Developing a Systematic Theology “From Scratch”

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Developing a Systematic Theology “From Scratch”

Steve Petermann

Quote:In other posts, I’ve talked about why one might want to develop a systematic theology, “from scratch”.  Now, by “from scratch” I don’t mean starting with a completely blank slate.  Since our thinking is a product of the history of thought, culture, and personal experience, it would be impossible to start completely without influence.  Also, it wouldn’t necessarily be beneficial.  There is a wealth of ideas and insights from the past that could be brought to bear on trying to formulate a theology.  What I mean by “from scratch” is that no particular religious tradition or line of religious or philosophical thinking is given de facto authority.  Also, the idea that any religious text is “holy writ” — divine revelation in the form of “dictation” is rejected.  Instead, the assertion here is that the religious texts and wisdom literature are human attempts to make sense of reality as it is, ultimately.  So, if “holy writ” is rejected and no particular religious tradition is given de facto authority then, in some sense, the endeavor is “from scratch”.

So, then the question becomes, how to do that?  What I’ll offer here is an approach I took for that task.  There certainly could be others and I, for one, would welcome a multitude of voices in developing systematic theologies.  Each of us has our personal history, psychological disposition, knowledge, and experience.  As such, our thinking can be somewhat narrow and biased.  Only with criticism and dialog can things move forward.  The history of thought has shown us that.  So, I’ll offer the approach I took and you can evaluate it from your perspective.  Here is an outline of the process.  I say outline because a lot more can be said about many of the topics found here.  For the sake of a manageable length, I’ll save more thorough treatments of those topics for other posts.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


Fundamental Assertions

S. Petermann

Quote:Metaphysical systems including theology and religious philosophy try to characterize reality in its totality. However, as finite creatures, we have certain abilities and limitations for attaining and expressing knowledge. Those limitations and abilities include perception, cognition, intuition, and language. We can avail ourselves to empirical investigations (science) as a resource for characterizing reality but that also has limitations for how deeply and comprehensively we can probe reality. So, when faced with those limitations, if the goal is to characterize reality in total then a certain amount of speculation is necessary. We even see this in science with the many different interpretations of quantum mechanics. 

So, the question is how to approach the characterization of reality in theology and religious philosophy? Since speculation is necessary, the method chosen for this endeavor will affect whether or not the system will be complete, coherent, comprehensive, and compelling. If we look back in history at these systems, I think a useful way to think about the method employed is in the form of question/answer. This is particularly true for those systems that focus on existential issues (what we care deeply about). In that case, the questions addressed are not just out of idle curiosity. They are momentous for how we perceive ourselves and our place in the cosmos and beyond.

Now, every era may have somewhat different questions. This is because our understanding of “how reality is and works” changes as new information and ideas come in. While our perceived understanding of  “the more” (as William James puts it) may shift somewhat, certain questions persist and need to be addressed anew.

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Ontology — An Aspect Monism and Divine Idealism

S. Petermann

Quote:While I do think that there is a wealth of truth and insight to be found in the traditional religious systems, as I mentioned earlier, I also think there are fundamental flaws within them that can’t be just tweaked away. It’s not that this hasn’t been tried. The history of theology and religious philosophy is full of attempts to “fix” the persistent perceived problems within them.  The problem with this, in many cases, is that if problematic elements arise are because they stem from fundamental tenets then any “solutions” will necessarily be in the form of contrivances or inelegance. I think that is the situation we find ourselves in today. So, what I’ll offer here is an attempt to formulate an ontology “outside” the traditions while still drawing from them and any other resources available. Like any theology or religious philosophy, it can have weaknesses or areas that may still be problematic. That should be affirmed. Still, I think new attempts to formulate an ontology and the subsequence concepts and ideas that follow are necessary because they do affect what happens in the world and whether or not they promote the good.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2023-02-15, 10:47 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 1 time in total.)
The Theological Implications of Quantum Mechanics

S. Petermann

Quote:If overriding supernaturalism isn’t compelling, then reality is constituted within certain intentional constraints. The stability characterized in the Born rule distribution is honored but within that distribution, there is leeway for novelty and active teleology. Accordingly, this has powerful implications for things like the problem of evil, free will, meaning, morality, prayer, and so on.

Essentially it means that radical departures from regularities shouldn’t be expected. God has made a commitment to a holistic teleology. A radical departure at some localized position could have far-reaching negative effects elsewhere. However, that does not mean that there is no direction and purpose involved. The narrative proceeds according to God’s purposes. While these cannot be thwarted, there is still risk involved. The freedom inherent in the Divine Life means that certain divine goals may not be achieved, at least for the moment. Still, the Divine Life narrative proceeds and every stage has the opportunity to embrace those goals and make life more good and beautiful.

Here’s an example from prayer. Say someone is planning a picnic and prays for sunshine instead of rain. If God complies with that request, what happens elsewhere? What if farmers in that area are in desperate need of rain? For God, with a big picture in mind granting that request would compromise God’s holistic purposes.

Now, does that mean there can be no remarkable sets of events? No. I’ve talked about this concerning prayers of supplication here...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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