Monday, August 20, 2007

On Theological Cuss-Words And the Spirit of The Age

In much of today's theological conversations and books and writings there are what I am coming to label the "dirty words" of theology. These are the words and phrases used as a psuedo argument, or pseudo fallacy that is being pointed out. Upon whomever these post-modern anathema's fall, that fellow is wrong. The image I have is that of an army laying siege to a city without bringing weapons or food but spewing fourth threats of annihilation to those within the city's walls. Without the weapons nor the food to sustain a long lasting siege the threats no matter how stoutly yelled or graphically stated are simply empty and meaningless.

With that in mind let me define what I mean by a "theological cuss-word", by that I mean a word that is used negatively labeling another person's theological position in place of an actual argument. Ex: "Oh, well that sounds kinda like a Fundamentalist belief to me...". So in short it is a dirty word used in the place of an actual argument.

I think this analogy of the hollow siege threats is applicable to much of the theological interactions between Bible believing Christians and unbelievers, especially those who believe in "god" but not "that God". In one of the more recent posts where I dealt with some of the blatant contradictions from a lets say left leaning theologian named Harry Rix, you can see Mr.Rix cursing up a storm throwing words around like "Fundamentalist" (F-word), "Literalist", and even "dogmatic" ALL as if they were negative words anathematizing those he labeled with those titles. In the article I was responding to one can see that these words were used in a dirty sense and in the place of a thought out argument.

This filthy language is used so much by those who are theologically left-leaning against Bible believing that it really is akin to listening to a lumber jack after he has hacked off a limb (In the words of Kent Brockman). One of the leading Liberal theologians John Shelby Spong, whose book I half reviewed at the "Babyl-Blog" (I stopped because it was honestly getting more ridiculous as I read and thus more of a waste of time; by the end I just pitied Spong immensely), Spong is a master at theological cuss words. I really think that is about all he has going for him, he almost never makes an actual argument, he just swears a lot calling people who actually believe the Bible and haven't bowed to the god of modernity and "progress" stupid and ignorant.

In a more day to day sense this language is invoked all the time and gives a glaring reflection of the current spirit of the age. In our day those who say "X is the truth" are the blasphemers, they are the ones our culture wants to burn at the stake. I one just said "I personally think X is true...for Me" well that is fine and dandy, however as soon as one speaks in absolutes and universals the swear words come belching out like a sailor whose ship has just run aground on his watch.

One experience that comes to mind is when I was evangelizing at this pagan festival near Sacramento. There were numerous stages set up with crummy bands playing and cursing about Bush and saving the trees. On one stage was this white reggae band, in their songs they threw the word "Jah" around talked about feeling good and George Bush. In the middle of the set the guy felt the need to put a disclaimer on the use of "Jah" in their songs, he said "Just so you know when we say 'Jah' we just mean deity, so you know it's like whatever, god or goddess...there is no dogma up here."

My thoughts of course were: "Huh, that's an odd dogmatic statement. He's saying it is wrong to define God...that statement itself is dogmatic." What was really going on is that this reggae rocker was using "dogma" as a swear word, those who define God are the "dogmatic" as if being such is automatically bad/blasphemous. That is the spirit of the age, those who hold that there is truth in an absolute sense are the blasphemers of our age. The rocker was simply saying "I'm not blaspheming against the spirit of the age...I don't believe what I am saying is true in any real sense of the word true."

Now the theological swear words are not merely confined to the interactions between believers and non-

believers, but also can take place in a believer to believer discussion on theology. In this case they are swear words primarily in that they are words invoked in the place of an argument. The most popular word I have seen in this sense is "Prooftexting". When someone appeals to scripture to support some position the lazy rebuttal is "Ah, but that is prooftexting!"

Granted, there is a proper use of the term prooftexting (just like all of the theological swear words) but I have almost always seen it used in the place of an argument and invoked to dismiss the otherwise seeming Biblical support for a position that the potty mouth disagrees with.

Another one often used in believer to believer debate is "reductionism". I have seen this used a good bit by more emergent leaning fellows. What is often said is "Saying X about God is reductionism!", this is often said whenever an attribute of God is defined. You don't wanna put God in a box do you? In reality all theology is reductionistic, because God is infinite. However, simply because He is infinite doesn't mean He can not reveal Himself truly in propositions (Bible). In our theology we are saying who God is in the least, He is much more then the definitions we have BUT HE IS NOT LESS THAN.

(Again, the funny thing is the guy yelling about putting "God in a box" has his own definitions and box, one that excludes the definition he is disagreeing with you over. Simply saying "God is undefinable therefore all definitions of God are empty" isn't satisfactory. Why? Well isn't undefinable in itself a definition? Mr. Spong makes this rather blatant error repeatedly in his writings.)

To wrap up I want to give a list of the numerous swear words used, 1) their proper meaning and 2) their dirty context.

Literalist- 1) Person who believes the entire Bible to be the word of God and therefore true in all it contains.
2) Lunatic who believes the passages that teach homosexuality is sin, and believes there is a hell.

Dogma- 1) Any belief held to be true
2) Cultural blasphemy, an arrogantly held narrow minded view of God.

Fundementalist- 1) Person who believes their religion to be true.
2) Cultural blasphemer. Narrow minded arrogant bigot who won't listen to reason.

Biblicist- 1) One who believes the Bible alone is the word of God.
2) Cultural blasphemer. Narrow minded nut case lunatic who is so raving mad out of their brain and foaming at the mouth that they think there is one truth.

Prooftexting- 1) Error in doctrinal support where a passage is used that seems to support a doctrine while the whole counsel of scripture on the subject is neglected.
2) I don't like how that Bible passage looks like it supports what you are saying, so rather than actually show how it doesn't support what you say it does I declare thou guilty of this practice.

Reductionistic- 1) Any view/definition that is overly simplistic.
2) I don't like your clear definition as much as my vague and fuzzy one.

Intolerant- 1) A person can not stomach differing views/religions but aims at physically removing dissenters to his own held beliefs.
2) A cultural blasphemer. A person who actually thinks that other people are wrong and believes their lifestyle to be wrong.

I would really like to add to this list, these are just the terms that came to mind off the cuff. So I would love any other suggestions in the comments section!

3 comments: said...

Hi Bob,

Excellent post.

I can't believe a Raggae band would go out of its way to make a point like that. That is totally funny.

Jah Man!

Ubersehen said...

It's a small point, but I think that some of your 1) definitions are a bit too vague. I wouldn't be too bothered by it except that the presence of such vagueness here both unreasonably mitigates the meaning of such words and terms (as defined by official dictionaries) and, as such, exaggerates the distance between what the terms mean and what critics are trying to get across. Now, I'll be the first to agree that there are many who unfortunately feel that, by simply dropping a few of these terms into an argument, they can easily make their case. Clearly this is not so. But I digress. The terms I might revise are:

Dogma- 1) Any belief held to be true

The term "Dogma" is more specific than just any belief that is held to be true. I think that "truth" would suffice in that place, and I don't think that Dogma and truth really feel synonymous when juxtaposed. No one would claim that the belief that the sun will rise in the morning is dogmatic. It's just plain apparent to anyone with a pair of functioning eyes who doesn't live in London.

Merriam-Webster defined Dogma in a few possible ways:

1. Something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet.
2. A point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
3. A doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.

And certainly, when a critic of religious belief uses the term "dogma" or any of its derivations they are usually employing the latter two. They may indeed feel that the beliefs held by the person they are criticizing are both arrogant and narrow minded as you stated, but those feelings are not implied by the use of the word dogma. If I were to suggest an alternate (2 for this entry, I might recommend "A set of beliefs held solely because of fear of change and/or because the church/bible says so."

Next, your definition of what constitutes a fundamentalist is far too general. Even the leftest of the liberal religious left believe their religion to be true, just in a different way than the religious right (and others, for that matter). Fundamentalism is much closer in meaning to literalism and, when referring to Christians, biblicism. No doubt, fundamentalists believe their religion to be true, but using that as a definition is equivalent to calling me a vegetarian because I eat vegetables. Doing so ignores other important details that might set me apart from actual vegetarians (like the fact that I also eat meat). If you check out either the Oxford or the Merriam-Webster dictionary's entry for "fundamentalism", you'll actually find that the first entry specifically defines the term as a movement of 20th century Protestant Christianity. Now, the word has shifted in its usage to sometimes refer to any strict adherence to a religious or ideological belief, but its roots are clearly in Christianity.

Those are my thoughts.

Bob said...

Hey Uber, I know, I know these aren't precise definitions I was specifically trying to avoid dictionary use so my definitions are I know a tad shallow. So point taken. I was trying to at least contrast a broad definition of what these words really meant with how they are popularly used, I think I did that.

However, as for the matter of dogma, I agree that most people probably wouldn't classify a belief that the sun will rise tommorrow as a "dogma" but I wonder why not? Given the dictionry definitions you just gave I think the belief that the sun will rise is dogmatic. I am not trying to defend my admitedly shallow definition of dogma but I do still think it is a bit broader in its scope than it is generally used. "Truth" itself is different from "dogma" in that truth is the object irregardless of who holds to it, whereas dogma is the held belief irregardless of it's truthfulness.

On second thought, given those dictionary definitions I don't see what exactly is wrong with my succinct broad definition. But I do hear you when you suggest this:

"If I were to suggest an alternate (2 for this entry, I might recommend "A set of beliefs held solely because of fear of change and/or because the church/bible says so."

That is the general attitude towards religous doctrine, people are sort of lemmings/drones doing and believing what "The Church" says to.

Either way you slice it "dogma" is used as a sort of swear word, like calling someone a "poopyhead". I still think that in reality everyone is dogmatic and it shouldn't be a dirty word, I often find the people who most ferociously label others as "dogmatic" in the negative sense are the greatest violators of their own standard of "open mindedness".

As for fundamentalist, you wrote:

"Next, your definition of what constitutes a fundamentalist is far too general. Even the leftest of the liberal religious left believe their religion to be true"

I agree completely. And that is the hypocrisy and idiocy of the Liberal Christians and "All inclusive" groups. I don't think it is a problem with my definition (although I admit it is shallow) so much as it is with the common use of the word...

The rest of what you say is correct Uber, it is a 20th century protestant branch. However, I am going for the general definition, one that applies to Muslims, Catholics, Jews etc. This is why Webster's has often 6 different meanings of a word given the context. Again though, you are absolutely right, it is a Christian term and its popular use in our culture really came from the Fundamentalists in the early 20th century...the Libs didn't like them so Fundi became a dirty word.