Side Effects of Your Theology

Side Effects of Your Theology February 12, 2016


The above cartoon by David Hayward got me thinking about how theology is like a drug.

Some drugs alter your state of mind. Some are designed primarily to do that. Others do that as a side effect, and it is worth tolerating that because of some other benefit that comes from taking the medication in question.

And so I think it is more interesting to ask about the full range of effects that a particular theological system has. These are obviously going to be statistical rather than universal – not all Calvinists will be arrogant and dogmatic, but it may still be a common side effect. Or is that really a side effect at all? Perhaps that is the main function, and belief in predestination is the side effect. Have we studied theologies in the way we study drugs, in order to answer some of these questions? Should they carry warning labels, so that you can “Consult with your Doctor (of Theology) to find out if Deism is right for you?”

What do readers think? Do all theologies (and all ideologies, including atheologies) distort reality to some degree? In the case of your own, is it a side effect, or is it what your theology is primarily designed to do?

In the post that accompanies the cartoon, David writes:

We often so want something to be true that we will suspend good reason, common sense, intelligence, rationality, doubt, skepticism, honesty, reality itself, in order to believe and possess it.

I love theology. Like I love art! But I love theology, and art, when it is true and gets close to articulating what is.

It took, and it takes, a great deal of courage, even anger and a strong sense of justice I suppose, for someone to finally call foul!

Click through to read the rest.


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  • charlesburchfield

    Yes! in my humble opinion great art and great music can’t be fake. the communication to one’s spirit is opened up and inspiration, coming from the Holy Spirit, rings true every time & is capable of piercing the body armor around the hardest hearts. *iiii]:-}

  • From a Swedenborgian perspective (which is my perspective), the theologies of groups of people, and even of individuals within those groups, tend to follow from their cultural and spiritual character. (Though I do believe this is also a statistical correlation, as the OP says.)

    The head is never independent of the heart, though it can sometimes get ahead of (or behind) the heart. Eventually, the head settles where the heart leads it. The heart, not the head, is the core of our character and the determiner of our level of spiritual development. Swedenborg rejected the idea that theologies, or any other human systems of thought, can develop in a purely rational and objective manner, independent from the heart and character of the people developing them.

    For a general view of varying religions and theologies as reflecting and being appropriate to the character of the people among whom they exist, see my article: If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

    • charlesburchfield

      to be honest I flaged your post sir cuz I think you might be spam!

      • This can contains 100% human-typed content! Delicious and nutritious!

        • charlesburchfield

          what the…!? *does spit take*

      • Your comments regularly look like bizarre spam or trolling, and so kindly never flag anyone else’s. Please treat the comments of others the way you would like your own to be treated.

    • Kevin Osborne

      There is one great consciousness, a lot of lesse ones.

  • John MacDonald

    When Socrates took the poison, he said “Let us offer a rooster to Asclepius.”. A drug can be both a poison and a cure. Hence, the Greek word “pharmakon.”

  • jekylldoc

    We tend to assume that medicine works entirely at the level of molecules and cells, even though we know that is not literally true. I think it would be a mistake, in the same way, to assume that the effects of theological systems on a given person are independent of culture, economy and history.

    That said, I like the basic re-thinking this post proposes. We cannot just formulate any theology we want, Scientology-style, in order to brew up a given effect. But we need to be aware that the effect on people is a part of the system. It is not a descriptive exercise, in which we just need to look more closely at the fuzzy bits and they will come into focus. It is a prescriptive process, and more fundamentally still, an encounter with ultimate things, with honesty at the core of it.

    CharlesBurchfield’s comment, below, puts that aspect very well. Inspiration must ring true, and it is capable of speaking right to the heart. Talk of witches and demon possession are no longer able to do so, and we often need to listen to the world of art and literature to hear the notes that resonate today.