Is Theology the Problem?

Fellow DUUFer Bruce sent me this column from the Huffington Post titled “Sin Isn’t the Problem with the World, Theology Is” by George Elerick. The bio Bruce tacked onto the article says “George is an author, speaker and founder of Chairs for Dialogue, an interfaith initiative that unites people from different faith traditions, no faith traditions, and different lifestyle backgrounds to work together to find relevant, creative, and practical ways to respond to global issues such as poverty, sex trafficking, debt, war, intolerance, and injustice.”

He sounds like a good guy. And the column is excellent. But the title is way off base. Go read it for yourself and see what you think.

The essay can be summarized in this quote: “A lot of the language within churches tends to be exclusive and pervasive, like the word ‘sinner,’ a word used to differentiate those who will not be saved from those who will. But what if that word doesn’t mean what we think it means?”

Elerick goes on to argue that in some interpretations of original Biblical texts (he cites the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Job as examples), the concept we’ve come to call “sin” is less about violation of arbitrary rules and more about the reality that humans are imperfect creatures trying our best to learn and grow.

That makes sense to me, even if it might be a bit naïve (it ignores the fact that some people choose to do some genuinely evil things to their fellow humans and other creatures). But the problem Elerick describes isn’t “theology” – it’s one particular kind of theology. The problem is a theology of dualism, a view of the world and the Divine that neatly divides everything into good or bad, black or white, red or blue.

We instinctively like dualism – it’s part of our evolutionary heritage. This is good to eat, that isn’t. This animal can help me, that animal can eat me. Dualism makes life simple – make a quick yes or no judgment and move on. But the world looks pretty dull in black & white; we miss the spectrum of colors and varieties of taste.

Elerick closes with this thought: “Whomever you might believe in that exists beyond the clouds above, that being wants the best for each of us, doesn’t desire poverty, desires that humanity work together, and desires peace and for us to live life as a process of discovery of whom we are meant to be. The more we focus on that and less on what sin is or might be, the more we discover what it is to be human.”

The answer isn’t to abandon theology – the answer is to adopt a theology of diversity and a theology of connectedness. Elerick understands this, even if his headline writer doesn’t.

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