Smile Politely

Bad theology is like bad breath

I thought at first that I was the only one who could smell it. But the stench of hypocrisy and bad theology of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity is something almost everyone these days can smell, as illustrated last week by the almost universal outrage against Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti. So I’m not going to use up my column space or hold my nose over that particular emanation from Robertson’s foul mouth.

But that odor is just one of many that has been knocking people out in recent history.

In 2005, various conservative religious zealots claimed Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for New Orleans’ sinful, wicked ways. For example Dwight McKissic, a Baptist pastor from Texas said, “New Orleans flaunts sin in a way that no other places do. They call it the Big Easy. There are ten abortion clinics in Louisiana; five of those are in New Orleans. They have a Southern Decadence parade every year and they call it gay pride. When you study Scripture, it’s not out of the boundaries of God to punish a nation for sin and because of sin.”

In 2004, after the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated large areas inhabited mostly by Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, Henry Blackaby, a Southern Baptist pastor and author, claimed the tsunami was God’s punishment for the persecution of Christians in that area. He said, “If you read the Old Testament, especially, God is very concerned how the nations treat His covenant people. The nations that persecuted, offended and killed His people, God came down and destroyed them. And He’s the same God today. He’s just as concerned about His people.”

In 2001, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the conservative religious nuts claimed the attacks were God’s punishment for a variety of things. For example, James Dobson said, “Yes I believe that the attacks are God’s punishment because we are in a moral decay in this country, with abortion, forcing children to be taught about homosexuality, removing God from the schools, sexual immorality on television, and in our government. And this is God’s way of punishing the wicked.”

This list could go on for several pages because every time there’s been a disaster somewhere, some conservative religious demagogue has said that it is God’s punishment for something that somebody has done. In seminary, I learned a big fancy name for it, “retribution theology,” but I think I prefer simply to call it “insanity.”

It is bad theology — very bad, to be precise. As the pastor whom I heard in church on Sunday said of Pat Robertson’s comments, “He has hate in his heart and bad theology on his breath.”

Yes, I agree. Retribution theology stinks — like halitosis.

But this theological halitosis cannot be gotten rid of with a simple spiritual teeth brushing because it is caused by some kind of deeper spiritual disease or infection. Its root appears to be selfishness and arrogance which leads to disrespect and disregard of others; it’s disrespect and disregard initially for their rights and ultimately for their lives.

The folks who believe in retribution theology often have four components to their ideology: 1) God punishes bad people 2) Satan punishes good people, 3) God rewards good people, and 4) Satan rewards bad people. And, of course, the believers in retribution theology always believe that they are good and that other people are bad so that they can selfishly interpret any event according to the sentences below:

  1. If something bad happens to you, God is punishing you because you are bad.
  2. If something bad happens to me, Satan is punishing me because I am good.
  3. If something good happens to me, God is rewarding me because I am good.
  4. If something good happens to you, Satan is rewarding you because you are bad.

This is just rotten, malodorous, theological halitosis; and every time some religious fundamentalist opens their big mouth and says something like Pat Robertson did last week, the stench makes me vomit a little in my mouth.

But at least I can brush my teeth to get rid of the taste.

The fundamentalists, on the other hand, require a more invasive procedure to extract their bad theology. It is not an easy or painless operation because bad theology, along with hate and fear, is often fed to them from a very young age so that, by the time they are adults, it has spread throughout their entire system not unlike a cancer. People who are afflicted with bad theology might require years of re-education and exposure to people of many different religions, races and nationalities; but even then, they might not be cured. Sometimes they even get worse.

I really wish there were something simple such as a pill that people could swallow to rid them of their bad theology. But, unfortunately, we will probably find a cure for the common cold before we learn how to cure ignorance.

It really stinks.

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