Theology Matters

Paul Tillich once said that “culture is the form of religion and religion is the substance of culture”. He could say that because to Tillich religion is about ultimate concerns and cultures all emerge out of the ultimate concerns of its constituents. One has only to look at the results of theologies that support materialist egocentricity or religious extremism to see their devastating influence. The fate of our planet and its inhabitants rests to a large extent on the theologies that are offered and maintained to see the enormous responsibility for theologians in the future.

Now every theology has its complexity. Within a given theology there are usually many theological concepts that could be emphasized. For instance if the theology emphasizes personal salvation then this creates an egocentric ultimate concern that places the individual at the center for both religion and culture. Theologies that claim an exclusivity in relation to ultimate questions will necessarily create religious and cultural conflict and divisiveness. However, those theologies that emphasize love, compassion, inclusively and humility in theology can foster a climate where cultures can appreciate the other’s traditions and at the same time work for the betterment of all creatures on Earth. Theology must never succumb to pragmatism as its cardinal principal, but for those who would claim that their particular approach has some sort of ultimate authority even if that results in a maintenance of problems in our world, should recognize that the love of God is pragmatic. Each theologian can, no doubt, find elements within their tradition that can promote humility, unity, compassion, love, caring and action for the betterment of our world. In Christianity and Islam there are emphases on both love and justice. When the law becomes the primary emphases then a rigidity sets in that can oversimplify life and create a climate of exclusivity where factions are constantly at odds with each other. In Eastern religions where escape from the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation is the goal, then there can be a tendency to discount life as it is and take less seriously the future of the world. Theology and religions offer a worldview for their adherents. That worldview profoundly affects how those adherents feel about themselves, others and the future. If theologians take seriously that profound effect then they must think pragmatically as well as theologically. If they take seriously that God is a God of love and wants the best for creation then the effects of a theological system must take priority.

These are not trivial issues. Every three seconds a child dies from extreme poverty in the world. Over three hundred million people in the world live on less than a dollar a day. Given that over 80% of the world’s population claim to be religious adherents that is a startling accusation of current theology and religious philosophy. If cultures are truly driven by religion what does this say about the current state of affairs in religion, particularly religion in wealthy cultures. It points to a tragic failure of those theologies and their theological practitioners to make a difference. Theology matters and with the coming challenges of environment and energy that will face today’s children, theologians need to step up the plate and call for radical change. What we have is not working. There must be a ubiquitous call from all those in religion and particularly prominent theologians to promote humility in theology. Those elements in theology that are law driven, exclusive, and rigid must be abandoned in favor of those that promote unity, inclusivity, love, compassion and above all pragmatic results. I make this call not just for others. We all have our failings, including me. However, each of us has our talents and can make a significant contribution to the divine communion of all things.

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