A friend asked me to comment on this article: Five Christian theologies scarier than Halloween by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
A few introductory observations, before I address the specifics:
i) Thistlethwaite is a feminist theologian, theology prof., and past president of Chicago Theological Seminary, which is a United Church of Christ institution. For an overview of their general perspective:
ii) What's funny about her position, which comes through, both in this article and articles she links to, is that Thistlethwaite is the embodiment of everything she professes to fear and loathe. She's a bigot. She stereotypes her theological and political opponents. She suffers from a paranoid, conspiratorial outlook. She has a dualistic, Manichean worldview, in which those who share her views represent the forces of goodness and light while those who don't share her views represent the forces of evil and darkness. She pays lip-service to love and reconciliation, but she's only loves those who agree with her, and demonizes her opponents.
But because she's a bigot, her bigotry blinds her to her bigotry. A bigot always thinks the other guy is the bigot.
iii) She's a total slave of political correctness. A conformist. She never met a tenet of political correctness she didn't like. She dutifully checks off all the boxes on the list, even if they contradict her overall philosophy. She has no independent judgment.
Christian dominionism is the idea that our nation should be governed by Christians according to a conservative understanding of biblical law, and was, I believe, the theology behind the recent government shutdown.
i) How did she arrive at that conclusion? She alleges that Rafael Cruz is a "dominionist." Therefore, Ted Cruz must be a "dominionist." Therefore, every Republican in both chambers of Congress who opposed raising the debt limit (without corresponding budget cuts) must be a "dominionist."
Her inference lends to new meaning to the fallacy of the hasty generalization. Even assuming that the father of Ted Cruz is a "dominionist," how does that imply that all those Republicans who are not the sons of Rafael Cruz are "dominionists"? Not only is her inference invalid, it's preposterous. Third-degree guilt by association. If you're associated with Ted Cruz, and Ted Cruz is associated with Rafael Cruz, then that must make you a "dominionist."
ii) There was no theology behind the recent government shutdown. Rather, many Republicans oppose raising the national debt ceiling without corresponding budget cuts. runaway government spending is a recipe for socioeconomic collapse. Ironically, that jeopardizes the welfare state, which Thistlethwaite supports.
Scary images of Hell and damnation have been part of religions for millennia, as Alice K. Turner demonstrates in her beautifully illustrated text, The History of Hell. These include biblical themes, as " "Sheol" is where sinners go (Psalm 49:13–14), and hell is "everlasting fire" presided over by the Devil (Matthew 25:41).
It's true that hell is scarier than Halloween. Reality is scarier than fantasy. A real tiger is scarier than a stuffed tiger. So what?
These images abound in popular culture as well as in religion, and people who have "near death" experiences have not always written afterwards about heavenly lights, but being "hung over an abyss" with heat blasting below, while "pairs of demonic eyes" glared at them.
It's unclear why she objects to hellish near-death experiences. These are either veridical or inverdical. If the former, then why is she attacking reality? If the latter, then these are no different than bad dreams. Scary, but imaginary.
But while these scary images abound, a theology of hell is something different than images of demons and fire. Images of hell as judgment have been used over Christian history to construct a punitive, punishing idea of God that is used like a club to manipulate people, producing true horrors instead of faith journeys.
Theologians didn't construct the idea of a "punitive, punishing God." That's a revealed truth, in both the OT and the NT. That needs to be distinguished from religious art and pop cultural representations.
As I have observed before for On Faith, so many students come to us at Chicago Theological Seminary from Christian conservative backgrounds. They tell horror stories of being told they would go to hell if they did not obey the church, their parents and other authority figures without question.
Her criticism is a non sequitur. Unquestioning obedience to "the church, their parents and other authority figures" isn't a Biblical principle. Human authority is conditional.
The truth of hell is independent of whether some professing Christians resort to rash threats of damnation. That's not an issue of hell, but the legitimacy and limits of human authority.
Even when they experienced parental abuse, they dared not tell because they were told that disobedient children deserved punishment.
The Bible doesn't condone parental abuse. And hell is an apt punishment for parents who are genuinely abusive. Of course, Thistlethwaite considers Biblical principles of childrearing to be abusive, so her indictment is tendentious.
Homosexual adoption is abusive to children. Raising kids without giving them moral parameters is abusive to children. Teaching children false views (i.e. feminism, LTBT propaganda) of how God designed men and women is abusive to children.
Awakening sexuality, gay or straight, was met with threats of hellfire and damnation.
That's euphemistic. As children become adults, they assume adult responsibilities, including moral responsibility. They should be warned that impenitent sin has dire eternal consequences.
Theologies of hell and damnation that are used to make human lives a misery are truly scary to me because they help to create and sustain 'hell on earth' for many. They contradict God's love and mercy.
In Scripture, hell often represents a reversal of fortunes. The wicked frequently elude justice in this life. They live well by wronging others. But in the afterlife, the scales of justice will be righted. That's a good thing. If you don't believe in eschatological justice, then there's no point trying to be virtuous in a fallen world. Your virtue isn't rewarded. A world without eschatological justice is a dot-eat-dog world. A Nietzschean, postmoral universe ("beyond good and evil") where only the strong survive and flourish. Hell is a hopeful doctrine. It gives the righteous hope that their rectitude is not in vain. That their rectitude isn't folly.
Christian Evangelical Rob Bell has argued this in his work Love Wins; Bell's position continues to be controversial.
I'm not sure how controversial he is. To be truly controversial, he'd have to be taken seriously. But serious-minded Christians don't take him seriously.
Theologies that emphasize a hierarchy in creation, i.e. that women were created second, and Eve is to blame for the sin that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden, are scary to me because they are literally responsible for a lot of violence against women.
To the contrary, male headship means Adam is primarily to blame (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15). The fact that in Gen 2, Adam and Eve are created separately illustrates the importance of the woman.
In my view, the primary connection between religion and domestic violence is religiously sanctioned subordination of women. Submission itself is institutionalized violence–a structure of unequal power that puts women in a vulnerable position in the home. The front door of such a "religious" home becomes a doorway to violence.
If "Submission itself is institutionalized violence–a structure of unequal power," then feminist theology promotes institutional violence by women against men whenever it places men in submission to women in structures of unequal power. Hence, Thistlethwaite should be opposed to women in government, women teachers, women CEOs, &c.
"Mary Potter Engel, a Christian theologian and novelist, has called this the "Just Battering" tradition. She models her analysis of the Christian justification of violence against wives on the Just War tradition. Just War principles start with "Right Authority." In the "Christian home," ideologies of "submission" mean that only the husband has authority. This makes physical abuse of women "just" in the same way that political authorities can claim a war is "just" if it is authorized by them."
i) Just war principles aren't confined to "right authority." That's grossly simplistic. Just-war theory has multiple criteria.
ii) The husband doesn't have sole authority in the home. Mothers have authority over children.
iii) The husband doesn't have unconditional authority. To the contrary, he is obligated to submit to God. He himself is under authority. Abusive husbands are at risk of hell.
iv) Women commit violence against other women when mothers abort their daughters. Women commit violence against men when a feministic educational philosophy treats boys like defective girls (as Christina Hoff Sommers has often documented).
"Creation science" is a theology, not a science since it does not use scientific method.
Since Thistlethwaite doesn't bother define what she means by the scientific method, or explain how creation science doesn't use it, there's nothing specific to respond to. Does she use "the scientific method" as a synonym for methodological atheism? But if God is the Creator of the world, if God is a major actor in natural history, then science, assuming it aims at a true description of how natural events occur, had better make allowance for divine agency and divine intentionality.
It is a scary theology because it is used to deny the real science of evolution...
Thistlethwaite's faith in evolution is diametrically opposed to the essential dignity of women. If evolution is true, then women are slaves to their instinctual programming. If evolution is true, then alpha males naturally subjugate women. If evolution is true, then women are simply breeding animals who outlive their biological utility when they hit menopause. If evolution is true, then women are physical organisms whose memories, emotional attachments, and aspirations pass into oblivion the moment they suffer brain death. If evolution is true, then women are the unintended byproducts of a mindless, amoral, and indifferent natural process that randomly weeds out individuals, populations, and entire species in mass extinctions. If evolution is true, then the love we have for wives, mothers, and daughters is an illusion–an altruistic projection which our biological wiring has conditioned us to imagine because it confers a survival advantage.
She also disregards evidence against evolution, viz.
William A. Dembski & Jonathan Wells & Jonathan Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence In Biological Systems (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2007)
Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2013)
John C. Lennox, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Lion UK; New updated edition, 2009)
Jonathan Sarfati, The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution (Creation Book Publishers, 2010)
I actually prefer the term "global weirding" to "climate change" or "global warming" because those terms do not evoke the erratic and dangerous effects of rapidly accelerating environmental shifts.
Thistlethwaite disregards Climategate and other evidence that global warming is a scientific scam. For a corrective:
Global warming is a stalking horse which radical environmentalists use to force through antinatalist policies that deny human worth, viz.
Homophobic Christian theologies that condemn people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender are scary dangerous, and they need to be continuously countered. Even while many states are making progress on passing marriage equality, the litany of gay teens who have been bullied and then committed suicide goes on.
If you live contrary to God's design for men and women, that's a prescription for a miserable life. We should discourage homosexuality for the same reason we discourage cocaine or heroine. It's a physically, psychologically, and cultural destructive sociopathology. For instance:
And that's even before we get around to the eternal consequences of a lifestyle that defies God's law.
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