This is my growing collection of anecdotal exchanges and musings about the perception and the reality that outspoken champions of Calvinism are douchebags. The most active social circles of a staunchly archconservative New Calvinism and the Reformed tradition nowadays attract and retain a distinctly high concentration of insufferable jerks.
Me: It’s illuminating how everyone I meet in American Christianity knows precisely what I mean when I say “dickishly Reformed” to describe the flavor of Reformed Christian that I don’t want to be. The cure’s as horrid as the disease when it comes to archconservative Reformed people pushing back against anything and everything. It looks a lot like people ruled by emotion to me. On both sides.
Friend: It’s because “Reformed” is just a brand of consumerized Christianity that means Christianity for mildly autistic, reasonably well-educated, middle-class assholes. Almost no one I know who is Reformed whose parents (or grandparents if they are young people in a Reformed family) were Reformed. It’s a commodified consumerist brand as much as evanjellyfish megachurches.
Me: I’m stealing all of this for a new blog post. 😀
Friend: Why does Reformed theology attract more than its fair share of argumentative men, especially young men? You know what I mean.
Me: I’ve said before that the archconservative Reformed camp is a personality enclave. It may not be a question of who it attracts as much as who it repels. One reason may be that only men who’re exceptionally high in disagreeableness and low in negative emotionality can psychologically handle the Reformed doctrine of providence and predestination and everything which flows from that. The toughest view of God may require the toughest temperament of men to bear it and defend it.
Much like law enforcement, the Reformed tradition has a blesséd tendency to attract and produce a disproportionately large number of upstanding courageous defenders of the Faith. As a result, its influence on church and culture alike far exceeds its numbers.
And much like law enforcement, the Reformed tradition has a curséd tendency to attract more than its fair share of megalomaniacs and bullies. So when you watch the Reformed online world, it’s a big fight between whose version of megalomania is going to win.
This isn’t quite dickishly Reformed, but it’s close. This is Reformed as a market brand.
Ornery Reformed men are frustrated by their lack of genuine agency in this culture. And rightly so. But what they do is synthesize a distorted and extreme performative definition of manliness. And then they attempt to live it out. In reality, they’re just LARPing through life as a caricature of manliness and fatherliness. They do this to reassure themselves and silence the ghosts of feminism and effeminacy that haunt the recesses of their minds.
As for the passionately vocal Reformed women who love this sort of man and the lifestyle he’s LARPing, I can’t help but think this is some version of a 50 Shades of Grey fantasy.
It’s the “Already but Not-Yet” of a low-grade case of Asperger Syndrome—redeemed but still undergoing heavy sanctification. Have patience. It only lasts 60 or 70 years, tops.
Self-deprecating Reformed self-commentary from the MCU. Calvinism is Bruce Banner.
Does this really require further explanation? I’d say if you get the joke, it proves my point!
Can a man who had a radical Calvinistic Awakening ever really leave his cage stage?
To paraphrase a classical Protestant pastor-friend who was raised Roman Catholic …
Why are cantankerous Calvinists the particular Christians leading the way in the defense of a gender-differentiated sex spectrum from mere complementarianism, through severe complementarianism, to roaring patriarchalism? And why does it go hand-in-hand with ever-increasing levels of distortional performative hyper-masculinity?
This is the same faction leading the way in LARPing a particular vision of traditional life and a supposedly recaptured concept of the downfallen traditional household that favors a strict domestic agency for women which is strongly juxtaposed to economic agency. It can even spawn and propagate a peculiar retrolapsarian prosperity gospel.
This has something to do with having the most anemic Mariology of all major Protestant traditions and the most anemic general view of female agency in Scripture. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, but it’s an intriguingly provocative thought. By overreacting against the hideous excesses of Roman Catholicism’s elevation of the Virgin Mary, the Reformed (far beyond the reforms of the Lutherans and the Anglicans) have become so skittish to even commend the Mother of Jesus that we’ve deprived ourselves of the central model of a godly woman in submission who nonetheless exercises powerful feminine agency in the service of God and the community of the faithful.
It doesn’t help matters when we think of a figure like John Knox and his contentions with the Scottish and the English queens. It’s almost as if the very DNA of Scottish and English Presbyterianism is coded for contentiousness against women in authority or exercising agency in the world. An Apollos that can’t abide a Priscilla.
The Reformed tradition has long been the most vocally resistant Protestant tradition to the vocation of celibacy in theory and practice. It’s come at the expense of a vital church office—that of the nun or the widow, like the maiden dedicated to service in the temple. There’s simply no room for any version of such things in a Reformed vision of fecundity where every man has his quiver full. Concrete ecclesial roles like those of godfather and godmother also depart as a patriarchal vision of a church of natural families grows. See retrolapsarian prosperity gospel once again.
Ultimately, the anemic Reformed outlook on female agency in Scripture with respect to various godly women in the biblical narratives leads to an anemic view of the corporate female agency of the Church as the Bride of Christ—the reality of which all those godly women were types and shadows.
It’s a conspicuous non-coincidence that the most aggressively patriarchal Reformed men are also the most aggressively postmillennial and theonomic in their sociopolitical views. And their own more sociopolitically modest Reformed brethren criticize postmillennial theonomic Calvinism as being ecclesiastical feminism. Such irony. It’s an expectation that the Bride of Christ will achieve here and now in this age that which is more properly and purely the thing which Christ the Husband will achieve in the age to come. It’s a transfer of Christ’s agency to the Church, not the Church’s work as the Helper to her Husband.
Call this all a provocative thought-experiment. Let it simmer a while in your mind.
Here’s some Dickishly Reformed humor from @ReformedMallard on Twitter:
Which Narnia character is most Presbyterian? The answer is Reepicheep.
- He is smaller than all the others, but unfazed by it.
- He is willing to fight to the death about everything.
- He rebukes kings without a second thought.
- He exasperates everyone.
I bet that even more cantankerous comparisons could be added to this list.