Friday, July 10, 2009

Religious Intolerance as a result of limiting God

I have always understood theology to be a journey. Yet for many people the thought that theology can be a journey and therefore responsive to our experiences and change is a very frightening concept. Thus many people, hold on to an understanding of God that was forged in their childhood and responsive to childhood experiences. ( I believe this is the source of much misunderstanding about the role of prayer in Church. Most churchgoers have an idea of God as a wish granter and they only need to ask in earnest and their wishes will be fulfilled) I am always dismayed by people who try to maintain a static understanding of God and salvation throughout their lives no matter what. Their God is unchanging and their understanding blind to their experiences. When something or someone challenges their views, they become irrationally defensive and reactive.

The Bible itself indeed shows how the relationship between God and His people change and how their understanding of God evolves. At times, God is a law giver, who travels in a pillar of fire, at other times God mourns over Jerusalem and weeps for his fallen people. The Bible is the written faith record, or faith journey of a people over many centuries. As such, it is able to explode one's horizon of understanding. The Bible is able to transcend our cultures and our fashions and speak as it were across time, no doubt simply because it is the recording of so many voices and so many experiences of the divine.

How does one experience the divine? I have new age friends who insist that the divine is to be found in nature, and they will point to shamanism or animal spirits. I have other friends who insist that the divine is to be experienced only by means of Christ and they try to crystalize their many faith experiences and doubts into a very small package.

Once you believe that you understand what the divine is, and by extension how to experience the divine, you are by definition limiting the divine, and in essence applying limits on God.

When I hear fundamentalist Christians or fundamentalist muslims cry about God and His will...it is not that they are completely wrong, it is simply that their understanding of God is far to limited and rather than try to open their minds, they close them and try to force all of their experiences into their limited understanding of God. In doing so, their theology sounds less divine and far more like an extension of their human pathology, usually to control or coerce others.

To be a Christian is to come to terms with the scandal of particularity, that is to come to terms with God revealing himself in Christ and in Christ alone. What that means however, is far from obvious.

To the fundamentalists, it means that all revelation, all conduits of grace come solely through the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament. There is no other way to the Father except through Christ.

The great Catholic theologian Hans Kung, noted that those who practice other faiths insofar as they are in keeping with the fundamental tenants of theism, are in fact, or can be, anonymous Christians.

For those who are non Trinitarian, there is no scandal as Christ is a revelation of the Divine, but there are other ways.

The true scandal as it were is a consequence of our Trinitarian understanding of the role of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is as if we have chosen, over the ages to assign persons to what are functions or aspects of God. The Orthodox have chosen to venerate the Father, the Protestants sing what a friend we have in Jesus, and the Pentecostals, have in Luther's words "swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all"

It is my position that in so doing, we are in fact, worshiping aspects or functions of God, and as a result we are limiting God. Once we limit God or try to transcribe God within the confines of our understanding, we run the risk of being intolerant. Religious intolerance flows from our need to try to control the Divine and to package the Divine such that unlike the Bible that speaks to us because the writers wrote from their experiences, it is independent and in fact transcends all experience. Karl Barth would call this the "Holy Other"

An understanding of a God who is apart from our pain and suffering and who cannot change with us, is surely a recipe for disaster. It is far easier and more comfortable to imagine an unchanging God who thunders out commands of thou shalt nots from mountain tops but it is also wrong and has led to countless conflicts in the world.

I believe it is the role of the churches to educate the laity and to allow them the freedom to experience God not merely an aspect or a shadow of the real thing.

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