Calvinists get a bad rap, but how many of the critics really understand him? James R. Rogers points out how few of us read the Institutes or bother to think seriously about Calvin in today’s On the Square. Instead, we rely on easy stereotypes:
Some of the answer certainly derives from misunderstandings of Calvinism. I recall in elementary school my teacher instructing the class that when the Puritans sailed to America on ships, if someone fell off the ship into the water, the others would not attempt to save him, because they believed that God had predestined that person to drown. In trying to save that person from drowning, she said, the Puritans thought they would be opposing God’s will.
Read the rest here. Searching for some kind of definitive statement on this “letting people drown” business, I uncovered a Puritans subreddit. So, Puritan enthusiasts, there’s your link for the day. (Dorothy Bradford fell off the Mayflower and drowned, but so far I have not encountered an account of her fellow Puritans standing around and shrugging. The search continues.)
Sometimes, of course, people aren’t really reading Calvin even when they’re reading Calvin. Once in a seminar on the Institutes, I heard someone assert that Calvin’s thinking was based in a hatred of life. Calvin, he thought, wanted us to stew in self-hatred until we died. In response, someone read him this passage from “Of Christian Liberty”:
Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, are the good creatures of God, permitted, nay destined, by divine providence for the use of man; nor was it ever forbidden to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.
“Well,” said the critic, after a moment’s thought, “there’s just no way he could possibly mean that.”