Karen Armstrong on Bad Theology

Karen Armstrong on Bad Theology August 30, 2014

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The quote comes from The Spiral Staircase.

 

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  • John Bosquet-Morra

    This is false. The sermon on the mount, if looked at all by itself, is great theology, and someone can understand it as such — and yet become an even bigger prick. True or “good theology” has nothing to do with how it works out in its hearers — it can make a bad person humble and can make a good person self-righteous.

    • I don’t see how you can truly grasp the teaching in Matthew 5-7 about not judging others, not repaying for evil, and the Golden Rule, and not have it make you a better person.

      • Maybe he is saying that two people, using the same theology could use it differently. The theology would have to be written. Whereas Karen is probably meaning the personal way we hold our beliefs and disbeliefs in all their complexity. She is using “theology” is a non-systematic way, I think.

        • Sean Garrigan

          Good observation. Armstrong specifically says “if your *understanding*” of the divine, and “if your *notion*” of God, etc.

          Two people can read the same theological writings and reach very different conclusions, e.g. Just War advocates’ vs John Howard Yoder’s understanding of Romans 13.

  • redpill99

    that’s just her opinion. The OT is something rather different

    • sharon peters

      yes! I feel compelled to pick cherries.

  • Likewise, if leaving your old religion helped you to be a better person, then the leaving was good.

  • This seems to me an unfalsifiable bit of conclusion-motivated circular reasoning.

    • histrogeek

      It comes from the conclusion of The Spiral Staircase. It’s a summary of Armstrong’s feelings as regards to her own spiritual autobiography. So it isn’t conclusion-motivated, it is a conclusion.

  • John Bosquet-Morra

    James, of course Matthew 5-7 SHOULD make you a more ethical and loving person. But many people thorough history have used religion — including great passages like those in Matthew — as part of a gigantic self-justification project. The sermon on the mount is just fine how it is– great theology at that — but while some are made more like Jesus when hearing it, others will use it to confirm how much better they are than those people “over there,” or what have you.
    By the way, the reverse is also true. You can believe anything, and it might work for you just fine, and even bring about laudable ethical conduct. You may be a person who’s life is a mess, and, upon hearing about a UFO cult, you go and join up. And Lo! In four month’s time, your life is noticeably improved! So, does this make the UFO theology correct? No, it merely shows that ANYTHING can be use to bring about desirable, pragmatic improvements in one’s life, and the idea does not have to be true at all.
    In the end, I think Ms. Armstrong is making the mistake of equating desirable behavior of believers as proof of the belief’s truthfulness. I think this is a staggering error, unless she means something else I am misunderstanding.

    • I think what she is saying that any theology, however correct some of its affirmations may or may not turn out to be, that leads you to hate and kill is bad theology even so, and that theology which makes lots of errors but instills a loving spirit is better than the theology that gets more right but leads people to harm and despise others.

      I don’t think she’s saying that behavior is proof of truthfulness. I think she’s saying that behavior matters more than truthfulness.