Monday, May 29, 2017

What is theology?

Theology can be many things

1. Theology is the critical, objective inquiry into religion: its elements, its history, its function in society and culture, its forms and expressions. Theology uses the scientific method including imaginative conjecture, verification by evidence, and peer review. Some of the sciences theology uses are sociology, anthropology, linguistics, historical criticism, and paleontology.

2. Theology is an inquiry into the subjective dimension of religion. It explores human consciousness, the sense of the sacred, the notion of the "mysterium tremendum" and, the varieties of religious experience, the feeling of transcendence, the notion of spirituality and soul. Phenomenology and psychology are methods of eliciting and studying religion experiences through the reports of those who express these experiences.

3. Theology is the capstone of philosophy which attempts to understand the range, intention, and breadth of human existence on earth using the findings of science and weaving them into a coherent narrative to guide human behavior personally and socially. Philosophy speculates on the the mysteries or yet-to-be-knowns of human being in the world--including origins and purpose. Theology, as an extension of philosophy, is a way of life based on a vision of the universe and our place within it.

4. Theology is spirituality. It consists of insights from masters of spiritual awakening and growth to grow the human soul and character. It involves art and art criticism, literature, drama, music, poetry  sculpture, painting, dance--all of which are used by human beings to express moods, feelings, hopes, and ideas that reveal their aspirations, confusions, disappointments, loves, fears. and desires. It is the sense of transcendence moving beyond the mundane, ordinary language, and all beliefs including religion.

5. Theology is story-telling, the story of the universe and of humans' place within it. It is also the attempt to gather stories and their lessons into one story which can celebrate the diversity, individuality, and creativity of humanity while including all within it. It is a means. perhaps a vital, essential one, to keep the common faith, the relational love, and the hope in the future to preserve and  advance our species.

Actually, theology is all of these. And more. Literally, theology means study of divine beings, gods, higher powers, God. We humans have many understandings and expressions of divinity or the sacred. Some of these point to the environment outside, some to subjective experience, some to supernatural entities, others to the spirit within, some to the multiplicity of beings and others to the unifying relation among them, some to the past, others to the future.

The theology I accept maintains these tensions in our human existence. The one I reject attempts to resolve them in dogmatic beliefs or absolutes which turns its back on the creative imagination of the human adventure in knowledge and action. New theology explores the vibrant center of the tensions of existence without getting stuck on any of the poles of those tensions. New theology discovers and instigates the soul in matter, the sacred in the secular, the extraordinary in the ordinary, even the religious in religions, and the magic in the mundane.


God is alive; Magic is afoot
God is alive; Magic is afoot
God is afoot; Magic is alive
Alive is afoot.....
Magic never died.
God never sickened;
Many poor men lied
Many sick men lied
Magic never weakened
Magic never hid
Magic always ruled
God is afoot
God never died.
God was ruler
Though his funeral lengthened
Though his mourners thickened
Magic never fled
Though his shrouds were hoisted
The naked God did live
Though his words were twisted
The naked Magic thrived
Though his death was published
Round and round the world
The heart did not believe
Many hurt men wondered
Many struck men bled
Magic never faltered
Magic always led.
Many stones were rolled
But God would not lie down
Many wild men lied
Many fat men listened
Though they offered stones
Magic still was fed
Though they locked their coffers
God was always served.
Magic is afoot. God rules.
Alive is afoot. Alive is in command.
Many weak men hungered
Many strong men thrived
Though they boasted solitude
God was at their side
Nor the dreamer in his cell
Nor the captain on the hill
Magic is alive
Though his death was pardoned
Round and round the world
The heart did not believe.
Though laws were carved in marble
They could not shelter men
Though altars built in parliaments
They could not order men
Police arrested Magic
And Magic went with them,
For Magic loves the hungry.
But Magic would not tarry
It moves from arm to arm
It would not stay with them
Magic is afoot
It cannot come to harm
It rests in an empty palm
It spawns in an empty mind
But Magic is no instrument
Magic is the end.
Many men drove Magic
But Magic stayed behind
Many strong men lied
They only passed through Magic
And out the other side
Many weak men lied
They came to God in secret
And though they left him nourished
They would not say who healed
Though mountains danced before them
They said that God was dead
Though his shrouds were hoisted
The naked God did live
This I mean to whisper to my mind
This I mean to laugh with in my mind
This I mean my mind to serve 'til
Service is but Magic
Moving through the world
And mind itself is Magic
Coursing through the flesh
And flesh itself is Magic
Dancing on a clock
And time itself the magic length of God.
Written by Leonard Cohen, Buffy St.Marie • Copyright © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New Theology: A Proposal

New Theology for the 21st Century 

Saint and martyr, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while imprisoned by the Nazis for complicity in the effort to bring down Hitler, called for a new theology for "a world come of age." One of my mentors, Rev. Doctor Martin Marty, took up his cause after his execution near the end of WWII in a series of books which he named New Theology in which I had the privilege of participating.

Bonhoeffer and Marty were considering the relevance of Christianity to modernity. As persons of faith in the Christian tradition, they recognized that the Judeo-Christian tradition was begun in the context, language, and cultures of antiquity and developed in medieval times utilizing the language and thought structures of Greco-Roman civilizations. They realized that the Enlightenment, new science, and the industrial and republican revolutions provided a new concrete situation for their faith. Thus, they engaged with others from many traditions in rethinking and applying the insights of their Christian tradition to modernity.

Some thinkers say, and I am one of them, that in the 21st century we are facing a changed concrete situation, still facing many of the unresolved problems of modernity, but also very new problems at a moment of a far-reaching shift in culture. They call this new epoch “postmodern” as did I. But I would rather label it “transmodern.” “Postmodernity” in art, morality, politics, and philosophy carries some baggage for people who have already made up their minds. To them it means moral relativism, post-truth politics, philosophical, cultural, and scientific skepticism, and, most of all, a rejection of the sacred.

By affirming the transmodern shift, I hope to affirm the positives and deny the negatives in modernity. Critiquing modernity is indispensable because modernity has brought us to the threshold of nihilism that abandons the world to despair, apocalypse, and terror.  But modernity has also brought us closer to the portals of the divine than our humanity, our earth, and perhaps our universe has never been. As we make our transition, how we understand and approach the sacred in ourselves and in all our fellow sojourners will make all the difference in our world.

In the mid twentieth century, despite the devastating wars and the possibility of global destruction, or because of them, humanity has reached a turning point. We are at a cusp of choice. Perhaps we always are. At the point that homo became sapiens. But now in the twenty first century that choice is more obvious and certainly more portentous. We really can be and are threatening the Earth, the very condition of our existence. We really are choosing what the next evolution of our species will be. We really are defining what is good and evil. We really are realizing our responsibility for the shape of the world and the meaning of the universe. Collectively, in our interactions with one another. In our politics, our culture, our economy, we are choosing who we are and who we want to be.

That’s why I want to contribute new theology for a world coming of age. My reflections are written for both church and non-church goers.

I have in mind young seminarians planning to take the pulpit and preach. I was a Jesuit seminarian struggling with faith and belief and the institutions that pretended to maintain them.

I have in mind teachers of religion and theology. I too taught theology while getting an  equivalent of a Masters of Divinity at Jesuit School of Theology at Loyola University and enrolled in a doctoral program in Social Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. I realize the quandary in young minds dealing with religion and theology.
I also have in mind those who have abandoned the churches to support new institutions of hope. I too became disaffected with the church in which I was raised and many others which I tried. But the church never left me and my imagination.

I want to engage evangelicals and all fundamentalists because, raised in a Catholic ghetto on the Baltimore catechism, I have been there and done that and understand why you are holding fast. I also want to engage atheists and other anti-religionists because I share your anger with religion as perpetuating fear, hate, bigotry, and injustice.

I also want to engage modern and postmodern philosophers, many of my mentors who claim that the age of the big systems of metaphysics and theologies is over. I agree with you. And yet the development of these ideas and doctrines from ancient to modern times are who we are and contribute to who we will be.

I also have in mind ordinary persons, those I meet on the streets, in coffee houses, on demonstrations, and in community associations. Those who are perplexed, as am I.

And so, I dialogue and invite dialogue on many issues that are in the news, on our websites, in opinions and polls, tweeted and blogged. For example: 
  1. Is artificial intelligence in process of changing our species? Do we have a transhuman future? Do we want that? Do we have any control?
  2. How do the stories of human origin and purpose in our religious traditions and, more so, in our latest fiction and films, shape our morality?  Can we develop a story that unites us rather than divides us?
  3. Can there be a science without faith, a politics without religion? Can we be faithful to our religious traditions and accept the findings of science regarding evolution, human sexuality, free will, and many other challenging discoveries. 
  4. How do we discover and express the sacred in our everyday life and our work?
  5. How do religious beliefs affect our economic behaviors? Can there be a common faith with many belief systems? Can there be a social gospel or social justice teachings based on religious belief?
  6. What does it mean to have soul? And how do we grow our soul? What are the tried and true stages of spiritual growth? Is there, or can there be, progress in human development, faith, truth, and morality?
  7. Who are the heroes of religion, the prophets, the teachers, the great-souled ones and what do they have to tell us in our world coming to age.
  8. What is the meaning of history in human affairs? What are the different notions of history and how do they make a difference to how we see ourselves and our world?
  9. What is the notion of transcendence? How did the concept of the divine arise in human psychology and history? Can atheists be persons of faith?
  10. Is there one true religion? A universal religion? A Way of ways?
  11. Is theology a worthy subject of inquiry? How does theological inquiry relate to scientific methodology? How does it differ from philosophy as a way of life?
  12. Most of all, how does new theology guide us to create a world of freedom, justice, and love?
  13. What is the substance of the global shift in culture that we are undergoing? What is the difference between modernity and transmodernity? How does that affect our thinking and acting?
And lots more. 

From my questions, you might infer that I believe that religion, understood correctly, does have an important place in our social order. For good or for ill. I believe that humanity has a “transcendent aim” that need not be frustrated. I believe that our vocation is to grow our souls, personally and collectively, in ordinary life and in our work and action. But at the same time, I believe that our expression and behavior must change to catch up with all we have learned and are learning about ourselves and our universe.

I begin once again the adventure of theology in our world come of age. Walk with me a bit. And please send me your own contributions to new theology which I can publish.