Sunday, June 12, 2016

If I'm Calvinist is God Hobbes? Part 3: Leviathan or What Happens When You Pick On Tommy Hobbes

This is part three of a three part tale.  Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.

I think Thomas Hobbes must have been picked on a lot at school. Tommy Hobbes getting pantsed, Tommy being hung from the flagpole by his training codpiece. You know, the normal fruits of being small, irritating and self righteous in a society of boys.

After all, in his book Leviathan he describes the natural state of man's existence as being among other things "nasty, brutish and short" which would have made perfect sense to anyone sentenced to a stretch at an English boarding school. His book is the dark, Hobbesian (I know but it is the mot juste) masterpiece of the English Enlightenment. And it clearly shows the fruits of years of brooding on human nature and its defects whilst hanging from flagpoles being pelted with rotting vegetables.

In Leviathan Hobbes makes essentially two arguments: the first that man in his natural state behaves like a bunch of adolescent English boys in school or stranded on a tropical island and if you think that's bad, you should spend a day with their sisters. His second argument is that the only way to stop the little shits from beating....I mean the only way to establish order and peace where the talented, tiny, tinny tenth can flourish is for an all powerful force to impose order from above. Sort of a Terminator Skynet version of Mr. Chips.

But Hobbes argued that the Leviathan didn't have to be a super intelligent globe spanning satellite and robot network dedicated to the enslavement of humankind. Well actually he didn't argue that but what he did argue was that Leviathan didn't necessarily need to be the 17th century version of Skynet: the Absolute Monarch ruling by Divine Right. Although he believed that it was probably the best most stable form of Leviathan until robots got invented. This was because in his view monarchy best facilitated the orderly transition of power for example, from from King "Potato" Chips I to King "Fritos" Chips II and so on.

Instead, Leviathan could be a self perpetuating oligarchy, sort of a school board on steroids who didn't monkey around with detention and suspension but was willing to expel the disorderly from their bodies with extreme prejudice. It could even be a democracy where the people create an all powerful government and then revel in its democratically endorsed persecution of themselves, sort of a Hobbesian masochist nirvana.

Regardless of form, the key attributes of Leviathan were that it be both an all powerful and self perpetuating institution. He argued that if it didn't have both of these attributes then society would suffer constant disorder interrupted by bouts of dynastic or electoral chaos. Like those he experience while hanging from flagpoles.

"Lookit:  I'm a Monster King!"
The one thing that Hobbesy - I guess I should pause for a biographical note: at the start of the 9th grade Hobbes decided that his bully problem was attributable to his lack of bling and threads that were far from being 'de rigueur' so he briefly became Home Boy Hobbesy. For his efforts he was tossed into the school pond and nearly drowned from all the damned Spanish bling.

So anyway, one thing Hobbes didn't include in his conception of Leviathan was God, or at least the Judeo Christian deity of that name. And you can understand why: aside from Golgotha or a men's communal prison shower, the English boarding school is considered to be the most God forsaken place on the planet. Reflecting on this while dodging flying produce was in fact how he developed the concept of an all powerful ruler in the first place. A Leviathan who by strange coincidence sure looked like a cross between God and Tommy Hobbes which is why his selfie is on the cover of the early editions of his book. On the cover, I might add, as a 1,000 foot tall giant King. Who says that academics are modest?

Well not me and certainly not Hobbes because between their obsession over their own point of view in their area of expertise (and damned near everything else) their towering rage at the other boffins for denying their peculiar brand of 'truth', contempt for the the hoi polloi who couldn't (as they would say in their quaint vernacular) 'give a shit' and their utter estrangement from what was then called 'ye olde reality based village' making one of these cats or even worse a sackfull of them Leviathan was an incredibly life shortening proposition. Think Robert Mugabe crossed with Robspierre and Pol Pot all on a toasted Paul Krugman bun. Yuck.

And this is where Hobbes and Calvin parted ways. Hobbes thought it would be swell to ruled by a crowd that called all the shots, couldn't be deposed and had a vigorous if obscure fantasy life. Mind you, he was fine with religion so long as it was civic and national in nature being run by and for Leviathan. In this he was a real Mussolini: 'everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing above the state'. Although not being Italian he didn't have Il Duce's fashion sense or penchant for high drama much less his stable of on-call starlets.

Calvin by contrast was God's man. He had seen Mr. Big in the Vatican and knew that combining lawyers, guns and money with an absolutist religion was a recipe for one helluva toot followed by a continental scale hangover. His definition of a good Leviathan was one with powers limited by God's commands ideally interpreted by a brilliant judge namely himself. Now mind you this didn't make him a liberal but distrust of Mr. Bigs and the fear that if there was only one slot Luther or Zwingli might get in and if he had to listen to Luther's plodding prose one more time or sing 'A mighty fortress is our God' when it was obvious that God never ever played defence he'd probably go full Torquemada on someone. Preferably Luther.

Now where was I? So anyway this resentment and fear of the other guy drove Calvin who was a theocrat at heart to support republican governance. Limited by God's Constitution so to speak. Which is how an exiled Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey became more American than a Brit with the Kick Ass name Tommy Hobbes. Which just goes to show that ideas and faith matter more than putting yourself on the front of your book as a 1000 foot monster king.

If I'm Calvinist, is God Hobbes? The You're Not the Pope of Me Doctrinal Kerfuffle

I'm the Pope of you!
If you had the misfortune to read If I'm Calvinist, is God Hobbes? Part 1 of this scholarly exegesis, no - that's not right - this Rabelasian road trip, yes, much better - you no doubt will have noted several inconsistencies, non sequiturs, logical conundrums and downright falsehoods. Good for you, if they're still alive, your Sunday School teachers will be so proud. Me? Couldn't care less. What concerns me is that I didn't fully explain why the Pope was so ticked at Calvin and his cranky co-conspirators. Yes, the Calvinists made a big deal of God's unapproachable, towering sovereignty but that wasn't primarily what frosted the Pope's beer mug. It was the insistence of Calvinists (and Lutherans, Zwingliites, Arians, Anglicans etc.) that the Pope had no authority from God to rule the church or compel the obedience of any Christian.

No. I'm the Pope of you!
'The "You're not the boss of me" doctrine was a direct assault on the power, perquisites and privileges of what by the 14th century had become the best gig in religion. It was such a good gig that different kings set up their own Popes to get in on all the fun. And you can understand why being a major league Roman Prelate was in such demand: you got to hang out in the south of France or Italy, A list celebrities kissed your pinkie ring, you presided over a religion that used excellent wine as it's primary sacrament, and you lived in a time where the practical definition of 'celibacy' was "sorry honey, you know I can't marry you but I'll pray that it's a boy". Sort of an all expense paid version of Porkys in man dresses. And not something to be given up just because some punk has spent too much time reading his Bible.

No! I'm the Pope of both of you!
And then there was the whole Antichrist thing.  I mean telling the guy that cashes Jesus' checks here on earth that he actually doesn't have signing authority for those accounts is liable to put the calmest Cote d'Azur popeboy in a state of heightened agitation. So yes, differences about the sovereignty of God, the nature of Salvation and the questionable fashion sense of wearing really tall hats all fed into the Pope's hostility .  But at the end of the day what they were really fighting over was custody of the Papal expense account.

If I'm Calvinist is God Hobbes?

John Calvin 1509-1564 displaying the classic
"L" is for Luthers symbol commonly used by Calvinists
mostly because it made Luther mad.  In America
the symbolism has evolved into men bearing
large foam fingers preaching a degenerate form of the faith
in crowded gladiator arenas on Sunday afternoons.  It
replaced the pagan giant foam thumb used by
the Flavian emperors to speed up the pace of play
in ancient Rome.

This is Part 1 of who knows how many parts.   Here is:  Part 2:  The 'You're not the Pope of me' doctrinal kerfuffle  and Part 3:  Leviathan or what happens when you pick on Tommy Hobbes.  And if you find this weird you may also want to be weirded out by my 'unique' (my Pastor's words) take on God in God 1.0.

I'm Presbyterian which means that I am Protestant, 'Reformed' (my ex says 'ha ha') and subscribe (while ignoring the increasingly strident renewal notices) to the Calvinist view of Christianity. It is a point of pride among Presbyterians that we can take almost an entire paragraph to introduce our religious credentials and that's even before we get to what type Presbyterian we are. For others field identification is simpler: Baptists say they're 'saved' and 'praise the Lord' a lot, Episcopalians don't talk about God but mix a mean sacramental Martini, Pentecostals jibberjabber and serious Catholics have lots of kids. Unless you're in Utah, then they're Mormons. Atheists are by far the easiest to ID: they tend to stand alone in the corner with a sour, resentful look. Getting stuck in a conversation with a militant Atheist can drive you to sacramental Episcopalianism.

To be a Calvinist  you have to believe in Tulips, no, not the flower and most definitely not Mick Jagger, although the Rolling Stones do give off a rather Hobbesian aura.  No, I'm talking about T.U.L.I.P. which any buck-Deacon in a one horse Presbyterian church knows stands for: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints - TULIP which of course was thought up in Holland where every damn business, house or idea had to have that stupid flower in it's name.  But Calvin was French and would have described it as: dépravation totale, l'élection inconditionnelle, l'expiation limitée, grâce irrésistible, et la persévérance des saints which would be DEEGP which makes no sense so be glad that TULIP won out.  Indeed John Calvin would be Jean but for the theologians of the 17th century who thought they'd get made fun of if they studied books with a girl's name or for that matter with a French guy's name.  Branding is everything.

I guess before I go any further I should lay out my credentials for opining on Calvinist Hobbesianism:  I am what is known as a 'Dozing' Presbyterian.  There are three types of Presbyterians: Nosey, Posey and Dozy.  Nosey Presbyterians know their Bible, they tend to be preachers, teachers and older women and definitely know the difference between Calvin's Institutes and Confucius' Analects (hey anyone could make that mistake).  If you want to know what's going on in the church or anything for that matter, talk to the Noseys - they'll tell you.  And tell you and tell you.  By contrast Poseys tend to be Deacons and Elders, particularly ones that got there via the 'fast track' of ushering.  They generally look pretty impressive, having the command presence needed to shoehorn a 5 person family into a 4 person spot.  But ask them a question about faith or truth or God and they get that blank, deacon in the headlights look and their hands instinctively clutch for the stack of programs that isn't there.  But if you want to get in and out of the building quick or get money with no probing, thoughtful questions asked, the Posey Presbyterian is your man - and in the more liberal denominations your woman too. But I'm a Dozy.  We're the foot soldiers of Presbyterianism, it's Bible fodder, if you will.  Dozys can always be identified after Sunday service by the broad, reddish mark  made by resting our foreheads reverentially against the pew in front of us.  We have developed our knowledge of theology via osmosis, or more accurately dozemosis.  We make outstanding early childhood Sunday school teachers because our childlike ignorance allows us to relate to the little ones at their level.  "Yes Kaitlin, I know that when you sing Jesus Loves Me He loves you and when Connor sings it He loves Connor but I'm here to tell you that when I sing it He loves me more because I'm bigger. That's just the way He is!"

Well anyway, back to the deep thinking.  As I understand it, or in reality, probably dreamt it, a key principle in Calvinism is the Sovereignty of God or SOG.  SOG is the idea that God is really God.  Get it?  He's not your invisible buddy, your copilot, your shrink or that pious pal who runs errands for you, he's the actual freaking God, the Big Numero Uno, The Creator of the Universe who judges the quick and the dead and if you're not quick about it, He'll darn sure make you dead.  Imagine your toughest boss crossed with Santa Claus - no not the "Ho Ho Ho" part, the "he knows when you've been bad or good part".  Have that in your head?  OK? Now imagine just how many days (hours) it would have taken him before he would have fired (or called the cops on) your ass.  That many?  Remember he knows when you've been lying too, that's more like it.  That's the kind of God we've got.  You see under SOG, God calls all the shots.  Even before the pool table's been built - He knows when you've been sleeping and knows when you're awake before you've been born.  And to say that He has a 'plan' for your life is like saying that my advice to President Kennedy to buy more life insurance after I had seen his assassination and then traveled back in time to be his insurance agent was just a 'lucky guess'.  SOG is that intense.

Thomas "Tommy" Hobbes on the first 
edition of his Big Book of Leviathan.
Hobbes is represented as the giant
King at the top.  This image is 
considered to be the earliest example
of a "Selfie" extant.  It will not surprise you
that Hobbes was generally considered by
those who knew him to be a 'pompous ass'.

Which is why I suppose it bugged the Pope so much.  After all, if you're the Pope you're supposed to be the 'Vicar' of Christ, meaning His representative here on Earth.  And while you are perfectly happy to have God be a hard ass the better to keep the faithless but fearful in line - you're pretty sure you don't have the chops to channel the Santa Claus role and frankly as God's Number 2, you'd like just a little more autonomy to run your own shop thank you very much.  I mean how can you really be the 'man with the plan' when everyone knows that God is already a few billion  years ahead of you.  Which is why Jean became John and got a Swiss passport: the Pope was that pissed.

It occurs to me that it's dinner time.  And while I would never, ever sacrifice my commitment to The Truth for carnal pursuits it's just that we're having steak.  Besides I think this piece probably needs some serious quality control which is why it is called Part 1:  Provisionally Speculative Edition. To whet your appetite, I mean if the steak mention didn't do it, I've included an image of Hobbes' Leviathan to give you a sense of just how Hobbesian my world is going to get.  For what it's worth, here's Part 2:  The "You're not the Pope of me" doctrinal kerfuffle.