Many people flinch at the thought of theology. Oftentimes, they treat theology with suspicion and hesitation. Too often, theology and theologians have been related to Jesus’ pharisaic opponents and their attempts to interpret the Torah. Through this lens, theology has no place in churches. Rather, churches should be reserved for the faithful who are saved by grace or for the seekers who are alienated by the technical lingo and obscure jargon that permeates “theology”. Many times, pastors embrace and encourage congregates’ skeptical views of theological scholars and ideas. Additionally, pastors themselves dare not crack a page in a learned commentary or scholarly, theological tome. Of course, this resistance to carefully thought out writing on theology spawns from a deep cultural fear. The fear grows out of the belief that becoming knowledgeable in the history and concepts of the faith will lead to apostasy. Such a fear equates belief with ignorance and ignorance with faithfulness to G-d, and theology becomes marginalized.
Unfortunately, this culture of ignorance consistently, albeit statically, participates in doing theology all the time without even knowing it. The words for “theology” are the Greek words theou meaning “god” and logos meaning “word”. The basic meaning of the word “theology” is “god-words” or “words about god”. Thus, any conversation or statement made about a deity, whether it be colloquial or scholastic, thrusts the speaker or author into theology. Academic jargon of any kind can be alienating, and academic theology needs to be used wisely in a way that promotes clarity and prevents confusion. Nevertheless, to relegate “theology” to the academy and then marginalize the academy forces average people to believe they have nothing important to say about G-d. In order for us to sustain ourselves as a faith of committed disciples, we must promote everyone as a theologian, for everyone has something to say about G-d.
Theology is done primarily by non-Christians, and it is done through observing Christians. Most often, these theologians use deductive logic to create theological ideas. For example:
- Christians hate homosexuals;
- Christians claim they follow what G-d says; and
- Therefore, G-d hates homosexuals.
This logic, potentially, works in positive ways as well:
- Christian people love me;
- Christians claim they follow what G-d says; and
- Therefore, G-d loves me.
I say this to show how people participate in theology every day, and we need not fear theology. People who believe in G-d do and must think theologically all the time. Drawing on the theological thoughts of others is way to deepen one’s own theological ideas. Theology should be encouraged. Nonetheless, to say simply that theology is purely talking about the divine would be reductionism. Ultimately, theology is about ethics.
A statement about G-d literally means nothing. Theology consists of as much moral neutrality as calling a tree trunk brown or a house cat soft. Only when we invest a theological statement with meaning does the statement have any power. Case in point, let us use the very basic statement, “G-d loves you.” To an atheist, this statement means nothing. The subject of the sentence is non-existent therefore so is the love. To an atheist, “G-d loves you” is morally neutral; it affects her neither positively nor negatively. Contrarily, to one who believes in a deity, this statement is packed with meaning. Perhaps, it fills the person with self-worth since it makes her feel loved, or perhaps, since G-d loves her, it moves the person to strive toward loving others. It could even have negative consequences. Maybe the person loved by G-d believes G-d loves her and only others like her. G-d’s love then leads her to hate others due to her special, divine love. Thus, statements about G-d (that is theology) mean nothing until we attribute meaning to them.
Meaning arises out of our responses to morally neutral statements1. In order for theological statements to possess meaning, they demand action. This is why stories move people more than abstractions. A story possesses both the morally neutral statement and the subsequent response. When people see the response of others, they see the potential action that gives the statement meaning. Others’ actions imbue the statement with meaning. Stories force us to confront the meaning given by another person and decide whether we share that meaning or not. If we choose to act differently from the action taken in the story, we ascribe different meaning. However, a morally neutral statement without a story permits us to leave it meaningless. We have no obvious meaning to confront. Therefore, if theology is made up of morally neutral statements, then in order for words or thoughts about G-d to have any meaning, people must act on those statements2. Theology requires ethics3.
Anarchism is an ethical construct4. Ethics prompt us to act. Since anarchists believe humans should organize without hierarchy5, they believe power over others is wrong. This causes them to act in ways that resist power and promote egalitarian organization. Anarchism means, literally, “against power”. Anytime someone is against something, they naturally believe that what they stand against is wrong. Anarchists believe power is wrong. Ethically, they stand against hierarchies.
When we ask the question, “Is there such a thing as anarchist theology?” the simple answer is yes. When we ask what is meant by “anarchist theology”, we find a different but clearer answer. Anarchist theology means responding to theological statements with anarchist ethical impulses. The purpose of this writing is a quest to show exactly how to do this. Before we embark on this quest, we must first discover if others have responded to words about G-d with actions against power and hierarchies, and in doing so, we must measure the relative merits of those responses. Put more precisely, has standing against power as a response to theological statements liberated or oppressed? In order to do this, we will look at the Bible, Christian history, Christian theology, and movements of liberation throughout human history, all in hopes to finally uncover the anarchist G-d.