Saturday, January 3, 2009

Homebrewed Christianity steps up

Last week, I applauded the work of the studies of Evolution of Religion and cautioned theologians on how they utilized and integrated the findings. Theology should not blindly supplicate to science, and there should be epistemological dialogue between the two; theological hyper-accomodation to science creates a God of the Gaps, where God is only a superficial glue loosely holding together the results of scientific inquiry. This is an unhealthy and ultimately self-defeating position for theology.

Responding to my post, one theologian, Tripp Fuller of Homebrewed Christianity, moves the theological side of this dialogue forward in his post, Darwin and the Evolution of Religion? Like me, Tripp uses a NYT interview with evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson as his entry point into the discussion, unfortunately a 6-yr old interview as one astute Dem Bones commenter pointed out. Comparing Wilson's definition of religion to a strand of Karl Barth's theology, Tripp argues:
I found his answer as reductionistic as many from various theological streams. ... [B]oth use a very narrow definition of religion in order to reject it and assert their own interpretation of reality. Of course both could respond and say, “It’s not my interpretation, it is the revealed truth of God in history” or “It’s not my interpretation, it is the most valid construction of the empirical facts.”
Tripp does not offer a better definition of religion, but he has resolved to answer this question in future posts. What is religion and how do we define it? It is such a vague and nebulus term, but in agreement with Wilson, Tripp does offer this starting point:
I also agree with Wilson that religion has and will continue to change or transform through human history, [sic] it is indeed (at least in part) a construct of human existential needs and desires that is described and practiced through human communities and with human language.
He concludes his post with a similar warning to theologians and a call for more functional religious interpretations of the world:
That religion is really human however, shouldn’t be a threat to religion and our response as a people of faith doesn’t need to be either a rejection of the scientific endeavor nor a blanket acceptance of a scientific interpretation that we try to cram God into. All truth is God’s truth and all our claims to it - scientific and religious - are partial and more or less functional. A more functional religious interpretation of the world will engage and be transformed by the best science but in doing so I think we will find there is much [sic] we can say about religion than Wilson imagines.
Arguing definitions may seem petty to some, but overall, this is a positive, incremental step for the dialogue between studies of the Evolution of Religion and theology. Agreement on the definition of terms not only precludes unnecessary ambiguity, but it keeps all sides on the same page, a necessary component of future dialogue. Good first step, Homebrewed Chrisitianity.

Thoughts? Got a good definition of religion?


Billy said...

Is atheism a religion? I heard someone say that today in relation to seperation of church and state. I believe the point being that atheists trying to keep religion out of politics can't because atheism is a religion itself.

Katie said...

Billy, in my opinion, atheism cannot be listed as a specific religion because those that subscribe to it do not necessarily all similarly subscribe to the same set of morals, histories, etc., that generally comes with a particular faith tradition. Now, many self-described atheists may follow similar moral codes or humanist principles that they have developed either on their own or through another organization or philosophy, but there is no cohesive Atheist Manifesto from which to draw a central belief (or non-belief) system.

To say that atheists are trying to "keep religion out of politics" is not necessarily correct. That is to say, it is not a complete picture. The goal there is to keep indicators, rituals, icons, and so forth, of a particular religion (Christianity being the dominant one in this country, but any religion will do) being promoted by the state. This country was founded on the principles of inclusivity, and to allow governmental endorsement of any organized religion is to limit that inclusiveness.

It is entirely possible that I'm getting my facts all screwed up here, but that's my lecture-y take on it. :-)

Darren Staley said...


You said: "Theology should not blindly supplicate to science."

I say they absolutely should. Science can be proven. Faith can never be proven.

Faith is personal. Science is total. You can have both, but in the end, as humans, we should err on the side of empirical facts.

Darren Staley said...

Athiesm in and of itself is not a religion. What I call "militant athiesm" could be construed that way.

The better term for that would be anti-theism. This group is equally less palatable to me as the fundamentalist religions.

Where is the line between abolishing religion and legislating religion? It is much finer than you may think. One side just has more books.

Anonymous said...

calling atheism a religion is like calling not collecting stamps a hobby.

Drew said...

Billy, common perception says that atheism is not a religion. And the 1st Amendment protects citizens from both the establishment of religion and the prohibition of free-exercise of religion. Correct me if I am wrong here, but this means these protections cover religions and non-religions alike. So in a legal sense, there might be truth there, but not in a semantic sense. I defer to your legal expertise though, Billy (he's a lawyer).

I have said that I think atheism and religion use the same underlying cognitive processes though. So to that extent, I do agree.