The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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John Calvin

It is now time to turn to the next major figure of the Protestant reformation, John Calvin. It was Calvin's theology, Calvinism, which left the most profound influence on Protestantism. Yet Calvin was a man that was as merciless as the Catholic Church he despises.

Calvin, like Luther, was anxious to recapture the essence of primitive Christianity. Thus he drew up a constitution for a Christian theocratic state for Geneva, the city where he lived from 1536 to his death in 1564. In his constitution, the death penalty is the prescription for blasphemy, heresy and witchcraft. He also advocated the death penalty for adultery. The prescribed form of death penalty for adultery was drowning for the woman and decapitating for the man. [1]

Based on Calvin's constitution, a supreme council consisting of some clergymen and laymen were set up in Geneva. According to the historian H.A.L. Fisher it was:

a sombre, fault finding inquisitional government which, taken as a pattern in other lands, was a source of much cruelty and suffering in the new world as well as the old. [2]

The theocratic state was as intolerant as any Catholic inquisition. Anyone who even hinted at unbelief would be summarily executed. A man named Monet was beheaded, at the behest of Calvin, for being a "practical atheist". Calvin believed that execution of dissenters was important not simply because it rid the world of heretics but also the public staging of it will send fear into the hearts of would-be apostates. Thus when a prominent citizen of Geneva, Jacques Gruet, complained about Calvin's increasing control over the affairs of the city, Calvin had Gruet executed by being burned alive. Sometimes he would give dissenters a choice between death or repudiating their works by making these heretics personally burn their books themselves. [3]

The case of the Spanish polymath Miguel Servetus (1511-1553) must never be forgotten for it showed how intolerant and inhumane a man deeply imbued in Christian theology, as Calvin doubtless was, can be. In 1546, Servetus sent some of his writings to Calvin; asking for the latter’s opinion. The Spaniard was a Unitarian, and it showed in those writings. Servetus was, at that time, being hounded by the Catholic authorities in France and asked Calvin for permission to come to Geneva. This was what Calvin wrote to a friend regarding this request:

Servetus has just sent me...a long volume of his ravings. If I consent he will come here, but I will not give my word; for should he come, if my authority is of any avail, I will not suffer to get him out alive. [4]

The last sentence above, which I have italicised for emphasis, showed that Calvin definitely wanted Servetus dead. Somehow Servetus managed to escape from the clutches of the inquisition in France and fled, of all places, to Geneva. There he was recognized and condemned to death by the theocratic court and was burned at the stake for heresy. [5] Calvin wholly approved of this. Given below is what he wrote a few months after the execution of Servetus:

One should forget all mankind when his glory is in question...God does not allow whole towns and populations to be spared, but will have the walls razed and the memory of the inhabitants destroyed and all things ruined as a sign of His utter detestation, lest the contagion spread. [6]

as J.M. Robertson relates:

Calvin's language at every stage of the episode [the burning of Servetus], his heartless accounts of the victim's sufferings, and his gross abuse of him afterwards, tell of the ordinary spirit of the bigot - incensed at opposition and exulting in vengeance. [7]

Of course, being true to the Bible, Calvin defended the right of the ecclesiastical courts’ execution of witches.

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1.Roberts, History of the World: p551
2.Fisher, A History of Europe: p550
3.Hecht, Doubt: p277
Johnson, A History of Christianity: p289
4.ibid: p289
5.Fisher, A History of Europe: p550
Johnson, A History of Christianity: p289
6.ibid: p290
7.Robertson, History of Christianity: p206

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