Marilynne Robinson on Edwards

I was always curious to hear of Marilynne Robinson praising the beauty in Calvinism; usually beauty is the last thing one thinks when one thinks Calvinism. Sure, the calvinistic God is impressive due to its overwhelming power that is completely arbitrary, but I find it hard to say that this is beautiful.

So recently she published this essay on Jonathan Edwards, praising his beautiful metaphysics, and at times putting him on the same league of S. Thomas and S. Augustine (and she's not the first one to do that)
I've always wondered if this is not rather the despair of Protestant Americans (or just Protestants of the Calvinistic variety) to find their founding intellectual. I mean, they really don't have anyone that can be called a philosopher or a theologian (Luther was not one, much less Calvin—a sneaky lawyer, if you ask me). They might point to a couple of Dutch guys or some Anglo-Catholics, but the fact is that they were born in a time where philosophy and theology were no more (at least outside the Catholic Church).

Now that she elaborated on the supposedly awesomeness of Edwards' thought my suspicions are confirmed. What is amazing in Edwards is merely a voluntaristic deformation of classical ontology. We all agree that we live at every instant because God sustains us, we only are because God freely gives us being. So far so good, still nothing really to justify the praises he gets, this is just the old Catholic orthodoxy. But then he goes on to completely divorce the acts of God from His nature: he ignores that its in the nature of a God that is love to create, and not only to create and hold His creation (as if begrudgingly, threatening to leave it to go back to nothingness at every instant) but to delight in it, to love it.
It is by this disconnect, turning creation an arbitrary feat of an unpremised will, that he uses to explain original sin: a very strange explanation, indeed: because everything is arbitrary, there's no point in objecting to some perceived unreasonableness in the idea the our forefather's sins passed to us.
Here's the quote
Quote:He is arguing that there is no point in dismissively describing the ascription of Adam’s sin to humankind as arbitrary when the whole of being is arbitrary, always a fresh assertion of God’s will in creation. Within the bounds of His own great constancy, God is free. “The whole course of nature, with all that belongs to it, all its laws and methods, and constancy and regularity, continuance and proceeding, is an arbitrary constitution. In this sense, the continuance of the very being of the world and all its parts, as well as the manner of continued being, depends entirely on an arbitrary constitution: for it don’t at all necessarily follow, that because there was sound, or light, or color, or resistance, or gravity, or thought, or consciousness, or any other dependent thing the last moment, that therefore there shall be the like at the next. All dependent existence whatsoever is in constant flux, ever passing and returning: renewed every moment, as the color of bodies are every moment renewed by the light that shines upon them; and all is constantly proceeding from God, as light from the sun.”

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to realize this is no explanation at all and that it only makes the problem of evil even worse: if every bit of act within creation is a direct creative order of God, then so is the evil that happens. She does not deal seriously with this at all, and just says that every tradition has to wrestle with the problem of evil... so nothing to see here.
I also wonder the connection with this sort of theology with islamic theology. Some medieval muslims would see the world the same way: they would deny causality of any sort and posit that God creates every single event directly. And they are voluntaristic. Quite ironic: by leaving traditional Christian theology one falls back into muslim theology.

I kinda liked what I've read of Ms. Robinson, and this sort of lame defense of Calvinism surprises me more than the defense of gay marriage by a Mainline Protestant. I suspect she's trapped in a tradition and that she would feel much more at ease (minus the sexual ethics and the women clergy) in the Catholic Church, where there's plenty of real beauty going around in our theology. No need to pretend.

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Marilynne Robinson on Edwards - by Renatus Frater - 11-09-2014, 10:28 PM

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