Friday, February 19, 2016

Theology Versus Communication

"I'm spiritual but not religious."

"We're followers of Christ but not Christians."

"Religion does not requires gods of any sort."

"Buddhism is not a religion."

"Christianity is pagan."

"Religion is mankind's most important function."

Theology does not require making sense. Quite the opposite, in fact: it requires a deliberate assault upon good sense, consistency, logic and coherence. When religion is approached with logic one ceases to believe, and religion becomes a thing of the past, to be studied by historians, archaeologists and anthropologists. That doesn't mean it becomes less interesting, quite the opposite, it becomes more interesting, in my opinion at least, when one has removed one's head from one's ass and begins to see religion as a stage in human developed which has been superceded (by some).

But that shrinks the number of believers, and that's bad for business for some people. And it's quite plain to see that vast numbers of people equate "mankind's most important function" with "what makes money for me," without at all seeming to know how ridiculous and petty this makes them seem. And for many others, maybe for most, who have no concern for the business side of it, or at least conscious concern, losing belief is painful. For me there definitely was a period of severe discomfort between being a believing child and an historically-minded adult.

So I'm saying that the confusing nature of much theological writing is not only not coincidental: it's the main point of that writing. Theologists do not object to each other's willy-nilly redefinitions of terms, because that's one of the primary ways in which the confusion is maintained, and hopefully increased. Whatever objecting is going to be done is up to us and those like us.

When, in spite of all of this constant theological effort to obfuscate, things nevertheless start to become clear, that can be very uncomfortable indeed. If this clarity is only temporary it is known as a "crisis of faith." If the clarity lasts longer, then the believer becomes an atheist. And after a while the discomfort lessens.

Everything I've said in this post has to do with theology now, in the twenty-first century of Our Lord. Lately there has been a lot of nonsensical New Atheist talk about religion having always been intended as a tool for the powerful to subjugate the powerless. This implies that those who hold power in religious organizations are always insincere about their belief, that it's just snake oil sold to the rubes. I think that's a very farfetched accusation when applied to religious leaders of the twenty-first century. Some of the leaders, certainly, are insincere, but all of them? That's an assertion without evidence, so, if we were to go about things in as slipshod and arbitrary a manner as Christopher Hitchens, we could simply dismiss it without evidence. And the accusation becomes steadily more farfetched the further back in time we go. The earliest clear indications of atheism we have are a little more than 2000 years old. The oldest signs of religion we've found so far are more than 30,000 years old. Today, certainly, there is a sharp conflict between religion on the one hand and serious scholarship on the other. The farther back in time we go, however, the more religion and serious scholarship are synonymous. One of the little things which New Atheists dismiss with contempt, which are taught in World History 101 classes and evident to any historian. As recently as 5000 years ago, religion may well have been mankind's most important function, and its surest path toward the scholarship which nowadays, paradoxically, is replacing it.

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