Monday, December 2, 2013

Building a Hypothetical Theology

I’ve recently found myself nodding along with a number of Christian writers and speakers, almost as if I’m part of the group.  “Well, that’s weird”, I thought to myself. If I really broke it down, these beliefs are just like anything else lacking sufficient evidence, so why do I like what they’re saying so much? I realized that despite my lack of belief, I’ve started developing a hypothetical theology.  A theology built around values that make sense, and a God that would embody those ideas.  My hypothetical theology isn’t tethered to a particular book of alleged inspiration, just what seems to me to be common sense, and valuing of humanity.  It agrees with the part of the traditional philosophical definition of God contained within the ontological argument, that God is that which none greater can be conceived.  While I don’t think this argument necessitates God, I think it’s a fair definition.  With that definition in place, here are some of the basics of the hypothetical theology I’ve started to form (and as always, I could be wrong about everything):

God is superior to a human being

Taken literally, I doubt many would disagree with this statement.  But in practice, it’s perhaps the least believed in concept in Christianity.  Imagine, if you will, a child stealing a pack of gum.  The child’s parent, upon discovering the theft, confines the child to a bed and applies a mildly acidic lotion to the child’s entire body.  The pain is immense and constant, but is not fatal.  The parent ensures this lotion is present every day, all the time, for the duration of the child’s life.  We recognize this scenario as absurd and unjust.  And yet we are asked to believe, on a much more hideous scale, this is how God treats sinners, only with God, the sinners never get the mercy of death.  Somehow God’s “nature” demands this, though the maturity gap between God and human must surely be greater than parent and child. We wouldn’t accept it from a person, but we’ll try so hard to justify it for God. 

Or consider a close friend who meets someone new, and decides to end the friendship with you, crowning this new person as best friend.  Out of insecurity, we subject our former friend to the same punishment as the thieving child.  We wouldn’t accept it from a person, but God is allowed to be eternally insecure over those who leave the faith. 

Time after time, the behavior of God, as described by the authors of the Bible, is far worse than we would ever accept from a mere fallible human being, but because BIBLE!, we’ll fall over ourselves making excuses for God’s behavior.  In my hypothetical theology, God is not an asshole, and if someone says she is, they’re wrong.  A God that forgives is greater than one that does not.

God does not have a favorite genitalia

I suspect that even complementarians would admit that if they were in charge of things, the male superiority they’ve extracted from the Bible would be done away with.  They’ll assure us that they’re just trying to obey the Bible, and it’s not their fault that women aren’t allowed to lead.  But as we’ve all experienced in day to day life, sometimes our mothers have more wisdom than our fathers, and our sisters more than our brothers.  But if we’re talking about God, it’s different.  In my hypothetical theology, gender bias is recognized for what it is – the privileged men of thousands of years ago enforcing their own privilege, and stamping God’s name on it.  A God that doesn’t have a favorite gender is greater than one that does.

God is not mute

Many Christians have embraced a strange idea without knowing it; The only words God ever spoke have already been spoken.  The Biblical authors can be trusted to have communicated them correctly, and every human being since is so unreliable that they must be prevented from changing or adding to these previously expressed words.  We don’t think so highly of the iron age in any other arena.  We reject their medicine, their hygiene, their lust for war, their science, their polygamy and their sense of style, but we’ll totally trust them to give us all the words we need from an all-powerful, totally living God.  This all-powerful God has been stuffed into a book, and if the believer were marooned on an island, their only method of knowing what God has to say to them would be whatever verses they’d memorized.  On this point, I think the Mormons are right.  It doesn’t make any sense that God just arbitrarily shut up 2000 years ago.  An accessible God is superior to a silent God.

We can’t accurately imagine God in its entirety

A huge piece of what created problems for me and my faith is that I was taught that God can be heard, understood, followed, trusted, loved, and rationalized.  I don’t think it makes sense to say any of these things.  When we speak of light years, that light travels 671 million miles an hour, and would take 100,000 years to cross the milky way, we can assign words to these ideas, but we can’t truly understand them.  With light years, we at least have a relative frame of reference with which to speak of distance and time.  With God, we’re left stumbling in the dark.  We’ve never seen someone or something that’s even close to all knowing, let alone omni-present.  Yet we speak of God as if we can understand him.  We assign silly concepts to God like being unable to tolerate sin, as if that would be any big deal to an entity that can be everywhere all the time.  We assign emotions of jealousy and anger to God, as if our “sins” can somehow truly offend an entity that exists at all times of history simultaneously. We pretend we know God’s nature, and that’s why people must be divided, built up or held down.  And by mere coincidence, when we speak of God’s nature as an individual, it is we, as individuals, who tend to benefit from our understanding of God (I’m doing this right now).  Rare would be the religion that believes God looks more favorably on another group, another individual, or another set of ideas. 

The infinite is not something we can understand.  Omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, these are incomprehensible concepts that we try to bottle up, and then we base our worldview and our behavior on the scraps we can hold onto.  In my hypothetical theology, most of God is, and will always be, an unknowable mystery.  And that God is greater than a fake one locked inside a book.