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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Theology For Our Day - An Example

It looks like I've fallen into yet another series of sorts, more or less unintentionally—a series looking at Internet as a context for contemporary theological reflection.  Jonathan Merritt has recently posted a good example on his blog, On Faith & Culture, that is entitled, "Sochi Cadillac ad encourages worship at the altar of work and stuff."  His posting critiques a Cadillac commercial that was shown during the Sochi Olympic games and that aggressively promotes a set of materialistic values, which Merritt feels reflects some of the worst aspects of American values including especially materialism and work-aholism.  In the process, Merritt lays the values reflected in the commercial side-by-side with biblical values, and he observes,
In my faith tradition—evangelical Christianity—I’m struck by an absence of preaching, teaching, and talking about these kinds of Biblical ideas. Perhaps it is because materialism has become a respectable sin or maybe it is because we need the wealthy to bankroll our massive ministry budgets and mammoth church building projects.
Evangelical silence regarding materialism and its associated values, he concludes are a sign of how much all of our churches have Americanized the Christian gospel.

Merritt is surely correct in his analysis, but my point here is merely to illustrate a crucial approach to theological reflection in the 21st century.  His subject is a commercial, which is a key form of contemporary communication—a form loaded with values of all kinds packed into neat flavorful, colorful sound and image bites.  His approach is to expose the assumed values of our society to the light of biblical narratives, while his medium is a blog.  Merritt mixes, that is, the ancient and honorable Christian task of exposing culture to the judgment of scripture with a form of communication that did not even exist a few short years ago.  We, of course, still need the more traditional kind of theological reflection that leads to books and retreats, but even those enterprises need to be and inevitably will be informed by e-theological reflection.