I recently preached a five-week sermon series on what I figured was a generally safe subject for Christian consideration: sin. Most specifically, sinful temptations that are, in many ways, life- and faith-limiting. Things like pride and avoiding risk and applying Meyer-Briggs analyses to Biblical characters. Okay, so, that last one only applies to me, but in my defense, I didn’t realize the full gravity of the temptation until I mentioned the idea to a couple of retired pastors and one of them laughed so hard, he spewed beer out his nose.
Two things occurred to me that evening. First, there are some topics that no one, not even a seasoned second-year seminarian with 18 whole sermons under her belt, should tackle from the pulpit. (Judas Iscariot’s Meyer-Briggs type being at the top of that particular list.[i]) Second, I seriously need to bone up on my party-line theology.
So, as a service to my readers and in an effort to avoid more tragicomic self-humiliation, Marian will begin periodically posting robust theological reflections on some of the most compelling points of Calvinism. All are welcome to bring your most pressing theological concerns to Marian by replying to this post. Rest assured, Marian will address your questions before the End Times (unto itself, a theological topic deserving attention.)
To kick off this sporadic series, then, we shall begin at the beginning.
Picture the scene. Twilight descends like a lover upon a verdant land replete with trees of every type. The river of life winds through the tall grasses and birds and animals abound…okay, okay, what we’re really looking at here is a benignly neglected suburban lawn with a couple of flaccid Chinese elms and a garden hose that someone forgot to wind up. But it’s the closest thing to Eden most of us can aspire to, so stick with me.
A couple, who we’ll call Adam and Eve, tends the garden (meaning, they just bought the house and a new lawnmower). And lo! Behold their friend from out of town, who we’ll call Sophia, emerging from the house, having just put her toddler, who we’ll call Lilith[ii], to bed. The three friends gather in the purpling nightfall, feeling the brush of soft cool wind on their faces, savoring a quiet moment of mutual affection before retiring to the house to watch “Reservoir Dogs” on Comcast On-Demand.
And that’s when the snake enters the garden.
Having been informed of Mommy’s intention to spend the evening with her grown-up friends, a plan predicated on Lilith’s going to sleep now, Lilith goes berserk. She screams bloody murder that makes Quentin Tarantino look like Nora Ephron. Adam, Eve, and Sophia are helpless in the wake of Lilith’s total body meltdown. Lilith’s shrieks continue until she’s too hoarse to shriek anymore, whereupon the sobs start. This goes on for forty-five minutes. Finally, Lilith collapses in a soggy heap in her bedroom where she basically sleeps it off for the next six hours.
The End…or is it Only the Beginning???
This tragic object lesson illustrates where Calvin’s idea of total depravity must have come from. Children come into this world with a hyena-like mentality, although, based on what I’ve witnessed in the cereal aisle, that analogy is rather unfair to hyenas. Face it. The reason kids raised by wolves do so well[iii] is because, like wolves, if given the chance, kids would prefer to run around naked, pee on everything, and eat raw voles. THAT, my friends, is how we know total depravity is rooted in the human condition. It comes into the world full-formed and expresses itself in tantrums, stealing cookies, not sharing toys, and diaper-escape artistry.
Now, my theory actually has nothing to do with whether or not, spiritually speaking, human beings come into the world stained by the original sin of Adam and Eve (the Genesis ones, not the ones in today’s story). Rather, I think the reason Calvin came up with the idea of total depravity is because it’s just so frickin’ obvious when you watch little kids. They’re savages, for crap’s sake. And the fact that kids are like this only reinforces the old idea that the sin of Adam and Eve must have had something to do with sex:
So, although I realize I’ve shed far less light on whether or not Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity is correct than on the obvious fact that I have no children of my own (and it’s probably best that I don’t), now you know why the idea actually makes a lot of practical sense. It’s a social coping mechanism. So parents don’t feel so alone in the cereal aisle.
[i] Although I’m sure you’re just dying to know what type he is.
[iii] Plenty of kids with wild animals for parents have turned out just fine. For example: Mowgli, Romulus and Remus, and Moon Unit Zappa.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2013