Theology, or, better put, our beliefs regarding God, religion and the divine in general are important – not only because these are important things that affect so many areas in our lives, but because our theology, individually and corporately, affect the choices we make, primarily when faced with challenging moral, ethical and judicial decisions. And the choices we make affect peoples’ lives.
When we think of the horrible things that we humans do to our fellow humans in the name of religion: the Inquisition; the Crusades; the 9/11 attacks on the US; the holocaust; violence against abortion clinics/doctors; protesting at funerals of homosexual soldiers, etc., etc., etc. – one can be certain that the instigators and perpetrators of these acts did not grow up in a church that preached violence and hatred. To the contrary, on most Sundays, in churches around the globe, children are told about love, about treating others the way you would like to be treated, about not killing, about giving to the poor, about helping your neighbor.
How then, do these children, who sit in churches just like we do and are taught just as we are, grow up to become violently extreme in their passionate defense of their fundamental beliefs? Because we do not teach children about the proper theology behind our beliefs. Truly, we don’t teach adults.
What I mean is; if we are taught to love because God is a God of love, who loves all people equally, and that all scripture should be interpreted around this value, as opposed to being taught to love because the scriptures are the literal word of God and the scriptures tell us to love, then we have a completely different understanding of what “love” is. Under the latter theological framework, “love” involves punishing those who don’t fall in line. It includes condemning to a fiery eternity those that don’t zealously advocate for their God. God’s “love” under this theology teaches that God favors those who are of a particular race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, those that are “chosen” or “set apart.”
This theology of divine favoritism is affirmed by other traditional Christian dogma: God is magical and all-powerful. He (because God is male) can disrupt the physical laws and intervene in our lives to save us or harm us. As a result, those of us who are affluent, who are fortunate enough to be born in a wealthy country, to wealthy parents and have lead successful lives, have surely done so because we have “pleased” God and he has “blessed” us. Those who are homeless, helpless, and hungry, must therefore, by theological implication, find themselves in that condition based on being disfavored by God – likely for making poor choices that have inclined God to punish them.
Backed by a magical, all-powerful, vengeful God who rewards the faithful and punishes the infidels, it is no wonder that children in our nurseries and Sunday schools, grow up to be Fred Phelps, or Adolph Hitler, or Osama bin Laden, or Scott Roeder. And while it’s easy to say that we reject what they did, that we reject their interpretation of scripture – we cannot deny that the seeds of their theology were planted by those who did not think theology was that big a deal.
It was ok to tell kids that God loves Us more: “see, He gave these magical golden plates to us and no one else!” It’s harmless to recount the important fact that Mary was a virgin and that God can part seas and heal illnesses: “see, He’s magical!” It’s also harmless to tout God’s prowess on the battlefield in stories about the Israelites and the Philistines, David versus Goliath, Hebrews versus Egyptians, the early Saints versus their persecutors: “see, We win and They lose!”
And whenever there is a contradictory event; a blond Christian girl contracts cancer, a “good person” is killed in a plane accident, or a flood, or a terrorist attack? Well, in these cases, we are being “tested” or we are being “warned” or, the catchall: “ the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Due to our poor theology, we are forced to come up with irrational excuses for the bad things that happen to us. There must be a reason, because we are so good and doing all the rights things, therefore the answer must be external to us. All too often, the excuse is that God is punishing us globally for the sins of some. Like the great flood of Noah’s time, We (the righteous) are being swept up in God’s anger and retribution toward Them (the gays, the immigrants, the jews, the blacks, the atheists, the Muslims, the liberals, etc. ad nauseum).
The natural response then is to force Them, legally, sociologically, politically and, if necessary, violently, to do the right thing; to be more like Us. So we send missionaries to convert them to be like us, we amend constitutions to require them to act like us, we reject laws which allow them to act other than like us, and, if all else fails, we go on crusades, start wars, bomb buildings, kill abortion doctors, drag homosexuals behind our cars and whatever else will finally convince them to stop doing what they are doing and, more importantly, to let God know that We are right and They are wrong.
So yes, in general, it’s probably pretty harmless to tell children that Jesus healed a blind man by touching his eyes. It’s probably pretty harmless to restrict membership to those who have been magically dunked in the proper way by one who is favorably anointed by God. It’s probably benign to teach kids that they can pray to God and God will use His magical powers to help them when they are in trouble.
But just as we eventually let them know that Santa Claus is just a symbol of the more important concept of giving and love, many Christian stories, traditions and sacraments, are not literal or magical, but are human expressions of the love of the divine that dwells within each one of us. God is love, and love is affirming, open and accepting. All the stories, all the drama, all the scriptures, all the sacraments are the product of humans seeking this truth and we need to stop elevating the stories above the truth.
And that’s important.
UPDATE I: http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/06/11/museum.shooting/index.html
I'm not saying, ...I'm just saying.
Do any of you attend a church who preaches that your lord and saviour was killed by jews? Do any of you attend a church who believes the color of our skin is in any way an indicator of our favour with God? Anyone?