the stupidity of theological explanations abounds

the stupidity of theological explanations abounds April 16, 2013

theological stupidity graph cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
Last night I posted an update on my Facebook page:

“Why does the intensity of a tragedy increase the intensity of theologically stupid statements?”

It received over 320 likes and 45 comments so far. So I dug up this older cartoon I did in the wake of the big tsunami years ago.

Who are we to blame for the bombings? Gays? Muslims? Sinners? They’re all right!

Westboro Baptist plans on picketing the funerals of those who were killed in the bombings because… surprise, surprise,

“God allowed the city of Boston to be attacked because Massachusetts was the first state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage.”

And we all knew Pat Robertson would have to say something. He didn’t quite say it, but we all know who he is implicating when he says,

“that somebody would be so vicious, so evil as to want to kill little children, and maim families who were there rejoicing in a sporting contest on a beautiful day in Boston, it just makes you sick at your stomach. Don’t talk to me about religion of peace, no way.”

Or, as Mattie Montgomery says, don’t bother to ask God for help if you aren’t saved:

“It’s interesting to see how quickly a nation that mocks and opposes God in times of peace will turn to “prayer” in a moment of tragedy. We cannot claim the benefits of a covenant with God if we do not keep a covenant with God!”

I bother to address these things because they are dangerous ideas that are harmful. And these people promoting these bad ideas have influence and followers. I’d like to see that change.

You saw my cartoon this morning didn’t you, “The Meaning of Suffering and Theological BS”? The BS Meter? Mine’s very active right now. Yours?

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  • My eyes are rolling in my head at the stupid comments…and Westboro Baptist Church uses anything to picket at..because they are completely litigious and will sue anybody for anything at any of these places they is how the people there make their living.

  • This seems to hold true – perhaps we should call it “Hayward’s Law” or something – or in honor of the people that say stupid things “Falwell’s Law”.

  • shelly

    My theological BS meter is broken. There really should be a moratorium on this nonsense after a tragic event.

  • A Different Michelle

    Kathy– +1
    With them, it has nothing to do with Christianity. I’m not sure whether that’s better or worse than those whose religious beliefs lead them to believe that people who aren’t heterosexual are not human.

  • Al Cruise

    Kathy you are right, this has nothing to do with Christianity, It has everything to do with the heart of Churches today.

  • Al Cruise

    David, here is a suggestion for a carton,( maybe you have already done it).In Canada we have warning labels on cigarette packages, smoking will cause harm to your health. What if the government could make churches put up signs warning people of the following.

    1.Attending here will cause you to hate.
    2. Attending here will make you arrogant
    3. Attending here will make you intolerant of anyone who is not like you.

    and so on,

  • ha… cool idea. i might be able to work with that. hey you know i’m in canada, eh?

  • Gary

    Al Cruise…LOVE IT!!

    David my bullshitometer is pinned in the red line…sigh.

  • Trevor

    “1.Attending here will cause you to hate.” Are you serious? A few stupid comments is extrapolated to apply to countless people who love each other, feed the hungry, heed the words of Jesus and do His works? How is this tolerant?

  • Carol

    Trevor, when “countless people who love each other, feed the hungry, heed the words of Jesus and do His works” do not speak out against those who are hateful, arrogant and intolerant in the name of Christianity, then our faith gets trashed.

    “Those who know the least always know it the loudest” and the mass media loves controversy, so the ignorance and hatred gets more of a public airing than the voices of reason and love. That is why it is not enough for individual Christians to speak out, the institutions of Christianity–churches, universities and social ministries must speak out.

    Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads: “Live your life so that the Westboro Baptist Church will picket your funeral”? Does anyone know where I can get one?

  • Adam

    In the midst of things being said, it is shocking that people misrepresent Christ. Having both expereinced it myself and to my shame, have taken part in simlar mis-representation , I know how much damage and wounding it causes.

    It is easy to focus retribution on the church or those in the church. Let’s not forget that this is about human nature and it is not always the church at fault. Sometimes the church and individuals gets misrepresented as those in their wounding and damaging do to others as what has been done to them.

    There were some good and well thought out comments recently made regarding the presence of suffering and the courage shown by those attending to the suffering, and how those suffering might endure.

    Those that are so puffed up with pride as to come out with rhetoric that does more to aggrevate a situation rather than bring about resolution and reconcilliation are heading the same way that anyone else goes when they are puffed up with pride – for a fall. God’s good at resisting the proud and giving grace to the humble.

  • Carol

    Another great blog on “dumb things” we say to attempt to make sense of senseless tragedies:

    “We modern people are problem-solvers, but the demand for answers crowds out patience — and perhaps, especially, patience with mystery, with that which we cannot control. Intolerant of ambiguity, we deny our own ambivalences, searching for answers to our most anguished questions in technique, hoping to find an ultimate healing in technology. But feelings of dislocation, isolation, and of off-centeredness persist, as they always have.” ~ Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection

  • George

    I question your inclusion of the Westboro Baptist Church, in this discussion stupid theological explanations for the Boston Marathon atrocity. I don’t know what they are doing, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the teachings of Christ. If any organization deserves the title of “hate group”, they do.
    As for their “influence”, well, it extends no further than its rather small congregation – all of who are related by either blood of marriage.
    Just my $0.02 worth.

  • Adam

    That’s a good point Carol.

    Sometimes a difficult balance tho have when feelings run high of paying due attention to them, not ignoring them but also not allowing them to hijack healthy discussion.

    With regard to the Boston bombings, a CS Lewis quote comes to mind:
    “The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

    The world since the time of the fall has been a dangerous place. Whatever happens, we always have a choice in how we engage with thing as they are. CS Lewis is right, this side of heaven, any one of us is not going to be safe when we love. Or put another way Buddhists would say we suffer from forming attachments. But oh what beauty we have in loving and having love reciprocated.

  • Carol

    George, I was that the influence of the Westboro Baptist Church was as limited as you say. Unfortunately, in our Information Age with its mass media technology, their influence has been greatly increased. Of course, the influence has a tragically negative impact on those of us who profess a christian faith. The Westboro Baptist Church is one of the many heretical hate groups that are grist for the corporate media looking to raise their ratings rather than inform the public and the result has been that, while it is acceptable to be a “person of faith” in our secular society, identifying as a christian person of faith very often evokes an aggressively negative reaction.

    Adam, and the greater the measures taken for “security”, the greater our lack of freedom becomes.

    There are still a lot of us “live free or die” Americans left; but our numbers are shrinking and being replaced by “let me live free, but others live in chains so that I may be safe” types who don’t seem to realize there is no way to pull that one off in a democracy.

  • Adam

    Yes Carol I agree with you with what you say about a form of “security” and that encroaching on freedom. So knowing that loving in a world that is dangerous is not a safe thing and that “security” means a limitation on freedom what do we do? Do we have freedom without limit and insecurity?

    Systems and structures imperfect as they provide security and safety. Unfortunately these same systems can also be the cause of harm.

    Not an easy one to resolve.

  • Al Cruise

    Carol it runs deeper than just Westboro, I am 58 years old and been in lay ministry for more than 30 years, most of it in outreach ministry/street work, and now have a once a month fellowship service for people who are deemed as outcasts, marginal, hurt by Church in the past, etc. We have people driving 3 to 4 hours to come to the service. I have seen a lot over the years, a lot of hate is done very subtly , behind a cleverly put up mask of love. Entire families being shunned because a child came out as gay, people who have cancer being prayed for by elders, only to die and then have it said by the elders they weren’t healed because of unconfessed sin and so on. This happens in many different denominations, by some very educated people.

  • Carol

    Adam, we do not resolve the dilemma by choosing one policy over the other; but by a balanced approach:

    Take REASONABLE precautions and then get on with our lives, grateful for the gift of life, but knowing that although there are absolutes all human understanding and experience of them is relative. There is no such thing as absolute freedom, biological and social constraints will always exist and there is no such thing as absolute temporal security, no matter how “careful” we are we will still die.

    “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.” -James Baldwin (1924-1987)

    “Perfectionism [dogmatic absolutism] is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life . . . I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
    — Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

  • Carol

    Al, trying to explain the unexplainable and fix the unfixable always compounds the tragedies of life.

    “We modern people are problem-solvers, but the demand for answers crowds out patience — and perhaps, especially, patience with mystery, with that which we cannot control. Intolerant of ambiguity, we deny our own ambivalences, searching for answers to our most anguished questions in technique, hoping to find an ultimate healing in technology. But feelings of dislocation, isolation, and of off-centeredness persist, as they always have.” ~ Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection

    “It was not facing what life dealt that made you crazy, but rather trying to set life straight where it was unstraightenable.” — Anne Lamott (Blue Shoe)

  • Carol

    Question: Is life a gift to be gratefully treasured or a problem to be solved?

    “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.” -James Baldwin (1924-1987)

    “Grateful living as a valid spiritual practice opens the door to what in the Christian tradition have been called the three “Divine Virtues.” They are good habits that have become second nature and connect us to the deepest reality of life, the divine spark within us. These three virtues — attitudes towards life, really — are faith, hope, and love. You find them in all religious traditions and spiritual paths. The grateful person grows into these basic virtues . . . And why? In order to be grateful you have to entrust yourself to life. If you don’t trust life, you will always say, “Who knows, is that really a good gift? Maybe it is a trick with strings attached.” As long as you have this fearful attitude, you cannot really be grateful. Faith, rightly understood, is the opposite of fear. It is not, in the first place, believing in something. It is, fundamentally, entrusting yourself to life, like you entrust yourself to water in order to swim.” ~Anonymous

  • Adam

    Carol – of course you are right about resolving dilemmas with a balanced approach. Why did you write what you did about not choosing one policy over another?

    You rightly say that there is no absolute freedom or security for the reasons you give and others. You are also right about what you say about systems restricting freedom. In this we can also find agreement.

    I mentioned before that having freedom with security is not an easy one to resolve. Suffice to say that we live with a tension between the two. Systems that provide security also restrict freedom to varying degrees. Freedom to do anything is no freedom at all. And the more rigid a system is, the more restriction on freedom there is.

  • Carol

    Adam, the inability of our Western societies to adequately meet the challenges of 20th and 21st century technology is not just the result of WHAT we think, but of HOW we think:

    “You’ve probably heard the famous quote from Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” For many of us who care about changing the world, those words make a lot of sense.
    You may also have discovered, however, that finding and living from “another level of thinking” isn’t as simple as it sounds. Trying to figure out how to move forward in the midst of the pressures of our conflicted, globalizing world can make your head spin.
    But what if there was a perspective that could allow us to discern a clear direction beyond all of the complexity? What if there was a new way of seeing the world—a new worldview—that could change the way we think about changing the world?
    The truth is that Einstein was right. We are stuck in ways of understanding our society and ourselves that limit our potential and constrain our capacity to create change. Our “worldview” is outdated. Worldviews are the invisible windows through which we comprehend reality. We need a radical new view on life, a way of thinking that will provide us with fresh perspectives on old problems. We need to liberate our hearts and minds to become more effective agents of change in a troubled world.” ~Morgan Dix for EnlightenNext

    Perhaps the articles on these websites may be helpful in understanding the challenges we face more comprehensively:

  • Adam


    So what you want to argue is that a choosing of one policy over another by way of any particular worldview and facing challenges of 20th/21st century world is not being met by such. And your suggestion is a liberation from particular worldviews to have hearts and minds to bring about changes in troubles that the world expereinces. A freeing fomr the “dualistic thinking” as described by Fr Rohr and into a “contemplative mind” with inclusiveness and compassion for all, not just one’s own baseball team. political party or religion.

    I agree.

    I would also add that this is not an issue partucular to 20th/21st century or one particular worldview or contemporary culture but has been an issue for humanity throughout history. Think about the disagreement that happened between Jewish and gentile Christians. Medevil Wars between Catholics and Protestansts in Europe. Those are just a couple of examples from within the Christian faith, never mind those in other faiths, between faiths and without any faith.

    Hunamkind’s capacity for hatred of “the other” is the souce of a lot of evil in the world.
    Yes, I agree once we realise we are all interconnected and included in humanity, we look at thigns differently. Rather than somethign happening in another part of the world not affecting us, we satr to take ownership of responsibility for doing something about it. Some great, and courageous people have taken tremendous risks throughout history to attain good for the whole of humankind, often at great, or the ultimate sacrifice in losing thier lives in doing so.

    It is interesting, I was just having a talk with some others last night about this very thing.

  • Carol

    Adam, that is correct. The problem is not having a healthy sense of self and our place in the Big Picture of Creation, but a disordered sense of self, a narcissistic ego. The human disordered ego [narcissistic self] needs to be healed, not annihilated. That is where much of our traditional Western Christian spirituality has gone wrong. Annihilation of the ego destroys a healthy sense of self along with the disordered narcissistic sense of self, leaving the believer defenseless against narcissistic aggression.

    That is what Nietzsche meant when he accused Christianity of encouraging a “slave mentality” as well as a “herd mentality” by demanding unquestioning submission to ecclesiastical, and sometimes nationalistic secular, authoritarianism.

  • Adam


    You are right to point out what you have about the ego. Or what I like to put in Freudian terms the “celebration of the id”. Descartes has had a strong influence also in the West with his “I think therefore I am”. Say that to an African and they will say “I am because we are”.

    That’s interesting with what you say about Nietzsche and Christianity having a “herd/slave mentality”. Of course with his non-theist worldview he would have found it easier to apply that to Christianity than other movements.

    In a similar light, Marx said “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.” Yet what happened as a result of his influence in Russia with the rise of Lenin and Stalin led to another form of “demanding unquestioning submission”.

    The truth is that humanity as it’s own natural “herding instinct”. Everyone wants to belong, to have community. And in some cases this overriding desire comes with the compromise of more endurgin principles that Fr Rohr describes as a “contemplative mind” with inclusiveness and compassion for all with an incarnation approach. If this herding instinct can be used to unify all in love, it seems to me to be a useful way to influence what comes naturally with a common bond of unity in such love.