Can Good Theology Change the World? Part 1 by Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ by Michael Bakas high resoultionTheology 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.

See Part 2 and Part 3.

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.



Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, General, Politics, Theology

Tags: , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. Wonderful post, Carol. Somewhere along the line I began to understand that theology is really interpreted story. The story always comes first. Faith communities use their sacred texts (story/mythology) as a foundation. Doctrines emerge from the “wrestling” believers do as they attempt to understand those texts in light of experience. I believe we all live our lives based on stories. Girls learn “acceptable” behaviors from fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White. How we understand those stories depends on who we are–our experience(s), our temperament, current events, and probably a host of other things. Theology (and other “ologies”) certainly do influence the way we live in the world! The danger comes when we accept theological “truths” as if they themselves are eternal and fixed–something that both you and Judith make clear in your newly-released book.


  2. Thank you for this, Carol. Is there a particular reason you omit trans persons from “LGBQ”?


  3. I find this post very hopeful and positive, Carol, because I think it is happening now. While some in established churches are condemning and moaning over “heresies” and “godlessness”, I see many people re-evaluating what has been taught, and finding values of love, respect, and care for others, which I believe is the “Will of God”.

    Thank you for your post(s).


  4. Thank you for this challenging post, Carol. “Can Good Theology Change the World?” To me a truly good, helpful theology, that could eventually change the world, would also need to be wholly integrated with a profound love and respect for nature. Not only Feminist Spirituality, but many Eastern religions work that way, including Taoism, Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, etc. Also Nature as teacher sets a good example, because it is continuously adapting itself to fit the season and the environment — it doesn’t impose, it adjusts.


  5. Humility – yes! And perhaps consider what kinds of questions we ask, as well as what the answers might be.


  6. “Recognizing that we must always interpret the will of divinity for ourselves and in community is what good theology looks like” seems to indicate that we have to think (and act) with both our hearts and mind. It puts the responsibility back on the individual, which to my way of thinking is where it belongs.

    I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how it would be possible for example to put my faith in a man like Trump whose whole platform is based on having power over others at their own expense.


  7. Reblogged this on CATHOLIC, Non-Roman Western Style and commented:
    Carol Christ: “If bad theologies shape the world, might the same not be true of good theologies?


  8. Truly excellent article, Carol, saying all the things that need to be said about theology as the substrate of all things human. And, yes, as you say so clearly, GOOD THEOLOGY CAN CHANGE THE WORLD! I have believed this in my bones and heart since childhood.

    The getting to that “good theology” is the challenging part, the part which you and Judith have helped along the way. We look forward to reading yours and Judith’s book, GODDESS AND GOD.
    Warm regards and heartfelt gratitude to you both for staying the course,
    Sister Lea


  9. A certainty or two that actually works might be really nice, especially in these days of major and sometimes dangerous change (like climate change). But I guess we’re not gonna get any of those nice Father Knows Best certainties because Father doesn’t know best. Does Mother know best?

    As usual–excellent,thought-provoking blog. Brava!


  10. Thank you for this post, Carol. May those of us working to find and create good theology do so for the betterment of the world!


  11. I love this. I think that the people who are exacting violence with their theologies or any “truths” are, as you say, the ones clinging. It is difficult to listen to others when that attachment and internalization are there within us, and defending ideas equate to defending the self. I think of Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara whom has brought to me the idea the intimacy that we can encounter in holding a stance of not-knowing.


  12. “Recognizing that we must always interpret the will of divinity for ourselves and in community is what good theology looks like.” And that’s the theology of Unitarian Universalism. We interpret the will of divinity individually and then we share that with the others in our community in order to be a force for good in the world.

    I love this post, Carol, and I’m really enjoying your new book. Both Judith’s and your personal stories of how you arrived at your current thea/theologies and the course of feminist theology(ies)’ development ring so true for me. I had many of the same epiphanies at about the same time as the two of you, but never went through the theological training of Ph.D. work in religious studies. So I’m learning about systematic theology and understanding how it has shaped your lives and how your lives have shaped it.


  13. Another terrific post, thank you! As you show in both your book and this post, not only can good theology change the world, but good theological discussions are necessary, too. About 20 years ago, after a couple of decades of working on feminist issues from political and social angles, I realized that there could never be real progress towards political and social equality without spiritual equality. Women would never be valued as whole human beings as long as they were considered to be inferior spiritual beings. But the theological discussions that could result in any changed attitudes were precluded by, as you say, the belief so many people have that religious authorities have a corner on absolute truth. The church and home I grew up in were full of frequent theological discussions in which every voice, whether a little girl or boy or an ordained or lay minister (of which there were generally one or two around our dinner table), was valued. When I got out into the world I was shocked to realize that many people seemed to not know HOW to have a theological discussion, just religious arguments over which absolute truth was more absolutely true. I saw theological discussions happen in feminist spirituality circles, but none really that I could see beyond those. Thanks for getting the conversation going not only about the importance of good theology, but also of the importance of theology in general to making the world a better place.



  1. Reblog: Good Theology | Reticent Mental Property
  2. Can Good Theology Change the World? Part 2 – Mago Pool Circle

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