Is The Protestant God Evil?

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OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 18, 2006

Is The Protestant God Evil?

by Eric RauchwayIt seems that our theological disputations of last week have rested with Jacob Levy letting himself get rolled by Brad DeLong because Brad quoted some hippie theology at him and, in passing, called the Protestant God evil. I don't normally like to get all Leviticusly Deuteronomous on people, but this seems like a good place to mount a defense of the old-time religion.

Brad DeLong refers to

the fact that the Unitarian-Universalist God is a good God who guides all to heaven by their various roads while the Calvinist God is an evil God who before the beginning of time condemned all but a tiny remnant to eternal damnation and torture in hell.

There are all kinds of problems here, but the biggest is a misreading of Protestantism, especially in its classic original American flavor. It wasn't an evil God who drove Bradfords to Plymouth and Winthrops to Massachusetts Bay; it was an evil world.

It used to be--and honestly, I had thought it remained--an uncontroversial observation that humankind are in the main not very nice. "In Adam's fall we sinned all." Or more picturesquely (if slightly later than the original Puritans):

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight. ... You have offended him infinitely.

As Perry Miller, the great historian of American Protestantism, explains:

In the face of this awful and arbitrary power, the Puritans had been forced to conclude that man was empty and insignificant, and account for its recedings on the hypothesis of innate depravity.

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