Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Theology as Discredited

Despite my interest, I think it has to be concluded that theology is now an utterly bogus academic discipline.

It is probably the only one where the answer comes before the question, in having to maintain continuity with a given tradition.

Probably, because some Marxist sociology had a tendency to live within itself, and use its own writings to conclude a point that seemed to ignore the wider world and rougher experienced reality. I remember back in 1979 to 1981 doing some Marxist sociology and writing my essays from the perspective of Friedrich Hayek. So I could and did employ liberal ideology and the department could not (and did not) mark me down on the basis of ideological preference (this form of liberalism didn't last long). A similar situation took place in 1996 to 1998 when I was then Unitarian and I did a contemporary theology course and wrote all I did from a religious humanist perspective. My reattempt at Anglicanism took place from 2004 to 2009 as a sort of postmodern Christianity, which meant delving in levels of double-speak. It didn't work in the end. The university is not a seminary, so it has to accept all stances as positions, and it is why so many theology departments became departments of religious studies.

All academic studies have traditions and a language of operation. You have to get into that language to do the work. But they all have self-critical methods which means there can be paradigm shifts, even if there are defensive professors. Yet a paradigm shift regarding theology could mean a change of orthodoxy, and that would never do. There are increasingly theologians of gnostic texts, but they don't seem to be regarded or regard themselves as theologians, and are often content to apply severe historical methods to their work whilst regarding the source as important. OK, so do some theologians apply such methods, but they are as if on a roundabout of prior commitment and never come off it.

So theologians become experts not just in a language of discourse, but in double-speak, partly because some of them are also serving a church community.

So many people in churches still believe that Jesus was 'sent' by God, and that his divinity was present as a new born baby after his parents had had a long walk south. He did perform miracles because he was God 'in situ', and then of course there was the big one where he died, got up and walked out of the tomb (though he may have been down and up in an invisible lift regarding a visit to hell) and then he walked around meeting the disciples and vanishing again, with an additional power of walking through walls, until he decided to leave them for good upwards and join God to then send a third divinity to direct the religious traffic.

Theologians might realise there is a lot of twaddle in that account, but they are obliged to maintain at least its outward appearance. This double-talk brings lack of credulity.

Recently an evangelical friend has been blogging about the depths present in a Timothy text that tells women to keep quiet and to be saved through having babies. The depths involved are that women should in fact be as talkative and teaching as men and will be saved through faith. For an evangelical, plain reading of scripture is to be preferred until of course it doesn't suit. Then double talk begins. The liberal simply does it earlier.

One has to declare when the use of words is poetic. They are to enhance feeling, to be artisitic in building up the three dimensional nature of being human and being human towards the other. I sing all sorts of nonsense in this pursuit, and will tell so (and why to do it - metaphors of ideals and potentials). It may be that the words are such that here too is double talk, but then we must pen some more and other words, allowing for the ground-in expressive, something that just is let be. The rope is cut and there is no 'objective' way back, nor any intellectual basis of limitation to one tradition set of texts instead of many. The evangelical keeps answering "no" to the lines of the hymn Jerusalem, but she or he is obviously an idiot to even bother, but the liberal tries to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Rather it is just a song of an ideal, grounded in some metaphors about smoking factories and rolling green hills at home - pictures of England made divine.

At one time theology was upheld by a general Christian culture. But now even church people with those ideas above about baby Jesus onward do go home and expect the weather to be an anonymous chaotic force and all of life's events to be fairly random and purposeless. Even the church person lives in a double world. Most folks beyond the churches understand science as enquiry, and are not bothered by distant religious texts and traditions - they no longer went to Sunday School to have their early minds confused.

A recent hymn I transcribed from the Iona Community has a statement of the presence and movement of God, but it is a hymn that fails as soon as it succeeds. It is great in its imagery of presence, care, support, good things and bad, but it cannot be taken literally. It just says 'take much in' with your spacial metaphors of what raises the human vision.

Theology really is a branch of anthropology. It could be rescued as an analysis of metaphors that give meaning towards ethical direction. Religious studies is also highly anthropological - it is what some people believe, some structures believe. Performing circular arguments like 'Radical Orthodoxy' have no place in universities because they are retreats into a small self-justifying world of the seminary. Similarly the evangelical world is its own enclave of reality that avoids the reality of the everyday (until the reality switch is pressed on). Clergypeople praise God for the spare parking place but theologians really don't want to be so naive.

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