Saturday, March 8, 2008

"sad story" theology

You may know what this type of "theology" is like. It usually starts something like this.

When I was a child, I would sit in church, which my parents would force me to go to. They would make me go to this thing called Sunday School, which I didn't really like because of the negative images I had of school. Plus, they would give us these horrible iced cookies. And the teacher, some lady named Mrs. Wisenthrope, who was old and wore flower-print dresses and wore her hair in a bun, would speak to us in a condescending way about how brave a little boy named David was to have taken his sling and killed some foreigner named Goliath, and how we should be brave and honor those who kill foreigners for our country. And sometimes, she would talk about this Jesus, who she said had died for my sins, and she would try to make us feel guilty because we had lied about hitting our sister, or because we cheated on a test at school, and we would get all heart-broke and teary and Mrs. Wisenthrope would try to lead us in some prayer that we didn't understand.

Some things are usually missing from this account. For example, the Sunday School teacher or the Pastor or anyone else from that time is not able to give an account of that time, we are left with only the one person's account and perceptions, and we are asked to believe that these perceptions are correct and without bias and the account without agenda.

I wonder what a Mrs. Winthropse would say, if she were asked to comment on that time? Anything I would say would be simply speculative, because we don't know. We are not given any such balance.

Here's what may come next.

When I went to college, I was so certain I had all the answers, so sure of myself and everything I believed. Sure, I kind of rebelled as a teen, but that's what teens do. In college, though, I got introduced to some read questions. I learned, for example, that a large part of the world believed in things other then Christianity. Because of that, a lot of people I knew started questioning some things the church taught, like is it only those who call themselves Christians who are really right with God? Could it be possible, maybe, that there are people who are Muslims or Buddhists that are also right with God? And what about gay people? I met people who were homosexuals, and they weren't the freaked-out demoniacs that I had been taught they were in my old church, if my church ever told anything at all about them. Instead, they were normal people, who cared for each other and were open-minded and non-judgmental. They started questioning how God could condemn them for their actions, and I couldn't answer them, so I started thinking they had a point, and maybe the Bible shouldn't be taken so literally when it says what they do is sinful.

Then, it may end with something like this.

I started reading the Bible again, but with new eyes. Instead of Jesus being so interested in getting people to some kind of Heaven, I started reading it in such a way that I could see how Jesus was more interested in making people into ones who bring heaven to earth. Instead of being exclusive, like His statements like "No man comes to the Father but by me" may seem to be, but that He was really inclusive. He didn't preach hate, even if He didn't like religious people. He was the Che Guevara of His day, the Robin Hood, wanting to do away with wealth and property and even concerned about global warming, which I think was what his rhetoric about hell was all about.

So, that's how it goes, more or less. The old beliefs and values are questioned, thought that seems to show a lack of biblical knowledge and the person's faithfulness (not to mention cowardice) then anything wrong with the old beliefs. This dismissal is often done with a "sad story", be it the writer's or someone else's, about how they were supposedly hurt or offended by the church's methodology and supposed condemnations. Then, in order to justify their departure, a new method of seeing things in the Bible is found, be it called reimagining or deconstructing or rethinking or some kind of secret message or what have you. Throw in some condescension and sugary-sweet insults, and there you go.


RR said...

Hello, I dropped by after agreeing with some comments you made on Ron Gleason's blog.

Your idea of "sad story theology" makes a more coherent whole out of some thoughts I'd had. As you note, the teller of the sad tale gets exclusive editorial control, no rebuttals. The teller's experience trumps any consideration of whether he encountered truth claims worth considering, or whether he understood what he heard.

This has forced me to rethink some of my perceptions from childhood. My recollections of what I was taught by my parents and church are not foolproof, saying as much about what I inferred from their teaching as they do about valid implications.

Keep writing!

jazzact13 said...

Thank you for you comment, rr. I've enjoyed reading Ron Gleason's thoughts on his blog, which I would encourage others to visit.

If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, he's made some similar connections, though I didn't see that until reading how you phrased things in your comment.

I think he calls it something like "politics of victimhood"--bring out a child or a sick person to speark for a particular position or piece of legislation, and they are treated as authoritative and cannot be questioned, and what they are for must be the position of all right-thinking (in a left way, of course) people, and those who speak against them are unkind and hate-filled.