The Gustavian Weekly

What good is theology?

By Oakley Clark - Opinion Columnist | October 13, 2017 | Opinion

Ah theology; we tend to think it’s just stale old Wonderbread at this point.

It’s seen as incredibly white, Eurocentric, and conservative in the public eye.

Many young people, me included, have been turned off to religion, specifically Christianity, due to its rather boring appearance.

Or maybe we’re all just rebels trying to get back at our parents (and the greater society) for making us go to Sunday school with the monotone teacher who clearly had no friends, and thus spent her days teaching kids about a big boat and a couple of pieces of wood nailed together.

Who knows?

Theology has taken a hit in the modern world as our society becomes more and more pluralistic—alongside the greater decline of religion in the United States.

People are simply less attracted to religion nowadays, and the discussion has moved from being Christian centered to more comparative and inclusive.

I ardently argue that the latter is not a bad thing, but is simply reflective of our increasingly diverse society paired with the ways the world is getting smaller: globalization, the internet, etc.

While I’m writing from a Christian perspective, it should be noted that even Islamic, Jewish, and other theologies have taken a hit in our modern world.

Still, it is unfortunate that the actually useful aspects of theology are declining as well due to these world changes.

So I’m going to make a bold proposal—please bear with me—theology is not only still useful in 2017, but it may even be cool.

First off, theology—and religion more generally—provides a heavily studied and nuanced lens through which we view the human condition.

Religion has the answers to many existential questions.

Why are we here? Why must people die? What is the meaning of all this?

Sure, one doesn’t have to agree with the answers—I often do not—but many people benefit from having these answers accessible.

Theology is still useful today, and I lament its seemingly growing irrelevance

After all, not everyone has the time to chill with the Philosopher’s Guild in Old Main’s basement and yell profusely at each other (even though it is, admittedly, a good time).

Some people just need an answer to maintain their sanity.

These are some of the real effects religion has on the human psyche.

Theology is often described as “God talk.”

It asks “What should we do?”

We were reminded of this question with this year’s Nobel Conference.

Advancements in reproductive technologies give humanity the ability to do some incredible, and controversial, things.

Ethical discussions around these scientific advancements are not only beneficial but also necessary.

We probably should talk about the consequences of a technology before we start using it willy-nilly.

I will also claim, rather unapologetically, that theology can be badass.

Think of the recent history of black resistance in the civil rights movement; both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were men of faith who used theology for mass politics.

It was a tool with which to deny the oppressor control over their autonomy.

In the late 1960s, a Peruvian priest by the name of Gustavo Gutiérrez played a key role in developing liberation theology which has now sprouted into many different offshoots such as black, latinx, queer, womanist, and other theologies.

These contextual theologies start at the margins of society to interpret the Bible—unveiling otherwise unseen perspectives.

I like to think of these developments as a sort of democratization of theological input and access.

Where does this all put us?

Theology is still useful today, and I lament its seemingly growing irrelevance.

If one is ever concerned with bad theology—that which preys on innocent people for money in exchange for bad ideology (looking at you conservative parents who throw out your LGBTQ kids), knowing good theology provides a counter to the bad theology’s damaging effects.

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