Overview of Theology/An Introduction to Theology< Overview of Theology
What is theology?Edit
Human beings are essentially social animals. Social animals operate in groups, packs or tribes. Usually individuals are linked by family connections to an 'alpha male' who provides tactical leadership. Provided this leadership increases the probability of success for individual members as well as for himself he will earn respect. Humans uniquely have the ability to formulate long-term strategic plans and communicate complex ideas which has made our species the most successful of all living creatures on this planet. Leadership is crucial to human success. The model of parental superiority is implicit from birth, as the infant human is incapable of independent survival. A hierarchical 'chain of command' with delegated responsibilities and privileges thus emerged naturally and early in human history. Ancestor worship is a form of hierarchical deference to wise (but dead) former leaders.
Theories about what happens after death - if there is a human spirit or soul capable of surviving the body is important to people. Should former leaders influence their survivors? Is there somewhere an unseen community of the dead or some sort of super-spirit capable of communicating with the living? These ideas matter because people believe in these theories, and those beliefs, true or false, do indeed alter our behavior according to the expected reward or punishment. A trader trades with the expectation to be paid 'fairly'. If not, then a 'higher authority' - either the police or the judiciary will be expected to apply influence. A religious person may give alms, or take up arms without expectation of any earthly benefit, expecting instead 'a good feeling' now followed by a certain reward 'in heaven'.
Most religions use the 'external influence' of unseen forces to mold habits that led to successful survival. War is a human strategic invention that allows the winning side to take the riches of the losers, who may be killed or enslaved. War is dangerous for individuals, but not for armies or communities as a whole as long as they are successful defenders or colonizers. Individual warriors have to be assured they will receive their reward at the close of battle or else 'in the afterlife' if they are brave and do as they are told without question. The corollary is that if a warrior is cowardly or disobedient he will first be be killed and tormented 'in the afterlife'.
The purpose of ReligionEdit
The origin of theology is uncertain, but it has been suggested that it evolved for the nurture of children. A society that is able to breed successfully may need to steal from 'outsiders' and enslave 'foreigners' merely to survive. In so doing it is likely to accumulate power and worldly wealth which may be attractive predatory competitors. The same is true of criminal gangs and nation states. The successful strategy is therefore to distinguish 'right' and 'wrong' behavior between 'us' within a group and 'them' - our potential victims. As human societies became more complex the definitions of who was 'inside' (warriors certainly, but what about children, wives, slaves, friendly tribes.....?) as well as the context in which 'right' and 'wrong' might be judged and rewarded (or punished) became a problem requiring study and the evolution of clear rules, which we call theology. When may a warrior legally kill? What is 'just cause' war as distinguished from a criminal enterprise.....
Types of religionEdit
Religions generally demand respect for parents, elders and certain wise or brave leaders. Hierarchical power structures culminate in monotheism, where a supreme, all-wise, ever-present but undetectable God monitors a believers' every thought and action. The contrary view is of polytheism, where many gods deny supremacy to any person or deity. Universal democracy is a form of this, since every elector is an individual, but the average of their collective will (eventually) reign supreme. Rather than respecting the personal wishes of a king or president, democrats require their leaders to conform to their collective will, and punish those who abuse their delegated power. Neither absolute personal princely power nor absolute democracy is very efficient, and most societies strike a balance - The United States of America and the Republic of France have powerful presidents, but their term of office is very short. Conversely the monarchs of the Kingdoms of Spain and Britain rule 'for life' but they have very little power or freedom although their experience may lend them a certain moral authority.
Religion and LawEdit
The European Union has a power structure so complex that it is almost beyond understanding, and relies on the free-will of individual nation states to execute its directives, and rewards or punishes member states rather than their individual citizens. European and International Law emerged mostly from the Judeo-Christian traditions iluminated by some notable Muslim interpretations which evolved around the Iberian peninsula. International law is in one sense a form of religion binding in other religions in order to discourage predatory adventures, racism and genocide, whilst equally encouraging communication, trade and individual human rights guaranteed by the state in which people reside. Not all states subscribe to international law, and some that do place their own theocracy or judiciary above international courts. The USA for example does not submit itself to international scrutiny nor require nor allow its citizens to submit to any legal code except its own constitution. Similarly many Muslim countries apply Sharia (interpretive) contextual judgments rather than impose the rather stark international (codified) law.
The Creation in Christianity is based in the book of Genesis. Christians believe this book accurately depicts the creation. Genesis is written in a poetic form, and is presumed to have been inspired by God. It illustrates the creation from the point of view of the Jewish culture and its people. There is an argument amongst Christians as to if it was was written as a parable (evolution via intelligent design) or as a literal truth (which creationists aver). Most holy scripture is both historically ancient and tends to be in a mythological language style. Genesis first appeared about three thousand years ago in the tenth century Before the Common Epoch (BC) probably during the reign af King Solomon, and it appears to have been written,re-written, translated and reinterpreted by many authors with different intentions. Genesis is not a scientific document, since 'the scientific method' was invented much later (in Baghdad around 7th to 10th century After the common epoch (AC)), Therefore, despite the claims of creationists, it could not explain the creation in scientific terms. Genesis is then a religious document that explain certain spiritual ideas which believers accept as 'true' from a religious and spiritual point of view.
There are many different interpretations about the Genesis from many different Christian denominations.
Historical or spiritual truth?Edit
One such interpretation would state that although the book of Genesis does contain poetry and other types of literary devices, it is primarily a historical narrative of how God brought about the beginning of the universe, mankind, the beginning of the Chosen nation of Israel and how 'He' (God) set the wheels in motion for the beginning of his grace after mankind brought about the beginning of sin. It is a book of beginnings, as is reflected in the title of the book, Bereshith (In the beginning). Furthermore, for believers, it is more than merely a religious document that explains spiritual truths from a religious point of view. They accept Genesis as a true historical narrative that reveals the reality of who God is, what he has done in history, and where man came from, how mankind fell into sin, the effects of the fall, and how God has chosen to redeem his chosen people through the Jewish people and his covenant, and ultimately, how He set into motion, the redemption of the elect which would eventually be His Church. Right and wrong behaviors, just rewards and punishments are exemplified throughout the first five scriptural books (Jewish Torah or Christian Pentateuch) of which Genesis is the opening salvo.
There are several points of differing interpretations within Christian Theology about the actual creation narrative itself. The first debate begins within the very first word of the very first verse: Bereshith. The problem arises in the interpretation of the translation. Whereas, it could be translated "In a beginning" (using an indefinite article - one of many), most scholars will translate it as "In the Beginning" (definite article and therefore the unique story). This may not seem like a big issue until one moves to the second verse and deals with the translation of the Hebrew word, Hayathah. There are two legitimate translations of this word, which are, "It was" and "It became". If one goes with the former translation, it is clear that this is interpreted as one creation that simply continues the narrative of verse one and translates Bereshith as "In the Beginning". If one goes with the latter translation, then this would open the possibility for many different creations and the Gap theory, and would continue the narrative of verse one which translates Bereshith as "In a Beginning". While, the Gap Theorists will point to many creation stories in the ancient world outside of the Jewish narrative as evidence of many creations, proponents of one creation will state that the context of the narrative does not lend itself to a Gap Theory. The primary context of the narrative is not to tell us how many creations there were, but rather, that God is the one who created the beginning and was the one who was before time (eternal). It further states that the context is to tell us about the beginning of man, sin, God' covenant, and God's law, and God's redemption of sinful man. The purpose of the writers of Genesis has always been to define 'right' and wrong' interactions (bestowing blessings and sins), how we humans may 'justly' reward and punish each other during our lives, and how (post mortem) we will ourselves eventually receive divine justice calculated and delivered 'fairly and utterly' by a unique and omnipotent God who has an exact record of our every passing moment.
History or Poetry?Edit
The next interpretive issue revolves around the chronological or historical timing of creation. There are scholars who firmly believe that creation must have occurred no longer than about 12,000 years ago. This date may be approximately deduced from the genealogies given later in Genesis, and on a literal interpretation of a seven days of 24 hours cycle of creation. One of the major reasons that many Christians hold to this interpretation is that they want to deflect the teachings of 'chance' or Darwinian evolution. If creation of life on earth was simply chance then the fossil records and carbon dating techniques would predate Genesis and date the world back to millions of years. God would then become merely decorative and cultural within human life rather than truly authoritative and believable source of all things and all-knowing. Contrary to Genesis report of mankind created and completed in an instant Darwin would allow for a gradual emergence of each species (including mankind) over millions of years. Many faithful Christians, however, would argue that the timing is not of primary importance and that Genesis explains WHY things are as they are, and so is compatible with, not in conflict with science, which only explains how things may have become as they are. The actual sequence and timing being immaterial to religious purpose. Whether mankind emerged within a seven day cycle or over millions of years, the primary purpose if Genesis is to confirm that God is eternal and is the one agent who created everything. One argument against the seven 24 hour period of time is that the sun and the moon were not apparently created until the fourth day, and these are essential elements in the measurement of time, the seasons, and the years. Another argument revolves around the word "Yom" which can be translated either as 'a day' or used to indicate some undefined period of time. A third argument is based on the New Testament text which clarifies time as it is understood by God (2 Peter 3:8). One thing is certain in believers minds is that, whether mankind emerged gradually over millions of years or was created in a split second, there was God who existed before time as we humans understand it, and it was God who created all things in accordance with divine will.