Using God to Serve our Social Agendas

I have long had a very simple and basic concern with some feminist theology. It has haunted me since 1988 when I read Sally McFague's fascinating book Metaphorical Theology. In a nutshell, my worry is this:

Feminist theology has been at the forefront of a range of theological 'moves' that have very helpfully highlighted the fact that all theology has social implications. Theological ideas have legs and sometimes those legs have kicked the s**t out of people. Feminists and others have called attention to this and have rightly argued that a theology that leads to violence and abuse is a deeply problematic theology that needs questioning.

But what concerned me about McFague's book was that it seemed to me that she did her theology backwards. She decided what policial goals she wanted to achieve, worked out what kind of God would be needed to support that agenda, and then reverse-engeneered a doctrine of God that serves the pre-decided political agenda. It is the very self-conscious, and blatant crafting of a God to serve our political ends that is ... worrying.

I got no sense from her book that theology is a response to a divine self-revelation. It seemed to me that for McFague the 'truth' of the theology was determined by whether it supported the pre-decided agenda. It was not accountable to ... what God has revealed. Perhaps I am unfair - and I am open to correction here - but it seemed to me that the McFague model seemed to me to be in danger of using God as a means to our ends. I cannot but feel that 'here be monsters'.


Katy said…
I haven't read this woman's work, but I have a close relative who wrote much on feminist theology for a university here in the U.S.

Most of it was terrifyingly political/social in nature. Her views always began with a political/social goal, and then demanded that theology change to accommodate these views. She even wrote treatises on how voodoo and black magic are empowering to women.

She was also an ordained "reverend" in the church. I can't read feminist writings on religion any more. It's like jumping down a rabbit hole. And it gives me the willies.
David Reimer said…
Your reflections remind me of this title (originally published 1967).

Hic sunt dracones, indeed.

David Reimer
simon said…
Aren't we all guilty of making God in our own political image? I've not read McFague but I have read a good deal of Schussler Fiorenza and your critique could be aimed at her - and at Norman Gottwald, John Howard Yoder, Charles Colson, Don Carson.

Is the problem that our political attitudes are deeply embedded in us, like our culture, so we tend to gravitate toweards a 'God' who shares our politics rather than allow God to question all our political opinions - much as Barth suggests the gospel does of all truths?

It's just a thought...
Robin Parry said…

Some feminist theology goes in such directions but by no means all of it. My objection is not to feminist theology per se but to a particular mode of it.

Robin Parry said…

was not aware of that book but it looks very interesting. Thanks

Robin Parry said…

I think that your point is excellent and very important.

Feminist theology (amongst other explicitly ideological theologiers) has alerted us to the hidden ways in which ideology can motivate and drive theology.

This is something we would be wise to take seriously and be alert to. Indeed one can hide behind 'divine revelation' as a rally cry when one is actually picking the God one wants for other reasons.

One needs to allow divine revelation to confront and challenge one's thinking and to cut across one's own designs.

There are no simple solutions here. Theology is an exercise in hermeneutics and as such it is messy and imperfect. But my post seeks to point to the importance of an aspiration to submit to divine revelation. To give up on that as a goal is to surrender the task of theology in epistemic despair and to become one who chooses instead to use God for one's own ends. After all - what else can we do?

I trust in the ability of the triune God
- to reveal God (Father)
- through God (Son)
- in the powr of God (Spirit)

I cannot surrender the task of theological reflection.
simon said…
I was so inspired by your post that I've blogged on it myself. In particular pondering whether the scholars who find imperial echoes all over the New Testament are doing for political or hermeneutical reasons.

I'd be interested to know what you think.
Ken Smith said…
I find this sort of theological method not just worrisome, but downright frightening. Now, of course, we all tend to create God in our own image, and the Bible has a very clear diagnosis for this: idolatry.

I think I disagree with the Barthians that all theology has to be "theology from above", that we can't learn anything worthwhile about God from our human experiences. Nevertheless, it's quite clear to me that if you turn "what I want God to be" into a self-conscious theological method, there's no basis for claiming that you're talking about anyone besides yourself -- and certainly not the Holy One of Israel.
Anonymous said…
I find this subject, the intersection between political ideologies and theology that is, to be a very interesting one, mostly because of that intersection's affect on my political and religious beliefs. Now I tend to draw parallels fairly deeply between my religious and political beliefs, more so than most Christians would probably be comfortable doing. Unlike the feminist theologians mentioned however, my personal change or development of political beliefs did not back-engineer my religious beliefs, but rather brought them into a clearer light and even helped me understand them better. I'm a better Christian today because of it.

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