Faith Works 3-3-12
Theology and other truth propositions
You may have heard there's an election coming up on Tuesday.
One of the GOP presidential candidates recently made a comment about the current White House occupant's stance on energy policy, saying that he had a "theology, not a Biblical theology, but a theology" about the world and stewardship and natural resources. He said he had a different theology.
The White House press secretary, who came to a briefing a few days later to decry this unwarranted "attack" on the president, had a few weeks earlier made some cracks about "GOP theology" on tax cuts, so neither side had un-muddied hands on this front.
But why all the references to the academic understandings, philosophically conditioned, as to discourse about God? Oh, wait, you don't mean that, you mean "theology."
(Warning: this gets even more wordy than usual, but I don't think the answer to what's wrong with how "theology" is getting misused is going to be found in using more short, simple, inaccurate words. Sorry!)
One reason I find myself not happy with either side in this so-called debate is that they are both, equally (to my mind, anyhow) using theology in the casual, everyday manner that's come to be common, which is to say that "theology" is a set of beliefs founded on unprovable assertions.
So if I say that I think the world is hollow and people who live there not only cause earthquakes with their little hammers, but also use them to capture or kill anyone who investigates them, that would be a theology of sorts. Likewise if I argue that the world will come to an end through mystical if electromagnetic means understood only by the ancient Maya, wrapping up Dec. 21, 2012, that's theology if only until Dec. 22, at which point it becomes an "odd news" story again.
Our political betters (or so they seem to think) who lecture us about the theology of their opposition, left or right, are saying that (on the one hand) GOP tax cut ideology is unproven, and unprovable, even as they assert that we don't dare try what the Republicans suggest because it's absolutely, certainly untrue and will be so disastrous we would likely never recover from the attempt to prove it . . . and the theology is on which side?
Contrariwise, the candidates who say the Democratic Party views on non-renewable resources are necessarily a function of a pagan ethos, worshipping Gaia and earth spirits, and insist we trust their certainty that technology can cope with declining fossil fuel availability in the future . . . again, who is making unprovable statements that must be taken largely on faith?
Yes, I have an interest here: I've got a 90 credit hour master's degree in theology. It was once known as "the Queen of Sciences," and all the great ancient universities were built around theology as the pinnacle of the curriculum.
Just a century ago, amateurs did science, and only ordained, educated professionals "did" theology; today, only professionals are trusted to do scientific projects on a large scale, but anyone at all is considered to have all they need at hand to offer statements about the Divine and eternal matters, and be taken seriously in the pages of the Washington Post (I'm talking about you, Sally Quinn).
Frankly, I have no desire whatsoever to go back to that era. Theologize away, anyone who wants to – seriously! But I'm troubled by the idea that theology is now easily taken to be the twin sister of comparative fantasy.
One of my seminary professors (a seminary is a graduate school for theologians, by the way, following a bachelor's degree in the field of your choice, which could be science or technology) explained it this way: theos, Greek for God (or a god, if you prefer), and logos, Greek also, for "word" in particular, but more generally for "statements with meaning." A "Logos," a dialogue, a series of meaningful statements that takes into account the possibility of God, of a theos – something, even a Someone who has eternal standing in the review of what passes by.
That's what theology is for me. A dialogue about, and even with, God. The Logos. I see that Logos at work in Jesus of Nazareth, and to say that, with meaning, I have to explain myself in ways that make a certain internally consistent sense, and when I do so, I'm doing theology.
As for the candidates, I'd like to suggest that they do a better job of being internally consistent about their policy statements before they start taking on theology, their own let alone anyone else's.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; nope, he's not gonna provide you with a slate to vote for – you're on your own! Tell him your electoral preferences at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.