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Theology is Unavoidable for Christians (verses: Genesis 2 and 3, God lied)

June 25th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 31 Comments

Wikipedia’s definition of theology is as follows:

Theology is the study of religion from a religious perspective. It has been defined as reasoned discourse about God or the gods, or more generally about religion or spirituality.

Now in a recent conversation about “Creation vs Evolution” on the Shofar Facebook group, this sentiment was raised (by a creationist):

I don’t believe in Theology, because it is man’s philosophy about the Bible.

And so I scratch my head… let’s turn to Genesis 2 and 3.

Chapter 2, verse 16 and 17:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

And Chapter 3:

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

And then Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And they did not die. Conclusion: God lied, and the serpent told the truth.

Right?

Huh? Not right?!

Why not right? Oh, because it was “spiritual death”, not real death… right… Or it was “eventual” death, not immediate death. Well, that, my friends, is an example of theology. Without theology, God lied and the serpent told the truth. With theology, you get to find some solutions to the contradictions and errors in the Bible.

And how is this conclusion, this interpretation, reached? By appeal to consequences. Which is clearly fair game in theology. Maybe old understandings of God did not consider God to be as “infallible” as current understandings, somewhat closer to Greek polytheism where the gods shared human flaws. However, by current Christian theology, Christians worship an infallible God. Passages must then be interpreted in ways that support that notion of God, or alternatively the flawed hand of man must be recognised in the writings in the Bible. (Personally, given the list of contradictions and errors in the Bible — same link as above, I cannot see how one can avoid recognising at least the influence of the errant hand of man. And this need not be a hurdle to Christian belief.)

Either way, essentially, my point is that this creationist’s claim of “not believing in theology”, is really more of a claim of “not believing in other people’s theology”, in favour of her own, or that of her church leaders rather. (Or am I missing something here?) If she could recognise this fact, I’d consider this blog post a success. (Or alternatively, convince me otherwise?)

Where does this rejection of theology come from? Well, Shofarians are taught to distrust theologians, because theologians often disagree with too much of Shofar’s theology.

For a nice Afrikaans discussion on this story about the original sin, take a look at die Jahoe-projek: Die mens wil nie ‘n dier wees nie, which I must thank for bringing this story to my attention.

Categories: Shofar
Tags: · · ·

31 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marthèlize // Jun 26, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Shofarians reject theology because apparenntly their leader(s) ares hardly what one would call “theologians”.

    There, I have made my sweeping, uninformed and biased statement. Now my day can continue.

    I can’t help but doubt the credibility of people who do not allow a certain amount of flexibility in their thinking. Perhaps it is the scientist in me. And perhaps I’m setting a terribly double standard here (I’m sure if I think about it, I have some issues on which my thinking and opinions are quite solid. For instance that Mugabe is a senile and sinister character and must be removed by any and all means necessary. Or that rapists should have certain parts of their anatomy removed, preferably without the use of anaesthetic. But that’s just my emotionally driven judgmental side speaking. I try to keep it under control)

    But I digress. What was I saying before I so rudely interrupted myself? Oh yes… People who lack flexible thinking. Specifically on the major issues of life. Like religion. Theology. God. Spirituality. Call it what you will.

    The thought just occurred to me that perhaps Shofar (and similiar organizations that preach Creationism) want so badly for it to be recognized scientific fact so that they don’t NEED to be flexible in their thinking. Because science is fact and therefore cannot be open to interpretation? Is that what they’re thinking? Because they’d be wrong. Science is very much open to interpretation…and change.

    I’m not sure if I’m making sense yet, that second cup of coffee has yet to kick in. I think I’m wondering about their definitions of theology, creationism and science.

    They reject “other theologies” in favour of their own. They reject “science” (anything that accepts evolution as fact and bases further findings on that assumption…) and propogate their Creationist science (much of which I can poke holes in with nothing more than my 2nd year Biochemistry or Genetics knowledge).

    Or am I just being the other side of the coin? Rejecting THEIR theology in favour of my own?

    Eish.

    Now for that 3rd coffee…

  • 2 Marthèlize // Jun 26, 2008 at 9:58 am

    AAAAAH!!!!

    THE TYPOS IN MY POST!!!!

    ***apologies***

  • 3 Hugo // Jun 26, 2008 at 10:19 am

    With regards to:

    Or am I just being the other side of the coin? Rejecting THEIR theology in favour of my own?

    I don’t actually have a problem with rejecting other people’s theology in favour of your own, or with bias against Mugabe, as long as people are aware of their biases and rejections. Awareness. It gets you far.

    So one ponders, does it classify as racist when you’re less eager to pick up a black hitchhiker than a white one? When it is a subconscious self-preservation instinct where you fear for a hijacking or you fear for your life? (I typically wouldn’t pick up either, in this country, for crime/violence reasons.) Or is it simple statistics, and preservation instinct?

    In the end, if you have biased instincts, being aware of your biases is all I’d ask. Don’t beat yourself up for fear of having some residue of racism. Just be aware and re-evaluate when you can, and then get on with your life…

    Or something like that?

  • 4 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 26, 2008 at 10:59 am

    With theology, you get to find some solutions to the contradictions and errors in the Bible.

    Rationalisation after the fact? ;-)

    By appeal to consequences. Which is clearly fair game in theology.

    Ugh…why?

  • 5 Hugo // Jun 26, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Because theology aint science.

    The understanding of theistic human psyche (which can also be found in anthropological studies etc) has it acting in the image of its God. (Depersonalised writing here… hehe.) As such, its God needs to be understood as good and just and honest, because the psyche then reflects that God.

    As Brian McLaren points out in a Christianity Today article on hell:

    It might sound surprising to state it that way, but you’d be surprised at some of the emails I’ve received. For example, someone quoted Scriptures like Psalm 5:5 or Psalm 11:5 and said, “If you don’t believe in a God of hate, you don’t believe in the God of the Bible.” Here’s my concern: if you believe in a god of hate, violence, revenge, and torture, it makes you very susceptible to becoming a person made in that god’s image.

    Robert G Ingersoll suggested “An honest God is the noblest work of man”. (That would be a modified version of Alexander Pope’s “An honest man is the noblest work of God.”) Let people with a theistic psyche develop a compassionate and honest understanding of God then. It is much better than a belief in a hateful punitive “satanic” god.

    Theology aint science… ;)

  • 6 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 26, 2008 at 11:24 am

    The illogic of an appeal to consequences is by no means confined to science.

    It’s a basic logical fallacy. It should be highlighted no matter where it occurs.

  • 7 Hugo // Jun 26, 2008 at 11:33 am

    /me scratches my head…

    OK, true. So this is a bit more subtle then? A fundamental axiom is accepted: God is good, honest, etc. Taking that as an axiom, the interpretation hoops then jumped through are logical (based on the accepted axioms).

    That means I’m abusing the “appeal to consequences” concept. Yup, in the end, with conflicting axioms (the Bible is perfect, God is good, words are to be interpreted simply), “something has got to give”. And one ends up picking what gives. That choice is more a choice of which axioms are most important then. (Shofarians hold onto “perfect Bible, perfect God”, and warp their interpretations to jump through hoops. Or rather stick to ignorance of contradictions.)

    So, *ponder*, the axioms are chosen via an appeal to consequences? Isn’t that the same with science’s axioms? Chosen in order to achieve effective science, scientific progress, to find solutions? Axioms chosen by appeal to the consequence of looking for “truth”. ;)

    Hehe… ok, shoot me now, let me stop being silly.

    I have some better examples of “appeal to consequences” buried in my memory somewhere, but they can also be reinterpreted in the “choose your important axioms” manner.

  • 8 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 26, 2008 at 11:59 am

    A fundamental axiom is accepted: God is good, honest, etc.

    Predicated on the unsupported, even more fundamental axiom that god exists at all.

    So, *ponder*, the axioms are chosen via an appeal to consequences?

    I’m not entirely certain what you mean, here. I can see that the appeal-to-consequences argument for God’s existence has strong emotional sway for many people, but I don’t know if that is the principle reason for choosing that particular axiom. Cultural impetus, perhaps?

    Isn’t that the same with science’s axioms?

    Well, you’ll have to define precisely what science’s axioms are, then. From where I stand, for the scientific method to work, the only axioms required are that there be an objectively existing reality, and that it be consistent. Thus far, all our data indicate that this is in fact the case.

    For me, the problem with theology here isn’t that the logic is wrong, but that the underlying axioms are.

  • 9 Hugo // Jun 26, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    More head-scratching.

    Remember some time ago, you mentioned you believe in science, because science works? That’s the kind of thing I’m referring to, kinda choosing belief based on consequences.

    Beyond that, I’m playing word-games, and am uninterested in discussing the “God-exists-axiom” here. That is too long a discussion. Again, my interest is, in theistic terms then, more in a discussion on the nature of God, than on God’s existence or non-existence. (Because in meh-terms, God definitely exists… referring to my “meh/lah philosophy” here. Which continually reminds me: I have yet to write the third post in that trilogy. Grrr… And then add it to the About page, to make it more accessible.)

    Which reminds me, changing topic: do let me know what you find useful on this blog and if I can organise it better. Earlier you mentioned the coverage of the Batten seminar was useful. I linked to the “index” page on the about page, but that index page has too much fluff. Shall I create a new index page for such material, that sticks to the facts and scientific discussion? Would that be useful to you?

  • 10 gerhard // Jun 26, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7023586193707783714&q=dawkins+liverpool&ei=B9ReSJ_XGJD6qQPqrPDoCw

    i saw this vid and thought it was made for you:)

  • 11 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Remember some time ago, you mentioned you believe in science, because science works?

    But this isn’t an axiom. It’s a conclusion!

    Believe…that word again. When I say believe in this context, I mean I have confidence in something, based on the data. Not the religious definition. I have confidence in science, because the scientific method can be (and has been) shown to be more successful than any other way of getting at truth.

  • 12 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 26, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Which reminds me, changing topic: do let me know what you find useful on this blog and if I can organise it better. Earlier you mentioned the coverage of the Batten seminar was useful. I linked to the “index” page on the about page, but that index page has too much fluff. Shall I create a new index page for such material, that sticks to the facts and scientific discussion? Would that be useful to you?

    Hmmm…I don’t think you need to change too much stuff. Looks pretty good as is.

  • 13 Hugo // Jun 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    @Kenneth: the “index” is the “Do Any Shofarians Care About Science?” post… you don’t think that has too much fluff? I wouldn’t change anything, I’d add a new index.

    @gerhard: 1h35. I can’t watch that now.

    @logical fallacies and Kenneth: as I was showering, I was scratching my head (hehe, doing that a lot, figuratively, but I was washing my hair this time… overshare), and thinking where this communication/exchange got off the track I had in mind. Again a case of subtle nuance in what I was trying to say, which is something that doesn’t carry well in written text. Here’s an extreme example that presents the flip-side, in the balance between the two interpretations is the nuance I was aiming for:

    - By appeal to consequences. Which is clearly fair game in theology.
    - Appeal to consequences is fair game in theology.
    - Logical fallacies are fair game in theology.
    - Theology is illogical.

    I.e. there was a slight element of that thought stream also present in my intentions while writing this post. But it was all about balance of nuance…

    The other way of talking about the Bible and spiritual questions, which you may have heard enough times to consider cliché: the Bible is not answering the same questions that science is trying to answer. In much the same way, science cannot answer some of the questions that philosophy investigates. When dealing with “spiritual matters”, see Spirituality Naturalised if this word still bears too much supernatural connotation for you, there is much to be found in grappling with paradoxes (ala Buddhists) and pouring over illogical stories to find the “truth” in them. (And now we’re not talking factual Lah-truth, we’re talking more of a subjective way-of-life Meh-truth.) And that process I believe to be illogical, in the strict sense, and concerned with consequences (living the “good” live, living an “eternal” life). Hence my acceptance of what I maybe incorrectly labelled “appeal to consequences” in this regard.

  • 14 Hugo // Jun 26, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    And maybe I should start distinguishing between “good theology” and “bad theology”. We could for example consider theology built on logical fallacies to be “bad theology”…

    But anyway… moving on.

  • 15 Hugo // Jun 27, 2008 at 1:31 am

    @gerhard, please explain to me why you think that video clip was “made for me”? What motivated you to send me that link? I ask this, so that I can avoid this happening again.

    While I do appreciate the thought (assuming your motives were not egotistic), the video clip was unfortunately a waste of my time and my bandwidth. I’ve seen him give his show enough times already. (And it still irritates me, because it doesn’t talk about the same things I’m usually talking about. There are many things I could respond to in that talk, but that is probably also a waste of time, because it also misses the point of the discourse.) For this reason, I’m trying to ignore these distractions and get on with the useful stuff.

  • 16 Hugo // Jun 27, 2008 at 2:22 am

    @gerhard, apologies for the previous comment. I may have been projecting some of my own frustration at lack of self-control to simply stop watching the clip, “in case there was something interesting”. (Which there might have been, as I believe you have been following this blog long enough to be able to form some opinion of what I might find interesting and what not.)

    The most interesting part was probably the Q&A session, but then mostly on the meta-level: I found some value in looking at the way he handled silly questions. Sometimes he wagered answers that made me cringe a little, seeing as I disagree with him and think e.g. anthropologists are in a better position to answer such questions. But it was no more cringe-worthy than some of the claims in the main talk, which is where most of my Dawkins-cringing comes from. (I appreciate his disclaimer at the 8mins mark. From there-on out, “we’re” talking about different things.)

    But that’s then also the nature of the general population… I mean, asking Dawkins to speculate on some weird theory, where mythologists would be best positioned to answer… what’s the point? And asking Dawkins to guess how “likely” it is that the LHC will find the Higgs boson particle…? Apologies for lack of tact here, but what a stupid question…

    People still have a love-affair with mainstream authority figures. And that will never stop. Here we can even drag Jesus into this: subversive wisdom, challenging the status quo… as an archetype, that will probably come back time and again… liberation from authoritarian bureaucracy or misguided fundamentalism (extreme conservatism).

    But now I’m writing comments in the middle of the night. And I hate how comment threads are so often completely unrelated to the blog post. What about people that actually want to discuss the post? Grrr…

  • 17 Marthèlize // Jun 27, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Ok, I’m going to stay off topic I’m afraid… but since i currently lack any type of bandwidth at all and dont have the time to watch that clip… a little explanation of what it’s about please? And what’s right / wrong with it…?

    Or would that just be opening a bulk sized can of worms?

  • 18 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 27, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Our Youtube access has apparently been blocked, so I second Marthelize’s call…if, of course, its not too far off topic… ;-)

  • 19 -M- // Jun 27, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Actually, Mr K, we do have access to Youtube…;-)…and the link is a public lecture of Richard Dawkins about “The God Delusion”…hmmm

  • 20 Hugo // Jun 27, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Yes, it is another “The God Delusion” lecture, if you’ve seen one of them before, you’ve seen them all. Or if you’ve read the book as well…

    Marthelize, it is basically his standard tirade against supernaturalism. At around the 8 minute mark, he explains nicely what kind of god he is talking about:

    I need to make it clear the god I’m talking about is a personal, intelligent, creative being, like Yahweh, Allah, Bael, Wotan, Zeus, or Lord Krishna. But if, by “God”, you mean something else, if by God you mean nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, Planck’s constant, then we’re going to be talking at cross purposes.

    An American student asked her professor whether he had a view about me. “Sure,” he replied. “He’s positive science is incompatible with religion, but he waxes ecstatic about nature and the universe. To me, that IS religion.” To him, that is. If that’s what you choose to mean by religion, fine. That would make ME, a religious man. But if your god is a being who designs universes, listens to prayers, forgives sins, wreaks miracles, reads thoughts, cares about your wellfare, raises you from the dead, cares about your sex life, then you are unlikely to be satisfied. [Ed: by the book?]

    It is a response to fundamentalism, and I’m sure it works for some. Brian McLaren suggested that the step to “no faith” is an improvement on “bad faith” — but that maybe “good faith” is better than “no faith”. On this blog I’m mostly contemplating what “good faith” would be, discussing a God that does exist rather than one that does not, and I’m trying to build some bridges between different world-views to aid understanding and cooperation.

    I wondered if I should download the video clip. (I always wonder that when I watch something big.) Then I could have given it to you, if you were that interested. I may still have a copy of his Lynchburg talk lying on some hard-drive somewhere.

  • 21 Hugo // Jun 27, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Before someone crucifies me: yea, “tirade” is too loaded a word. I’m clearly playing with words that are too big for me. :-P

  • 22 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    From the first two definitions of God I could find on the Internet:

    1)the supernatural being conceived as the perfect and omnipotent and omniscient originator and ruler of the universe; the object of worship in …
    2)deity: any supernatural being worshipped as controlling some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is the personification of a force

    These are, as far as I know, the generally accepted definitions of god for the majority of believers. When you use the word god, that is the definition that comes to my mind. As you mention, that is also the definition that Dawkins is using.

    Hugo, what do you mean when you use the word god? Just a quick and dirty, soundbyte definition. That way in future I can try and interpret your statements in light of what you are trying to say, instead of being caught up in my definitions. I get really confused when trying to parse what you mean when you use this word.

  • 23 Hugo // Jun 27, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Hugo, what do you mean when you use the word god? Just a quick and dirty, soundbyte definition.

    Wrong question. ;-P Quick and dirty, sound-byte, modernistic… the very question seems incompatible with the idea, so I must apologetically refrain from attempting to do so. I have tried to word some of my thoughts in this regard quite verbosely in the past.

    Two somewhat-recent posts do spring to mind:

    What is God?: The Personal God
    What is God?: The Tribal God

    They are not in direct answer to your question though. I am busy writing another post that touches on this topic a little, and there’s probably another couple coming up. There’s the Terry Eagleton review that gives some sense of the nuances/intricacies as well, which I touched on in:

    Dawkins Fanboys, Please Read This

    That post contains three links that are all somewhat indicative of what it is about.

    But, you want quick and dirty… “God is love”? How’s that? Or another quick and dirty: John Shelby Spong suggests “God is something inside you”, if I recall correctly.

    The main point is that the concept doesn’t gel well with an excessively modernistic approach to labels and concepts. I’ll try to do a good job of my next post, to give some indication of how the theist views things. Or maybe we can chat tonight, actually. That’s often easier…

  • 24 Marthèlize // Jun 27, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Aren’t you (all of you…maybe I should say “we”…) trying to put a label on a concept / entity / [insert relevant decription here] that isnt quite susceptible to labeling?

    Merely because everyone does indeed have a different and very personal definition of God / god / higher power (however you want to put it).

    True, if you are aware of someone’s ‘definition’ of God, then you have an idea where they’re coming from, and perhaps a greater understanding of their beliefs or convictions.

    Errrr…. how did we get to defining God anyway?

    Where is this post going? ;)

    (And “why am I on a traffic island?!?”)

  • 25 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 27, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Sigh…I thought that would be the response. It would have been nice to have a “handle”, so to speak, on what you mean when you say god.

    @Hugo:
    Urgh, I read your Dawkins fanboys entry…at the risk of sounding like a “Dawkins fanboy”, I disagree wholeheartedly. In lieu of what is said in the comments, though, I’ll refrain from explaining why, though…we can discuss this tonight.

    At the risk of strawmanning your definition, I find the “God is love” and “God is something inside you” arguments unconvincing. It basically reduces God to serotonin.

    @Marthèlize

    Aren’t you (all of you…maybe I should say “we”…) trying to put a label on a concept / entity / [insert relevant decription here] that isnt quite susceptible to labeling?

    If you ascribe any particular aspect to an entity, you are in a sense “putting a label” on it, I would say. You have defined part of it. So to say that “God is love”, or whatever, leaves this statement open to critical analysis.

  • 26 Marthèlize // Jun 27, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Hmmm…

    I thought you might think that. I don’t think I translated the thought I was having to words as completely as I intended.

    I think what I meant was more along the lines of it being somewhat irrelevant trying to label a concept / entity / whatever that has vastly different meanings to different people.

    Even sticking one label, let’s say “God is Love” to it, will mean many different things to many different people.

    Or perhaps I’m chasing my tail here.

    Honestly, I’m not even sure where my tail is right now so I’m just going to bow out of this discussion because it’s getting metaphorically to deep for me to doggy-paddle in…

  • 27 Kenneth Oberlander // Jun 27, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    @Marthèlize
    Which is why I think it is valuable for Hugo to pursue these different definitions. But then we should evaluate those definitions on their merits. I really struggle to see the god of my youth, or the god of most Christians, in what Hugo tries to argue. Hence my original question.

    Not a dig at you, Hugo ;-) Just a point I thought needed to be made…

  • 28 Hugo // Jun 27, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    @Kenneth, there is much in my old posts that I also don’t like. ;) But we are in particular talking here about differing world-views, obviously people are not all going to agree, by virtue of them differing.

    It basically reduces God…

    Now there is the whole problem: reductionistic thinking. The reductionist’s approach to trying to define God is what kills God. That’s one way of approaching life, but it isn’t the only. I’m talking about another way of approaching life, a non-reductionistic one, where the concept of God is very much alive. And such things deal exactly with that “search”, that “journey”, with the God concept. That way of life would be absolutely empty if it were possible to succinctly reduce God to a cute little definition.

    I really struggle to see the god of my youth, or the god of most Christians, in what Hugo tries to argue. Hence my original question.

    Amen to that… And thanks for your last comment, noted. (And understood.)

    Bridge-building aint easy… and I aint the best at it either, but I’m giving it my best shot. ;)

  • 29 Hugo // Jun 28, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    More @Kenneth: how’s “Ground of Being”? Take this excerpt:

    The way I see Christ is not as the incarnation of a theistic deity, but as so completely human that he becomes a channel through which the way I define God can live completely and perfectly. So I still have here Christ as “fully divine” and “fully human”, but I get at it in a very different way because I define God as the Source of Life, the Source of Love, the Ground of Being – all my Tillichian stuff comes out here. When I look at Jesus I see a human being that is so fully alive that the Source of Life is visible in him, so loving that the Source of Love is visible in him, so whole, so capable of being himself that the Ground of Being is visible in him. And then I watch him live out a new kind of humanity.

    From an interview with John Shelby Spong. Maybe more worth a read for an interesting perspective than my blog…

  • 30 gerhard // Jun 29, 2008 at 2:45 am

    @Kenneth, there is much in my old posts that I also don’t like. But we are in particular talking here about differing world-views, obviously people are not all going to agree, by virtue of them differing.

    old posts are your thoughts evolving, be proud of them. they show where you have been. they serve you as a platform to learn form. i think thats why people love browsing archives so much.

  • 31 Hugo // Jun 29, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Hehe, by all means, the distant past is interesting, but the recent weirdness is all too close to home still. ;)

    I do think I will go visit old posts and pick them apart some time in the future. Could be interesting/fun. But I also think I should get things organised in cool new ways that there will be easier access to thet good stuff.

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