(Truth, Science and Human Knowledge Cannot Be Ignored)
Because theology deals with the concept of God, it must take into consideration "all" things. What we know to be the truth in science and human knowledge must be Divine in origin if we perceive God as the Creator or designer of this universe. A responsible theology cannot ignore the other areas of human knowledge in making its claims about the Divine. God, as a creative force, must be as connected to the spheres we experience, equal to any connection She may have to a transcendent realm. Philosophy, science and history are all part of our reality; so when we perceive God as the Creator of reality, He has to be connected in some way to those things. It would not make sense that God would violate the very laws She established in creating; therefore, we cannot ignore the reality of the universe to make claims about the transcendent nature of God.
Too often, theology cites faith and mystery to support its rather preposterous concepts, especially when it comes to literal interpretations of things that have a much more logical and useful message if seen symbolically. We have already established one premise about faith: that it should lead us to truth; and, that the faith of itself is not the truth. Mystery, on the other hand, unlike faith is not the truth. Mystery implies there is something not known about something; therefore, by its very definition mystery cannot be truth!
While we are in control of our lives, beliefs, and choices; we do not in fact control our existence. The movements of the universe, the energies of the sun, the interplay of nature, and the existence of life: are controlled by the laws, which govern the universe - the laws of physics. If a Creator designed these laws, then, these laws are in fact the laws that govern the reality of what She created. These laws of physics cannot be ignored in any logical discussion about the Divine; for in reality, they must reflect to some small degree the intellectual process of the Divine. We use the words "intellectual process" symbolically, as in our reality God's Intellectual process could not even be contemplated by our limited thinking.
Very often theology, and the faiths based upon it, use miracles as the testimony to their assumptions of truth. While it would not be impossible for such a Force as God to suspend the physical laws ordained by Her, it does not seem logical that He would. At the very least, one could speculate that such intervention would be extremely self-limiting. If God has given us the best of herself, there should be no need to interfere. Miracles such as the stopping of the sun, or the parting of seas, or the resurrection need to be approached for their symbolism rather than their literal truth. This is not to say that such things didn't happen, for we have already stated the Divine cannot be limited. But one can be reasonably sure, based on scientific knowledge, that these events as recorded by our ancestors were not literal events in the event rather than citing such things as assertions of proof for their speculations.
Another approach to this rationalization has to do with the fairness of God. If God dropped manna from the heavens, or stopped the sun in the sky, or parted a sea, for one generation: that generation would have had a grossly unfair advantage at finding their faith over the rest of us. Playing such favorites and giving such unfair advantage to one people over another doesn't seem likely for a Creator we claim is all just and fair.
This approach can also be applied to the punitive nature of God that is often portrayed in the Bible, where She turns someone into a pillar of salt, or destroys a city by fire. Here again, it would seem unlikely that God would give us free will, and destroy us for exercising that free will. This is especially true for religions which claim there is a final judgment; for it would be at that point where we would pay our dues. Why bother with punishment in the afterlife if we were punished in the here and now? Would that not be the equivalent of double jeopardy?
If we agree with the assumption that all men are created equal, then the playing field for the entire human species has to be equal. To cite some examples: God cannot give the Jew supernatural signs that are not offered to the Egyptians. The Buddhist has to have an equal shot at salvation as the Christian. If Jesus proved that he had risen to one man, and he is in fact God, then he has to offer equal proof to all men. To assert differently is to say God is arbitrary in Her revelation, which translates into an inequality among the people of the world. For example, if Jesus is the only way to salvation then the individual born into a Christian society would have a distinct advantage over the person born in a Hindu culture. This would hardly be equality in terms of having a shot at eternal life. To require faith on the part of one man and offer proof to another would be a gross injustice on the part of the Divine.
So it becomes more logical to look for the messages behind supernatural tales and events, seeing them in terms of symbolic inspiration rather than literal events. In the first place, the dividing arguments over whether they took place at all - cease to be! In other words, the event, whether it happened or not as a historical fact, is no longer relevant to the truth expressed in the metaphor. By looking for a message, which can be applied to life, the event is useful, effective, and meaningful in our lives whether or not we believe it actually happened.
The second benefit of looking at religious stories as truth in metaphor is psychological. If we quit looking for the supernatural quality to God's presence, we are better able to see the everyday reality of God's miracle, which truly is existence itself. For theology to cling to the supernatural, whether it is portraying miracles or promising eternal rewards or God's magical favor: is to miss its responsibility. For far too long, we have seen revelation, faith and religion as being about the transcendent, about the miraculous; when in reality, they are about life in this plane of existence. As we shall see when we discuss revelation and inspiration, these things are not given to inform us about God perse'; but rather, given so we can learn more about ourselves.
We will deal with many of the specifics as we continue with this text, but let us cite a simple example here to illustrate our point. The nature of Jesus (that is, is he in fact God) is a much-debated question. But if we were to view the Gospels for their messages rather than claiming an accurate portrait of history - if we were to view the Gospels as about life rather than hidden truth about the transcendent: the argument is not even necessary.
In the opening of the Gospel of John we find the words:
"So the word became flesh; he came to dwell among US, and we saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
This statement is often used in theology to support the claim that Jesus was God incarnate. If we are looking for hidden messages about the Nature of Christ, or God, we might be able to accept such an interpretation. But if interpreted another way - a way, which seeks meaning for the reality we partake in, John could be telling us that in Jesus the word of God, is actualized. Thus God lives in Christ! Or more accurately, Jesus is the living example of how God would live if he were incarnate. He is one with the Word because he is living the Word!
Now, if we look at the affecting nature of the two interpretations, we can see where the symbolic view and its worldly application might be the better choice as a theological position. We know that belief in Jesus as God can be very beneficial, but we also know that this belief often leads to a worship of Jesus, which sometimes overshadows his message. The worship of Jesus is absolutely useless if it does not affect our interactions with each other, for this is the whole of what Jesus lived and preached. Love, brotherhood, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, equality, non-judgment, tolerance, peace: are the essentials of Jesus' message and life. Very often, those who worship Jesus give very little priority to those virtues attributed to him. In a literal interpretation of the incarnation, an idea gets planted that Jesus was God, therefore, none of us could ever hope to be like him. Thus, the worship is sometimes given the priority over the action, and in such a way we can even legitimize such things as oppression, exploitation, and other inequalities which are often present and are ignored in Christian Society. The psychological problem with the emphasis of faith shifting to the Divinity of Jesus is that it tends to make Jesus this personage which can only be worshipped; for we could never hope to be like him.
In theory, however, if we seen the Divinity of Jesus in the symbolic interpretation (as much of early Christianity seen it), seeing him as the embodiment of what the Divine wants us to be; we would strive much harder to live in the manner Jesus prescribed. The actualization of Jesus' message would be more important than either worship or the preaching of it. The affecting potential of symbolic, and reality based, interpretations do not allow us to proclaim our worship of Jesus while ignoring the reality of what he preached in our everyday dealings. We do not become preoccupied with worship or the Word itself; but rather, what one accomplishes with their belief. We also do not become as divided by the issue; for in the symbolic interpretation, one would not criticize a belief in Jesus as God that leads people to see the importance and significance of his message. The symbolic interpretation also allows the disbeliever a place in the eyes of God; whereas, the literal interpretation often leads people to exclusionary doctrines.
is important to keep in perspective here is the importance of the inspiration
in its relationship with reality, and, the lessening of those interpretations,
which make assertions about God that simply cannot be made. Too often, profound
theological thinkers, such as Augustine as an example, get so hung up on the
concept of the Divine that they loose sight of inspiration being a guiding
force for living. When this happens the theology concerns itself more about
answering questions that are unanswerable, loosing sight of possible solutions
the inspiration may have to the problems of reality. We make all these
assertions in theology about the Nature, the Will and State of
Keeping the interpretation in line with a message in reality also allows the theologian to be compatible with science such as physics. Literally, a story of Creation such as the one found in Genesis is not compatible with the known physics or the theories they lead to. No matter how hard certain fundamentalist's theologies try to make creationism (the literal interpretation of Genesis) fit into science, their arguments must distort facts, live in somewhat of a denial of reality and are often accusatory in their nature. They would have us teach as truth in our schools a story, which is contradictory of itself, as well as contradictory to what is known about our reality.
But if you look at Genesis for its symbolism, such arguments are unnecessary; and yet, the story comes to life with every bit as much meaning as a literal interpretation.
Theology must reexamine any speculations it asserts as truth when those speculations are in direct contradiction to the discovered and known laws of the universe. Reality is God's truth and we must be willing to examine its relevance to what we assert in faith. Faith is a matter of belief, and history has shown us repeatedly that what we believe does not necessarily have to be the truth; but, truth does not need to be believed to be reality. Faith needs to be rooted in reality, at least it must be harmonious with such if it is to have meaning, purpose and affect in our world. Based upon this logic, responsible theology has to consider the collective knowledge of mankind in its approach toward a spiritual understanding of mankind. Life is that part of eternity we are experiencing in the now; therefore, Divine revelation has to be seen in terms of that life. Man lives in the realm of the body; the spirit at some level is part of that body. It would only make sense that any revelation God has given to us is in reference to what we can understand - and that understanding is life.
In a sense, what we know about our history, our philosophies, our sciences, and psychologies, are every bit as much a part of Divine revelation as any of the sacred text. By this we mean: t hat God has allowed us the potential to record, discover, and share this knowledge; therefore, it is part of Her plan that we can know such things. To know the chemical composition of water, for example, gives us insight into the creative process. This is how nature, God, physics (whatever you want to call it) operates.
If our belief in God is to survive and be useful to our societies, the reality of the creation cannot be in opposition to what we believe about the Creator. Historically, religious beliefs have always been in harmony with what men knew and understood about themselves and the world around them; otherwise, they did not survive. Religious ideals, which stand in opposition to the knowable laws of science, are in fact in opposition to the Creator they claim to believe in. Faith is a powerful tool, which can lead us to God, but when faith stands in opposition to reality, it is advisable and healthy to examine the faith. Blind faith is as useless, and even more dangerous, than no faith!
We have all heard the creationist argument that God only makes a rock look a billion years old. Another is, it only appears that the dinosaur lived millions of years before man. But such arguments turn the Image of God into nothing more than one of a deceitful God of deceit. A God who gave us the ability to seek out these things; the curiosity to encourage such seeking; but then, as He is described by many, would give the appearance that things are in fact different than our perception allows. What would God gain by such deceit? Why give us the ability to understand what would amount to trickery?
Our challenge today is harder than our ancestors' challenge. We understand more; therefore, we must seek more. But even many of our ancestors seen the myths and sacred stories of their age for what they were, and that is symbolic of truths that are not easily put into literal concepts. Many of the prophets, philosophers, and sages of the past knew what many of our most scholarly theologians fail to see: God is unknowable as God.
It is imperative that responsible theology consider the enlightenment of our age which is as much a part of Divine revelation as any ancient truth. It is not the absence or ignoring of modern thinking that will lead us to God but the incorporation of such intellect into our interpretation of the ancient messages.
Here we will examine just a few of these fields to demonstrate how they can influence a responsible approach toward faith and God.
PHYSICS - as already implied gives us insight into the methods, laws, and processes of creation. Such knowledge can do nothing but give us insight into the mind of the Creator. To know the "how" things work does nothing to shatter the miracle of "why" they work. To understand the complexities of the laws of the universe is to stand in awe at the miracle that it works at all. Many of the processes that go on in our world, and around us in space, are more inspiring than any tale we have written. The true miracles of reality happen every moment of existence; all we have to do is take note of how miraculous they truly are.
PSYCHOLOGY - As demonstrated by C.G. Jung and others, can work hand and hand with religious views, giving empirical evidence to support many religious beliefs. This science, in conjunction with history and sociology, can be used to effectively evaluate the affecting nature of theological opinions. Theology is the basis for religions, religions are the basis of faith; it is the responsibility of both to see to it that they are responsible for a healthy mental attitude on the part of the individual who seek their guidance.
HISTORY - History can give us information about our errors of the past. It is full of atrocities committed in the name of God. Responsible theology can use history to prevent its speculations from being used to enslave men and avoid some of the mistakes of the past. All we need do is look at the historical consequences of many of our beliefs. History also helps us to understand the peoples, cultures, and age in which inspirations were given. This can be very helpful in looking for the messages of ancient inspiration. Very often the interpretations of our ancient writings were a lot closer to the intent of the inspiration as understood by the people of the age then they are after being filtered through our philosophical and theological conjectures.
MATHEMATICS - One might call mathematics the language of God, for all creative processes can be explained in terms of mathematical equations. If we assign Intellect behind the design of the universe we cannot ignore the rational, logical, and orderly perspective of that Intelligence. Mathematics also demonstrates the powerful use of symbols to express reality. If we looked to our scriptures in the same manner as we look at equations, those writings would come alive with meanings and applications for the real problems of our world.
PHILOSOPHY - This is not a new tool for the theologian. Christianity and its theologies are heavily influenced by the minds of people like Plato and Aristotle to name just two. Very often philosophy has as much insight and inspiration as the sacred works we revere so much. Philosophy is about the existence of man and his reason for being; in dealing with God such profound thought cannot be ignored.
ART, MUSIC, POETRY, LITERATURE - are forms of knowledge and expressions that embody the emotional side of man. They can represent our innermost feelings, our highest goals, our darkest sides, our dreams, our fears, and our potential to love. We have already established that God is best understood at an emotional level; that is, when we experience Her. What better medium for God to blanket His inspiration with than these areas where the abstract can be portrayed in symbol that relates to reality? What better way to express that which cannot be known intellectually than in those things, which help us to feel?
MYTH - Defined - as "Sacred Stories" a term used by John Romer in his work "Testament". Myths in this sense are not seen as untruths, which is the common accepted understanding of myth. The myths and folklore's of peoples, like art and the previous categories, can embrace the truths of the affecting nature of the abstracts upon the reality of our lives. Often ancient myths are every bit as much a part of revelation as the Sacred scriptures we cite, and those same myths Can be used to help us understand the messages Of the Divine in the wider perspective.
While these are just some of humanity's knowledge, they demonstrate what we said in the opening of this section. If we are to concern ourselves with God, we must embrace the "All". A responsible theology cannot put its head in the sand and ignore the knowledge of the reality, which surrounds it. Albert Einstein said it well when he stated, "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind." And the same concept can be applied to all the other knowledge disciplines of mankind, which have been discussed.
If we are to ever have our equations about human existence right; that is, the right formula for living - we cannot remove God from the equation, because whether we believe in Him or not, She has an affect. For theology to cite a God who is removed from the reality of the creation, which we attribute to Him, is to refuse to see the very truth that God has written.
It is irresponsible of theology to examine the scriptures and proclaim God said this or that. If we are truly seeking the inspiration of God, we need to look at the reality of what we are saying - we need to examine the consequences of our message. Such an examination should lead to responsibility on the part of the individual as well as being compatible with the known laws of universe. We need to take a look at the historical results of particular beliefs so that we may responsibly examine the psychological implication of what we are proposing as the Nature of God. Responsible theology cannot view itself as knowledge; rather, it must treat itself as a discipline, which is constantly trying to improve its affect on the human condition. Theology, if it is to be responsible, must plant the feet of every person it serves upon the ground of reality.
Please email us with your thoughts and comments.