The Root of Bad Theology is Fear

April 13, 2010

We all work so very hard at sorting out who’s in and who’s out. The core of all bad philosophies and social views is fear. Fear that we must get it right or we’re the one that is out. So we construct these systems of oppression and separation to box out everyone who doesn’t do it like we do it so that we can feel more secure that what we are doing is what is right, is what is expected, is what will get us to perfection, to heaven.
So people suspend their rational minds and silence what their heart and soul try to say to them. They work hard to justify their homophobia, sexism, racisim, classism. People use politics, family, or religion as the reason, but the reason is there without those factors–the reason is fear.

I was recently debating someone, politely enough, but it was obvious that we would never come to any sort of common ground. Many of my theological views seemed so far removed from his own that he insistently remarked that I couldn’t “really” be Christian, that I was just clinging to the language and should move on. He said if he was in my church I would be actively working to remove him– I insisted that in worship and communion I saw no reason as to why we couldn’t worship side by side without having to agree on every specific, so then he dropped the ball that “he couldn’t worship with a heretic,” it would be a “subtle form of violence,” and would incorrectly lead me to feel “justified in my own faith. He felt this kept with a hero of his, church father Athanasius. Not to be too crass, but I couldn’t give two shits if Athanasius refused to break bread with me…I’m pretty sure a person named Jesus would.

One point of difference that we had arose late in our debate. I recommended a book to him that dealt with the thematic consistency of the Torah which focused on Justice and care for the stranger. The book is by a feminist, so he stated that he would get nothing from it since he “rejected feminism on philosophical grounds.”  Slogan though it may be, the saying that “feminism is the radical idea that women are people and deserve rights,” aptly sums up the feminist movement and it’s one that many “traditionalists” in various religious contexts have often had a problem with. Then when I wrote of modern day Gay rights issues as being a consistent focus of justice and care for the “stranger,” he scoffed that, “isn’t it quite convenient that ‘scholars’ find that everyone was wrong in reading the bible at a time when  Gay Movement gains social and political power?” Many opponents of Gay rights advocates in the church find any argument for it on religious grounds preposterous.  Even if arguing that cultural and social prejudices crept into Scripture is too much for some to consider, many cases for arguing from within the text are possible. The few mentions of homosexuality in the OT all concerned male-male relationships and did so for the same reason there were laws that restricted masturbation- both were considered a “waste of seed,” because the Israelites were scarce at that point and would die out without reproducing. Those verses are very few; later in the NT, as many often note, Jesus doesn’t mention the issue at all—Paul extends “sexual deviance” status to women-women relationships in hand with his view of the limited role of the woman in worship, thus contradicting his own “in Christ there is no male or female,” statement—Paul often mentioned before statements that he was about to reveal his opinion on an issue and was not the voice of God—these two issues are that, a man in his cultural context would not have been enlightened about gender and orientation issues. As for the church and the apostolic tradition—it took years for the church to fight the Civil rights battle and the women’s rights movement, and the church was behind the curve of the rest of society. The same has happened in the Church regarding homosexuality. The church in many progressive corners of almost every denomination is now working to reveal God’s overwhelming love for all of creation, including the 10 percent of folks born gay every year who are that way as God has made them and need not repent of that. If we truly are concerned with “the sanctity of marriage” we will extend that status to LGBTQ folks as well-otherwise, if they enter into a committed relationship that society hasn’t caught up to recognizing and protecting yet, we as the church can recognize it anyway.

Which brings me back to fear and the variety of faith. If we look at any religious text we can find good and bad, peace and war. All religious texts are influenced by the human hands that help produce them. We can try to fit our own faith into a box that lines up “correctly” with every doctrine, creed, formula and council that any governing religious body in power deems “official” or “orthodox.” But if we’re truly honest, we have to admit that we are still highlighting certain themes and views in and of our text and tradition. I argued with this individual that a thematically consistent thread that runs through all of Jewish and Christian scripture is one of Righteous Justice and care for the stranger. This culminates for Christians in working to establish Jesus’ Kingdom of God, a new system of living that lets all at the table, that seeks peace, mercy, justice and compassion, that seeks to let the last be first and restores this world to a better and fairer system, now and later. God’s concern for the poor and the outcast are all throughout the Bible. I can make this argument, cite Churches that follow this model, cite book after book of scholarly work and populist theology that propose it. Furthermore, I can feel this is true in my own heart and mind, I can see it in the best aspects of practically all World Religions in a type of nodding assent. Opponents of this “liberal” style Christianity argue that it’s new and doesn’t belong under the same umbrella as “their” Christianity.” Well, it’s not NEW. It is found in American theology way back in the Social Gospel movement of the 1920s and I argue that it goes back to the teachings of the historical Jesus, and back before that to the heart of the Torah and present in so many other places as well. As a Christian, I find the system and Way proposed by Jesus to be revolutionary and revelatory and through it I may someday find my best transformation. Yet for others, might I say often “fearful” Christians, it’s not about this at all. It’s about full orthodoxy, right belief. So much so that many get concerned and spout things like “Grace plus nothing!” interjecting a fear of even bothering to do God’s good work because it might lead us to believe we are earning our own salvation.

My faith doesn’t have to fit in a box. My faith doesn’t have to be a checklist in which I can prove I’m correctly following all of the teachings that trace through the doctrines voted by the powerful in Christianity as “right.” Since those that often won debates and votes in Christian councils were politically powerful and ruthless, I wonder if had Jesus been alive and involved at this point if his own words would be voted as “right” since he was neither ruthless or politically powerful.

It strikes many fearful Christians as dangerous to step forward or claim any other modern inclusivity in their faith.  My faith lives in 2010; I am at a point in history where we have been through the Enlightenment and full exposure to all of the myriad faiths of the world. Archaeology, Biblical Criticism, and Academic work have shed new light on all sorts of ways of looking at ancient holy words and incorporating them freshly in our time.  I have to either close my eyes and mind to much of this and keep my faith in that box to stay fully with every medieval Christian view. Or, I can open both. Is my God a God of Love? Of Justice? Of Truth and Knowledge? Yes, Yes, and Yes. So why not use that knowledge, use that love, and work for that Justice consistently? If my faith was about nothing but “right” belief, then nothing would ever get done. My type of faith insists good work be done and that love be shown. To argue against that is preposterous. I cannot envision a true God that would not want us to act on the side of Love, Peace, and Righteous Justice.

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4 Responses to “The Root of Bad Theology is Fear”

  1. Just a stranger who happened upon your blog, and I am greatly enjoying it, and this piece in particular. Raised Christian, I struggle with my faith tradition because of many of the issues you explore here. It sounds like you have come to a place where you find yourself able to embrace the faith without being in any way untrue to your core values. Bravo! I have not been able to reach this place, and find myself drawn more and more towards Buddhism, particularly a Buddhism that places very little emphasis upon the question of God (although I still find myself praying to God). But my whole effort is to get to the same place you describe having found through Christianity, which is inclusive compassion for all. Anyway, just a few thoughts from a stranger who blogs incessantly about these questions too.
    L’Chaim!

  2. serpardum said

    I am not arguing if the Episcopalian Church is right or wrong, just pointing out somethings in your diatribe.

    You may call me homophobic, and I will call you theophobic. You may respond that you are not afraid of God, and I will respond that I am not afraid of homosexuals. My best friend is a homosexual, but I do not support that lifestyle and he is well aware of that. But I read the Bible and read clearly God’s point of view, and to be honest that is all I am concerned with. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”. Any arguments you may give need to be founded in scripture, or to me they are just the ways of man.

    Your claim seems to be based on the fact that the sin of homosexuality is the waste of seed, which I can not find in the Bible, anywhere. If your foundation is Genesis 38 then I do not believe you understand the nature of his sin. Onan’s sin was not wasting his seed, but not giving his seed to his brother’s wife as God commanded in Deuteronomy 25:5 and explained why in verse 6, so his brother’s name is not put out of Israel. (I understand why God made this commandment and can explain it from my own understanding if you wish me to, but it all has to do with the fact that such a child would have the same DNA as if it was from the brother who died).

    If you can find any other verse in the bible that speaks against masturbation I am welcome to hear it and study it to further my understanding of God’s word. Without such, your argument of homosexuality being wrong because of a “waste of seed” has absolutely no basis in God’s word, and you are trying to make a sin something that God has not made a sin. (Masturbation can lead to sin, because Jesus said something about what you do in your heart you have done).

    As for Paul contradicting his own statement, it seems to me that you do not understand Paul’s statements. You are taking Paul’s statement of ““in Christ there is no male or female” in a worldly point of view instead of a Christian point of view (Christian being Christ like and Paul does state “in Christ”). When we are in Christ our rewards for our good deeds (spoken of throughout the Bible) and our punishments for bad deeds (also spoken throughout the Bible) apply the same if we are male or female. The whole law applies to us if we are male or female. Salvation applies to us equally if we are male or female. However, trying to not be as crass as you were, we are not equal because men have a male sexual organ and women have a female sexual organ, to name just the obvious physical attributes. But these are physical attributes and don’t apply to Paul’s statement of being equal “in Christ” or our salvation.

    I make no judgment in my own mind as to the role of women in church. Paul stated his opinion and since he stated it was his opinion I am welcome to form my own opinion as founded in the word of God. In other words, I do not disagree with certain congregations choice to have women as teachers. I may be wrong in my uncertainty, and if I am I only pray that God will lead me to understanding.

    Now the conclusion: I do not disagree with allowing homosexuals into the congregation to learn God’s word. I do object to any congregation trying to sanctify through God something that God has clearly stated is a sin. Hate the sin, not the sinner.

    Leviticus 18:22 clearly states “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” among other places. And for your New Testament verse, look at Revelation 21:8 “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death”. Notice “the abominable”.

    Jesus never told me not to use my computer skills and break into people’s computers to look at their interesting things on their computers. He did not have to, the nature of sin is clearly spelled out in the Bible for those willing to find it. “Seek and ye shall find”.

    So, you are making a sin something that is not a sin (masturbation) and making something not a sin that is a sin (homosexuality).

    My beliefs are based on the word of God, not the logic of man. What are your beliefs based on?

  3. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words that express some of the stuff we are discussing this week at our face to face and online Christian community. We would love to use this article as a discussion piece for our #SlateSpeak tweet-chat on April 23, 2015 at 9pm EST. It would be great if you joined us.

    • dmhamby2 said

      Thank you for your compliment you are more than welcome to discuss anything I wrote in this post that you find useful in your discussion. Unfortunately I will not be available during that timeframe to participate but if there are notes or highlights from the event that I can look at online or you can post a link on this comment thread so that I can take a look I would be very interested thank you very much

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