Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Whispering Grass 4 - Theology and Theologians

"Those who have one foot in the canoe and one foot in the boat
are going to fall into the river." - Tuscarora Tribe

Since starting this chapter, having read, listened to and digested the works of John Spong, Tom Harpur and Karen Armstrong. My views on theology have, are, changing. That said, there are many, unlike the magisterial Mister Spong (who's very presence makes me want to convert as his devout faith is absolute) who are far less questing, far less able, than he.

Oddly, although I walked away from my mother's Christian upbringing aged thirteen, the subject I was best at school was RE. Religious Education filled me with an unrivalled wonder. I rather histrionically tore apart the Bible given me at my Christening saying it was the stuff of bullies and hypocrites. I said this then as I believed it to be true. To be told as a child that if you did something someone else found wrong that you would burn forever in purgatory was despicable. That conduct visited on me and many others by priests and vicars was an abuse. 

I am grateful to those who invoked in me a sense of youthful moral outrage. They made me question everything I was told or taught. In that, I have not changed. I read the Bible and found it very wanting.  I did not have the good fortune to have met during my school days the likes of someone like Bishop John Spong. I wish I had. I would now be an Anglican Priest.

You see, as my Grandfather once wrote in my autograph book, scribbled down circa 1963, 'love conquers all.' Sadly, as a child, I saw little love described in the Bible but what appeared to be a whole lot of hate. Hate for anyone not born Jewish, or out of wedlock, or who didn't practise sex in the missionary position, or who masturbated, or who swore, or who didn't dress in the prescribed manner that ensured arrival in heaven was guaranteed. I now realise that those who preached this foul doctrine did so without having studied theology. 
Theology is the study of a deity. That is one take on the term. When Plato used the word it was meant as a discourse on God. Varro, the Latin writer, used the word as being when you study or discuss mythology. Some even insert the word rational into what is patently not something rational at all unless it be the study of myths. As we already know we cannot either prove nor disprove the existence of a deity, not even one who is meant to have created everything. 

So then theology.

Theology. The study of God.


"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason, and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, accept it and live up to it." - Buddha

 It is very difficult to find any serious body of people who during the course of Theology do not discuss faith. Often those in discussion seek not only to learn by rote quotations and edifying fictions that purport to support their beliefs, but who wield the improbable knowledge like some rusty axe over the heads of others suggesting that they know something we don't know. In some ways they do and, before I go any further, let it be said much of what they have learnt is of particular interest to me even though  a great many seek not to share or impart knowledge but seek only self-glorification.

“Usually, when someone believes in a particular religion, his attitude becomes more and more a sharp angle pointing away from himself. In our way, the point of the angle is always toward ourselves.” - Shunryu Suzuki

 confess to admiring some theologians. Usually, it is those that speak some semblance of sense. Many don't. Many miss the context the words were written in. Those ones are the ones who tend to smile a lot. No one knows quite why they are smiling but the inference is they really do know something the rest of us don't and are very happy that we don't although they rather wished we did which in itself is confusing. It is either that of they might be sufferers of wind. My kids used to smile a lot when they wanted to break the wind. Mind you, they couldn't speak then. I jest. I am guilty of putting down something I would rather like to be more involved with. The trouble is  that numbered among the detectives, those who pry and research and dig deep into scriptures are those who refuse to see anything other than that which their preconditioned minds have been formulated to receive. These folks accept almost blindly the gospels without question. Such abject stupidity warrants torrents of verbal abuse and scorn especially when confronted with members of their own group who do the very opposite.

A friend of mine, whose name I shall not reveal,  is both theologian and Evangelist. He is a good man. He has studied the Bible. He knows it inside out, from back cover to final amen. His knowledge of that book is impressive. Mind you, my knowledge of Tom Bombadil is equally impressive and as far as I can see no less factual. The fundamental flaw in his thinking, his way of thinking, it is that it is so excepting of all said in the Bible without having all the prerequisite tools imperative to fully understanding the whole of the subject. Not just the scriptures but the times behind and the age they were written in. Also required is an empathetic understanding of the men, the Hebrew's, who compiled these works for it is only by having a holistic view and a keen grasp of how they wrote, how they embellished tales by means of rich symbolisms, can we in this day and age fully grasp what it was they were trying to say.

Another evangelist whose works and whose thoughts fly in the face of nature and, therefore, god is James White. How so? If God made everything then nature too must be his divine work.  As He created man so, therefore, did he create man's inherent foibles. That being the case why didn't He do a better job when making sexuality?  I was told when I was young that the only decent way to have sex was in the missionary position and that masturbation sends young men blind. I do wear glasses and judging by my sexual predilections will not be entering the Kingdom of Heaven less it is with a white cane and a copy of the Karma Sutra.  I am heterosexual. I have friends, family who aren't. They are all very loving.  If homosexuals are wrong why then did God make such creatures throughout the kingdom of nature? Nature is riddled with bisexuality. Are we not part of nature?

Doctor White's rhetoric against homosexuals is as vile as imaginable. His body language the very opposite of John Spong of whom he debates. White is aggressive. He is everything I dislike in stereotypical Christians. He knows without the knowledge and what he does know he is tub-thumping about. He is forceful and brash. He portrays God as some lunatic with trembling finger on the button marked Armageddon. He says he is not homophobic, that he is merely following the text's within the Bible. These two opposites, Spong and White, illustrate perfectly what I have always thought to be Christian. Spong is loving, gentle and what I think of as Jesus-like while White is the bible bashing preacher whose words are boomed out like the clash of cymbals. One makes you want to embrace it, the other run away in terror at its man like a diatribe. 

The trouble is when confronted with such people who refuse to accept the facts of life as we know them, who continue to support branches of religion that are in themselves, if not objectionable, questionable, all kudos is washed away. Brainwashed boffins are not boffins at all merely brainwashed. 

I have often lambasted theology and theologians from forming what can be an exclusive club. I was wrong about theology but not wrong about all theologians who do precisely that which I describe. However, I now see why having the Bible translated into common English so the common man could read it was, although right, ill-advised and poorly delivered. The idea, though noble and honest was done without fully appreciating the ramifications. Without the learned to guide those that read such books, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew, they can too easily be accepted at face value. This, in turn, grants an opportunity to leaders of religion to assert their perverse understandings onto those less educated. This effectively leads to having a 'fed' congregation whose acceptance is a literal rather than symbolic one. Far better to have an effective teaching methodology that commits education to the process, that brings into that process a full spectrum of understanding, layers of subtle meaning. of not just the texts as they are but the symbolisms behind them but also an appreciation of those that wrote them and the times they lived in. Without such clear thinking, all becomes nothing but brainwashing.
"Brainwashed in our childhood
Brainwashed by the school
Brainwashed by our teachers
 Brainwashed by all their rules
Brainwashed by our leaders
By our Kings and Queens
Brainwashed in the open
 Brainwashed behind the scenes

 God God God
You are the wisdom that we seek
God God God
The lover that we miss
God God God
Your nature is eternity
God God God
Your are Existence, Knowledge, Bliss"
- George Harrison

In some ways, it is rather sad seeing adults forced into retreat having heard them announce what they say is correct only for some other equally well read and learned theologian to discredit. I mention again John Spong. I could just as easily quote from Tom Harpur. Both men are learned. Both men, with very different views, having revalued former teaching, now cast greater doubts than Thomas on the accuracy of theological debate and, therefore, the Christian religion. This is not wrong. It does not diminish that faith but strengthens it. Challenging old texts or re-reading and correcting inaccurate translations only proves that out of myth comes a kernel of truth.

The one thing to remember, although contemporary scholars are aware of it and modern theologians too, is the burning of scriptural texts prior to the third and fourth century. These despicable acts which have robbed us of so much evidence and reading matter have ensured, not in totality it has to be said, a swathe of that which disproves huge amounts of what theologians learn and then declare to be factual as being false.
You see, much of what the biblical Jesus was meant to have done was, in fact, nothing less than old stories regurgitated. Some not only hundreds of years older than the period when Jesus lived but thousands, telling the same stories theologians now learn to presumably teach young children and which were fictional then and remain so today.  There are no less than one hundred and eighty parallels between what Horus, the Egyptian God was meant to have said and the words now promoted as being those of Jesus. Who was it said 'I am the way, the truth, and the life'? Jesus, right?  Those self-same words and in the same context were first uttered, well, written, at least, two thousand years before the Bible reported them as being the words of Jesus.

As with any intelligent person, there are two paths you can take. Theology is no different. On one hand you find those that do not accept on first telling anything no matter how devout they may be. They question, they ask, they delve. They have minds that are inquisitive, God-given minds. They are like detectives who dig deep unravelling fact from fiction, and lord knows the two do get comingled. They trawl through old documents reading Hebrew manuscripts and spotting inconsistencies. This is surely right? On the other hand, you have those who accept all which allows them in turn to appear superior.

"Heaven and earth are like a set of bellows.
Although empty, they are endlessly productive.
The more you work them, the more they produce.
The mouth, on the other hand, becomes exhausted if you talk too much.
Better to keep your thoughts inside you." -Lao Tzu

Oddly, although I mock theologians as they, in turn, mock myth, without them, without the rebels within their enclaves, I wouldn't appreciate that the way we now speak of myth, as an ancient tool for communicating truths, is not how we conceived myth. Once myth was entwined with reality. It contained truth wrapped in the legend for that was how wisdom was passed on. It described the spirituality of the thing but not without  dressing it up a bit first. What some modern day theologians do literally is to accept what once was a myth that contained a message as being literal and, therefore, should be thought as such, accepted as such and taught as such. What they are doing is presenting the myth without distilling its grains of wisdom effectively perverting messages to suit their ends.

Some Theologians disguise the truth to enable them to either present themselves as being better, more knowledgeable in the way old time priests could read Latin to preach to the common man, The same could be said of Imam's who preach Arabic to Asian's. It doesn't make sense. Language is not something any sort of God created. It is as man-made as chocolate. Any God worth His or Her salt would be able to speak all languages if not at the same time. Language can be a method of communication. It can also be a way to cloud information when it needs interpreting. This returns me to that sense of power. Many, not all, theologians want either power or a sense of self-satisfying smugness. I have no time for either.

"Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Walk beside me that we may be as one." - Native American saying

Still, without the likes of John Spong, I would not be able to offer any opinion as he can read Hebrew, or has the ability to have it read correctly to him, whereas I don't. Thanks to John Spong, whose lectures on the Books of John are revelatory. I no longer think he is the exception. Tom Harpur and Karen Armstrong too are theologians who challenge accepted views and back them up with substantial evidence. They, among others, have drastically changed my views. I find Karen Armstrong a little too attached to the mysticism of faith, a little too understanding of Evangelical warmongering and perhaps a little too twee, a little tied to the apron strings of religion. She tends to act as an apologist for Christianity and is far too lenient of Islamic fundamentalists. It seems to me that what she is attempting to do is distil the good parts from all faiths, throwing out the bad, and then merging that distillation into one singular faith. Not for me I am afraid as it only takes that which exists with a personal deity into one gargantuan religion. We do not need religion. That said, she is still a learned individual deserving respect.

Theology then: fine when it challenges itself seeking to find the ultimate god - truth. Not so when it allows popinjays to exploit fables extolling them as fact. After all, knowledge is a deadly friend when in the hands of fools.
At the end of the day studying scriptures, who said what to whom; what was meant by this or that person or who really was the 'Beloved Disciple' in John's gospels, none of that matters at all. I guess when the truth is told the reason I struggled, and still do, with theology, is that it presents itself in a rather grandiose, elevated mode which it then extends to its practitioners. It establishes yet another hierarchy for something mundane which seeks nor needs elevating. It allows common folk to think that by having knowledge that they then have a right of over reason. They don't. The two are one and the same. Only those who practise religion sunder the two. Faith, reason and science are indistinguishable. They act as one, they work as one. It is only man who sub-divides them into counter reactionary forces the better to suit his manifestation.

I have previously, and on early posts, said how I disliked the way the Church, Catholic then, did not want the common man to read the Bible. I said this was wrong and still hold it to be so. If the few have the ability to read that which the many follow there is an obvious danger of misusing the texts for corrupt purposes. This is exactly what happened. That said, by publishing the Bible in a language all could read, brings with it another problem, one equally fraught with dangers. Without the knowledge or education to understand the ancient scriptures that use such potent symbolism those texts take on a far more prosaic meaning, one that isn't how they should be read. Therein lies a knotty problem, one which we can see the fruits of with Muslim extremists. 

Personally, I see no value in having a philosophical theory dressed up and called theology placed into university unless it is under the philosophy banner. Great fun to debate but at the end of the day, at the core of faith, all faiths, is one sentiment in one single sentence - seek the truth.  Theology is the study of God, a might or might not be. It is a philosophical study and should be in the curriculum as such.

Next: Fundamentalists



Helena Philomena Liebekraft said...

As those wise men The Doobie Brothers once said, Jesus is just all right with me. However, I left the church when I was eighteen because of the hateful attitudes of The Flock. Their self-righteous judging of everyone really rubbed me the wrong way. As that other wise man Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." Indeed.

Russell Duffy said...

Ain't that the truth. Some anyway.

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