Saturday, December 08, 2007

Does God Coerce?

I'm in a graduate seminar this semester ominously entitled "Coercion and Consent." While discussion has been mostly limited to human relations, I've thought a good bit about consent as it relates to Christian conversion. (By "conversion" I mean the point in time when we first exercise saving faith, thereby entering into a certain kind of covenant relationship with God.)

The standard Calvinist view is that consent is something of a formality in conversion. God initiates the process, and God closes the deal. You can't get saved without consent, but this is like saying you can't have your head removed without dying. God's justificatory work brings about our consent. This is the monergistic view. (mono = one, energo = work; i.e., one side does the work).

The standard Arminian/Catholic view is that consent is necessary for and prior to converion. God can't convert you until you consent. But consent is not enough to save you -- God has to do his part, or your consent is useless. This is the synergistic view. (syne = together)

One thing we've discussed in class is that coercion invalidates consent. Is God a coercer on the Calvinistic view? If so, then it seems that our consent is not legitimate -- we aren't giving ourselves to him freely. If a mad neuroscientist put a device in my brain, unbeknownst to me, that enabled him to control my beliefs and desires, he could cause me to consent to anything. He could propose that I give him all my money, or jump off a building, and then he could cause me to say, "Sure!" and happily comply.

Why do we cringe at the thought of being controlled this way, and yet approve when God does it?

On the other hand, perhaps we are all so corrupt, that no one would ever consent voluntarily. So, is involuntary consent better than hell? I think so.

So there's some food for thought. Just a new spin on an old problem.


Blogger Joel said...

If you are intrigued by coercion, check out the book "Coercion and it's Fallout" by Murray Sidman. It addresses coercion from a behavioral perspective. Of course, you can do this in your free time.

9:57 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Wow -- that sounds interesting. You found a place where our disciplines intersect!

Have you read "Walden Two" by Skinner?

7:52 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I read Walden Two many, many years ago. I think the take home message was that Skinner shouldn't quit his day job as a behavioral psychologist. Did you know his undergraduate degree was in English? He didn't get accepted into graduate school in that discipline, so he changed over to psychology.

There is actually quite a bit of overlap between philosophy and behavior analysis. There are a number of authors who write on the philosophy of the science as opposed to just the nuts and bolts.

11:54 AM  

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