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Theology is not Philosophy for the Lazy

December 10, 2009

Theology is not Philosophy for the Lazy


Tough questions of life the universe and everything do not always have a bunch of scientific laws to apply as the Rationalists would believe. Hence you would be hard pressed to find me damning someone for adhering to their religion. Even ideologies that purport to be logical and based upon common sense are based upon assumptions, truisms and suppositions. Often the passing of history tests these ideologies and they dissolve. A zealous attachment to them in the same way that people were attached to Marxism and Leninism can be described as religious. Simply claiming some kind of intellectual superiority that assumes your argument is correct because you have rejected all religion is both poor logic and arrogant. At worst it could be described as prejudice that wants to people accept a claim purely on the ground that it is anti religious. I could go into the logic of how this is in fact a religious belief that is the very opposite of what it claims to be. Failure to see the conflict is to want to have the cake and pretend it is not there. Note how even without mentioning God, gods or spirituality, religion permeates due to faith in something even the notion of no faith. For example there are some Buddhist cults that claim to be atheist based. Cynically the British comedy series ‘Yes Prime Minister’ explained another dilemma when Sir Humphrey replied, “A modernist is what we call an atheist who does not want to leave the Church.”


Yet I am not here to enter the God verses no God debate as that subject is too big to cover in any blog.


Theology is not a small subject and reading one or two books is hardly enough for a deep understanding of the subject. A degree in Theology takes about 4 years; training for religious orders takes about 6 years; short courses in theology can take from 1 to 2 years part time; novitiates in some religions start in the early teens and are completed many years later. Even Bible study is a complicated subject that has seen a number of heated disputes. Today there are over a 1000 Biblical Churches in the USA, all claim to have the authentic interpretation of the Bible. A similar situation occurs in most of the mainstream faiths: Moslem, Hindu and Buddhist variations. The causes of the disagreements or interpretations can also be infinitely more complicated. Yet as we look deeper into some dispute it could be simply a case of taking your bat and ball and going home, or in some cases take what flock you can muster and starting an offshoot.


People are not always able to live up to the ideals that they believe in and this should be of no surprise. Scandals have hit every institute from the dawn of history and will without doubt continue to hit them again. Pointing to a scandal in one institute may not necessarily be proof that it is essentially evil and should be destroyed. If that was true then every police force on Earth would need to be dismantled due to one dirty cop; The Boy Scout Association would also need to be abolished due to one perverted child molester; The entire education system would need to closed because one abusive teacher. Taking the logic to its ultimate end is nothing short of anarchy. Not only is the one rotten apple being thrown out but also the barrel and the one beside it that has no bad apples.


Perfection is something that is hard to image, but often people demand perfection of others but not themselves. There is also a problem with people who try to sit in judgment of other religions based upon selective quotes. Let’s even assume that the quotes were correctly interpreted from the native tongue into English. This is a very difficult matter if the original language is no longer used like, Sanskrit or Aramaic, and so leaves further questions of interpretation. Yet the problem that exists is one of context and plausibility of the actual meaning. Context changes everything when it comes to reading. Half a sentence, half a paragraph, half a passage can also be half of the message that should have been conveyed. Selective quoting is not new and has been used by fanatics, lawyers and even journalists to manipulate people into accepting their arguments. It is like quoting half a chemical formula to prove that chemistry is bunk. Some people may be deceived by this slight of hand but such techniques show more about the lack of scruples of the people who use then than anything else. It also shows how desperately cunning a person is to select evidence and in doing so only manages to destroy the credibility of their argument.


Essentially reading and comprehending are two different things. Ask any student who has studied Shakespeare and you will see what I mean. Hence when some people set out to criticize other religions (and sometimes their own) they can do so from a poor position. It may feel good to be the judge, jury and witness for the prosecution but that is a very subjective approach. Such a position can lead to condemning what you say is the interpretation of the religion says rather than what it actually says. Also using popular values to judge a religion is just as faulty as it automatically assumes that popularity equals truth. What is important is what the religions says are its principles and what reasons it gives for having those principles. Only then can you begin to understand what you do and do not agree with.


It may seem strange that this post about Theology hardly even begins to discuss the subject. Then again there is a whole range of people who do the same thing and think that they have made deep revelations. Unfortunately even scant knowledge of the subject matter often makes such revelations into a giggle test. The one key piece of knowledge that is held up as proof of something big enough to destroy an entire church can sometimes turn out to be as credible as a comic book. No one can do much to dissuade people from believing in comics. Nor can they do much to convince someone who has an axe to grind that they are actually attacking a phantom menace of their own imagination. It is always a question of choosing to investigate objectively rather than subjectively looking for evil enemies.


Perhaps realizing that people with theological differences can be accepted without compromising your own is where this strange invention called ecumenism came from.

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