Bug squashing and recompiling - a theological flag day

I believe in something with which I disagree. It's bad faith to suggest that my self-understanding trumps my existential demonstrations, so I had as well get to work squashing this bug. People who disagree with me are wrong. This is the bug, and like any off-by-one, it was an easy mistake. In fact, it was a mistake made by observing and borrowing code from much of contemporary Lutheranism. People who disagree with orthodoxy are heretics. Add power gradients and stigmatize appropriately. Get trained to be orthodox, modulo some very particular denominational politics. In the process, learn that the state of the art is right, which agrees with your science training. Learn to differentiate yourself by being right in contextually appropriate ways. Creatively redefine orthodoxy such that it can remain a palatable concept under the constraints of contemporary theological science, rather than a relic of history that should be discarded. All the while climbing up in the power gradients and stigmatizing disagreement. And magically we are a humanitarian, neighbor-centered, and loving persecutor of heretics. Paradigm inversion at its best. Same system, new "top."

I don't come from "below." I'm just climbing around the wheel as it turns. I was raised white, conservative, middle-class, and modern. My father believes firmly that homosexuality is morally wrong. If he was at CWA09, he voted no. If not, he voted no at the synod level. I went to Valparaiso interested in what Gil Meilaender had to say, and having been a reader of First Things. On the other hand, I grew up never understanding why evolution and the Bible should conflict. I was raised on the literary text of scripture and the best of science. Faith in God, understanding of the world. We weren't fundies -- we knew better -- we were just bourgeois. In everything else, I was trained to be right. Why not theology? In everything else, I was trained to accept that our understanding of the world changed. Why not morality? And in everything, I was trained to argue, and to be convinced only by solid reason. The seeds of my success, and simultaneously the bug.

In actual fact, I was not trained to keep an open mind. I was trained to think I had an open mind, which is a very different thing. I was actually trained to be on the right side, and to move to the right side should I ever find myself on the wrong side. This involves scrupulous attention to which sides are the wrong ones. A lifetime of what my wife calls "You're wrong, and here's why." And in point of fact, I expect that from others. I expect to be refuted and to change sides. It has happened before, and it will happen again. But the bar is high. And this is the game in which I learned theology -- whose history lends itself beautifully to such a game, especially if you're Lutheran. It's agonizing, from which root come both agony and antagonism.

I'm not sure I know how to do theology without polemics. I've never been comfortable putting down the weapons. I went from using them against people to using them to defend people, but that's just another way of using them against people. I've grown to love too many people on all sides for that to be a livable solution any longer. So I find myself on the wrong side. There are no enemies. There is bad theology, but you can't kill bad theology with weapons. All you do is wound good people. And I firmly believe that theology that wounds good people is bad theology. Hoist on my own petard. But how do I get down from here? It's an insidious bug, and squashing it in one place is no guarantee it won't show up in another.

The answer, of course, is that I'm wrong, and Christ is my only righteousness. But God so help me, it doesn't seem like a very practical solution in my profession.


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