As seen last essay, by focusing on predestination, Calvin logically eliminated the power of knowledge and decision-making by which we may ever get from “here’ to “God”.
Where people in medieval times were more secure in their social status, the increasing generation of wealth created upheavals in the power structure. From positions of security, to positions of change and upheaval, in which the masses no longer had a “place” nor any understanding of their new place, Luther and Calvin emerged, each with a different vision that would represent the displaced masses. While Luther focused on grace and faith, Calvin emphasized the doctrine of predestination, which was the idea that salvation or damnation was not the result of anything good or bad that man did, but are predetermined by God. If God choose one man and condemns another, it is a secret into which man must not try to delve.
As Erich Fromm writes in Escape From Freedom:
“The psychological significance of the doctrine of predestination is a twofold one. It expresses and enhances the feeling of individual powerlessness and insignificance. No doctrine could express more strongly than this the worthlessness of human will and effort. The decision over man’s fate is taken completely out of his own hands and there is nothing man can do to change this decision….The other meaning of this doctrine…consists in its function to silence the irrational doubt….Although Calvin did not teach that there was any concrete proof of such certainty, he and his followers actually had the conviction that they belonged to the chosen ones. They got this conviction by the same mechanism of self humiliation which we have analyzed with regards to Luther’s doctrine. Having such convictions, the doctrine of predestination provided utmost certainty…”
The drawback to this, as Fromm explains:
“…though the doctrine of predestination gave such certainty, the doubt remained in the background and had to be silenced a gain and again by an ever-growing fanatic belief that the religious community to which one belonged represented that part of mankind which had been chosen by God.”
Calvinism, wrote Fromm, found its most vigorous revival in Nazi ideology because it strengthened the idea of the basic inequality of men. Since their fate is determined before their birth, and there is nothing they can do to change it, “the equality of mankind is denied in principle”.
While Calvin did not believe men could change their fate by any action, he emphasized complete devotion to moral effort and virtuous life. This was a “sign” that the individual was one of the “elect”.
This focus on a certain way of life as emphasized by a leader, focusing on morality and virtue, was an excellent breeding ground for the superorganism. No person could be certain that his/her efforts would “save’ them, but every effort went toward the social “glue” of approved righteousness was solid breeding grounds for the superorganism.
Luther presents an interesting paradox in regard to Calvin. In Fromm’s words:
“Luther assumed the existence of an innate evilness in man’s nature, which directs his will for evil and makes it impossible for any man to perform any good deed on the basis of his nature. …The depravity of man’s nature and its complete lack of freedom to choose the right is one of the fundamental concepts of Luther’s whole thinking….Only if man humiliates himself and demolishes his individual will and pride will God’s grace descend upon him”.
The paradox as presented by Fromm lies between Luther and Calvin in this regard: While Luther stressed the new freedom of man to submit to God by freewill, man cannot actually choose the “good”, but is dependent on grace. While Calvin stressed that man can do nothing whatever to change that which has been predetermined, the active pursuit of morality and service to God would be a “sign” that the person is one of the “elect”. Luther, who stressed freedom and grace, eliminated the possibility of “works”, whereas Calvin, who stressed the impossibility of “works” for salvation, stressed that by our works, we would show the “sign” our “election”.
Fromm points out that the faith stressed by Luther was the need to conquer the uncertainty already created by the upheaval of economic conditions in Italy and surrounding nations.
“The compulsive quest for certainty, as we find with Luther, is not the expression of genuine faith, but is rooted in the need to conquer the unbearable doubt. Luther’s solution is one in which we find many individuals today…to find certainty by the elimination of the isolated individual self by becoming an instrument in the hands of an overwhelmingly strong power outside of the individual”.
What better strategy for the superorganism and the needs of the genetic replicative algorithm? The reason, largely, that Luther succeeded in his efforts, is that he fulfilled the same need created by the economic upheaval in thousands of others. Dawkins was correct, Darwin was actually talking about “survival of the stable”. More directly, it was equilibrium that was sought, or homeostasis, the individual had to have “meaning”, or as Fromm states it:
“By losing his fixed place in a closed world, man loses the answer to the meaning of his life; the result is that doubt has befallen him concerning himself and the aim of life.”
The “aim of life” in this case being the reproductive capacity of the superorganism.
The two contributing factors emerging from both Luther’s a Calvin’s theology were actually quite cooperative:
1.The need to belong to something greater than one’s self.
2.The desire to prove, by near fanatical action, that one’s efforts would lead to salvation.
These two factors combined powerfully in the Protestant Work ethic, to produce “willing” collective effort toward collectivist goals, by unrelenting activity. Necessary hallmarks for the better function of the superorganism.
The ideas of both Calvin and Luther achieved success in spite of their inability to give “answers” because, as Fromm writes:
“Only if the idea answers powerful psychological needs of certain social groups will it become a potent force in history“.
The ideas of Calvin and Luther combined basically as an explanation, from a religious perspective, for what was already occurring in the wealth upheavals worldwide.
The collective “brain” of mankind operates much the same as an individual. It is a “make aware’ agent, a realization that something is wrong, and decisions must be made to correct it, to find equilibrium. The wealth creation in Italy and neighboring nations had disrupted whole masses of people, and they were seeking a “meaning’ to understand this disruption. In time, the societies acted much as an organism: they maintained stability by keeping much that the Catholics had given, but they replaced it with a new kind of ‘freedom” that allowed them to organize interchangeably, by struggle and effort, and be blessed in God’s eyes.
Fromm adds another point of interest:
“It is particularly important to understand the significance of doubt and the attempts to silence it, because this is not only a problem concerning Luther’s and…Calvin’s theology, but it has remained one of the basic problems of modern man. Doubt is the starting point of modern philosophy: the need to silence it had a most powerful stimulus on the development of modern philosophy and science….The doubt itself will not disappear as long as man does not overcome his isolation and as long as his place in the world has not become a meaningful one in terms of his human needs.”
That, in fact, boils down to equilibrium and the genetic replicative algorithm. This will continue next essay.