We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another Context for "Doing Theology"

If the internet provides one crucial context for theological reflection today (as I argued here), then a recent posting by Jay Parini entitled, "Why Vermont is not Godless," suggests another obvious but potent context, the decline of religiosity as opposed to spirituality. In a previous posting (here), I defined spirituality as an inner state and religiosity as being a set of practices.  We feel spiritual; we do religion.  It's an oversimplification to be sure.  Until relatively recently, in any event, the church was the key social and cultural context within which the great majority of theological reflection took place.  In Vermont apparently that is no longer the case.  Presumably, it is also no longer the case in New Zealand (see here).

What seems to be happening is that we are returning to something like the state of the earliest church in the time of the Roman Empire when there was a hodge lodge of religious thinking going on without an effective central agency to exercise control over it.  In the churches themselves, there was a whole range of theological responses to the person of Christ, which flourished for centuries before the Bishop of Rome gained some control of the situation.  In Protestantism, we returned to a similar situation to a degree although most Protestant denominations have sought to exercise control over the range of "acceptable" theological reflection.  Now, control is gone.  It is certainly gone in mainline American denominations such as the PC(USA), which has been one reason many evangelical congregations have fled for places where control remains an ideal.

For those who do not concern themselves primarily with the institutional maintenance of existing congregations and denominations, this is an exciting time.  For those tasked with that maintenance it is a scary, anxious time.