Thursday, September 1, 2011

Religion vs Theology (7/27/11)

Religion, as I've posited, is a social phenomenon involving groups of people who agree substantially to the interpretation of central texts.  Theology is different.  It is the study of the divine.  It can happen within a religion--and in fact it often does.  Or it can be an individual pursuit.

The idea of starting a religion involves either writing a sacred text or texts, or it involves writing an interpretation of sacred texts.  That's the foundation.  Then you gotta get followers, because a religion is a social group that shares a tradition of interpreting texts in a coherent way.

Theology is a different pursuit.  It seeks to understand the nature of the forces of the universe.  It goes beyond science in that it does not require demonstrable proof or replicable results or evidence perceivable to the senses.  It investigates (or at least thinks about) the metaphysical universe, the universe beyond what our senses can know.

So psychology is a big part of this. How do people perceive things? What beyond the physical forces moves things to happen the way that they do? When we witness something beyond the physical, are we in fact witnessing what we think we're witnessing?  How do you know?  And when you convert the experience to words, does it accurately reflect what happened, or is it just a construct of language that sounds good?

All of this falls under the rubric of literature.  Literature is about converting experience into language and then understanding what's been written.  It's one thing to explore characters and heros and epic events and all of that, but what drives these writers to write about these things?  Why do they, as far back as we can read, bring in supernatural characters and dreams and prophecies and gods and goddesses and the search for eternal life?  And how is it that some writings rise to the level of sacred text, with millions of people so deeply invested in them that they are willing, over centuries of time, to engage in deeply controling politics and wars and laws and dominion and ....

My personal interest is theological, not religious. We seem to be talking about religion a lot, but the real subject is the nature of the mystical powers of the universe.  We get to this through narrative and poetry and the study of literature over the ages, but the bottom line is that these things are written artifacts--the things of religion, and not of theology.

The primary tool for me is the study of languages. But the fundamental premise is this: language is metaphor.  Reality is what it is--once that is converted to language, it's no longer reality, but language.  So the experience of the divine, as recorded in literature, may be what I get to read and study, but it's not the reality that I seek.  It's someone else's version, reduced to words. 

Sometimes they are beautiful words, and sometimes these words speak what looks to be truth to me.  And sometimes they speak Truth to me.  But there's a divide between the reality of words and the reality of the real.
Post-modernism.  We live in a world of words, but we're coming to understand that words create their own reality--and don't accurately reflect reality, no matter how pretty or compelling the pictures they paint.

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