Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The God that Failed

You can access my final reflection essay for Peace & Justice: Latin American Perspectives here (resources are listed here). The six-page limit meant I couldn't include a number of thoughts I had originally intended to explore--violence in the introduction of Christianity to Guatemala by the Spanish, the ways that the United States has made life hard for its neighbors and brought the immigration issue on itself despite being considered by many to be a "Christian" nation, the Christianization of Rwanda before the genocide*, the spread of America's prosperity gospel, and the disconnect between theology and ethics.

On this last point, I see no direct link between basic theological questions and ethics. Since Jesus repeatedly taught about ethics and most of theology is about non-ethical questions, it follows that theologians are concerned with questions that were not Jesus' focus (Matt. 23:23). Once a month I join a conference call with peace activists from nearly every Christian branch--Orthodox, Catholic and a selection of Protestants (historic peace churches, mainline, evangelical). We represent the peace fellowships of our various denominations. There is no direct connection between our views on eschatology, ecclesiology, soteriology, the virgin birth, creation, the nature of Mary, or the atonement with our ethics of peace and justice. Within each group are those concerned with peace and justice as well as those who see these as distractions from preaching the true word of the Gospel. Maybe there should be a link between basic theology and ethics, but I don't see it in the real world.

The essay could be summarized with a phrase like Culture trumps Jesus. Or maybe Culture trumps religion, or even Empire trumps religion. In the end, I believe G. K. Chesterton was on to something: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

May there be peace (which includes justice) on Earth!

Essay: The God that Failed

NOTE: The complexity of the issue leads me to seemingly contradictory conclusions--(a) ethics and theology are virtually unrelated, and (b) both Protestant and Catholic theology undercut Jesus' ethics. Yes. :) These theologies, in my view, can and have short-circuited ethical thought and practice, but they don't mandate or require this fissure. As evidence, many who believed in indulgences and many who accepted salvation by grace alone with no room for discipleship still cared about ethics. And others didn't/don't.

NOTE 2: In Retrospect, I think I should not have interspersed factoids about the US throughout the essay. It would have been stronger to focus on the comparisons in part 1 and then include a later section arguing something like: It would be incorrect to think that only the exported version of Christianity has problems and that it works fine in the US and Europe. Look at these cultures to see that Christianity has historic problems there as well (greed, persecution of dissidents, extreme individualism, environmental damage, misuse of power in the church and in government, etc.), even if these three particular markers show especially low scores in Guatemala and Kenya.

*For a brief comment on Adventist failures in Rwanda, see Monte Sahlin's AToday blogpost (second to last paragraph).

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