Monday, May 24, 2010

I Don't Know... and Neither Do You.

The exercise of "doing theology" can be a fascinating process, seeking to place into arbitrarily decided, logical categories the diverse and varied bits of data one can find regarding things pertaining to faith. The categories can include (but are not limited to) matters regarding the nature, character and habits of what one calls "God," the makeup of human beings and the manner in which the two entities interact. Other categories can emerge as well, such as beings that seem to exist but do not fit either of those categories (angels, demons, spirits of various types, etc.). The entire process is predicated on the assumption that there exists more to reality than what can be empirically or materially proven. Thus these are matters of "Faith," not science. The "science" of thinking about God (theology) may have a set of criteria, but must not expect the level of detail achieveable in the "hard sciences" (geophysics, biology, chemistry, etc.).

In the Christian tradition, the parameters for "doing theology" have chiefly emerged from the Holy Scriptures (The Bible). However, since the Bible requires interpretation, the question of "who has authority to interpret it?" has also been hotly debated. This has given rise to "Church tradition" being a trusted benchmark for whether one is reading the Bible "Christian-ly." In ancient times, concerns over whether those reading the Scriptures would arrive at "Christian conclusions" necessitated major biblical themes being codified into "Creeds." Today, one can be reliably confident that they are "doing theology" in a Christian manner if they fall between the boundaries set by the great Creeds of the ancient Church (The Apostle's Creed, The Nicene Creed, etc.). The ancient Church "Fathers" wisely defined in the Creeds what is emphasized in the Scriptures, and central to Christian faith. However, they also wisely left undefined those matters that are not emphasized as much and are not as central. It would seem that even in a pre-scientific era, the Fathers knew not to require the same level of scientific precision that would later be pursued in...oh say... nuclear energy applications.

However... the wisdom of the Fathers appears largely absent in the present religious landscape of the West. Our curiosity gravitates automatically to nearly any matter not made plain in history or Holy Scripture. That the Fathers, the Apostles, or God (for that matter) left a thing under-defined is by no means a deterrent from our endless speculations. In our twisted re-direction, we emphasize that which Scripture does not, and marginalize that which it does. That a thing cannot be well known, is not considered a significant obstacle from trying to know it better than anyone else.

How is it that the authors of the great Creeds sought merely to assert that God created "all things visible and invisible," but did not codify how God created these things? Did they lack the "sophistication" to offer such "scientific" details? Or were they instead moved along with Divine wisdom to simply assert THAT he created, and render further details unnecessary? I argue the latter. Yet curiously, Evangelicals of the West have made the "how" a tenet of faith. Allowing those without faith to somehow "draw the battle lines," Evangelicals have declared the Creeds' pronouncement of "God as Creator" to be inadequate. "One must be against Darwin to be for Christ"... goes the refrain. Matters that cannot be known are assumed to be "knowable enough" to constitute a new layer of criteria for orthodox belief. I lament this with head hung low.

Yet this is only one example... Many others can be offered. The myriad ideas that have arisen regarding angels, demons, Heaven, hell, the return(s) of Christ to Earth and the "filling" of the Holy Spirit grow so fanciful and outlandish as to welcome popular superstitions with open arms. For this reason, the mind develops a sort of "theology fatigue." Recognizing that the "goofy" so often prevails over the "thoughtful" in such topics, the reflective observer simply "shuts down" and declares, "I'm out." The instinct to muse creatively about things not emphasized in Scripture or Creed leaves the bystander discouraged about the level of certainty entertained regarding what cannot be known. It's not just that I admit I don't know certain things... I don't think you know them either (but that certainly hasn't discouraged you from asserting it as though it was a central doctrine). Sigh.

Because I used to fear appearing unlearned, and the acceptance of peers was so paramount to self-esteem, I would offer my speculations about all manners of concepts, regardless of whether they were demonstrable from history or Holy Scripture. Having increasingly lost my appetite for that sort of "creative thinking" though, I'm now much more willing to simply say "I don't know;" and in my braver moments might even add, "...and neither do you."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so thankful for the Creeds.