This week I stated reading Paul Rasor’s “Faith Without Certainity: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century.” Although I have only finished the somewhat lengthy introduction and am now about 1/4 way through chapter one, I can already say this book is challenging me in positive ways.
First, I thoroughly enjoy Rasor’s definitions of religion and theology. He states: “The term theology is often associated with arcane and academic or technical concepts that focus on abstract doctrines. But the purpose of theology is really quite simple. If religion is about the large-scale world pictures that orient us in the universe and help give our lives meaning and purpose, then theology is about examining those worldviews and the assumptions that go into them.”
What I like most about these definitions is they recognize the fact that everyone is a theologian at one time or another–including people who either question–or who do not believe in the existence of–any representation of the divine. That is, we all have questions about things like how life works, why life isn’t always fair, the ultimate meaning of life, and if there is anything beyond our current existence. One way of looking at religion then is our viewpoints represent those large-scale world pictures; and when we examine those pictures, we are doing theology. As Rasor reminds us, “our struggle and our outrage are always grounded somewhere.” And I would add, whether that grounding is in what some of us call “God” or not. So for me, identifying that grounding is “doing theology.”
Another quote from Rasor I like is: “Theology is not something we do just with our heads. We must also use our hearts and guts, as well as our hands and feet.” To me, that means theology is something we think about, feel, and is reflected in the words and actions of our lives.
Now, an integrity (or wholeness) of thought, feeling, and action is a “trinity” in which I can believe.
So how does my appreciation of Rasor’s viewpoints regarding religion and theology relate to the title of this post, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do?”
Well, if–as Rasor asserts–“liberal theology is characterized by the belief that human religiousness should be understood from the perspective of modern knowledge and experience”–and if we acknowledge that our knowledge and experiences evolve and change over time, it follows that many of us are going face the prospect of “breaking up” with some of our most cherished and deeply-held beliefs at one time or another in our lives.
And as Neil Sedaka reminds us, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”
For some, these changes involve breaking up with the idea of a supernatural being who controls every detail of our existence and has a specific plan for every person who ever has, and who ever will, live. Some have broken up with the ideas of Jesus being literally God Incarnate, as well as literal intepretations of heaven, hell, virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, the rapture and second coming of Jesus, and an inerrant bible.
Some people are even breaking up with the idea of worshipping God as we often do now. By that comment, I mean there are people who are questioning not so much the existence of mystery that is beyond our comprehension, but why we continue to relate to that mystery much like our ancient ancestors did: offering thanks often out of fear of punishment or to gain favor not only in this life, but hopefully in the afterlife as well. I mean, we may not actually believe a lot of what we’re saying in these worship services; but hey, it can’t hurt to hedge our bets, can it?
Now before anyone thinks I am poking fun at certain beliefs, let me be clear that I respect all peaceful paths to truth and understanding. So if the beliefs I mentioned above are part of your path, blessed be–seriously. At the same time, these same beliefs are no longer useful for many people–including me. Rasor points out that “what we long for is a theology that both makes sense and feels right. Until we find this, we haven’t finished our naming process. And when we do finally get the intellectual and spiritual dimensions in sync, our theology becomes not just a label but a resource, a grounding for spiritual practice, for social critique, even for healing.”
So know that if you are in the process of a religious/theological break up, you are not alone. And while break ups are often a painful process, there is often hope somewhere deep in the midst of that pain just waiting to be born. Finally, if you will allow me one more musical reference, from the group “Shinedown:”
“Sometimes good-bye is a second chance.”