In a recent conversation I said something that made me think. I said:
“We need to start talking about theology again.”
By theology I mean the perception of “god”, the “divine”, or “sacredness” in life. I do not necessarily mean the study of a specific doctrine or book (such as the Bible or Islam). But so as to not confuse it with any specific theology I often speak of this type of theology as “base theology”. This refers to the inquiry of the basic “spirit”, so to speak, of theology in general and not really emphasizing the specifics of any doctrine. I have always felt that all theologies have similar ‘traits’ with each other, that they are all, really, variations of the same thing even though they appear totally different. I often compare theology to a language because theology is a nothing but a way of interpreting “god”, the “divine”, and the “sacredness” in life. You see, even though there are many languages, and may appear different and incomprehensible, the end is all the same: communication. This is no different with theology. There are many theologies that are different and incomprehensible but they are all doing the same thing: describing an association with “god”, the “divine”, and “sacredness”. Because of this, they have basic elements or qualities with each other even though they appear totally different and, perhaps, contradictory. This means that there are basic qualities in all of the different theologies . . . this is why I refer to it as “base” theology, because it is inquiring into the base qualities of theology.
The tendency, at least in the west, is to emphasize the specifics of theology to the point that an interpretation of a single sentence in the Bible, for example, can cause great dispute and conflict. That’s abit too specific. I speak of this condition as ‘specific theology’. Wars have been fought, people died, and many harsh feelings have been created by the effects of specific theology. In fact, the emphasis on the ‘specific theology’ point of view has been a disaster for theology in general and one of its greatest dilemma’s. Its caused what I often call the ‘theological pit’.
THE ‘THEOLOGICAL PIT’
The emphasis on the ‘specific theology’ point of view is particularly important because theology has a tendency to be dragged down into the specifics of doctrine which becomes like a big pit or bog that one gets stuck in. I often speak of this as the ‘theological pit’. Once you’re in the pit you often can’t get out.
My experience is that if I am in a conversation and begin to sense that I am in the pit the best thing to do is say, “yeah, you’re right” and walk away . . . once the pit arrives the conversation is over! This shows the need to avoid anything to do with the ‘theological pit’. Some of the signs of the pit include:
Inability to see things any other way.
- That they are ‘right’, end of story.
- A self-righteous attitude.
- A STRICT adherence to a specific doctrine.
All these are references to a quality that can be described as a ‘fixation’. This means that they are fixated on their theological viewpoint. I sometimes call it ‘theological fixation’. There are many things that cause this fixation, it seems, such as:
- A symptom of a neuroses or an inner conflict. This can border on things such as an obsessive-compulsiveness problem.
- A belief that one is “right” and “righteous”. Some people just feel that they are the representatives of whats right in the world. This, to me, often borders on or is part of the previous entry.
- A demonstration of unpleasant aspects of a persons character. It can reveal a persons tyrannical or control-hungry aspect, for example.
- A reaction to having to defends ones viewpoints and beliefs against other rival viewpoints. Much of the ‘theological fixation’ in Europe seems a result of this. When you have to defend your point of view you often become more ‘staunch’ and severe about it.
- A demonstration of upholding ones beliefs. When a person truly believes they often have a tendency to emphasize and accentuate their belief systems. In many ways, this is more of an ‘over zealousness’ that appears as a fixation.
To me, these all describe not-so-good qualities that are not conducive to the general nature of theology. In other words, ‘theological fixation’ and theology don’t mix! The tendency of any fixation is to destroy or undermine the basic qualities of theology. Because of this I see ‘theological fixation’ as a threat to theology in general. It is such a threat that it often undermines ones own theology one is supporting. This is why fixation has been destructive to theology, and religion, overall. As a result, the avoidance of an attitude of fixation is critical in theology.
Interestingly, though, for those that agree on the specifics it can create a great bond, a unity. This can be so strong that it can create something like a sense of a ‘tribe’, of a people set apart from everyone else. This is why ‘specific theology’ is often associated with a ‘tribal sense’ as the specifics of theology often becomes the unifier of a ‘tribe’ or people . . . it defines who they are. This is often a good thing . . . as long as it doesn’t get out of control. But it often does. The sense of specifics can create a sense of exclusiveness, of elitism. This can progress to a sense of being ‘chosen’, that god is on their side. Once this is felt, one becomes ‘right’. As a result, the ‘specific theology’, then, become like a god and is the measure of everything else. Their ‘specific theology’ is the answer, the truth, and the right. When this happens something like a mania is created, the ‘specific theology mania’. This can sometimes reach the point of being psychotic. People can lose touch with reality once the mania is reached. It seems that the further one moves into specifics the further one moves into the pit even to the point that one cannot get themselves out (the mania).
PROBLEMS OF DISCUSSING THEOLOGY
Talking about theology is not easy, I’ve found. Trying to talk to someone that is in the pit can be difficult and impossible. One often confronts things such as:
It brings conversations to an end.
It brings inquiry to a standstill.
- It creates arguments with no solutions.
It creates bad feelings
Some of the issues that cause problems when discussing theology include:
A pig-headedness. The inability to see anything any other way or to appreciate other perspectives.
- The effects of established viewpoints. The established beliefs and viewpoints often tend to lean any conversation into the pit as everything is looked at from that single way.
- Historical issues. History has created many problems and issues with religion. This is particularly prevalent with Christianity after the Protestant Reformation where every new Christianity was professing to be the right one. As a result, the effects of these issues, even though they may of happened centuries ago, often come up with conversations about religion and theology.
- The ‘truth’ issue. The attempt at finding ‘truth’ often brings many conversations of theology to a standstill. Science is a particular subject that brings any conversation of theology to a halt . . . people seem to think that science proves theology wrong in particular.
- Weird beliefs. Many people have weird or odd beliefs that make any conversation about theology difficult. I find this is the case with people influenced by all the hippie stuff coming from the 1970’s, for example.
- Nihilism. The belief in nothing naturally brings any conversation of theology to a stop . . . there’s nothing to believe.
- Apprehension. Many people are apprehensive to speak about theology. This is often based on past experience.
- Expecting too much – frustration. Many people expect instant answers from religion and theology. When they do not answer them it tends to lead to a frustration and anger about it all.
- The absence of a theology or religion in ones life. Naturally, people who have no theology or religion in their life tend to not relate to any conversation about it.
- The lack of a foundation or a way of life. Its hard for people with no defined foundation in life to take to theology. This is because theology must be rooted in a way of life.
- The lack of knowledge. Many people don’t know enough to discuss theology.
So we see that, over the years, there has developed many things that hinder any talk or conversation of theology. They are now so extensive and varied that it has brought the whole field of theology to a complete halt. I’ve always felt that this is a shame as there are many good and interesting aspects to theology, if people would give it a chance.
THE IDEA OF CONVERSION AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THEOLOGY
I have always felt that the idea of conversion is a major element in what destroyed theology and religion in general. The attempt at converting the world has caused nothing but bad feelings and conflicts between people. In addition, these conflicts have created great doubt about religion and what it means. These, eventually, turned people away from it. Its ironic how the idea of ‘spreading the word’ ended up destroying the word. In effect, at least in the west, it is because of trying to convert everyone that no one wants anything to do with religion anymore.
This is because conversion has created conditions such as:
- The forcing of ones belief and point of view onto someone else.
- The telling of people that they are “wrong” or their traditional gods or religion is “bad”.
- The forcing of people to be converted by underhanded techniques (such as making it law).
- The forcing of conversion by violence.
It is things like these that, over the years, have made people apprehensive about even discussing anything to do with religion. My experience is that people are usually ‘scared’ to talk about religion due to the past effects of conversion and the problems its created. A common thing I hear in regard to religion is ” . . . as long as they don’t try to convert me” or ” . . . as long as they don’t try to force their beliefs onto me”. These all originate from the dilemma’s created by Christian conversion. More than once have I said that Christian conversion has done more damage to religion than any other thing in history. Its created something like a wall between religion and people as well as between people. In the west, it is the attempt at conversion that seems to of created most of the ‘fixations’ and the ‘theological pit’ which has caused so much trouble when discussing theology.
A common stance of the conversion mentality is that there is no discussion, there is no disagreeing, there is no opposing. In other words, it creates a situation of “its our way or the highway”. Once you deal with the conversion mentality there is no ‘option’ . . . they are there to ‘convert’ you, to tell you their beliefs . . . and you must be converted. They are not there to listen to yours. This, in the end, means that they are trying to change you . . . to their way. The fact is that no one likes that treatment, as the historical record shows. The conversion mentality has been so destructive that it is imperative to remove it, if we can. There can be no discussion of theology when everyone is trying to convert everyone else to their thinking.