Secular Calvinism

Ross Douthat describes the rise of Paganism in America, but I think it’s closer to secular Calvinism, that is embraced by a lot of otherwise secular young people today.

Here are the five tenets of Calvinism:

Total Depravity/Inability:
This is saying that man is hopelessly sinful. Man is incapable of being “good.” Any “good” deed is truly motivated by something evil. The rest of the four points rely on this point.

Unconditional Election:
…God chooses who he chooses. No matter how hard man tries, his actions alone cannot get him into heaven; God is the only one who has control…

Limited Atonement:
Since God predestined the elect, Jesus paid only for those few elect.

Irresistible Grace:
The elect have no choice about being elect. The elect cannot resist God’s grace.

Perseverence of the Saints:
Calvinists believe that once you’re saved, you’re always saved since God had predestined the elect and the elect have no choice about being elect.

A common theme is a lack of free will, a limited capacity for redemption, and a generally negative perspective on humanity. One of the doctrines of Calvinism is predestination, meaning some individuals condemned to be damned no matter what they do. However, interestingly, such themes also seem to be common among many secular gen-z and millennials, who seem to also exhibit a Calvinistic perspective of the world.

On major subs such as /r/AskReddit, in the comments, it’s not uncommon for there to be hundreds or even thousands of young people sharing their experiences of how life is worse than expected, of how expectations are unmet, of adversity, of how people are fallible and fall short, and how many people seem to be condemned to mediocrity and unhappiness. This seems reminiscent of the the self-flagellatory Calvinistic tradition of needing to always repent and confess one’s own unworthiness. It’s like people who constantly re-post the same quotes on their social media profiles. It’s the secular version or social media equivalent of deferring to the same passages from the Bible. There is truth to this realism, because there is a lot of disappointment in life, and people do fall short in their personal and societal responsibilities, but it can get out of control when it becomes self-reinforcing and cult-like. Consider the rise of Dr. Jordan Peterson, whose lectures and books are an amalgamation of of mysticism, psychology, and reformation-era Protestantism, and themes of suffering and coping with chaos are central; his work does not exactly lend itself to optimism. In a culture and society that is obstinately atheist and secular, there is an underlying yearning earnestness, authenticity, and truthfulness that mainstream culture does not provide, but religious teachings do, and this explains to some degree the sudden and immense popularity of Dr. Peterson and his gnostic, pragmatic brand of ‘Christianity’ (if you even want to call it that). This may also explain why Catholicism is subject to so much scorn online, such as abuse scandals, much of it unjustified and unwarranted or out of context (all religions and denominations have abuse and corruption). The hierarchical system of Catholicism and idolatry is perceived as corrupt and impure by many. The Catholic tradition is the opposite of the Protestant one, and is more optimistic and forgiving. In the Catholic tradition, one is forgiven for their sins by confessing to priest , but no so such system exists in Protestantism, and forgiveness is by the grace of god alone. Even the churches are nicer inside, with more decorations. It’s understandable how so many millennials, who eschew consumerism and extol the virtues minimalism and stoicism, find the minimalist Protestant aesthetic more to their liking than the ostentatious decor of Catholicism. The secular Calvinist revival is not necessarily left-liberalism, and is why it’s factually incorrect to label Jordan Peterson a liberal, as some of his critics do. In the secular Calvinist tradition, there is a strong emphasis on personal accountability (the self), whereas leftists always blame the collective, whether it be structural racism or other forms of imagined oppression, and personal responsibility is one the cornerstones of Dr. Peterson’s lectures. This can even include biological determinism, because genes and IQ are intrinsic to the individual, not the collective society or environment.