Calvinball vs. Calvinistball


Last week Douglas Wilson wrote an excellent blog post mentioning Calvinball, a game invented by Calvin and Hobbes author Bill Watterson. While Wilson’s main point is the need for Christians to maintain consistent definitions in the cultural battles that rage around us, he got me thinking about what a brilliant metaphor Calvinball is for the aggressive relativism of our day.

Bill Watterson, easily the best comic strip writer and artist since Walt Kelly, was an extremely gentle satirist. While he would occasionally poke fun at academic double-speak, the shallowness of mass media, or modern artists, I’m sure that Calvinball was not meant to represent the philosophical system behind post-modern thought. It’s merely the spontaneous creation of an extremely self-centered six-year-old trying to have everything his own way. On second thought, how could the game not exactly reflect the liberal ideal of total moral relativism?


Calvinball is the perfect representation of a game with no rules, no standards, and nothing to stop you from changing absolutely everything about the game all of the time. As Doug Wilson points out, there’s no point in playing a game, or having a conversation, when the definitions are totally fluid and even the goal of the argument is in flux. For one thing, it becomes impossible keep track of the score.


And, like in our current absolutely-no-absolute-standards relativism, there are some staggering inconsistencies, like the permanent rule against permanent rules. Today, anything at all is permissible, except saying that some things are not permissible. Everything must be questioned, except the idea that everything must be questioned. The new way of doing things is always better than the old way, even though there can be no standard for “better.”


And despite an emphasis on all ideas being included (except exclusive ideas of course, those must be excluded), and open-mindedness reigning, relativism requires that some presuppositions be maintained, and not even questioned. After all, it takes a lot of absolute rules to enforce a lack of absolute moral standards.


And if everyone can make any rule (and they must, in the interests of fairness), things get out of hand pretty quick. Without absolute standards or even a static definition of justice, special interests groups make punitive rules to get back at other special interest groups. Anyone who is slightly ahead of the curve on how to play this game to their own advantage will just keep pummeling anyone who is slightly behind.


The real trick, of course, is not to play Calvinball in the first place, but to play Calvinistball. To bow the knee to Christ and admit that He is the creator and ruler of reality, and that we are bound by His unchanging Law. This is hard, ongoing work, even for the Christian. All of us want to pick and chose the rules, and to make our own laws how we want. The desire to “be like God” and ask “has God said?” is our default state.

We must admit that without the transcendent standard of God’s Word, everything that we do or think will devolve into the chaotic nonsense that is full-blown Calvinball.


  1. Ah! What a wonderful explanation of relativism! Thanks for writing this in an easy-to-understand way. This is a wonderful example that refuting false doctrine (though a serious matter), never has to be dry.

    - A. K.

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