Monday, May 2, 2011

My Theological Conundrum

One of the last things my Slovak ex-girlfriend said to me was that ‘I should have become a priest’. I never got round to asking her why. Nowadays, while not exactly fallen out and vaguely in touch, we do not talk.

Anyway, it is something I have often wondered about.

After all, I have no degree in English language teaching. All I have is a CELTA, which took me one month to acquire, and which it is very difficult not to acquire (or at least used to be). On the other hand, I have a BA in Theology from the Theology Department of The University of Durham, one of the best Theological departments in the world (or so it used to be)*. From the same University I later scored a Distinction in the oddly named MA degree subject ‘Seventeenth Century Studies’, which featured Theology as a central component.

So, on paper it seems a Priest is what I was set up to become (or at least an academic in Theology/Religious Studies or History). Rather than linger on what has happened, I wanted to explore the theological conundrum that developed during my studies at Durham and that has remained to this day.

My dilemma is that I believe contradictory things about Christianity. Things that I have not been able to resolve. On the one hand, I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an essential sense is unique, true and superior to all other religious revelations or teachings, as well as being relevant to the entirety of the world, to people of all cultures and all nations. My faith, I would argue, has resulted from experience as opposed to from argumentation or any habit of Church attendance. This faith is also strengthened, however, by some reasoning. What the Gospel proclaims that God has done in Jesus Christ is exactly what I would expect a real God to do- were such a God to exist. In other words, the Gospel message makes sense at a theoretical level. This is what I can only imagine must be expected of a God of Love; namely that he would become one of us, teach wisdom and overwhelming love whilst amongst us – especially the emphasis that we should love one another -; that he would then be killed by us, very importantly that he would then forgive us for killing him, and finally that he would then rise from the dead, before heading back home. All these sorts of things just make sense. Or putting it another way, if I were God, and I looked down on a world of suffering and hatred, this is exactly what I would do; this is how I would behave. Hmmmmmm, maybe some of that needs to be explained.

Anyway, on the other hand, despite my basic acceptance of the Christian Gospel, there are other things I believe about Christianity, as it stands, that conflict with my positive regard for the Gospel. These concern two matters; firstly, Christian attitudes towards sex and hell, and secondly the increasingly widespread development within church circles of a liberal stance towards Jesus Christ, which while very agreeable in its tolerant approaches towards sex and hell effectively destroys the very purpose of Christianity’s existence by denying the divinity of Jesus Christ and the unique significance attaching to his death and resurrection.

This is a complex looking theological conundrum. As I see it, there is no point even pretending to be a Christian if you dont believe that Jesus was God and that he died and rose from the dead. On the other hand, since the meaning behind this divine act on our behalf was that God loved the world enough to sacrifice his only Son to death and doom for our sakes, it is surely then contradictory to believe at the same time that people still get sent to hell (presuming they ever did)? Doesn’t that contradict the Gospel in its essence? Doesn’t that eventuality obviate the whole purpose of the incarnation, just a shade? Maybe God shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble in the first place.

Furthermore, that the majority of the people who apparently still get sent to hell appear to get sent there because they get carried away by sexual desires arising in them from a sexual nature which God himself created, is an ever greater absurdity. While I do not deny that there should be such a thing as sexual ethics, just as there should be such a thing as business ethics and medical ethics, Christianity has always attached a degree of importance to sexual behaviour far in excess of its actual potency as a source of misery and suffering on the earth.

I realise that there are many church going people who will share my tolerant attitudes towards sexuality and judgement. I realise equally, that there are many church going people who will share my insistence that Jesus was and is God, that he died and rose again, and that those adhering to liberal forms of Christianity which deny this and deny the Gospel’s uniqueness as a divine revelation are not Christians. My problem is that I do not find people who hold to both positions – who are both liberal morally and judgementally and Orthodox in terms of Christology - or not many (in fact only one, and he may have changed his mind). Certainly not enough in any case to have found my niche in the ecclesiastical map, to have found my flock, a denomination that I would wish to work as a Priest for.

And so stands my theological conundrum.

And so it is that I am an English Language Teacher and not holding forth about the glorious power of the Gospel, the Jewel at the heart of Judah; about its ability to break the chains of fear and death, and to reconcile the human family through the power of sacred love.