On Pelagianism

Ne 17 ledna 2021

(my comments on “The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage” by Katherine Stewart in The New York Times, 2021-01-11; letter to a friend who raged against Senator Josh Hawley right after The Storming of US Capitol)

OK, let me start by quoting Alan Cox, Welsh (he would killed me, if I said he is English) computer programmer, one of the co-authors of Linux:

“And religious texts are a bit like software standards, the interpretation is always the tricky and complicated bit.”

So, yes, I completely and unequivocally agree with Mr Hawley that Pelagianism is one of the biggest evils tormenting current Church and society. And I think you would agree as well. What we would probably don't agree with him is exactly the interpretation and application of this thought to the current politics. (And I don't agree with some of his conclusions. I don't think Pelagius believed individuals could achieve their own salvation, meaning aside from God. He always expected the need for God's assistance to achieve that.)

The basic idea of Pelagianism is that we get from God what we deserve by our efforts, and God’s mercy is here just to enable us to succeed, but in the success or the failure is what matters whether we get accepted by God / go to Haven / however you call it.

So, that businessman claiming that he is so rich because he is after all more capable than others, or Ayn Rand following him? Yes, that's Pelagianism. That girl who was on the suicide watch for some time, and she cries on my shoulder (via phone, given the coronavirus) every other week that God couldn't accept her, because she doesn't like him enough? Yes, that's Pelagianism. Whole concept of “undeserving poor”? Yup. Whole Prosperity Gospel with pastors proclaiming that if you pray enough (and pay your tithes enough) than God will bless you monetarily and that’s after all what matters? Horrible rotten thing rooted in Pelagianism.

There is that very confusing book (and TV series on WGBH based on it, also available on YouTube) “Status Anxiety” by Alain de Botton. It seems like having incredible insightful ideas, but it is shockingly little science-like. No reference to previous works (no footnotes! that's the heresy in the scientific literature), not much scientific data, not much development of the theory. And yet, it has been provoking me since I read it. There are many things which are there, but one idea is very simple and relevant to Pelagianism. In the ancient regime, where your position on the societal hierarchy was given, you may resent your superiors, you may be angry towards them or towards God, that you are poor, but that was it. In the world where supposedly we are all equal and our position on the social ladder depends supposedly only on our achievements, not only those peoples life sucks, but on the top of that, we tell them lovingly that it is all their fault. Thus not only your position in the social hierarchy but all your successes and failures suddenly reflect your quality as a person, and getting to the top is suddenly the only thing which matters. Thus the anxiety about our status.

So, that's the part where I have tendency to agree with Mr Hawley. Actually, the referred article in the Christianity Today may seem like rather interesting to you as well.

Or at least the part before he gets to his ideas about the political application of this. I am not big fan of the Supreme Court case Casey v Planned Parenthood (1992), but how you get from there to the isolationism, populism, and Making American Great Again™ is really really weird turn.

And then there are things which have nothing to do with Pelagianism and where is just objectively wrong: globalisation is not the source of all evil, but objectively it brings the most wealth to all levels of society including the poorest ones in America.

Ideas of MAGA people that by isolating USA all those working class jobs will come back is just a lunacy. No, they won't, they would be replaced by robots, if necessary. There is no way in going back to the mythical (and rather nasty in terms of racism, misogyny and such) 1950s, the only way is to get forward and to move people from those working class jobs to something more sophisticated, to have more free market, more entrepreneurialism, more creativity. So, for example, protection against the big ol' American monopolies would be helpful (not supporting them as all administrations did since at least George W. Bush, Mr Obama unfortunately very much included). And yes, you leave plenty of people behind, who are too old to be retrained, and yes, some better welfare system could save dignity of their lives. But there is no way back, only forward.

To the article you were referring to. I am afraid that for Ms Katherine Stewart any stick is good if she can beat Mr Hawley with it (“Kdo chce psa bíti, vždy si hůl najde.”, the Czech equivalent of “It is easy to find a stick to beat a dog”). So, no, I don’t see anything supremely evil in claiming that “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” She may be an atheist and not liking this, but that’s what has been taught basically by every Christian of all ages. If Mr Hawley wants to say that CHRISTIANS (and specifically his type of Christians) have sole legitimate authority over everybody, that’s completely different story, but I am not sure Ms Stewart makes convincing argument that Mr Hawley says that.

I am not sure what to write more, so I will rather stop.

Category: faith Tagged: review culture sociology politics Christianity