Shifting "Words" to Responsible Actions
The problem with so much of our theology today is that it often reduces personal initiative to simple words of faith or prayer. Many of our theological positions psychologically shift the personal responsibility for one's actions and the consequences of those actions in society. They replace personal responsibility with "God's saving Grace" - or, blaming human shortcomings on a supernaturally powerful evil force commonly known in Christianity as Satan.
Not only is the psychological impact of emphasis on words a threat to religion, but it impacts the secular collective psyche of our Western Cultures as well.
We can see its influence in the "them" we hear people blaming for all our problems: as in the government, the media, the liberals, the foreigners, or the conservatives. In fact, blame for the ills of a society are often placed upon anyone who believes differently from us. This blame someone else mentality is implanted in us by theologies which imply that only God is to get credit for the good. If we as individuals are not suppose to take credit for the good, what possible incentive would we have to accept responsibility for the ills of our world? So theology makes that easy for us by blaming all evil upon the devil, or at least, in allowing us to use our religious beliefs to justify our projections of weakness. For to often, religious faiths, have us looking outside ourselves for blame, credit, or solutions for so many problems that are-mankind's making. In fact, they are often of our own making!
The major psychological problem with this is that this "projectionist" seed is planted in the religious attitudes that we indoctrinate our children with. Such being the case, sometimes even when the religious belief is lost, the crutch of habitual projection is assimilated into the ego personality and remains for life.
we look at Western Christianity objectively, in its true Christian influence
upon the reality of our societies, it has become little more than the
proclamation of empty words. One cannot read the words of the Gospels, and
claim with any credibility, that the ideas, which Jesus preached, are the
priority of an American Society, which so often makes claim to being Christian.
We have utility companies which shut off poor people - are they not sometimes
Christian owned? We have merchants who deceive, sometimes cheat, and often use
gimmicks to get people to buy things they do not need - some of which are in
fact Christian owned. We have Christian clergy, claiming to heal people over
the television, promising, God will bless ten fold any offering made to the
church - and these same men are out and out condemning people they arbitrarily
say are God's enemies. Then there are the magnificent churches, which are
built, maintained, and treated as God's throne - even in the poorest of areas;
and in their shadows children live in need, fear and despair! Can any one of us
honestly say; this is what Jesus envisioned when he delivered the Sermon on the
Mount; or carrying his cross at
While one cannot blame Christianity for our, problems (and this is certainly not the intent here) we can see that much of the "magical thinking" and "projectional mentality" that is in the mind-set of so many in our western cultures is instilled in us (or at least fueled by) many of the theological concepts which exist in Western Christianity. It may not be the religions which are so much the problem, but rather, the theologies that place so much emphasis upon words and beliefs that they have lost sight of the "affects" of those words in the reality of religious faith. Could the worship of Jesus ever produce a result that might equal the one that could be produced in emphasizing the emulation of, Jesus?
The group Nirvana sums up the hypocrisy nicely in a line one of their songs:
'Who needs acts, when you got words'
(Nirvana, PLATEAU, from the album "Unplugged" in NY)
This type of thinking is exactly where one would expect many of our projective theological ideals to lead. While such concepts as God's love, Her forgiveness and His Mercy are a sound Image of the Deity, presenting this ideal that we earn such through belief alone can be psychologically dangerous; especially for, those types of people looking to cast blame upon others. Teaching children to expect Jesus to come and remake the world, or even adults for that matter, plants a suggestion that no matter how much we abuse this planet that in the end it will "all" be made 'right. It allows for a projection of personal responsibility for those that may consciously or subconsciously wish to justify their own lack of responsibility.
If we examine many of our theological concepts from a psychological viewpoint, we will see that other potentially dangerous seeds can also be planted. For example, goodness or courageous acts of humanism such as those of Mother Teresa are often seen as "saintly," or as special in the eyes of God because of doctrines, which proclaim human natures weak, and easy prey for evil. Wonderful acts of human compassion are seen as unusual, as going beyond the call - beyond the "normal" standard that people should be seeking. Many of the theologians, especially those who follow Augustine, rationalize corruption, sin, evil, poverty, and all our human problems as being a consequence of our weak human natures and our first parents sin. Children are often told it is hard to be good; which begs the question, why is it any harder to be good than bad?
One has to wonder: if we abandoned such negative aspects of our theology, looking for the positive messages of revelation over the "Projectionist" speculations, might not the world be a better place? Perhaps if we treated each other with the love and respect that Jesus taught; instead of, verbally proclaiming our belief in it, maybe we could lessen some of the injustices in our world.
We live in a world that can split the atom, can go the moon and beyond; yet, we cannot eliminate starvation from our societies. We live in a world where the medicine can transplant a heart to save one child, while hundreds may die of a disease because they cannot get a simple and common vaccination. We complain and feel for some children at Christmas because they do not have toys under the tree; while in other places children are being killed in the crossfire of war. Are these things what Jesus intended when he told us that what we do to each other is what we do to him? Are the theologies that are feeding our religious beliefs providing us with the incentive to change; or, have they become a justification for what we are? Is the Gospel about changing our ways; or, a justification of what we are? If one answers "change" then the theology based upon those Gospels must encourage change instead of providing justification. If it is to be responsible, theology (and the faith based upon it) must examine its teachings from a psychological perspective to ensure its speculation encourages actualization of one's beliefs over mere assertion.
And when it comes to the actual words of scripture, we often give them a meaning in today's religions, which were never intended by the original writers or speakers of the "Word". To give several examples:
Abraham is called "a man of faith" in the Bible. Today, we tend to define faith as an intellectual assent to a creed, but, as we have seen, the Biblical writers DID NOT VIEW FAITH IN GOD as an abstract or metaphysical belief. When they praised the faith of Abraham, they are not commending his orthodoxy (the acceptance of a correct theological opinion about God), BUT HIS TRUST (In God), in rather the same way as When We Say that We have faith in a person or ideal. In the Bible, Abraham is a man of faith because he trusts God would make good on His promises, even though they seemed absurd.
(Karen Armstrong, HISTORY OF GOD, Ballantine Books, 1993, pl7)
The word which describes that attitude he [Jesus] sought to stimulate has a somewhat archaic and old-fashioned ring in its traditional English rendering, which is "repentance". But like the Hebrew term which it represented, the Greek 'metanoia,' habitually translated in this fashion, signified much more than we understand by the term [sorrow for sin]. THEY INDICATE A COMPLETE CHARGE OF MIND AND HEART AND ATTITUDE, A TURNING FROM THIS WORLD TO GOD.
(N. Grant, JESUS, AN HISTORIAN'S VIEW Of THE GOSPELS, 1977, p45)
In both of the cases cited, the words, which had been decreed, had no meaning anything like today. Faith was not asserting a belief and repentance was not sorrow or atonement for sin. Faith was simply trusting in God, and repentance was changing one's heart. One could not simply say they were sorry but had to change their ways. These words came to life in truth only when they acted upon; when the individual actually trusted God; or, when the individual changed his heart. The pronouncements of these words, or the faith in them proclaimed by the believer, had nothing to do with the message they conveyed. Theology, in its evolution, has changed the meaning of faith to be understood as adhering to a particular idea of God; or, repentance as being sorry for our sins. In both cases, we can profess in words the "faith" or the "repentance" without the actualization that was intended.
While Paul, and numerous theologians after, emphasized the Redemption of Christ, faith in Christ, or salvation in Grace; Jesus proclaimed personal responsibility expressed in our actions toward one another. Jesus proclaimed:
And to all he [Jesus] said, "If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave the self behind; day after day he must take up his cross, and come with me. (Luke 9:23,24)
These words clearly remind us that God's Kingdom is in our personal responsibility. They imply that we are all messiahs, each with our own cross to bear. The cross is in the acceptance of responsibility for one's self and how our actions affect others.
Theology, particularly a pure Christian theology, needs to guide its clergy and ultimately those who utilize the implications of its ideals toward a faith that expresses itself in action; for the truth lies not in words, but in what is produced by the word. If we are going to cite the words of our ancients to proclaim our beliefs, we must be sure to retain the original meanings and the actions intended.
The whole salvation which Jesus preached, the Kingdom of God about which he spoke, are not in the words that be spoke - or in the words we proclaim about him. The Christian ideal is in the living of its philosophy of love, tolerance, human compassion and concern. Without the actualization of these ideals of Jesus, our words of faith are empty and without merit. True Christianity is much more than a belief, it must become d philosophy by which we live by. Thomas Jefferson said it nicely:
Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached as pure as they came from his lips, the whole-civilized world would now have been Christian.
(To Benjamin Waterhouse, June 26, 1882)
The doctrines that flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child.
(To John Adams, July 5,1814)
From the message itself, to the very prayers that we pray, and unto our theological speculations about God; the emphasis is much greater on the words we proclaim than in the accepting of responsibility for what we do. Jesus told us to "pick up our cross," while and Paul proclaimed we only need believe Jesus did that for us. This latter message has overshadowed Jesus' directive in Christian Theology ever since.
The emptiness of our words has been reflected throughout our Western cultures for hundreds of years. The promises of the White man to the Native American were quickly seen as empty words - as we broke treaty after treaty, sometimes before the ink was dry. We used our Bibles to defend slavery for over a century, singing our praises to God on Sunday and forcing the slaves to pick the cotton for the rest of the week. The prejudice and bigotry in American society is an intricate part of our history as well as that of our roots in Christian Europe. Much of our Christian theology has to accept partial blame for the acceptance of such hypocrisy. We can find nothing in the words of Jesus, who has been proclaimed the "Son of the Living God" to support the idea that we are saved simply by our faith. While Paul proclaimed this message, Jesus of the Gospels did not. In light of the Christian realities of today one might ask: Why would Paul's message have more influence on Christian theology than the message of the "Son of God"?
And in our societies of today, the concept of empty words is alive and well even outside religion. It may be argued about religious beliefs contributing to the cause; but most of them do little to discourage such hypocrisy in our everyday world. For example, our politicians will say anything to get elected; including, things like remaking the family, changing morals, or giving us a better way of life - whether they have the power or intend to do so or not. Advertisements make outrageous claims and imply things like we will have a happier life, or get a prettier girl if we use their products. Some commercials are actual out and out lies! Sportscasters, weathermen, newspapers and magazines print all kinds of "words" which can sometimes be misleading at the least, and in fact lies at their worst. And we have the great manipulators of words who can take them out of context; or, twist them to mean what they were never meant to imply. All this is accepted into the mainstream of our lives without many questions.
Churches proclaim outrage at immorality, irresponsible sex, drug use, violence, and greed. But in reality we use sex to sell our products, violence to entertain ourselves, advertise pills for every ailment, and pay homage to those with wealth they will never need. Religion, for the most part, remains silent about such contradictions.
And how many of us as individuals bend the truth to fit our needs? Saying things like: "The check is in the mail," when we mean I'm going to mail it. Or, how about calling in sick so we might enjoy a sunny day. Or, telling our children to tell someone on the phone that we are not home, when in fact we are right there!
The point is, we put so much emphasis upon what we say in today's world, both religiously and secularly; yet, there is little emphasis on the substance or reality of those words.
at a glance our examples might seem trivial, any first year psychology student
will tell you of the dangers of sending contradictory messages to children -
which is what we as a people are
doing. Theology's responsibility is to foster beliefs which religion can then
use to change unhealthy social trends. It cannot do that when words are the
salvation it offers. The power of God is not the proclamations of faith. The
power of God is an ideal becoming reality. If someone were to tell us they have
Any student of religion can see that religion directly and indirectly influences the social structure and culture of a people. And if we look at the myths and revelations that seem to transcend our human bondage, (What Jung called archetypes) we will often find a psychological message; messages that were given before we had psychology. If these psychological implications can be seen in the revelations themselves, theology cannot argue the point that these psychological implications are part of its religious responsibility.
The theologies that formulate religions which emphasize: words Of faith, words of prayer, the singing of praise in word, the spreading of the word, the assertion of faith in word, the incarnation of the word, redemption by the word, or eternal life through the word; without any clarification of the fact that: if we do not "LIVE" what we proclaim - it makes us nothing more than hypocrites and liars. Such theologies act in the manner of the "false prophets" of which Jesus warned.
Words are nothing more than words, and the idea Of Christ as ‘Logos’, which loosely means "the word" is misleading. The 'Logos' is the enlightenment by the word, which means, if the word does nothing to change reality there is no enlightenment. The word remains a word until it becomes the 'Logos' through actualization by us. When John tells us "the word became flesh," he is not talking about sounds that are spoken; but rather, the ideas and concepts, which Jesus lived according to God's will. In other words: It's how God would live as a man!
If Christianity lived in the words of its founder, the last century would have been filled with great strides in the solutions of basic human problems. Christianity, combined with scientific knowledge and economic strength, should be expanding human opportunity and equality; ending war and poverty; help us to become environmentally responsible; and be the incentive for universal brotherhood (even for those who do not share the belief). A living Christianity would promote a faith through questions that lead us to truth, while providing d sound psychology whereby its faith encourages people to ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES! Jesus didn't preach to have men worship at his feet, he spoke hoping to change peoples hearts; knowing, the changing of human hearts could ultimately change the world.
And beyond the call of Christianity too, the message of God is the same. If any religion is to serve God and the people of the next century, its theology must recognize the human responsibility that came with the gift of consciousness. Such must realize that the spoken truth is in its manifestation in reality, in other words: the ACTIONS BECAUSE OF THE PROFESSION OF FAITH. No Christian theology can ignore these words from the Sermon on the Mount:
Beware of false prophets, men who come to you dressed as sheep while underneath they are savage wolves. You will RECOGNIZE them by the FRUITS THEY BEAR. In the same way, a good tree always yields good fruit, and a poor tree bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. And when a tree does not yield good fruit it is cut down and burnt. This is why I say YOU WILL RECOGNIZE THEM BY THEIR FRUITS.
Not everyone who calls me "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of heaven. But only those who do the will of the Father. When that day comes many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them to their face, "I NEVER KNEW YOU; out of my sight you and your wicked ways!
What then of the man who HEARS these words of mine and ACTS UPON THEM? He is like a man who had the sense to build his house on rock. The rain came down, the floods rose, the wind blew and beat upon that house; but it did not fall because its foundation was on rock. But what of the man who hears these words of mine and DOES NOT ACT upon them? He is like a man who is foolish enough to build his house on sand. The rains came down, the floods rose, the wind blew and beat upon that house; down it fell with a great crash.
(Matthew 7:15-27 / this same lesson repeated in Luke 6:43-49)
Jesus' principle charge against the religious of his age was hypocrisy: that is, saying things they themselves did not live. Christianity has fulfilled its charge to preach the Gospel to the four corners of the earth, but it seems there is something wrong because we don't seem to see the fruit that we should be seeing. The Gospel is proclaimed, but, little of it applies to the everyday realities of our world. We may not be able to govern according to the Gospel (at least in the present religious interpretive sense); but its message of love should be reflected in business, communities, entertainment, political ethics, and all of every day life - for anyone proclaiming themselves Christian.
Many of our churches can easily condemn prostitution, or homosexuality, based upon the bias of their theology. But how many churches point out the evil of a business letting a faithful employee go simply to increase its profit? Where is the Christian ethic when a company closes which a community has served and depended upon for years? What might God think would be a fair wage as verses an exploitation of workers? What about basic health care for low income workers, in fact all workers? These problems are the reality, and when religion fails to be applicable to reality it needs to be reexamined. These are the kinds of issues that Jesus intended that his followers pay heed to.
Theologically, the reason the universe exists is because the Word of God ACTUALIZED. Without the physical Creation Event God's word would be echoing through empty space. The Word was incarnate in Jesus because Jesus lived in reality the message he proclaimed! Faith only allows us to see the word, its the ACTUALIZATION of the word which is our salvation, just as it is the actualization of God's Word that gives us life!
It is only when we act upon what we say; when it affects the reality of our personal lives as well as the society we live in; when the culture truly reflects the proclaimed beliefs of the community; when the religious morals apply to everyday life, business, science, and government - only then, can theology claim they are proclaiming truth. Until then, such is only words!
The challenge of responsible theology for the next century is to stimulate human consciousness to the point where we can solve the problems facing our world. Just as good science brings about positive and healthy change, an increase in one's understanding of one's self, and a bettering of our word; so too, it should be with a truly responsible theology. We are much older and more capable children of God than were our ancestors. We have a much greater ability to determine our social and economic structures. We also have direct and indirect input into environmental outcomes. We are now, by far, much more a part of the world community. And we now, like never before, have a tremendous potential to predict and study the consequences of our actions.
Theology needs to begin shifting the emphasis from what God is going to give, or do, for us; to what God has already done for us and what it is we can do to express our appreciation to God. It is time for religion to encourage our pursuit of what we can do for God; instead of, encouraging us to ask God to do for us.
If our theological trend continues to urge us to "pray" and wait" for God, the prognosis for mankind is not good. Such theology is like the selfish child with boxes full of toys yet looks with envy upon the single toy of the child next door. God has already showered us with the gift of life, which is often, more than we deserve. If there are greater things still, does it not make sense that the best way to earn this is by cherishing and being responsible toward what has already been given? We still need God's help and there is no reason for theology to abandon this concept. What needs to be done is put the "help" in its proper perspective. Too often when we pray for God's help, we are asking Her to do it for us. To help and to guide, means: to aid one in their own effort! Thus: "God helps those who helps themselves" becomes a cliché that the theologian, clergymen, and faithful should apply to their every prayer. God provides the map but it is we who must steer our own ships!
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