A New Theology

Today, the simple assertion that God exists is not accepted in many places in the world. For those who study philosophy, the name of Descartes is important because he brought doubt to our modern world. He pointed out that the only truth that we can know with absolute certainty is our own existence because the mere act of our thought process confirms our individual existence. However, all other facts or theories must be doubted because our senses might be giving us false information, we maybe fooled by illusions, we might be having a dream, or our senses might be giving us incomplete information. Thus, everything beyond our very own existence must always be subject to doubt.

Clearly, doubting everything is not a practical way to approach living. One solution to the problem of doubting all facts and theories that has proved remarkably useful to society is loosely called “science” or the “scientific method.” It gives us an approach to clarifying what we can accept as knowledge with a higher but not absolute degree of certainty. Another solution is to accept certain documents such as the Bible, the Koran or other sacred texts as being true and not subject to question. Many in society use this approach but increasingly large numbers of people question the wisdom of simple blind faith predicated on a literal interpretation of the holy scriptures.

Doubting Everything Is Not A Practical Way To Approach Living.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Europe, especially, became more secular and less religious. Many philosophers such as Nietzsche became open advocates of atheism. Often this was due to a feeling that the socially, politically, or economically disadvantaged were not being treated correctly by the rulers due to the largely materialistic political structure around them that was very much supported by the established churches of Europe.

Unlike the U.S.A, which was and still is also very materialistic but which separates the church and state activities, Europe, Central and South America had a strong church/state relationship for centuries. Thus, rebellions against the state also included rebellions against the established religion. While political reactions against materialism and its negative outcomes on society, such as economic depressions and control of society by the wealthy elite, did not inspire the same distain for religions institutions in America, it did cause many to question the message of religion.

One reason why religion started to fall out of favor in Western culture was the apparent conflict of religion and science. The three great religions of the West are the Abrahamic traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of them consider the Torah, including the Genesis story, to be sacred; and, for many of them, “sacred” meant that it was literally correct. As science grew in its importance, literal interpretations of the sacred texts became less and less tenable. Either science was creating wrong theories or literal text interpretations of the Genesis stories were not only wrong but also foolish. As science proved its usefulness to human society, the literal religious interpretations became less and less influential in society, especially among the well educated.
A New Theology in Interfaith Today, Volume 1, Number 2. May 2009
By Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Lynch

An alternative approach to religion is to read the sacred text metaphorically rather than literally. Some, such as Thomas Jefferson, even argued that the portions of the New Testament were plain wrong and should be ignored. Increasingly, such persons took the values of caring for others, as expressed in the Golden Rule, as being of primary importance to their approach to religion. For them, God loved and cared for humankind, including them in particular.

Increasingly, the vast majority of believers embraced a theological understanding that God was like an ATM. You put in your church card (accepting a religious tradition), give the secret religious code (testimony to you unwavering faith), and made your request (prayer, demand, request etc). Then out came the money or other met request. When it worked and what was asked for was delivered – it was a miracle. However, when the ATM failed to deliver the request, as it did in the Holocaust or in a seemingly inappropriate death or illness of a loved one, more and more of these caring religious people kept their Golden Rule values but shifted from being believers in an omniscient being to being humanists, atheists, and agnostics.

I am arguing here that the older dominant theological views of God are becoming less and less tenable in our more scientific and globalizing world. I see God from an Interfaith perspective in that I believe God cares for all of us in all places and at all times. However, I also believe that God has evolved just as humans have evolved. In subsequent issues of this column, I shall make this argument in more detail.

I do not believe that one particular faith traditions is entirely correct and all others are wrong. Instead, I think all religious traditions contain spiritual wisdom and that there is a remarkable similarity in the spiritual wisdom of the many religions of the world. I believe we can learn spirituality from that commonly shared spiritual wisdom; and in the process of learning and applying spirituality, I believe we can grow into the Oneness that is God.

I Think All Religious Traditions Contain Spiritual Wisdom.

I believe that both humans and God are works-in-process and that God has the goal of growing spiritually and wishes us to freely choose to also grow spiritually. I believe that humans have a symbiotic relationship with God in which we both gain from each other. God has no interest in wealth, human pain, disasters, sickness, death, and so on except as they are part of the learning laboratory that can grow spirituality within us as it becomes manifested in our actions. When we grow spiritually, I believe God grows symbiotically also.

For us to grow spiritually, we need both the good and bad experiences of life, which are God’s lessons for us, as they are the means by which God teaches us spirituality for those who are willing to learn. At some point in Western culture, many of us started thinking that learning needs to be always fun and enjoyable. That is an unfortunate myth. In many circumstances, we can have fun learning but there are occasions where important lessons can only be learned through pain and suffering. As one becomes spiritually advanced, pain and suffering are no longer essential learning devices. However, for the more complex lessons or for the stubborn learners among us, painful experiences may still be effective teaching tools.

As we grow into adulthood, our genes, culture, school, and religion shape how we perceive what is around us as well as define our values and ethics. In many respects they program us and thus we live out that programming as we progress through our lives. However, we do also possess free will, which allows us to consciously redo our programming and thus add greater spirituality to our lives.

Typically, reprogramming ourselves allows us to perceive more spiritual wisdom lessons. That, in turn, helps us to improve our spirituality and to enhance and grow even more in our spiritual values and ethics. However, most of us find reprogramming to be very challenging or we do not understand the process. Thus, we do not reprogram ourselves until we are faced with a painful life experience such as a divorce or loss of a loved one that forces us to be introspective and reconsider how we wish to live our life.

In this column over the next months, I shall present an alternative theological approach to understanding God and spirituality. Let me stress that this approach does not require anyone to leave his or her current religion but it does ask a person to perceive and see God in a different way than in the past. This approach does not ask anyone to consider other people of faith or non-faith as foolish. Just the opposite, it asks people to reach out to other faith traditions in order to understand other religious perspectives of spiritual wisdom so they can better grow and create their own understanding that meets their needs. With this theological approach to understanding God, one can grasp there is a positive mutually beneficial interrelationship between humankind and God.

I particularly like the fact that this approach no longer permits us to see God as an ATM dispensing favors after presenting the “correct” church card and code phrase. Instead, with this new theology, we see God as truly wanting us to benefit from the life that God has given us. While accepting the power of prayer, this theological understanding puts the responsibility on us as individuals to use our own free will to spiritually improve ourselves and in the process indirectly improve the lives of others around us. With this new theological understanding, we can appreciate that both the good and bad in this world are functional, as we can and should use both to advance our spirituality.

Academy Publications

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