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Existential Calvinism ?

07/17/2013

Today’s news carried a story about the benefit of working past normal retirement age.  It cited a French study that each additional year of work decreased our probability of getting dementia by 3.2%.  All I could say was . . . surprise, surprise?

Recently, a good friend said I was becoming positively Calvinistic in my zeal for advocating work as good and healthy.  He knows I believe work is its own reward, just as education is its own reward.

(But, first, I wondered what is an existential Calvinist anyway?)

More importantly, Calvin is obviously attributed to John Calvin (1509-1564), whose teachings mostly involved the theological issues of Predestination and Free Will, which led to the establishment of the Presbyterian Church.  However, a side issue during that debate was usury, i.e., whether Christians could charge interest for loans.  Calvin came down clearly on the side of business — that it was permissible to charge interest.  This had a positive impact on capitalism, and Calvinism developed a reputation for being business-friendly.

As capitalism blossomed, Presbyterian churches were among the first to realize church members were more likely to give more money to the church, if the members worked harder in their jobs.  Again, this helped capitalism, sealing the perception that Calvinism was pro-business.  So, it is understandable that anybody who advocates the benefits of work could easily be seen as Calvinistic.

Personally, my zeal comes from the real-life experience of closely watching certain family members who retired too soon to a life of idleness . . . and does not come from any theologian.

This zeal for advocating work as good and healthy is not limited to work that is compensated with money. Any work that is purpose-driven is good for most people.  Delivering Meals-on-Wheels may be just as satisfying as being CEO of a big company.  Maybe, one is better for the soul while the other is better for the wallet, but both are purpose-driven, and I think both are good for people.

Most existentialists view the world through the prism of absurdity, grading things between very absurd or only slightly absurd.  That said, existentialists care little about debates over Predestination or Free Will or other theological issues.

Existentialism often lapses into Nihilism, which views all work as absurd — because we’re all going to die anyway.  But, existentialists are not that extreme.  They are still human and wish the best for others.

(By the way, an existential Calvinist would enjoy this ride through life, accepting all the “strum & angst” of life as both predestined and absurd.)

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