Many, many years ago, theology was the queen of the sciences. This was before the word "science" was allocated exclusively to the physical sciences. Back then, "science" referred to all fields of knowledge and theology was at the top of the heap.
This made sense because knowledge of God predicated knowledge of everything else. Knowledge of God was systematic in that it sought to be a theory of everything, a universal understanding. As such, heterodoxy could not be tolerated and was severely punished.
The natural sciences are similar in that, for example, Physics seeks a unifying theory of everything. Chemistry relies on the systematization of elements known as the Periodic Table. Biochemistry maps all the chemistry of life.
The common theme of the natural sciences is that they seek to describe and systematize all physical phenomena. Exceptions indicate that something is wrong with the theory.
A scientific colleague asked me if there was research in theology. A fair question. The answer is in the affirmative. Indeed, in all the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world theology is very much alive and engaged in new ways to talk about God.
The field of Church History reveals the development of the science of theology from the earliest days of the Church, the early and high Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Reformation and the onset of the modern age. During this development, theology relied on scripture, philosophy, history and the acts of preaching and pastoral care. These concerns are still present in contemporary departments of theology that sit well in the modern research university.
Systematic theology is to God as physics is to the natural world, an attempt at unity. In the words of Karl Barth, "theology is the most glorious and happy science."
I began this essay thinking about political parties and how they organise what they stand for. One would think that the above discussion of organised systems of thought that we find in the natural and theological sciences would help. But upon close examination, it is found that political parties are rag bags of ideas, pragmatism, historical wounds, sectional interests all cobbled up in the form of a party bearing a name that purports to describe them.
Ideology has become a dirty word. Communism was ideologically systematic and look at what became of that! Political parties do have ideology, even when they boast to being pragmatic. They also, through their history, have gathered things that do not fit their ideology.
For example, the Australian Labor Party began as a social justice movement on behalf of workers. In Britain it had its roots in ideas of Christian social justice. It supports humanitarianism and community so that the poor and disabled or those with unfortunate upbringing are not left behind to fend for themselves. Thus, Labor is committed to big government and redistributive taxes.
However, Labor has also been influenced by "progressive" influences that, for example, have backed liberal abortion laws and voluntary assisted dying. This does not fit well with a communitarian focus that would care for parents and children. The policy on asylum seekers is also at odds with the traditional focus on social justice and humanitarianism.
Here we see the traditional ideals of a labour movement distorted by ideas of individual freedom and rights and by the wedge politics of border security.
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