-GAINS & GLEANINGS-
By J. Hogan
There are a lot of ideas we wish would work. It would be lovely if they would, and many of them are peaceful, uplifting, non-judgmental, and seemingly forward-leaning, innovative approaches.
One of these things that folks in the theological ministerial field deal with is people’s personal theologies. Now, to some degree, everybody has a “personal theology” if they have faith in something.
Biblical theology comes from the Bible, but even biblical theologians land on different understandings of biblical ideas - which I love, because I love the debate and discussion of such ideas.
Unbiblical theology is also a “theology,” whether it’s a different religion’s - say Shintoism or Islamic - beliefs, or an individual's own baked-from-scratch theology.
That would be someone whose idea of God or a higher power comes from their wish of what such would be like. Usually those are based on emotion. “I don’t feel that God would (or wouldn’t)...” is the usual opening line of this type of thinking.
One theology that is unbiblical is “Universalism.” This is the belief that all paths lead to Heaven. Worship Allah, Jesus, Elohim, or the neighbor’s GoldenDoodle, and you’ll be fine. Just the act of having faith in and worshiping something is enough to get you Heaven, Paradise, Nirvana, or whatever good step forward comes next.
It’s a lovely idea.
And, from a Christian, biblical worldview it’s a misleading, wrong and dangerous one. Jesus said in the gospel of John, “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” so from a biblical Christian worldview, even if Universalism sounds lovely, kind, and gently grace-laden, it’s not true. And it’s an appealing, nice-sounding idea that many folks might turn toward, leading them away from Christ.
While I’m quite sure that my faith is correctly placed in Christ, we don’t get empirical evidence of what happens after this life ends, so we can’t definitively show the failure of Universalism in result, only logical holes in the idea, and that’s not quite as strong.
In day-to-day life we do get empirical evidence of what results from our choices, yet often folks are married to the nice idea despite the failure in practice.
I recently spoke to an administrator at a high school who shared with me that a student had assaulted other’s kids each week of the school year, including the day we talked. That student had also recently thrown a two-pound object at a teacher’s face.
The administrator told me that the school treats each of these incidents as a new incident, because they don’t want to attach a stigma to that student. “Life is hard enough for these kids without us labeling them.”
Of course that sounds forgiving, nice, and forward thinking. It also is not working at all.
That student feels free to attack others at will, knowing that nothing of real consequence is going to happen. That also tells the other students that such violence is an acceptable behavior, and at this particular school the message has landed loud and clear. Fights are an everyday occurrence.
An assessment of approach is a constant necessity. If what we hope works is blowing up in our face, no matter how much we wish it would work, the approach needs to be tweaked or scrapped.
The same holds true for all the Allegheny Public Housing in the binded communities of Stowe Township and McKees Rocks. Having such a small area carry a massive burden of low income housing has gutted the town over the decades, and as Allegheny County is now pushing to possibly add more of it, an assessment of results should lead our leaders to scream “NO!”
In every area of life we have to assess and gain an emotionally detached understanding of what is resulting from what we are doing. When the results are good, we should double down.
When the results are bad, we need to understand that our approach isn’t working no matter how we may wish it would, and make a change.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.