Theology is not the problem – it’s the solution!

Sometimes I have the feeling that some (of course not all) people, who are involved in interfaith dialogue, are afraid of theology. They seem to think that theology is making the dialogue unnecessary difficult and that the people should just get rid of complicated traditional believes (like for example the Christian trinity) and then they can assume that “in the end we are all the same”. For many people, especially those who are no studied theologians, theology seems to be a barrier between the different religions and their believers.  I’m not sure whether this is because people are afraid of saying something “wrong” about the traditional believes or if they just consider theology as not important.

From my point of view theology must be a part of every deeper interfaith dialogue. “Theology” in it’s original meaning (it’s a Greek word) means: “Talking about God”. Of course the word “God” in this case comes from a Western (Mediterranean) thinking tradition and not all religions share the believe in a somehow personal thought god. But if you use “God” in a more general way in terms of “the absolute”, “the highest” “the infinite” “the ground of all being” or similar the term “theology” becomes (hopefully) open even for believers from faith traditions without a personal god.

In this meaning theology happens always when people talk about their believes and not only in dogmatic discussions at universities, in sermons or between high representatives of religions. If the aim of interfaith dialogue is to gain a deeper understanding of each other, than theology is an essential part of every dialogue. And theology itself has only a meaning if people are discussing it and talking about it, because theology is always about talking, discussing and arguing. That means that a theological dialogue can be very personal and maybe it doesn’t bring everyone to a deep agreement about certain questions (even if this is hopefully possible), but in a way a theological dialogue is more honest than one, where theological thoughts are excluded. If religion is a about the relation between human beings and god (which I would consider as an appropriate rough description), than this relationship must me part of the dialogue. In this case interfaith dialogue must be also about the “difficult” questions like “is there a god?”, “how is god?”, “why are we humans here?”, “what happens after death?”, “why does evil exist?”, “what is a good life?”, “how should we treat the world/creation?”, “how should we treat non-believers?” and so one. The result of such a “theological” dialogue could be, that there is a really deepened understanding of the partners in dialogue.

Of course there are risks in this kind of dialogue. It is difficult if there is a large difference in the knowledge about their own religion between the dialogue partners. These difference can at least make the “lesser-knowing part” feel uncomfortable and in the worst case make one partner dominating the other. But this risk should not be the cause for ignoring the above mentioned “theological” questions. As long as the dialogue partners treat each other with respect it should be possible to have a theological dialogue between any kind of persons.

So when you have a dialogue with someone of another faith, why not try to talk about the “difficult” theological questions? I’m sure that it will be very interesting to have a look at the deep questions, which might be the core of each of your believes – even if you don’t find a finale answer!

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Author: Simon Interfaith Scotland

I'm an intern at Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Scotland from July 2017 to June 2018. I'm from Germany and I've been training to become a minister in the protestant church of Germany. In Summer 2018 I'm getting ordained and starting to work as a minister in a parish in Germany.

21 thoughts on “Theology is not the problem – it’s the solution!”

  1. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

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      1. I’m afraid your quote is not correct. JFK said: “”A man may die,nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” Actually it would have been very surprising if a US president would criticise religion in this way…

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  2. This is the problem with the religious types, they think all truth comes from authority. As a poet I believe that the truth is in the words not in the one that speaks them.

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    1. And to change someone elses words without considering, if he or she would support the change is not a problem? Especially poets usually don’t like if someone just changes their own words…

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      1. I would applaud your diversion tactics if they were not that transparent… The only thing a poet needs to do is be truthful. And yeah Christianity will perish just like all religions before.

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      2. That might be or might not be. Do you also have something constructive to say about the thoughts in this blog article or are you just here to offend people? What you are doing is definitely not the respectful dialogue I was writing about.

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  3. Don’t you think Nietzsche is informing my believe in the absolute? I am right on topic, you just choose to be defensive… And I think the thought that religions are limited in their lifespan, but are being replaced by other true world theories is a interesting thought on its own.

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    1. Well when I understand you right, you seem to think that there is no god and that the religions are wrong (according to the quotes you chose to use here). If that is your believe and your happy with it that is completely fine for me, even if I don’t share your opinion.
      The thought about the different lifespans of religions is interesting. I would be interested in reading how you define a “true world theory”. Share they all the same truth or are there multiple truths? And would this point of view not be a good cause for dialogue between the different religions? Because in this dialogue it could be possible to find the truth, which is a part of all the different religions?

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      1. True world theories are constructs that religions build up to explain away the suffering in the world, heaven basically. The point is none of these true world theories are real. They are a tool that is used by religions to control their believers and explain them why they are on this planet. To expect truth from religion is like drinking alcohol to get sober. For an atheist all religions contain the same truth that people don’t want to believe that they are here on Earth for no reason and that their suffering is pointless.

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      2. Thanks for this explanation! As you can understand I don’t agree with you – but I think I understand how you can come to you point of view. The point is that there can’t be any 100% scientific proof for gods existence or non-existence. So (in this life – in case there are more) there is no chance that we know certain who of us is right or not.

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  4. Of cause science is not in the business of disproving religion. The interesting question here is, why do you believe what you believe?And most religions have scripture, how can you trust that they can speak for God and shape your believe in what it is today, that concept always baffled me.

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    1. Well at first religion was always a part of my life due to the way my family raised me up. So it was “natural” to develop a faith myself. Then so many in history and all over the world have made experiences with god or the absolute, it is possible that they are all wrong and they had experiences with something that doesn’t exist, but for me that seems not very probable. The scriptures are a testimonial of those experiences. As a (Protestant) Christian the Scriptures/Testimonials my community refers to is the Christian Bible. So the group I live my faith within is the one that has decided that the experiences of humans which became written down in the Bible and the experiences people had in history while referring to the Bible as a Holy Scripture are relevant for them. For me that doesn’t mean that those experiences are automatically “more true” than the experiences in other religions, they are just different (and in surprisingly many cases they are very similar). And of course certain parts of the Bible are more important than others for me. But I don’t “delete” them from the Bible because in other times of my life or for other persons just those parts I don’t like might become important or helpful.
      And trust is very difficult to explain, isn’t it? A typical analogy would be: If you are in a relationship? How can you trust your partner? It might be not exactly the same, but similar enough. There are things that are very similar to explain.

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      1. I think the probability for people having experiences with God is pretty high since so many people look to have an experience with God. By that logic we are being visited by aliens frequently, yetis exist and Elvis is still alive. I think trust is between partners develop because you get to know them, that is not the case with the authors of the Bible. I think there are plenty of reasons to distrust the author of the Bible, since parts are contradicting itself and other parts we know to be untrue.

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      2. There are definitely less people believing in visits by aliens and the living of Elvis than people belonging to one of the major faith traditions in the world… Atheism is actually a relatively small phenomena on a worldwide perspective (Western Europe and North America is not the world!).
        The funny thing with atheists is that most of them seem to have a very before-enlightenment attitude towards the bible. Why can’t the text have a meaning for you, even if they are not literary true in the way a newspaper report is true. You mentioned to be a poet, so you should be used to interpret texts. The text in the bible need to be treated in a similar way poetry is treated, not in a way a newspaper article is treated.The authors of the Bible were not stupid, you can be pretty sure they were realizing the contradictions, but they had the messages and the stories they wanted to tell.

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  5. There was a time when most people thought the Earth is flat and the center of the universe, that doesn’t make it true. I was correlating the number of people that want to have a religious experience with the people that have them and I am not surprised. The problem with the Bible arises when you get taught that be Bible is the word of God, and if God was involved in the process anyway why don’t make it so clear that man hasn’t doctor around with it for a couple of hundred years.
    And it’s weird that you bring the enlightenment style thinking into the context of the Bible, for me enlightenment is about questioning the truth that you have been brought up with and arriving at conclusion by yourself. Advertising enlightenment style thinking in context of the Bible is like advertising steaks at a vegetarian restaurant.

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  6. No it’s not. Wouldn’t it be possible to have rational and logical thinking in theology I would have broken my theology studies at this point.
    Enlightenment (in the meaning of the Western European Enlightenment in mainly the 18th century) is part of a stream of philosophical and theological thinking and for example not possible without the theological development in the protestant reformation and the following centuries and it was widely adapted by large parts of the churches (unfortunately not by the noisy ones). If you look at the theology teached in state universities in Western countries (and this is where the large Christian churches send their future ministers for studying) you will find only post-enlightenment (meaning acknowledging the enlightenment thinking) theology.
    It is weird to make this general accusation against religions without recognizing the depth and diversity of religious thinking. A more deeper knowledge about theology and religion in the society would be really helpful for this kind of discussions.

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    1. Argument from authority, so much for deep conversations. My advice for you is don’t get defensive and elaborate your point instead of taking things personally. And yeah, you can doctor around on your religious scriptures as long as you want, I rather come to by own conclusions about the world rather than outsourcing my believes to a religious authority.

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      1. I don’t see an authority argument in my post just hints have a look at the actual history of the things we are talking about. And the “steak in the vegetarian restaurant” showed me, that you were not really interested in my points but just wanted to provoke in the moment my argumentation didn’t fit your expectation. And if you had brought any argument which haven’t heard so often and that hits my understanding of the bible and the religion, I would have been more interested in a detailed dialogue. But the “there are contradictions in the bible and things that can’t be true” argument might provoke evangelical fundamentalists but not me. It just annoys me, because I myself don’t believe that there is a contradiction for example between the texts in the bible about the creation, who actually a contradictory towards each other and the evolution theory or whatever you had in mind when mentioning the contradictions: Not a single text in the bible is written as a scientific text and it is exhausting to defend it against people who treat them as if they were. And I would criticise fundamental Christians in the same way I answer to this atheist view on the bible, because in the end both of them treat those texts in a inappropriate way (from my point of view). If there was a chance to convince them, I would try – but if it seems to be clear, for example because they hide behind quotes from the bible, Nietzsche or John F Kennedy a discussion doesn’t make a lot of sense.
        So if I look on what I have written and what you have written I see you wanted to show that you are an atheist and that you can’t understand why people are religious. And I’m religious and I don’t want to become an atheist. So the goal of the discussion can never be to completely convince the other. And I completely share the point that there are things to criticise in certain religious points of views, but I’m not as missionary as you seem to be. For me it is completely fine, if you stay an atheist and if you consider religion as stupid or maybe dangerous – as long as you have good arguments for your case that’s fine for me, and even if your arguments are not good I have to tolerate your point of view. You might call this defensive, I would call it seeking for understanding. A real deep dialogue would be interesting, but I’m not sure if the anonymity of the comment zone of a blog is the best area for this kind of dialogue.

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  7. I just state my opinions what you do with them I don’t give a flying fuck… But you argue how you write your blog post 99% fluff around a shaky skeleton of an idea. Your idea of a discussion seems to be that everyone a is reinforced in their beliefs afterwards, a discussion like this is pointless to me. If you think I was raised Christian that’s why I am Christian is a interesting argument, this discussion is pointless to me. If you think you can trust a couple of guys that wrote a book a centuries ago the same way you can trust the woman laying next to you, this discussion is pointless to me. Have a nice life

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