Since confession is all the rage I have decided to confess my private thoughts. I do so only in hopes that perhaps others who feel the same way but are reluctant to voice their perspective join the discussion. Adam Miller has recently posted again on the subject of theology. I admit I do not understand. But rather than simply confess my inability to comprehend I thought it would be more fruitful to provide a line by line commentary, detailing where I’ve gone wrong.
First of all, a general observation on metaphor. The metaphor is that a theologian is like an alcoholic, and the only good theologian is a recovering one. This sounds to me to play upon the common theme among some that theology is bad and it is not something we should do and if we do engage in theology, our moral obligation is to tell others not to do what we have so reluctantly done. This meme is attractive to Latter-day Saints because for years we have built into our narrative a battle between theology and revelation, with revelation as the clear victor. In Nibleyesque fashion, philosophy and theology are what happen when revelation ceases. I question this line of reasoning. I don’t believe it holds up very well under scrutiny. So immediately I recognize this meme and wonder why it continues.
Because of this, I’m not really sure if this list applies to me or not. I’m not sure whether I’m considered a theologian in this list. Is this an admission that we are all theologians like we are all sinners? Or is this a list applicable only to those who have experimented or dabbled in theology, like those who have experimented with strong spirits?
1. We admitted we were powerless over our theologies — that our thoughts had become unmanageable.
I suppose this all depends what theology is. Since we don’t know what theology is, it’s not easy to critique this statement. I think we admit we are powerless over all sorts of things (2 Ne. 4:34), but I’m not certain why theology gets singled out. Our thoughts can become unmanageable at times I suppose, but I’m not really sure we extricate ourselves out of such a situation by deciding not to think.
2. Came to believe that our thoughts were not God’s thoughts and that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
An appeal to Isaiah 55:8. But again, this verse applies not simply to people who recklessly engage in the dangerous black arts called theology, but to any thought that isn’t in alignment with God. Why wouldn’t this equally apply to those who do not also engage in theology (whatever that is).
3. Made a decision to turn our theologies over to the care of God as we did not understand Him.
Another classic indictment that understanding theology means we do not understand God. As I “understand” it, the culprit is the invention of the concept of “understanding” in which man thinks he can dominate nature (which comes to include God) by his mind. Well, again the idea is that theology is what prevents or hinders us from understanding God. Is this really the case? Is this something we are supposed to apply to all theologians in history? Are we saying that theology is a kind of drug paraphernalia that we must relinquish in order to recover?
4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of our theological toys, philosophical prejudices, unjustified opinions, self-important ideas, and defensive gestures.
I agree we should do self-inventories. I would say that one of the philosophical prejudices is this idea that theology is mad, bad, and wrong to know.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being that, despite the reality of God’s grace, all our explanations were totally ad hoc and frequently designed to stave off direct exposure to that grace.
I agree with this one in so much that we probably shouldn’t come up with ad hoc explanations. But not all explanations are ad hoc and some explanations are actually quite good. I can’t accept that any explanation by a theologian is ad hoc. And clearly we have had people in the Church (not doing theology) and coming up with ad hoc explanations to justify doctrinal positions. If an explanation is intentionally designed to prevent God’s grace then I suppose one should admit that to God if they want. I would be just as happy if they admit it to themselves and aim for better explanations.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all this theology.
Because theology is bad. It’s evil and prevents us from really knowing God.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove all this theology.
Because theology is bad. It’s evil and prevents us from really knowing God.
8. Made a list of all the persons we had harmed with our ham-fisted assertions, tidy systems, and undergrad etiologies and became willing to make amends to them all.
This can apply to everyone, whether theologian or not. It is not just tidy systems that can do harm, it is ignorance, dogmatism, and intolerance that can do equal damage to the souls of God. I can’t accept that the theologian is the perpetrator here.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, confessing our boundless ignorance, except when to do so would engage them in more theology.
I don’t disagree with this. We should continually seek forgiveness. Again, I’m not persuaded that theology leads to boundless ignorance or that it is the culprit here.
10. Continued to take personal inventory of our theological hydras and when we started to think we’d really thought something great promptly admitted it.
Because starting to think we have great thoughts is evil.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to actually connect with God as we did not understand Him, praying only for enough strength to trade mountains of theology for five minutes of open vision.
I see. Prayer and Meditation is superior to Theology. This is the problem it would seem. We turned to theology when we should have turned to prayer and meditation, the true methods of spiritual enlightenment. Well, I’m not convinced that theology isn’t prayer and meditation. I believe that theology can be a meditation and can be a prayer. At times, I see the work of theologians as a testament to their love and devotion to God. Five minutes of an open vision sounds great but I don’t believe this is the answer. Even visions must be interpreted. Both Lehi and Nephi were shown the same vision but each account is different because the knower of the vision is different. There will be no unmediated visions. The problem I have with this statement is that we instruct prayer and mediation and vision to all step over to the right side of the dance floor and theology to step to the left side of the dance floor. Those things on the right are good and true. Those of the left, are evil and stumbling blocks. And then we instruct everyone not to do the dance with theology.
But then again, maybe I don’t realize that there are really theologians out there who know mountains of theology and like their theology and don’t want to pray or meditate and continue turn down open visions. I suppose if that is the case, then maybe they should follow these steps, perhaps I’m just ignorant of a whole world out there of theologians who love theology more than God.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to theologians, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Because the only good theologian is a recovering one. And spiritual awakenings can never come through theology. The only good theologians is one who tries to get other theologians to stop doing theology. Is this what I’m hearing?
For those who think I’m missing the point, I welcome and invite you to try to explain this to me. I confess my inability to understand. But be careful to avoid ad hoc explanations that could injure me.