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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Is Calvinism a Cult?

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I realize that most people reading this article are already considering the possibility of a link between Calvinism and cults. So to save them some time, I'll give the short answer right now: No.

There. So if you're a Calvinist, you can hit the 'back' button right now and resume your search. Because you're not going to like the long answer, which we will get to anon, save yourself some frustration and keep your sub-collar temperature down by reading no further.

Cults are a topic I've studied from time to time over the past several decades. I clearly remember the morning I heard over the radio that hundreds of members of a cult in Guyana had been discovered dead, victims of an apparent mass suicide. I remember being approached by a Hare Krishna devotee at an airport, who asked me to donate to a fund that would help young people get off drugs. And I remember the following the long, drawn-out siege of David Koresh's Mount Carmel commune. Deception and death--along with, it will turn out, divorce--seem to sooner or later characterize all cultic movements.

But the question of cults has really hit home to me in recent years as I have watched a cult forming before my very eyes--perhaps several of them; they are all still in such early stages that it isn't yet possible to definitively describe them as such, but they share with other movements the seeds that generally develop into cultic behavior. So it has become important to me not only to identify the marks of a full-blown cult, but those of one in its infancy.

As a result of my studies, I've identified some stages in the Life Cycle of a Cult. Inherent to these stages are the labels which I've assigned to them, which are as follows:

Small Cult
Big Cult
Evolved Cult
Expired Cult

Every cult starts out small, focused on a single individual who brings his followers a never-ending stream of fresh messages directly from God. The lure of new revelation is a temptation to so many that Small Cults, in the normal progression of things, always grow rapidly. At this point the Leader needs to decide whether to keep his flock small enough to manage, or to share some of his authority with deputies who will hopefully carry on his vision. Should he choose the first option, his cult will eventually expire, but usually not until long after he is removed from the scene. Should he choose the second, his cult will go on to evolve into something so far removed from the original structure that even the word 'cult' will no longer adequately describe it as a sociological phenomenon. It will have become a religion.

This latter scenario turned out to be more of the case with the cult allegedly founded by Jean Chauvin. . .

Before closing out this post, I was surprised to find several websites already exist calling Calvinism a cult. So I see I will have to defend my opinions rather carefully.

[added on 11/24] This subject is really deserving of a full thesis, something of a far different nature than a blog post. The tremendous volume this post has generated--second only to my Obama chronology--drives me to finish it. But caution holds me back. I will continue to develop the theme as I have ample material to work with. . .

[added on 12/2] A reader has requested that we define our terms carefully. Very well; I call forth as witness noted Calvinist historian Ruth A. Tucker, in her book Another Gospel:
"A 'cult' is a religious group that has a 'prophet-founder' called of God to give a special message not found in the Bible itself, often apocalyptic in nature and often set forth in 'inspired' writings. . . . the style of leadership is authoritarian and there is frequently an exclusivistic outlook, supported by a legalistic lifestyle and persecution mentality."

See Dr. Tucker's response in the comment section below.

Here's a rather useful dictionary definition, culled from another blog:
Cult n.
  1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
  2. The followers of such a religion or sect.
  3. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
  4. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
  5. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
    1. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
    2. The object of such devotion.
    3. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Unintended Consequences and the Marriage Amendment--2004 and 2008


In 2004, as we recall, the Presidential Election was a close one. In the end, it came down to Ohio's 20 electoral votes, which George W. Bush won by a margin of 118,775 popular votes out of over 5.6 million cast. According to the New York Times, this is how it happened:

"Proposed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage increased the turnout of socially conservative voters in many of the 11 states where the measures appeared on the ballot on Tuesday, political analysts say, providing crucial assistance to Republican candidates including President Bush in Ohio and Senator Jim Bunning in Kentucky.

"The amendments, which define marriage as between only a man and a woman, passed overwhelmingly in all 11 states, clearly receiving support from Democrats and independents as well as Republicans. Only in Oregon and Michigan did the amendment receive less than 60 percent of the vote.

"But the ballot measures also appear to have acted like magnets for thousands of socially conservative voters in rural and suburban communities who might not otherwise have voted, even in this heated campaign, political analysts said. And in tight races, those voters - who historically have leaned heavily Republican - may have tipped the balance.

"In Ohio, for instance, political analysts credit the ballot measure with increasing turnout in Republican bastions in the south and west, while also pushing swing voters in the Appalachian region of the southeast toward Mr. Bush. The president's extra-strong showing in those areas compensated for an extraordinarily large Democratic turnout in Cleveland and in Columbus, propelling him to a 136,000-vote victory." --Nov. 4, 2004

I might add that Ohio's 60,000 Amish voters, who aren't even supposed to vote in state or national elections, were given special dispensation by their bishops to go to the polls in support of the 2004 marriage amendment. Once they got in the curtained-off voting booths, though, who knows what may have happened. Certain it is that Bush campaigned pretty hard in predominately Amish areas of the South and West, and there was plenty of parking for buggies at his rallies.

Fast forward to 2008. Again voter turnout was significant, but this time the effect worked in reverse. There were 'marriage initiatives' on the ballot in only three states this time. In Arizona, Florida and California various forms of constitutional amendments were voted on where marriage was defined as 'between a man and a woman'.

In each case, the amendments passed. In California and Florida these measures got about 52% of the vote--the same margin by which Barack Hussein Obama carried the popular vote nationwide.

In Arizona, the amendment needed 60% of the vote to pass--and it got it.

When pollsters analyzed the data they found something very interesting.

On average, whites voted AGAINST the measures 51% to 49%. This margin is significant because Whites make up the overwhelming majority both of the voting base and of actual voters. No Democratic candidate since 1964 has carried a majority of the White vote, but the pro-homosexual marriage lobby carried it this time.

Here is where it gets interesting. Blacks voted FOR the amendments 79% to 21%. There were record turnouts in the Black community, due to Senator Obama running for President--and they voted for him 96% to 4%. Pollsters agree the Black vote was THE factor in the victories, both of Obama and the marriage amendments. Without the large Black turnout voting overwhelmingly for the amendments that define marriage as between a man and a woman, these amendments would have failed.

Let that sink in for a moment.

It was Black voters who put Obama in the White House, against the wishes of the White majority. But those same Black Voters passed the marriage amendments in their states, against the wishes of the White majority. The Democrats took the White House because they fielded a Black candidate, but the pro-marriage amendment supporters also won because there was a Black candidate on the same ballot.

Black voters overwhelmingly chose Obama the person, but overwhelmingly rejected his liberal platform. Unfortunately for them, they won't be able to choose one over the other once he gets a chance to nominate Supreme Court Justices who will make the amendment by referendum process obsolete.

And by the way--even with Obama carrying Ohio this time, he got fewer votes there than John Kerry got in 2004. Despite record turnout nationwide, almost half a million FEWER people voted in Ohio this election. The NY Times was right--people voted AGAINST Kerry because they were already there to vote FOR a definition of marriage. If the marriage amendment hadn't been on the Ohio ballot in 2004, no one would have had the option of voting for a Black President in 2008.