Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Rapture Wrap-Up Part 2

I thought the hoopla over my rapture posts would end after July 7th. Since my sitemeter is still going nuts, I thought it would be in good order to write about what I am thinking in a more analytical way.

One of the major crises in contemporary Christianity, as I see it, is the apparent inability to separate history and science on one hand, from theology on the other. Modern history and science are products of the Enlightenment. The only way these disciplines can function is that they operate from the assumption that there is consistency in the way things happen.

A ball does not roll down an incline plane because God wills it. The speed of light is constant everywhere in the universe regardless of the motion of the observer. Planets do not stop their rotation at the whim of supernatural goddesses and gods.

Similarly with history, human beings do not transform themselves into werewolves, rise from the dead, or fly off to space unassisted by rocket propulsion. Battles are not won or lost because of supernatural intervention.

When a person entertains these thoughts of supernatural invention, s/he ceases to be a scientist or an historian. One may think these conclusions are narrowly focused, and they are. History and science can tell us nothing about God. They can only speak about the circumstances in which certain views about God might have arisen.

Theology speaks about meaning. It is a rather esoteric discipline that seeks to understand why we exist (as opposed to how), what is good about us, what is wrong, and what is our hope. Its tools are symbols, stories, art, liturgy or worship, sensitivity, spiritual disciplines, and imagination.

The problem, as I see it (as well as countless people before me), is that we have mixed these disciplines and produced a mutt that while may be lovable for some, does no service to science, history, theology, or the human race.

So-called "creation science" is one such mongrel that makes science a slave to the mythologies of Genesis. Rapture or end times theology is another mongrel that attempts to interpret apocalyptic texts such as the symbolic Book of Revelation as a timetable for future historical events.

I am not bashful in pointing out what I believe are "bad theologies." For instance, the radical Muslim theology of suicide bombers is bad theology. It is not enough simply to say that and then dismiss it. We need the tools of history and other social sciences to help us understand the social and political situation out of which this bad theology arises and then seek to address those conditions.

I see the contemporary American rapture/end times theology also as bad theology. Again, we need the social sciences to help us understand why this theology is arising in our time. The reason that LaHaye and Jenkins of Left Behind fame have sold so many books is not because they are brilliant writers or have insight into the mind of God. They have capitalized (and quite well, I might add) on the existential angst of modern Americans. We are scared to death about what is happening in the world. We are not people of great faith in God. In fact, quite the opposite. We are a fearful and pessimistic bunch. LaHaye and Jenkins have succeeded because Americans are scared, and by and large illiterate regarding the disciplines of science, history, and theology. We will believe anything that will give some hope of getting us out of an uncertain future.

I don't intend to insult by saying that, I am just stating an observation. For illustration, watch any one of Jay Leno's person on the street interviews. I am not speaking about our lack of knowledge of facts or trivia, but our lack of understanding regarding historical and scientific method. We have not on the whole developed the skills to distinguish between mythology and history. Further, we have not internalized the spiritual wisdom we need to hope and work for a positive future.

This is where theology (good theology) should assist us. When I say "good theology" I am not speaking about one brand of theology over another. I am talking about a theology that can move us toward compassion, hope, joy, creativity, love, and justice. This is a theology that does not passively wait for a supernatural savior to come and rapture us from our problems or violently conquer our enemies. Good theology does not remove us from the responsibility of using the skills and gifts God has given us to make the world a better place for ourselves and for future generations.

I am a Christian. While it may shock some readers of this blog, I love singing hymns such as "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" and reciting the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed in worship. Only one phrase of the Apostle's Creed can be evaluated historically, "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and buried." The rest is theology. It is a far more beautiful and hopeful statement of faith than history could ever grant it.

It is a theological/poetical work of worship that affirms, among other things, that the one on the right hand of God is the Jesus we see eating with outcasts, turning the other cheek, and loving his enemies. That, the creed says to me, is what it means to be truly human. It speaks of great hope. Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead. That doesn't mean he is coming at some time in history to dole out eternal lollipops or spankings, but that the justice and compassion of God will come to fruition in our lives if we would only open ourselves to it. The "second coming" of Christ has already begun. It is the hope and the presence of God in our midst, raising our awareness, enabling us to live with all the things for which Jesus lived.

I don't write this to be a Christian apologist. It is simply my faith. I do apologize if my rapture posts offended you. I did not write them to offend (although I am not naive enough to think they wouldn't). I wrote them to expose a bad theology that is incredible both historically and scientifically. More insidious than that, it is a theology of a violent and vengeful God that is ultimately ourselves writ large. Maybe we can find the angels of our better nature.