Theology is often viewed as abstract and removed from the problems of the real world. Yet many of the problems of the real world are caused by bad theologies. If bad theologies shape the world, might the same not be true of good theologies?
Opposition to a woman’s right to choose birth control and abortion is fueled by appeals to the command of God to protect life. Opposition to lgbtqi rights is couched in divine authorization of normative heterosexuality. Opposition to efforts to counter climate change are challenged by those who claim to believe in the Bible, not science.
All of these claims are rooted in a prior claim that God is and must be the only source of authority for human beliefs and moral decision-making. This view can and often does lead its adherents to distrust scientific and other humanly created forms of knowledge. In America, supporters of Donald Trump routinely dismiss not only the claims of modern science, but also every attempt to disprove the assertions of their candidate by citing facts.
This attitude is fueled by bad theology. Many Christians learned in church that God created the world in six days and that God intended man to dominate woman and nature. Confronted with facts that seem to contradict this picture, they cling to traditional sources of authority. The belief that the will of God can be known through the Bible is held by Christian fundamentalists. The belief that the will of God is known and proclaimed by the hierarchy of the church is central for conservative Catholics.
The desire for certainty in an age of rapid social, economic, and environmental change is understandable. The idea that father knows best, that hard work will be rewarded, and that rains will continue to nourish–not destroy–the earth, are being eroded. Some hold fast to old truths in fear of a future without them. Yet this is a losing battle that increasingly requires conscious decisions not to see and not to know. Facts must be discounted and thinking itself comes to be distrusted. This is a very dangerous state of affairs.
In a recent interview about our new book Goddess and God in the World, Judith Plaskow and I were asked what has replaced the old certainties for us. Judith responded that nothing can: once we give up the old idea that we can know the will of God for the world with absolute certainty, we cannot go back.
Judith noted that as what we thought was a firm foundation slips from beneath our feet, new possibilities emerge. The voices of the submerged others can be heard. Judith described a new Judaism, more fully inclusive of women and lgbtqi individuals and more open to the world, that is beginning to emerge as communities redefine their relationships to the Jewish tradition. Though Judith remains in conversation with her tradition, she insists that the locus of authority has shifted: individuals in community must take responsibility for choosing which aspects of tradition they will affirm, and which they wish to leave behind.
Those like me who have left traditions yet continue to seek to discover or create new spiritual traditions, are in the same boat. We cannot drop acid or meditate, find the Goddess, and leave it at that. Nor can we revive ancient traditions whole cloth, for our material conditions have changed dramatically. Moreover, many “Pagan” traditions are themselves patriarchal, and shaped by violence, domination, and war. Thus we too will need to decide which aspects of them we wish to affirm (a sense of the interdependence of life?), and which we wish to discard (kingship and war?).
Recognizing that we must always interpret the will of divinity for ourselves and in community is what good theology looks like. Good theology can change the world. For a start, it would mean that individuals and communities could no longer claim certainty regarding “the will of God” or the will of any other divine power in political debates about how to respond to the social, economic, and environmental crises of our time. This would apply equally to those on the left as to those on the right. Rather we would have to speak in more qualified terms about how we as individuals and communities understand divinity and our human responsibilities in our times.
We we would have to speak with humility. We would have to acknowledge that the answers are not simple, and that none of us knows with certainty what is required of us. Maybe then we could begin to speak to each other again.
These issues are discussed in Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow–order now. Ask for a review copy (for blog or print) or exam or desk copy. Post a review on Amazon. Share with your friends on social media using the links below.
Carol P. Christ leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Space is available on the fall tour October 1-15. Carol and Judith are co-editors of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess.