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How does theology even work, anyway?

April 27, 2012

My latest post at Wheat & Tares, The Cultural Situatedness of Theology, has been up since Wednesday. (Have y’all checked out that my regular posting day for Wheat & Tares is now Wednesdays instead of Thursdays? Have any of you been paying any attention to the posting schedules?) In this post, I juxtapose some of the thoughts of two bloggers: Ashley Sanders, formerly of Project Deseret but who has now appeared to vanish into the aether (she’s probably doing waaaay more important things than blogging now, based on some of the other blog deals I’ve seen her with…), and Lynnette of Zelophehad’s Daughters who is very much currently active in the blogging sphere.

The basic premise is simple: how do we deal with scriptures that offend our modern sensibilities without simply ignoring them for things that appeal to our modern biases.

But for me, I’m stuck at an earlier question:

The question for me is this: what is theology?

Because for a while here, I was thinking that theology was precisely our ideas about what it means to be humans. Now, now, I know that that may be too naturalistic of a definition for most of you — I’m sure that many people might say that it’s God’s ideas about what it means to be humans (or maybe not about “what it means to be humans,” but definitely “God’s ideas.”) However, here I still feel that the major problem is that we don’t really know — even though many people think they have good ways — how to discern God’s thoughts, or how to separate God’s thoughts from our own.

But there is a second question from the part I emphasized. Lynnette says she does not think that theology should be based on current political trends. And I think that this is a popular position for people to take. She asks earlier: what justifies the practice of privileging the stuff you like?

The second question I have is this: why should theology be based on the past’s political trends? If we can’t fully divide human ideas from divine ones, why not at least make the human ideas in employ be the ones that are progressive and forward-looking from our position?

In one of the comments, I said:

However, I’m still not completely sold. I don’t think that you could construct a fully progressive set of ideals from the scriptures. You get some part of the way there, I would imagine there would just be holes.

Interestingly enough, in a weird coincidental sort of way, the latest Mormon Matters podcast is about whether Mormon Theology can affirm homosexual relationships now and in the eternities. I haven’t gotten a chance to download and listen to this one yet, but must say that I’m looking forward to hear what Taylor Petrey, Kristine Haglund, and Dan Wotherspoon have to say here.

(p.s., a synthesis to wrap things together. Taylor Petrey’s Dialogue post, Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology, was later addressed by Lynnette at Zelophehad’s Daughters. From her post, here was a selection I really liked:)

Theologian Stanley Grenz makes an argument that Mormons might find particularly interesting. He looks at possible connections between two elements of the Genesis creation narratives: first, humans as created in the image of God, and second, humans created as “sexually differentiated and hence relational creatures.”1 But while Mormons cite this as evidence of a sexually differentiated God, Grenz goes in a different direction: This does not imply some kind of divine sexuality, he says—rather, “in the creation of humans as sexually differentiated we see the character of human existence as something which “entails a fundamental incompleteness or, stated positively, an innate yearning for completeness.”2 This produces a drive for bonding, and it is on this basic dynamic of bonding that community is based. Salvation, then, has to do with completeness—a completeness we cannot achieve on our own. It is something we attain through relationships of difference.

The question at stake in this particular discussion is whether such completeness can only be found in heterosexual relationships. The gender complementarians would likely argue yes, that male and female complement each other in a way that two persons of the same sex cannot do. There is perhaps an appealing tidiness about this model. But in the messiness of everyday life, it is a difficult claim to verify. There is enough variety within the sexes that it is not difficult to see how two men or two women might also bring very different strengths to a relationship.3Any relationship, be it same-sex or opposite-sex, is going to pose the challenge of negotiating similarity and difference. The only way I can see to make the case that opposite-sex couples are somehow qualitatively different from same-sex ones is to propose that men and women are qualitatively different—an assertion which causes far more problems than it solves.4 And appeals to innate gender differences are dicey, given that such differences frequently turn out to be so mysterious and ineffable that no one can articulate what they are. (I am not arguing that such differences might not exist; I am simply questioning whether an appeal to their existence is in itself sufficient rationale for privileging opposite-sex relationships.) In the Garden of Eden, one might argue that the important point is not the sexual differentiation of Adam and Eve, but the statement that it is not good for [a human being] to be alone. Even perhaps (!) a gay human being.

My position has generally been to point to the differences of *people* — the differences between people go far beyond whatever gender differences may exist, so two guys may not necessarily be more similar than a guy and a girl when all personality factors are taken into consideration. So, if relationships are about complementary personalities that help each other to stretch and grow, then I don’t see the issue with same-sex relationships. If it is not good for a human being to be alone, then that shouldn’t change for gay people. (Hence why celibacy is not even a valid Mormon option.)

With all of this being said…I like the possibilities to pull from the Mormon tradition and construct something in support of things like this. Is that theology? If so, that’s pretty cool stuff. At the same time, I also don’t quite understand where the legitimacy of any of this comes in. It seems that legos can be arranged in a multitude of different ways, but is there an overall intended configuration of the legos? Adam Miller’s various thoughts on theology are not helping.

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