This week I heard someone on the radio
describing another's opinions as "theological"
and hence having no connection to reality.
It is not an agreeable thing to hear relegated
to the realm of fairy tale the subject
one has been fascinated by for 30 years.
This must be the consensus view, for hardly
anyone - except the enthusiast - talks
about religion anymore other than a brief
foray into denominational allegiance.
Of the big three - sex, politics and religion
- it is the latter that has been dropped
There are many reasons for this but among
them one stands out. It is felt that religion
is dangerous because, on the global scale
it has and is producing huge bloodshed
and social disruption. For the individual,
any conversation about religion has the
potential to produce hurt feelings. So
religion is not discussed. We shy away
from such an unsafe topic and there is
a general consensus that such conversation
Our educational institutions have followed
this lead and theology has been almost
totally excluded from the curriculum.
The separation of church and state is
given as the warrant for the neglect of
the one tradition that has formed Western
culture. Consequently we have lost the
This is an orientation towards the world
and human life from the point of view
of biblical narrative. These narratives
are similar to the serious literature
of our own time that deal incisively with
the human predicament. They deal with
slavery and freedom, humanity's relation
to the world, love and hate, peace and
war, faith, idolatry, betrayal, abandonment,
birth and death and the consequences of
In the absence of studies in theology
the study of literature is the closest
discipline we have. However, the latter
lacks the systematic organisation and
the means of expression of the former.
The theological stance is that stance
that is informed by the ancient stories
that have been included in the canon because
they continue to speak to us. It is not
only that they are memorable but that
they cut through our delusions about ourselves
and about life, they subvert our religious
leanings, they beckon us into a richer
For example the book of Job is a profound
commentary on misfortune and the religious
attitude to life. Jonah is a story that
cuts away at the nation's understanding
of itself as having a special relationship
with God. (Did not the Nenevites repent
after such a small cry from Jonah?) The
gospels tell us about the humanity of
The loss of the theological stance leaves
us truly at a loss in the world because
none of the secular disciplines will help
us orient our lives. The young man who
peddles pornography on the Internet justifies
his behaviour by saying that he just wants
a nice lifestyle. This is what liberalism
is, it is the pursuit of happiness sans
There is another downside of the loss
of the theological stance and that is
we lose the ability to analyse culture,
both our own and others. We fail to recognise
that metaphysics shapes culture because
we have been told that metaphysics - how
we view the world - is irrelevant.
This is where we really get nervous because
we are tempted to make unfavourable comparisons between Western and other cultures and
that smacks of ethnocentrism and the incitement of inter-religious hatred. We would much
rather talk in the abstract about the
"World's Great Religions" as
if that abolishes any difference. We also
are apt to say that there is, after all,
only one god worshipped in many different
But this high-flown language will not
hide the deep rifts that exist between
the religions of the world. Neither will
cultural relativism smooth over the cracks
or the romantic attitude that we are apt
to take towards traditional cultures that
makes everything seem of equal value.
The argument of this essay is that we
cannot afford to abandon the theological/critical
stance either towards our own civilization
or towards others.
At the present time the West is engaged
in a war against an Islamic country. Our
leaders have pressed the case that this
has got nothing to do with religion and
in the case of Iraq this is partly correct.
However, if we fail is to understand how
Islam has shaped the culture of Islamic
countries then we will never see a large
part of the picture. Let us take just
three examples of differences between
Judeo/Christianly and Islam.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.