Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Is theology irrelevant in modern life?

By Peter Sellick - posted Tuesday, 15 April 2003

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 from conversation.

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 are unwise.

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 theological stance.


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 the accidental.

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 world.

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 God.

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 value.

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 ways.

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.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Peter Sellick
Related Links
Other articles by Peter Sellick
Peter Sellick's home page
Photo of Peter Sellick
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy