(Avoidance of Negatives)
Responsible theology must strive to avoid encouraging negative ideas. Concepts such as a punitive or vengeful God send very mixed messages to people, and such faiths that are built upon them are often extreme. Thomas Paine said, "Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man." A responsible theology cannot allow itself to be used in such a manner as to promote faiths, which can coerce people into following them out of a sense of fear. People should be led to God out of a sense of love and appreciation of life, not out of hope of reward or fear of punishment.
In addition, we as human beings do not have the ability or the right to make Divine pronouncements of judgment. It has been the mistake of theology since its inception to assert that any of its claims represent the judgment of the Almighty. Just people throughout history have suffered immensely because of the idea that a human being can accurately proclaim God's judgment about any given situation. No human being is able to experience God's view of totality; therefore, no human being can declare God's judgment about any event in reality. While religion and theology can make ethical, moral and social judgments based on its religious belief; for it to assert that it is God's judgment or Will is blasphemy. We need to point out here that even Sacred Scriptures are the written, compiled, and translated words of men. Granted, these may have been inspired in some way; but they are not the written words of God as is so often implied.
We are going to deal with this aspect of our discussion from primarily a Christian perspective, as Western society is heavily influenced by Christian ideals. While not necessarily direct, Christian theology has helped shaped the Image of God for many people in our Western world. It often defines an Image of God that non-believers strike out against. Religious attitudes outside Christianity will be able to use the concepts we present here by looking to the psychological affects that their particular faiths have on the people they serve.
The judgmental and punishing God, which has been so effective in keeping the faithful in line, is potentially psychologically dangerous to an individual as well as the collective. The idea of a punitive God who reeks havoc from the heavens or, legions of demons waiting to consume us: is not healthy for society, nor is it responsible in any sense of the word. In fact, it could be argued that the punishing God of the Old Testament is one of the very images Jesus tried to temper as shall be argued when we deal with the teachings of Jesus. For now, we must concern ourselves with the affecting nature of what we will term "fear doctrines" and why responsible theology needs to avoid them.
Let's start by saying, on a psychological level emotions such as guilt and fear are necessary and healthy so long as they are controlled. But the same healthy emotion, which might keep us from walking into a pit of snakes (fear), could also prevent us from loving or committing to another person. Guilt too, defined as remorse, can be a healthy motivator, which prevents us from making the same mistakes over and over. When one feels regrets about something they have done; chances are, they will avoid the action in the future. These elements as part of a conscience which helps us judge ourselves are healthy.
The danger lies when guilt or fear are used to control us from outside; when the guilt and fear are used to create an allegiance to another; when the guilt and fear cause us to repress and deny what we truly feel. The simplest example of this is the damage often created in a child when the mother puts him or her on a "guilt trip" for most of their young lives. Any credible text on parenthood will point out the dangers of this and can cite numerous case histories to support its claims. Now, if we as a society recognize the danger, which we can instill in our young through parental guilt, imagine what damage we can do if we inflict this guilt from Almighty God.
Before going on, it might do us well here to examine some of the things we believe and are telling our children about God. People ask why we have such a violent society and often blame TV, music, movies and books. While there is strong evidence to support such claims, few, if any, psychologists are afraid to touch religion as one of the possible contributors.
Yet, if one looks objectively at much of the theology and sacred texts our religions are based upon, we are often portraying an extremely violent Image of God. Television has nothing on the Bible when it comes to violence.
examine some of what we say. Even the
more love based Christian theologies imply that once offended by Adam's sin,
God punished the whole human race for all time. Then God, recognizing that
this was rather extreme, and being merciful, She then
decided to redeem-man. The plan: send Her only
begotten Son to be sacrificed and slaughtered in a blood bath on
Our Scriptures also tell us a wide variety of stories (often interpreted literally) which tell us of a God who wiped out cities with fire and earthquakes as a punishment. The Old Testament portrays a God who sends plagues, floods, earthquakes, wars, enslavement of Her peoples: all as punishments for not obeying the letter of the law. His chosen people are often allowed to rape and pillage others who do not believe in the Jewish God, so long as God's chosen remain faithful to the Law of Moses. And very often, even those who are faithful to God in Scripture are forced to prove it by suffering torture and death.
Even the Gospels themselves portray hideous acts beyond the crucifixion. The slaughter of the innocents is a prime example. God sends an angel to warn Joseph so Jesus will be safe, while He sits back and allows Herod to kill the children of an entire community. If we are to interpret that story literally; then, we must seriously question the justice and compassion of a God who saves one child but allows the others to be slaughtered. The New Testament also canonizes those who are stoned, crucified, tortured, or put to death as a proof of their faith.
Added to this biblical violence of God Himself, religions have created the devil and his legions of demons that possess us, tempt us, and are out to destroy us. In the extreme they are into everything: in our live - proclaimed to be in our music; in control of our society; even deceiving us in our cultural values. They can use their supernatural powers to lead us away from God; and God allows this despite our inability to ward off such powers. The devil has even been given dominion over the earth for a thousand years, some claim. God just gave it to him! And even the more mild approach toward these fear-oriented doctrines still attach a great deal of influence to this entity that hates God and mankind.
Then we move on to life after death, and this too is filled with things to fear: hell, demons, and God's judgment. Then there is the "end of the world," doctrine, where we proclaim there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth," pain and destruction; and for many, the event is imminent. This is often portrayed as the Christian shining glory, when Jesus will return to inflict destruction, pain, and death to anyone who refused to accept him in the specified manner of the particular religion promoting the ideal.
As if these things were not enough, we have the historical violence of Christianity. The Crusades and other slaughters of peoples who dared to believe differently than what was decreed. The numerous inquisitions, where people were tortured, mutilated and burned in the name of God because men had the power to declare these unfortunate souls as being of the Devil. We can look back to the Native American peoples, who in the name of a Christian conversion allowed us to justify stealing their land, their heritage and culture; because we declared them pagan. These atrocities were committed against a people who were very often truer to their beliefs than those Christians who would condemn them. And even in our modern world, the Bible is often used to justify bigotry, oppression, and hatred as the will of God.
For two thousand years, much of the Christian doctrines are based upon such theological concepts, and no matter bow we try to sugarcoat them they still present a very questionable side to the Divine. An acute contradiction exists when we claim that God gave us free will on the one hand, and then punishes us for exercising it.
We will admit that the portrait just painted is extreme and devoid of the many positive aspects to Christianity. But this demonstrates the problem of dogmatic truths rooted in fear doctrines. Psychologically, these ideals can undermine the principles of love and charity that Jesus worked so hard to instilling his followers. These doctrines, no matter how we slice the pie, if God doesn't get what He wants we will pay the price. They basically create a very selfish motivation for following God; which is, either for a reward of paradise that is promised - or, out of a fear of punishment and retribution. Such teachings as described, also send a very dualistic message about love, God, and our fellow man; which many psychologist have come to see as being very dangerous when it comes to children.
Faiths, or their theologies, often justify this fear doctrine by proclaiming that this is God's way of being a loving parent. That She, in His Divine justice, needs to punish us so we will keep on the straight and narrow path, which leads to Her eternal reward. Yet, what they are saying is the equivalent of a parent burning their children with a cigarette to deter them from smoking. No one would ever advocate that, but we claim God destroys millions of people for not complying with Her Will.
Such rationalizations about our relationship with God are about as healthy as a relationship of a child in abusive environment who is living in fear. Studies have shown that children raised in abusive situations are often abusive themselves. People who are, insecure because of fear often intimidate and persecute others as a defense mechanism for their own insecurities.
When this logic is applied to religion, how often do we see religious people declaring hell for those who may differ in beliefs from them? How many times do we see preachers blaming the ills of the world on a particular class of people such as homosexuals, or atheist, or some other sinner? This is pure projection away from one's own responsibility for the problems, which face our society. And so often, these individuals are so preoccupied with their own projections that they cannot see the hatred and turmoil their condemnations breed.
If we look at it from a purely psychological perspective, religion could be contributing as much to our violence as movies, TV or any other contributor. In fact, given the significance the psyche often places upon God, it may be even more influential.
Just look at the contradiction here. If we tell our children that God loves us more than anything loves us, then, cite these violent expressions of wrath and retribution - what are we saying about God? What are we saying about the nature of Love? And if we accept and legitimize this punitive God, with Her multitude of tortures; are we not in a way justifying our own indifferences toward the human miseries, which are really the fault of human shortcomings that we need to correct? If we as human beings had a king who acted in the same manner as the literal reading of the Bible portrays our God; he would be called a tyrant. Hitler's monstrosities were not any worse than some of the actions attributed to God, or those who followed him, contained in the Bible.
we doubt this psychological influence upon our society, consider this:
Could our religious concepts be contributing to this violence?
Well, take a look at any extreme religious group who emphasizes the power of the devil, or the punitive actions of God, or the literalization of scripture: there you will usually find bigotry, oppression and intolerance in some form. The more a religious group clings to the violent nature of God, be it in the blood bath on Calvary or in God's punishing nature, the less likely they are to support compassionate social programs; and, the more likely of them to support such things as capital punishment. Very often these groups give the impression that it is the sins of "others" that bring cataclysmic consequences upon a society. As already stated, these believers often cast the failures of the society upon the prostitutes, the homosexual, the atheist, or any other who differs in their religious (and sometimes even philosophical) ideologies from them.
These radical thinkers have been known to declare what they term "holy wars" on what they consider to be enemies of God. We see these clearly in some Islamic sects, but the same idea is not so clear in Christian groups. But to declare war on abortion doctors, on homosexuals, on communists is paramont to the same thing. Again, what are the crusades if not a holy war? What about the inquisition? Was it not justified as being about a war against Satan?
On the other hand, religious institutions who are more liberal and emphasize the compassionate and loving nature of God toward all peoples, are generally more supportive of Church and government social programs. These religious groups tend support an effort to try to rehabilitate criminals before punishing them. They often have a somewhat more tolerant nature to "differences": such as homosexuality. One must ask the question, especially in a so-called Christian society: which group would Jesus most likely support? Which group is going to play a more positive role in a diverse society?
As we pointed out, the emphasis on the violent nature of God, about the judgment of God, about the power of Satan; can lead to inquisitions, intolerance, and hatred manifested in a number of ways. Study history, and no matter what faith, such ideals always end up in violence themselves.
It is true that such violent stories are in the myths and scriptures, but that is not because this is in the Nature of God; but rather, we could see them as expressing our inhumanity to each other when we remove ourselves from the loving attributes we can recognize in God. We will delve more into this as we discuss revelations. The point we wish to make here is that responsible theology needs to re-examine the whole concept of a punitive and vengeful God, which allows the devil the ability to toy with us. We need to recognize that God is beyond our limited human perspective of vengeance, justice, and punishment. Responsible theology must search for a theology that can bring men to God, and ultimately closer to each other, out of a sense of love and want rather than fear. If faith is to truly be constructive, it should need no other motivation than love to keep it alive. Responsible theology must lead people to a God they can experience in love, in a pureness of hearth; not a God they worship out of fear of what She may do. If our religious beliefs are to better our world, they must be rooted in a positive and constructive theology which is psychologically healthy. Yes, revelation does tell us of some pretty awful things when we stray from God's path. But the exaggeration of these tales often causes us to loose sight of the positive message of God, leading us into the very pitfalls of which they are trying to forewarn.
The evolution of revelation itself has helped us to refine the Image of God from that of a punitive, warlike, and egotistical God - to that of the God of Love, mercy and compassion which Jesus preached. God has not changed, but our ability to understand and comprehend the Divine Image has. If we look to our theologies to interpret the loving and positive nature of God we need never approach Him out of fear. When seen in their proper perspective, the revelations tell us of our responsibilities to the world in which we live.
Once we begin to assume responsibility; that is: "pick up our cross,'' we will better be able to use the Grace of God that is within us to solve the real problems that confront us as individuals and as a society.
God may be our Father in the sense that She created us, but the symbol of the son in Jesus also demonstrates that he is our brother and sister in His oneness with us. And through the power of love that is ever present in the Holy Spirit, the very power of God can come to life in the reality of our everyday world through us.
Instead of living in fear of God, theology needs to lead us down a path where we can become instruments of God's love. If we examine psychologically and historically the belief of the punitive God, we will see that it did not serve mankind very well. It often led to bloodshed, hatred, and oppression. It often leads to an abuse of power by those whom the society recognizes as God's human representatives.
If a religious faith is to affect the society in the best possible way it must be based on the priority of "love" and "tolerance". The teachings of any church should prioritize the actualization of God among all of us; which really is, men and women striving to live the virtues which are expressed in the revelations. In a modern world so full of diversity we should be looking to our faiths to unite us; looking to our faiths to make us tolerant, understanding, and loving; looking to our faiths to help us make the quality of life better for all who share in this glorious gift from the Creative Force.
A responsible theology will lead to a faith that is built upon love, tolerance, and personal responsibility - as opposed to fear, intolerance and projection. A responsible theology will lead to a faith that can evolve and grow rather than stagnate and enslave. Responsible theology should lead to a faith that betters our world rather than justifying the iniquities that exist. Responsible theology will recognize that its truth lies in its affects upon its believers' lives.
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