December 02, 2018

Theologies and Religions

We need to make a distinction between a theology and a religion. A theology is a system of beliefs. Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism are examples of popular theologies. When people organize institutions that (more or less) embrace a theology, then we have developed a religion. The Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches are good examples of religious institutions that have adopted a Christian theology.

This is not a trivial distinction. Christianity has frequently been attacked as a religion. But it is not a religion, it is a theology. Criticism should be directed at – and is the responsibility – of one or more religious institutions. The recent wave of scathing comments about homosexual molestation within the Catholic clergy is a good example. The effort to remove all references to God or the Bible from public buildings is an example of the confusion that exists when critics (and Christians) are unable to distinguish between Christian Theology and the institutions of Christianity.

The men who framed our Constitution understood the difference. They were aware (sometimes painfully aware) of the excessive and irrational use of political power which can occur when there is no distinction between the institutions of religion and the institutions of government. The philosophy of a positive and constructive theology is invariably corrupted by the arrogance of political power. They tried to keep the values of Christian theology, but left the practice of religion to the people.    

It is clear to me that "religions" are the invention of man, and therefore exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. All too frequently the expression of theology is constricted by the rules and regulations of an institutionalized system of beliefs which eventually become irrelevant because they fail to embrace contemporary knowledge. We are thus witness to religions which are either withering or have become excuses for rabid behavior.

Yet, in this there is a paradox. Any extended attempt to observe the spiritual must establish a cohesive framework of intellectual and emotional theology. Else it has no lasting virtue.

Let us come together, therefore, to establish a theology that venerates values, rather than the trappings of an institutionalized religion. And let us pray for an institutional reformation and renaissance that venerates these values.


Ron

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