Does Protestantism, in particular Calvinism, predispose to a higher rate of Deconversion from Christianity?

John Calvin


I think that the Reformed Approach to Theology, as shown by its attitude about Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist and about Holy relics in particular, eventually could lead out of Biblical Christianity. Its idea of sola scriptura really is about an arbitrary reading of scripture where anyone can claim they have the “true” meaning and don’t have to be chained to what other Christians teach or have taught (Tradition) about the Bible. The Calvinist reading of scripture on the Eucharist is very naturalistic and uses “the ordinary laws of nature” as Calvin put it in his Institutes, to reject the Lutheran and traditional view of the Eucharist and Christ’s bodies. Once you go down that route, the resurrection itself and Jesus’ ascension are under question for violating natural laws. Likewise he considers relics to be “Superstition”.
Of course, the plain meaning of the Eucharist in scripture is that the food actually is Christ’s body like Catholics and Lutherans teach in one way or another. And holy objects and relics are mentioned numerous times in both Testaments. But for Calvin, who started his religion in the Enlightenment era, the “ordinary laws of nature” can trump the plain meaning of scripture and he doesn’t have to conform to the way the rest of the Christians (the Church) understand the Bible. So eventually Protestants like Marcus Borg or A.R.Eckardt can claim that Jesus’ miracles like resurrection were just an allegory or give other reasons for claiming that it didn’t actually happen.
Thank goodness for Protestantism!
Yes, I agree, Protestantism opened the door to a more personal (and more critical) evaluation of the Bible and the claims of Christianity.  Prior to Luther (and Calvin) Christians simply believed what they were told.  Protestantism allowed Christians to (begin, at least, to) think for themselves.  Yes, it split the Church into dozens if not hundreds of denominations and sects, but it did liberate western culture from the iron grip of Rome, leading to freedom of religion, freedom of conscious, and eventually, freedom of speech.
Secularism/atheism owes a great deal of debt to the Protestants. 
I shudder to think what western civilization would look like if Martin Luther had not nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of that church in Wittenberg, 499 years ago.

10 thoughts on “Does Protestantism, in particular Calvinism, predispose to a higher rate of Deconversion from Christianity?

  1. “I shudder to think what western civilization would look like if Martin Luther had not nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of that church in Wittenberg, 499 years ago.”

    Don't forget though that Calvinism's “children” can be far more zealous in their religion than more traditional Christians. They also can be extremely judgmental about non-Calvinists.

    It may be true that Calvinists opened the door to more Enlightenment era thought and disregard of what were then mainstream Christian views, but with this they brought strong virulency.

    Catholics appear to be more mild in their attitudes toward other Christian groups than the Evangelicals/Reformed etc. (PCUSA are an exception).

    So it's not as if Reformed are simply open minded and tolerant and Catholics are close minded.

    With no Protestantism, Catholicism would still have to face the needs for reforms that Protesantism addressed. NonProtestant Christians meanwhile are still a large majority worldwide. It's not as if, I think, that the world would still be in the Middle Ages. Calvinism, with its penal theology is in some ways more reactionary than Catholicism.


  2. But Protestantism sped up the process.

    Catholics may be less reactionary today, but that was not the case in the sixteenth century when Protestantism was born.


  3. Gary,
    As a philosphical system, Calvinism can be harsher and more cruel, because of its “penal theology” with its special emphasis on punishment, as well as the belief that nonbelievers are practically predestined to condemnation, thereby erasing free will.

    I am not sure whether this can even be called more 'reactionary', since its predecessors of Catholicism and Judaism were not as absolutist.

    So Calvinism has contradictory aspects. On one hand it is very naturalistic, reflecting the Enlightenment era, and rejects a need for theology to conform to the rest of the Christian community's beliefs (ie Church Tradition).

    But on the other side, it is also much more punitive and callous in its theory, and can serve as a greater mental straightjacket, because if you express any doubts about Calvinism, then it suggests that you may not be “really” saved. At least this is often their attitude, because they are rather absolutist in their approach toward sola fide (in which doubts would contradict their sole criteria for salvation). It can create a kind of mental straightjacket.

    So it is really hard to judge whether Calvinism is “better” or “worse” or more progressive or less so as a system than Catholicism,whether or not its rationalism can end up contradicting or trying to “disprove” Christianity.


  4. To give an example, Michael Servetus got killed by the Calvinists with Calvin's support as a Unitarian. However, Unitarians could grow openly in Catholic Poland, which had a more tolerant approach to religious minorities:

    So there are lots of factors to look at before deciding whether Calvinism in particular is progressive – tolerance, attitudes about science, free will in theology, penal attitudes, ability for theologians to venture into their own dogmas. These criteria point different directions when it comes to Calvinism.

    To give an analogy, Stalinism and the militant atheism under his rule debunked religion, but just because a system or philosophy may be interesting or helpful or provocative in this regard doesn't make it all good either.


  5. I am not a fan of Calvinism. I prefer modern Catholicism to modern Calvinism. But now that I am a non-supernaturalist, I prefer that they both drop all supernatural claims and accept Reason and Science as the principles of reality.


  6. The Church fathers were scientific enough to debate whether to take the events in Genesis literally, but even then, some of the most educated believed in brontosaurus-sized extant dragons.

    Meanwhile, Fundamentalists take Noah's Ark with all the world's animal pairs and the Flood literally, but don't believe in dragons. Take your pick.

    I think there was more “science” behind “dragons” 1700 years ago, so you could argue that the Fathers were more scientific.


  7. I believe that religion is an evolutionary stage in human development. Religion helped give us order to a scary, dangerous world. It was comforting to believe that there were powerful, invisible beings looking out for us…if we behaved and did what the authorities told us to do. We should all be thankful for the good brought about by religion, but also face the truth that there is a very dark, deadly side of most supernatural based belief systems, which is what religion is.

    I believe it is time to leave religion behind and to move on to the next stage of human development: Secular humanism.


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