Tag Archives: religion

Why The Church Needs A Political Theology

In my last post, I wrote about why the church needs a theology of pop culture. Today I want to discuss a part of a theology of pop culture, political theology. Specifically, I will be discussing US Politics as it relates to political theology. Some might ask why does the church need a political theology? If you’re naive enough to ask this question, all I have to say is, “Wake up and take a good hard look!” In US culture, political theology is one of the most used and abused theologies out there.

In his book, Political Theology, Michael Kirwan writes

Christians who take their faith seriously know that it has political implications – that the gospel calls us to imagine and work for a transformed world. However – here is the anguish – the Bible leaves no blueprint or manifest for this transformation; only lots of opinions (some more feasible than others) about what kind of society Christians should be struggling for, and by what means. (Kirwan, 3-4)

But one wouldn’t know this from the scores of voices coming (mainly) from the Religious Right. (Note: I say mainly because there are those on the Religious Left whose voice adds to the abuse of a political theology, but they appear in a much smaller number.) One only needs to turn to Twitter or Facebook to see this in action. See the Twitter feeds for Bryan Fischer, John Hagee, Matthew Hagee, the IRD, or the Christian Post for proof. Can’t bear to have them on your Twitter feed? Check out Right Wing Watch. And this abuse of political theology just trickles down from there.

Here’s a recent example of the kind of theological abuse I’m talking about.

The reason the church needs a political theology is due largely in part to the prevailing thought in the Religious Right, mainly the Tea Party; that only “true” conservatives are Christian and only “true” Christians are conservatives. Basically, if you’re a Democrat, you are not/cannot be a Christian. And then there’s the mindset about government.  According to “conservative Christians, government is a bad word. The problem with this prevailing mindset is that an ideology (conservativism) is placed about Scripture and tradition. In essence, it is a form of idolatry. Sadly, I expect things to get worse over the next few years.

The good news for us is that I’m not the first one out there to wrestle with the question of how the church should handle a political theology. Carl R. Trueman has written an excellent book, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative. For those who don’t know, Dr. Trueman is a theologian and church historian and he teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also regularly blogs at Reformation21. Let me be clear, Dr. Trueman and I probably disagree on a number of theological points, but I think his analysis of the intersection of US politics and religion is spot on.

Additional Resources
Christian Political Witness edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee
Political Theology by Michael Kirwan
Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative by Carl R. Tureman

Beyond Belief: Postmodernity & Religion

As I have read more writing on postmodernism I have begun to question many of the assumptions that I have learned throughout my education career. Recently, I have begun to question my own belief about the study of religion. Specifically, through reading Anderson’s piece on postmodernism and religion I question my previous notions of what categorizes religion. I attended TCU as an undergraduate and religion was one of my majors. I chose religion as my major because I wanted to have an objective understanding of religion before deciding how committed I wanted to be in making ministry part of my career. My undergraduate career culminated with a senior seminar course in religion. Throughout this course we discussed various definitions of religion from Thomas Tweed, Fredrich Schleiermacher, Diane Eck, Anthony Pinn, and a variety of others who articulated various definitions of religion. I noticed at that time that many of those scholars were focused on objective views of religion. For me religion has always been something that a person feels. It is an internal conviction with various outward expressions that cannot be quantified. I chose to attend Brite and seminary in general as an attempt to formulate my own subjective ideology about religion. It is from this that I have come to understand religion as beyond traditional notions of belief. From understanding religion in a postmodern context I have come to several realizations.

I have wondered how the Judaeo-Christian context as well as the Western context of religion has influenced scholarship in the field of religious studies. Does Christianity continue to determine the central and privileged norms in global debates about culturally specific ritual practices, localized beliefs on suffering, life, death, and immortality? Certainly not all but there are definitely a great number of religious scholarships that dwells on religious aspects of life, death, and the afterlife. These tools for sifting through various religious beliefs are a decidedly modern Western Christian centric enterprise. Western Christianity’s fascination with the life death and resurrection narrative can taint the way other religion are viewed. For example, it is easy to study religions such as Buddhism and the concept of atman is often viewed as having the “no soul.” The term denotes detachment from a permanent sense of self. However, this is a Western Christian view of atman. The concept of Atman can also be used to describe universal impermanence as opposed to personal impermanence. Universal impermanence means that there are no absolutes. This view of atman allows for more religious plurality and does not confine religious constructs to monolithic interpretations.

I have also questioned to notion of belief as the decisive epistemological term with respect to defining religion. Religion can be easily defined based on the practices and beliefs that a pertinent to a particular group of people. For example, Ninian Smart uses a worldview analysis to describe various dimensions of religious beliefs. According to him there are seven different dimension: doctrinal, mythological, ritual, ethical, experiential, institutional, and the material. Ironically enough he uses these dimensions as a platform to get away from both Western and Christian quantifications on the study of comparative religions. His 1998 addition of the material dimension is proof of the arbitrary nature dimensional analysis. He limits the definition of religion to specific functions of a belief system with all seven aspects as important Western construction emphasis on how to compare religions. For me as I think of religion a major aspect of it that is that Smart misses is the ineffability of religion. What would Smart make of the various views on religion that are not expressed through a particular dimension? Not all aspect of a religion fit neatly into a particular category nor are they articulated as such from various worldviews.

Lastly, I have begun question the need for justification as a part of religious studies. Much of religious studies has focused on an obsession with the justification of a particular faith. Reason as the primary factor to appeal or analyze a particular religious concern seems to be another Western Christian tradition. A major part of early Christianity was the need for apologetics. During the first centuries of the Roman Empire, the early Christians were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. Many charges were brought against them for their seemingly absurd beliefs. Thus it became necessary for survival to depend on a proverbial defense of ones’ faith. This logic to justify faith has carried over into the present and many describe religion using apologetic even if they do so by using a different name. Reason becomes the principle point for analysis. I prefer to think of religion not based on how a faith is justified through reason but how it is experienced by both the individual and the community. Religion through experience for me is a pivotal turning point for the discourse of religion. The chief concern for me related to religion is not the question what do you believe rather it is how is it lived.

The Strange Religious Turn of @Warehouse13 #Warehouse13

Anything Can Become An Artificact, Anything Can Become Sacred

Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For my previous post on Warehouse 13, see: Warehouse 13: Science Fiction, Sexism: When Inclusion Becomes Oppressive

I have been a fan of the Syfy Original Program Warehouse 13 for a couple of years now. Up until this point, there hadn’t been any discussion of religion or a higher power, etc. No season (granted, the past 3 seasons were 13 episodes each, but still), there weren’t any allusions to religious figures or anything for that matter. This season however, season 4, everything has changed. Fans are now learning the origins behind what makes an “artifact,” what makes an artifact dangerous and the need for the Warehouse. Artifacts, in the world of Warehouse 13, are ” mysterious relics, fantastical objects, and supernatural souvenirs that are each packed with enough energy to somehow move and affect other objects.” Each episode of Warehouse 13 involves the core team of Artie, Myka, Pete, and Claudia using their skills to track down an artifact gone awry. In the first three seasons of Warehouse 13, “the monster of the week” was caused by the artifact that a person had either stolen or had been given accidently as a gift, etc. This season, fans learned that what makes an artifact is HUMAN ACTION, usually an act of courage. The Warehouse does not collect these items right away, but if things start going wrong, it is up to our favorite detectives to save the day.

The focus on the miraculous, the occurrences of the unexplainable in the everyday lives of humanity is similar to my conversation on miracles. Miracles do not violate creation in any way; what happens is that they occur within nature. Artifacts are not initially destructive in most cases; much of the time they start out with great creative potential. Whether we are referring to Harriet Tubman’s Thimble or Gandhi’s Doti, or Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass or Pliny The Elder’s Scroll, Warehouse 13 serves as a part religious, part edu-tainment program. The roles that Brother Adrian and the Brotherhood (who seek knowledge with the permission of the Vatican)have given religious persons a new image. Rather than the trope in science fiction of the backwoods zealot, what we have in the Brotherhood are persons who are religiously devout and scientific minded. What it means to be religious in W13 is defined in part by human ethical actions during moments of great distress.

How have you dealt with the changes this season in Warehouse 13? Does it shed a positive light on persons who are both scientific-method affirming and religious?

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