 328
[15] Source: Stevens, John, Three Zen Masters, Ikkyū, Hakuin, Rӯokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993, p. 131.

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)