Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Reader Writes: "First, Let Us Assume a Spherical Cow": How Christian Theological Thinking Often Gets Done

Nicole Chase responds brilliantly to my discussion yesterday of the bizarre proposal that people (disembodied ones, it seems) leave religious groups simply because they "stop believing" — and not because actions taken or doctrines taught by religious groups that affect real people in the real world precipitate real people's loss of faith in religious institutions:

"[I]t seems to me that people who have the luxury of proclaiming that there are religious ideas or teachings over here, and the messy stuff of real life over here, are people who are not usually targeted in a malicious way by religious ideas or teachings." 
A thousand times this. I've often noted a gnostic streak in American Christianity that would prefer we all just ignore those squicky bodies with their messy "needs" in favor of concentrating on the purity of our souls. There is also, I think, a smug superiority particular to Catholicism that prizes a "rational" or "intellectual" approach to matters of morals and religion. (Not unlike that of some of the nastier internet trolls who "just want to have a diiiialogue about issues, GOSH.") 
All of this leads to so much religious discourse wherein how people actually live and move and have their being is deemed irrelevant next to appeals to some tidy universe of logical reasoning. 
In science/engineering, we have a joke about how, in order to approach a complex problem, we first make simplifying assumptions, knowing that the full solution will eventually have to account for the messy complications of real life to be useful. 
Q: How does a physicist milk a cow?
A: First, let us assume a spherical cow… 
Good for a chuckle, but this kind of thinking in moral theology is appalling when the Imago Dei is reduced to a spherical cow as a rhetorical flourish. And then we spherical cows are berated for not finding the tidy, simplified "solution" compelling for real-life applications...

The assumed spherical cow is simply so much less messy than those messy squicky bodies that live in the real world, especially when those messy squicky bodies are female bodies with all their leakages and hormones and natural cycles, which (in the spherical-cow universe inhabited by "rational" males) bind them to nature and to the irrational. Right?

And so why should messy squicky bodies with leakage and hormones and natural cycles, which have a limited capacity to reason and to dream of spherical cows, be determining religious truth at all? Better to leave that up to those capable of reasoning, those made preeminently in the image of God, who is all spirit, all reason, at the top of a chain of created "order" that places heterosexual people and people with penises at the pinnacle of creation, since they are more like God than anyone else . . . . And better not to make those with messy bodies and hormones leaders of great nations whose cultures are deeply stamped with the stamp of heterosexual male rationality . . . .


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