gk_theology_shirtAhhhh, the meaning of words–the debate is endless.  Words acquire meaning with their usages.  Words can fade out of usage, broaden in their usage or change meanings.  “Theology” has had many usages.   But a word is not locked to its etymology.

theos” is obviously Greek for “god” [Which the Greeks meant something far different than the Hebrews] and the Greeks probably got it from IndoEuropean “dhewes-“, meaning to storm, breathe.

logia” is from Greek “logos” which is the abstract notion of word, speech, discourse, theory, meaning and such.

So, you can see why Atheists (or even Theists) resent the word “God-Talk“, being used to describe their views on anything.  Or you could say it meant, “Discourse of Breath“, hmmmmmmm?   Anyway, I already said, etymology does not fix meaning.

“Theology” can mean something as narrow as: “the study of God”.  And so, some insiste, if you don’t believe in God, this obviously does not apply.

But “Theology” has also acquired a broader meaning:
“The rational and systematic study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truth.” (Websters)

Oh darn, now we have to figure out what a “religion is”.

Some USE religion in a narrow sense and some in the broad sense, “Football is my religion”.

Here is another definition of Theology from the ever evolving, uncontrolled Wikipedia:
“a specific formulation or systemization of religious doctrine or belief as set forth by a given religion or denomination or by one or more individuals”.

But not infrequently, in literature and journalism, “Theology” can also now be used in a derived sense to mean “a system of theoretical principles; an (impractical or rigid) ideology.“[ Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 edition, ‘Theology’ sense 1(d), and ‘Theological’ sense A.3; the earliest reference given is from the 1959 Times Literary Supplement 5 June 329/4: “The ‘theological’ approach to Soviet Marxism … proves in the long run unsatisfactory.”]

Word wars are common.  We fight over words because we use them to manipulate and influence each other.   So I guess that makes sense.  I am using the word “theology” in the very broad sense and am well aware of my playful intent to push us all to not take ourselves so seriously, while also asking us to develop tools to communicate.

If religious folks feel theology is the part of religion that requires reason, it is a good place for possible common ground.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Theology

  1. Ian

    My favorite definition of Theology is this:

    A discussion of the implications of a particular conception of God.

    I can’t remember where I first came across it.

    It is important to me, because I feel I can do theology. I can do Christian theology, for example, although I am not a Christian. I could also (with a bit more of a struggle) do theology from other standpoints: Bahai theology, or Neopagan theology/thealogy.

    It also makes sense of twentieth century theologies such as liberation theology and feminist theologies/thealogies. They are outworkings of the implications of particular conceptions of God.

    And most importantly, it admits of an atheistic theology. We have a particular conception of God. We understand that God is a social or cultural fiction treated as real by a large swathe of society. That, to me, is a *great* starting point to do theology with.

    I’ve spoken to some atheists who think you can’t do atheistic theology, because atheists simply believe there is no God, and finding the implications of that is just science or other human enquiry. I think that misses the point that as atheists we do believe in Gods in some sense, we just don’t believe they have an existence independent of human imaginations. And the outworkings of that are profound and entirely unexplored in the theological literature, I think.

    (I think the definition might be in Gordon Lynch’s Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, but I’m not in my library, so I can’t check).

  2. Wow, well put Ian. I totally agree. That was the intent of this post and its sister post — but you said it better. Nice !

  3. Sabio, there is a debate going on here:

    …as to whether Slavoj Zizek (prominent atheist philosopher, I’m sure you’re aware) ‘does’ theology. I think it’s pretty obvious he does, personally.

  4. Thank you kindly sir, I shall check it out.

    Yes, I agree, Atheists do theology — all humans do it — dualism is an inherited cognitive illusion. (though I am sure you would say it is given to us by a god so we can commune with her/him/it).

  5. dualism is an inherited cognitive illusion(Sabio)

    Hmmmm…………sounds awfully familiar……..maybe sanskrit….Maya.

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