Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Liberating Theology

I recently got into a bizarre Facebook foray with a local theologian. He welcomes many viewpoints into his circle so someone posted a list of problems with Christianity. Knowing him, I know several of the items in the list are ones that he agrees with. He has promoted Liberation Theology throughout his life, a philosophy which has no problem speaking out against the authority of the church that has provided him with a job. 

So when he dismissed the list as “reductio ad absurdum” and a bludgeon, I was surprised. When I pointed this out using equally strong language, he doubled down and asked for permission to simply defend his faith. I didn’t give him that permission. I’ve been trying to figure out why he thinks he deserves it.

This is probably hard for him to see because people in his position have enjoyed this special privilege for thousands of years and they’ve taught that anyone who has this faith should expect the same special consideration. That expectation is based on a few special actions by a few people a long time ago.  

Jesus was a rebel who opposed the Roman power structure. He and/or his followers started a movement based on strong moral values. Jesus and his followers had a degree of claim to the moral high ground because they were protesting a corrupt, depraved system in the midst of political and moral decay. They had good reason to rebel against it, and they did it with a high degree of respect for the people caught up in that system. They did a better of job of it than our more recent peace movement against Vietnam. They hated the oppression but loved and forgave the soldier.

Paul overstepped his bounds when he wrote about women not speaking in church and what is shameful in bedrooms. Once he had decided he had found a divine and absolute authority, he felt he could interpret it however he wanted. That is the error of all religions and it amazes me that it continues to be repeated. The Bible is contradictory because any  attempt to reconcile justice and mercy, authority with compassion, is going to be difficult and fraught with contradiction. We have a history of people trying to find absolute truth, but we treat it as if they had found it.

There may be an absolute right way to handle criminals and ignorance and blind hate, but we are all only ever on a journey to discover that. If Jesus had it or found it, he did a lousy job of passing it on. Praying to him or singing songs about him is not going to recover it. It’s more likely that he didn’t have anything that hadn’t been discovered before, he just had some good writers around him at the right moments.

I admit it is amazing that he could respond to such cruelty and violence with reason and compassion, and I’ll even give that he created some new pieces of a worldview that we are just beginning to experience on the worldwide scale. But I only give him that based on the quality of the writings that are his legacy. Those writings don’t depend on him actually existing, let alone him having risen or any expectation that he will return. Anything written that uses his name but lacks quality should be judged as such. 

It is a twist of history that those who opposed the authority of the Catholic Church were viewed not just as disruptive to the corrupt power structure, but also to the moral structure. Somehow an institution that was corrupted by power managed to maintain its authority as a keeper of morality. It doesn’t matter any more how that happened. That power has been tamed and should only be granted based on the same standards we bestow any authority. That is, by reason and demonstrated truth.