As a believing Christian who has one foot in my Mormon ward and the other in an Episcopal cathedral, I try to be a good person.
Based on the two precepts I deem most important to me – Jesus’s Two Great Commandments (read, for example Matthew 22:36-40) , I see it possible to be good without any unnecessary discourse and theology.
“How to be” for me means to elevate goodness above morality and to do so consciously and in all directions. It is not my opinion that human beings need theology in their religious practices in order to do and be good.
The following may sound casual, flippant or even irreverent to some but that’s just too bad. Those who know me may have figured out that for me satirical mockery and flippancy reflects Arthur at his angriest.
For what it’s worth here’s how I really feel about religious theology.
Theology has been described as a religious theory or system from which a distinctive body of religious thought, opinion and practice may be formed.
Now that makes sense.
It also doesn’t seem to say anywhere that God or an angel literally whispers theology to any fellow walking around trancelike while either asking deep questions or thinking entirely of other things.
So where does theology come from?
Once humans began sharing their thoughts with one another, theologies among other things sprout like ferns and palm trees. Storms, thunder and lightning soon became explained by theorizing about some big and mean Vulcan forging thunderbolts for a bigger meanie named Jupiter who threw them at enemies. This was theology in no different form than the piously reverential explanations of the mind and workings of any assortment of contemporarily-worshipped deities in the here and now of the 21st Century.
The weather became explainable but in a weird but understandably hard to disprove way. Some folks even thought lightning was meant to scare people who were already damned with a vision of how mad the gods were.
Eventually more rational folks like the Greeks began to speculate on what passed for a genuine scientific basis for weather, especially spectacular weather. This was sane stuff that was still simple but removed most of that Vulcan-and-Jupiter stuff and temper tantrums from understanding of the weather.
Until the new-fangled Christians got authorized.
The new church explained its authority and started to build its distinctive body of opinion, saying this and that about their new rules and who would be good and who wouldn’t.
According to these opinion guys, we learned about the situation God is in. Next came explanations that because of this imagined situation, God has to have a plan for each of us.
“Now here’s the plan and you’ll be sorry if you don’t follow the rules.”
The Christianity we have been working with has a theology. From the theology the rules were made long ago … I mean LONG ago … like more than 1000 years.
What most people don’t seem to realize is that the Christian theology we are stuck with wasn’t given to us from the God like most people assume. What we have was something argued about, voted-on and allowed by the early Christian Fathers after Emperor/tough-guy Constantine told them to hammer something out.
Did you know that those hammering Church Fathers at that time had not yet decided that Jesus was God?
After Constantine threatened them and told them he did not want to compete with a crucified martyr, they kicked Jesus upstairs , so to speak. Problem solve … future Church leaders would take second place behind Constantine and the government in charge while Jesus would be just a memory and doing stuff only angels could see.
Nope, there weren’t no Isaiahs, Jeremiahs or Habbakuks with those Church Fathers, let alone Pauls or Timothys or 1st Peters. There weren’t no angels whispering to those Church Fathers … just Constantine glaring at them and telling them to hurry up.
So they took a stab at it and after a while Constantine went away glowering but satisfied.
A little while later some of their smarter descendants started making up theories as to why Jesus had to be God and be calling the shots from heaven, why God had to do things the way he does -that kind of stuff.
There was a lot of guesswork with this new Christian theology.
For example, a serious thinker named Clement decided that,
“Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the thought that she is a woman.”
This was a theological declaration –only an opinion. It was not EVER a commandment or rule of God.
This was Clement’s way of asking the world to believe that God really IS biased, a respecter of persons and favors men above women. It was stuff like this that supported the idea that if women should be overwhelmed with shame, then obviously God, who is above shame, could not be female.
Now with all these new church thinkers making up all sorts of stories and scenarios about the spirit world of God and how butt-ugly our real world is in comparison, we who all came later missed out on knowing what those folks who actually heard Jesus’ words had understood Jesus to mean.
Then afterward some of their smarter descendants started making up theories as to why Jesus had to be God and must be calling the shots from heaven, why God had to do things the way he does … that kind of stuff.
A theology of God must cover all the bases; science, religion, all that stuff.
They decided that scientific speculation about thunder and lightning would cause trouble for current and future control tactics. Therefore, using all those old books that were voted into what got to be the Bible, they decided they knew more about science that those who spent more time figuring these things out – cause their Bible told them so.
Only by theology and the Bible were scientific thinkers allowed to speculate about why it rains and floods, what earthquakes are and why lighting can hit a guy on a horse.
No more observation and reason, just theology.
One of these bible-scientists declared that scripture proved that lightning and hell-fire are the same thing. That’s why you could detect the smell of sulfur sometimes after a thunderstorm.
Then there was all that endless distinctive body of opinion about rain and floods and huge planetary (well, above-planetary) storage tanks where water was kept in-waiting for floods and stuff.
Cause the Bible said there were waters “above the firmament.”
Another scientific theologian, St. Ambrose, explained that thunder was cause by wind breaking through the firmament cause the Bible prophet Amos talked about “him that establisheth the thunders.”
The famous Jerome theorized – I mean, theologized – that the God froze those upper waters into ice because Ezekiel in the Bible talked about crystal stretched above the Cherubim.
St Augustine sided with his co-theologians saying that you could not accept any explanation of weather, or mountains, or lakes, or oceans, or floods or earthquakes except according to the authority of the Bible.
This kind of thinking didn’t smart up with time.
One church scholar insisted that when the pope agreed to the new Gregorian Calendar which happened to correct the year, violent storms raged and with the first days of the corrected year floods began cause God was really mad.
If you call it religion it’s like you have created a club.
Once the club is named, you need to set up rules that define everything.
Your religious club will need theology and from theology you can start making rules.
Oh, you could just make rules. But without theology, all you can do is say,
“I started this club and I make the rules. Any of my rules are because I say so!”
Then you’d have to convince those folks standing around you all admiring cause you organized a religious club that the High and Mighty talked to you cause he doesn’t want to talk to them or doesn’t think they deserve being talked to like he talks to you.
So you might as well invent a theology that you can point to and say,
“This is why my rules do what they do. Cause this is the situation God is in and because of this situation, God has a plan for each of us. Now here’s the plan and you’ll be sorry if you don’t follow the rules.”
Now we’re stuck because millions of believers accepted someone else’s magic.
Someone else’s magic is nothing more than an external and guessed-at definition of something that is intimately personal and internal to each of us.
Because of made-up theology many of us suspend part our belief and call it faith.
Because made-up theology includes opinions on faith stuff too.
Many have given up their God-given ability to discern for themselves. They can’t see, feel or touch something that is intensely and spiritually personal cause theologians say that sort of thing isn’t the way of God described in the theology bible.
Theologians are no more than intruders trying to be in charge of the god-talking in each of their churches. They tend to say that inside the church there is only one true personal answer.
Fact is, even using the information recorded in the bible, we can see that Jesus did not form a club, make up rules or imagine a theology.
He even had the nerve to tell the Jews of his time that the kingdom they pretended-to in the temple with the money changers and by-the-book priests was not the real kingdom.
No, Jesus’ kingdom was and is the free spirit kingdom that is always with you and me … always here … inside … where we can be aware of it constantly.
And we don’t need no dang theology or anybody’s righteous guesses as to what that means.
Over my lifetime I’ve come to understand how epiphany, illumination and flashes of inspiration lead to a greater sense of being prompted – not in the manner of a human puppet who only moves because God pulls the strings – but in a manner of responding to the creative impulse.
That’s that perfectly natural human impulse that resides in an inner place in each of us … it is literally and personally holy.
Writers and artists often refer to it as the muse.
Our personal and holy impulses dwell in the heart of a place referred to by Jesus as The Kingdom of God within. In that kingdom dwells the soul in a fully illuminated awareness.
Constant opportunity to know one’s self more completely exists in that holy place. Constant opportunity for enhanced personal insight and wisdom exists there as well.
It is the a place where we can see clearly through the window pane if – as Alan Watts expressed it – we are not too busy painting pictures on the clear crystal.
We sometimes do that with what we have accepted without question a theology that is nothing more than speculation about divinity.
“We must begin by realizing that theology is not a science but a form of poetry.
It is a sigh and an expression of our longing for the inexpressible. So theological statements have no literal content. They are emotive expressions; essentially the same as aesthetic expressions.
Indeed, theology is aesthetics, but aesthetics directed toward the whole of Being rather than a particular part (such as a particular kind of art).
Once we realize that theology is not knowledge, but rather a habitation of the senses toward piety and reverence for Being, then we will have made progress.” Joseph Schneider