Hope

•25 June 2010 • Leave a Comment

Logotherapy is a type of psychological treatment developed by Viktor Frankl, famed author and Holocaust survivor.  As a discipline, logotherapy is concerned with helping patients overcome their maladies through the discovery and cultivation of personal meaning.  Unlike many other approaches to treatment, logotherapy aims to help patients discover why the do want to live and get better (rather than focusing on what circumstances caused the current misery or sickness).  That is, it seeks to assist the individual in discovering what it is within her, or within her life circumstances, that provides a goal, meaning, or reason.

This meaning-based psychology is, in some ways, something that I hope secular theology can draw upon.  Unlike traditional theologies which often set as their goal the discovery of Truth or the worship of God, secular theology takes personal meaning as the center of the “religious” life.  Secular theology is not concerned with finding objective truth.[1] Nor is it about enticing the worship of “God,” though this may be the result for some.  Instead, It is about providing a different avenue for life that avoids the secular tendency towards nihilism or hedonism.  Secular theology says, “Science tells us what the universe is like.  But, knowing this, how should we live meaningful human lives in this universe?”

For some, this will mean nothing more than an optimistic atheism.  For others, it may mean naturalistic mysticism.  Or simply an ethical, wonder-filled secularism.  I do not know what forms it may take, but I can summarize thus:

Secular theology is the hope (whether warranted or not by a naturalistic understanding of the universe) that life is worthwhile, that things have the possibility to end well, and that what we do and who we are matters.

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[1] Secular theology is not concerned with objective truth because it shares the secular conviction that what truth is to be had is most reliably found through empirical study of the universe.  In fact, one of the central convictions of secular theology is that the natural sciences, not doctrine, is the path to objective truth.

The Foundation of Secular Theology

•10 June 2010 • 1 Comment

Traditionally, Christian theology (in many forms) finds its starting point in the perceived need to know God.  Most traditional theologies, it seems, are developed and designed to aid the religious person in the pursuit of a fuller, more intimate knowledge of the god behind the faith. This pursuit of personal knowledge is both the beginning and the ultimate goal of traditional theology.

However, in secular theology, it seems desirable to conceive of the foundation of theology as something entirely different.  One does not, after all, feel the need to seek out a “secular” theology if their theistic God-images are intact.  Instead, the secular mystic comes around to theology from the basic assertion (however tentatively stated it may be) that the external, interventionist God likely does not exist.  It is almost at a moment of crisis that secular theology is born–the crisis of lost faith, lost identity, lost purpose.  At least in my case, I do not seek an alternative theology because the traditional theologies are working fine; I seek because I find theism (and its proceeding worldviews) inherently flawed and disconnected from the reality of our universe.  The God of so many theologies is a god which many modern humans simply find unbelievable.

So, instead of beginning with the foundation of seeking to know God, instead of aiming toward the goal of more fully knowing this doubted and unlikely Being, secular theology (as I conceive of the term) begins with a different foundation and a different goal–an entirely human one.  Secular theology begins with the conviction that life has meaning, that humanity is valuable, and that the individual can (and perhaps should) approach the universe with a sense of wonder, hope, and perhaps even awe.  It is an entirely human approach to a world that is best known by science and reason, but that is nevertheless dissatisfied with the nihilism or hedonism which often accompanies belief in a purely mechanical universe.  Secular theology is about finding purpose and meaning in life, both for oneself and for humanity as a whole, without necessarily returning to every illogical and unproven doctrine and teaching of traditional religion.

Ultimately, any theology that I would wish to delve deeper into, and indeed subscribe to, must be concerned with giving to humanity a sense of solidarity, hope, and meaning–not necessarily with describing or encountering a mythological, external God.  These are the goals of my fledgling secular theology.  To find a way, even in the accepting of an essentially atheistic worldview, to assert that life is something meaningful and hopeful.

“Secular Theology”

•10 June 2010 • 1 Comment

It seems that my intellectual and emotional life is constantly in flux.  Whether I consider myself an atheist or a progressive Christian, a Buddhist or a hallowed secularist, there is always some part of me that desires the fruits of the opposing viewpoint.  I cherish the meaning and purpose of religion, just as I am enraptured by the freedom and honesty of atheism.  And, strangely, I find myself wondering if perhaps there is some middle road which satisfies both my intellectual doubts and my existential yearnings.

I wonder if some how, some way, all of the various threads and strands of my life–my religious youth and my secular adulthood, my pastoral work and my fascination with science, my existential angst and my intellectual curiosity–will one day find a way to commingle.  Will I ever find a way to remain true to my doubtful questions and my passionate hope that life is more than hedonism, biology, and evolution?  Am I to live my life in this dissatisfied state, or will I find a meaningful outlet for my quiet exploration of non-traditional, non-theistic God images?

Bishop Spong once wrote that none of us now possess the whole truth.  With such a conviction in mind, I turn toward the future.  A future which moves beyond unrestrained and undue religious and secular certainty.  A path that celebrates both the powerful mystery and cosmic finiteness of human life.  I am in pursuit of something called secular theology.  What such a discipline looks like, I can only guess.

The Charter for Compassion

•12 November 2009 • Leave a Comment

If you’re not familiar with the Charter for Compassion, you should be.  It is a multi-faith (including no-faith) attempt at changing the current conversation about faith, life, and human existence.  It seeks to move beyond what divides us–what is different about our religions and ideologies–and to find that which unifies all of our religions:  compassion.  All religions have some expression of a call for compassion; perhaps, it is time to allow our similarities–our humanity–to unite us in building a better, more compassionate world.  Here’s the charter:

The Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

God and Power

•26 October 2009 • 1 Comment

Currently listening to: Stay Positive by The Hold Steady

We have become so accustomed to the “power” language of military and political might that we can scarcely image God as anything other than dictator, king, conqueror.  Few recognize that their theological notion of power is essentially the same definition that worldly dictators and warlords would use.  Power, in our human experience, is the ability to crush our enemies, to rise above any obstacle, to do anything we desire.  To be unstoppable.  So, our theology has taken these human power structures and cast them onto the cosmic scale.  Our God-images are essentially portraits of human military and political might on a universal scale.

Peter Rollins, in his book The Orthodox Heretic, casts a radically different portrait of God; one that I think is worth paying attention to:

… the message of Jesus introduces us to a different way of approaching God–not as a violent power imposed from above, but rather as a powerless presence entering our world from below.  This powerless God still instigates a revolution against the powers of this world.  However, this revolution is not won through brute strength, but through weakness.  (Kindle loc. 1144-48).

Here we are confronted with the idea that God is not encountered as the highest being in the chain of beings but rather in the lowest and most humble of things. (loc. 1152-53).

Our conceptions of God must evolve away from the war-king and dictator models and away from such violent definitions of “power.”  History has shown us that war, violence, and the coercive use of power are destructive, diminishing our very shared humanity for the sake of an ideological goal.  Coercive use of power only leads to new systems of dominance and oppression.  To recognize this and yet continue to assert that these are the ways God relates to the world and humanity is to admit that God should be opposed.  The God of such power is a God of empire; the God of Jesus was a God of peaceful resistance against abuse, solidarity with the oppressed, and overturning of empire through cultivation of full humanity.

God must be freed from the power language of military and political might, and imagined in new ways that assert a different kind of power: the power of weakness, of solidarity, of love.

A New Age of Inclusion

•15 October 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Where the Wild Things Are by Karen O and the Kids

John Shelby Spong has released a new manifesto.  In it, he makes the statement that:

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice [that is, the prejudice against homosexuality] is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I could not agree more.  The ridiculous and uninformed claims by religious authorities (and laity) that homosexuality is “an abomination” and that gay people should “pray and be cured” is unworthy of public attention.  It has become increasingly obvious that such voices refuse to inform themselves on this issue, but instead rely only on outdated biblical scholarship and traditional ecclesiastical prejudice.  A generation ago, this same spirit of prejudice was using the Bible to condone segregation, and oppression of women; before that, it condoned slavery, colonialism, persecution of other religions, and any number of other now-scorned prejudices.

It is time to recognize, and to live out the conviction that the homosexual is my brother and my sister, and is deserving of marriage, and love, and equality just as I am. It is time for those of us who celebrate love and equality, wherever it arises, to stop pretending that the homophobic minority has control over how we live out our faith.  It is time to start welcoming and affirming the homosexual person without hesitation or stipulation and to build faith communities that are open to all.  I am done seeking permission to live out of unrestricted love; I take a stand for the complete equality and participation of the homosexual community in all aspects of faith and society.  Homosexuality is neither a sin, nor a choice, nor an abomination.  (Hate is, however).

Anything less than the full recognition of the humanity and dignity of homosexual persons is unfit for the church of Christ, where freedom (not oppression) is the hallmark of the kingdom.  We are one humanity, and no caveat need be placed at the end of that statement.

A Changed World Calls for a Changed Theology

•2 October 2009 • Leave a Comment

Currently listening to: Conor Oberst by Conor Oberst

Given the fact that we learn more, know more, and have access to more information about our universe, ourselves, and every other conceivable subject than ancient civilizations did, why is it that we assume they know more about God than we do?  Most religions have a backward cast eye, always looking to the religious texts and forebears from centuries ago as the authoritative words of truth.

There is a place for the past in the modern world.  Ancient mythologies and religions have a wealth of wisdom for modern people.  But it is time we stop assuming that ancient religious traditions have all the answers we seek.  It is time we begin to function like adults and determine for ourselves what is true.

We as a species know more than ever.  We have something utterly unique and revolutionary to say about the Mystery which envelops us all.  Theology need not remain frozen in orthodox perspectives from thousands of years ago; indeed, it will not look anything like the creeds and dogmas of yesterday, if it has truly appropriated the information we are now privy to.  It is time to grow beyond our past and begin to see how God fits into the knowledge we have attained; it is time to recast our God-images, and cast them radically different.