The title suggests a place worthy of being burned at the stake; however, with a bit of research, one discovers that some of today’s scholarly, theological positions were some of yesterday’s heresies. If knowledge and understanding are to increase, it necessarily means pushing out the borders of what is known and understood. This is true in every sphere of human endeavour, from archeology to zoology, from astrophysics to theology.
As a seven-year-old, I argued with my Sunday School teacher because I couldn’t believe the things she taught. As an adolescent, i took issue with my ministers because I thought they preached rubbish (and I still think so). In theological college I would try to provoke my professors with non-orthodox positions in my essays, and was rewarded with high marks and invitations to do graduate study. And from time to time, I tease people by labelling myself an atheist (which, technically, is true).
Perhaps, I should deal with that last statement first, as it tends to shock. The “a” in atheism has the same meaning as the “a” in amoral; that is, it can be substituted with “non”. I am a non-theist. Theism is the belief in a supernatural being, whom we call God. My understanding of God is not in the supernatural being category. There are far too many philosophical problems with a supernatural being to make one the foundation for everything. I am far from alone in this amongst my ministerial colleagues and theologians, but most tend to keep it too themselves (for obvious reasons). As an a-theist, my God is a whole lot bigger than that of the run-of-the-mill theist. This is dealt with in more detail in the Glossary under ‘G-O-D’.
The trained scientist in me tells me that the essence of my various thoughts about theology have to be founded on the principle that there should be no discontinuity between facts about the created order and beliefs about our existence. In other words, there is much about reality that we don’t know, but whatever we hypothesise about it must be congruent with what we do know. Faith cannot conflict with facts as, for example, creationists are wont to do. Wherever such conflict is found, not being able to change a fact, I search for a better theological answer, and I have always been able to find one. As Jesus said,”Seek and you shall find.”
James Fowler, in his seminal work, Stages of Faith (described elsewhere on this site), interviewed thousands of people and, from his research, identified six distinct stages in the process of faith development. Of particular note, he found that over 50% of adult Americans are stuck at stage 3, which is the stage typical of early adolescence. Stage 3 is a ‘Sunday School’ faith, and the biggest reason for such ‘stuck-ness’ is the suppression of the normal questioning of the adolescent mind by the churches. I need say no more; it is a powerful lesson for everyone.
‘From the cowardice that dare not face new truths, From the laziness that is contented with half truth, From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver me.’*
* A Kenyan prayer, courtesy of the Rev. Dr. John Bodycomb