Marilynne Robinson on Total Depravity

So while looking through the books at Borders a while back, I noticed that Marilynne Robinson had a collection of essays called The Death of Adam.  “That’s interesting,” I thought and gave it a quick scan.

Interestingly enough, she’s got an article on Bonhoeffer as well as one on the Puritans.  “Well now,” I thought once more.  I bought the book a little later and finally gave it a read over the weekend.  Lo and behold, the lady’s a Calvinist.  I will no longer be listening to the theo-hipsters lament Reformed theology’s inability to produce good artists and writers.  I will instead retort that our generation has a greater problem, the inability to ever actually be an audience.

So here’s Robinson on the famous “T” in TULIP:

The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity—“depravity” means “warping or distortion”—was directed against casuistical enumerations of sins, against the attempt to assign them different degrees of seriousness. For Calvinism, we are all absolutely, that is equally, unworthy of, and dependent upon, the free intervention of grace. This is a harsh doctrine, but no harsher than others, since Christian tradition has always assumed that rather few would be saved, and has differed only in describing the form election would take. It might be said in defense of Christianity that it is unusual in a religion to agonize much over these issues of ultimate justice, though in one form or other every religion seems to have an elect. The Calvinist model at least allows for the mysteriousness of life. For in fact life makes goodness much easier for some people than for others, and it is rich with varieties of cautious or bland or malign goodness, in the Bible referred generally as self-righteousness, and inveighed against as grievous offenses in their own right. The belief that we are all sinners gives us excellent grounds for forgiveness and self-forgiveness, and is kindlier than any expectation that we might be saints, even while it affirms the standards all of us fail to attain.

“On Prigs and Puritans” in The Death of Adam pg. 155-156

The point of the article is that modern and postmodern Americans, particularly liberal and cosmopolitan Americans, are priggish, enslaved to their perfectionism, dietary laws, and over-sensitivity, and they could do with a strong dose of Puritan freedom.