Thexlogy* as culture-making
As I was reflecting on my last four decades of life (although it does not feel like that long), I wondered why I had been so obsessed with theology (*hereafter I shall write it out as thexlogy, in recognition of my expanding consciousness that the Divine cannot be contained in any kind of rigid gender binary our human society had created) since I was still in elementary school.
One of my childhood memories was when I got my first library card when I was nine years old. As far as I could remember, I was always browsing in the adult section on the upper floor, almost always in the religion or linguistics area. My curiosity for how different people around the world talked, wrote, and believed led to listening to the shortwave radio every night by the time I was 13 years old (this was before the Internet has become available to the ordinary masses) and one of such nights, I came across a Christian radio broadcast from Jeju, Korea. Because the radio broadcast was in part sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church (a more conservative spinoff of the Presbyterians) at the time, I decided to attend a Presbyterian church not far from my home. This church was very deep into theological education and even Sunday sermons sounded more like a college lecture. My parents being anti-religion and extremely secularist, I felt like the church had something that was missing at home. Over the following five years, I had gone from the Presbyterian church to the Jehovah's Witnesses, then to a fundamentalist Baptist church, and then to a Pentecostal church. These changes were entirely predicated upon my intellectual quest for a theology that makes sense to me, and how these churches could not answer my questions (for example, I was seriously considering becoming a JW but I left when I asked an elder why I should even bother if a soul does not exist, my existence will cease upon death, and if I impressed Jehovah enough, he would make a replica of me who would then live forever in the paradise -- since there is no material or spiritual continuity between me and this replica -- it was kind of creepy to me).
I went to college and for the first three years, I studied journalism, with a great optimism and dream of a future career in media. But I threw that away and decided to transfer to an Evangelical liberal arts college to major in biblical studies. In retrospect, this was a stupid decision -- and it did not take very long to realize that.
But why did I do this?
During the last 10 months, I have undergone a kind of "dark nights of the soul" -- everything that I did and believed led to a major disillusionment.
Most of my youthful and adult days, my life revolved around one church/faith community or another. That was one constant even if my belief systems changed. In 2011, my involvement with the Occupy Wall Street ended this; over the following four years, the activist community became my community, my family-of-choice, and my "church." Between November 2011 and July 2015, I did not attend any worship service.
A year before the start of Occupy Wall Street, I enrolled in a post-graduate seminary program majoring in feminist theology. This was at a time when I was experiencing the third continuous year of homelessness. My coursework was literally what kept me from going insane from hopelessness and boredom.
But during my involvement in the activist community and associated burnout from a lot of woo-woo, New Age, hippie types that I encountered as part of that community, I became a deep skeptic and cynic. Added to this was how a person on the autistic spectrum processes things differently from the neurotypical people -- and my numerous failed attempts at experiencing "spirituality" like "normal people" led to an irreparable disappointment.
In retrospect, I was good with religion and I was adept at understanding fine points of thexlogical discourse. But I hated emotionalism, lack of deep commitment, and irrationality that passed for "spirituality," especially in the context of "I'm spiritual, not religious."
Of course, simply chalking all this off as a symptom of autism can be too easy of an explanation.
But it does not explain why my quest for thexlogy had always given me an "oomph."
On the surface, it is one of the least useful subjects to study -- unlike STEM or business administration, it doesn't have a lot of money-making potentials attached; very few thexlogians are recipients of the Nobel Prize or other recognitions of world-changing contributions beyond their own religious bubbles (and if they were, it would not be because of their thexlogical knowledge or discourse).
I was thinking about this today and it dawned on me:
Thexlogians are the ultimate culture-makers.
Thexlogy deals with the basic framework of how people make sense of the world and how they shape morality and ethics -- therefore, the fundamental building blocks of a culture.
The language that articulates cosmology matters, and ideas have consequences.
In this world, especially in the United States, religious beliefs and moral thexlogy have an oversized influence on our society and public policy. It would not be an understatement that how an American believes about his or her God affects how they vote in elections and how they formulate values that inform their public and private behaviors.
If an American believes that one is a sinful maggot repugnant to God since birth, subject to an eternal wrath if not for a specific belief about Jesus Christ, then this belief can justify anything from child abuse to exclusion of refugees. Such beliefs are magnified through an ecclesiastical echo chamber, which in turn mobilizes voting citizens (albeit indirectly) to support candidates who think alike and to pressure elected officials to adopt a stance that encourages such violence, in the name of their God.
Of course, culture can shift in the other direction, as well. If the same American believes that every human being is a perfect reflection of the Divine Idea and therefore deserving of dignity, love, and kindness, then they would not support the far-right agenda.
To me, especially from a feminist thexlogy standpoint, thexlogy is as much a study of human culture and ideas as a "study of God" (or, more precisely, a study of how humans have thought about God).
I think this is why I have dedicated much of my life to thexlogy, and now I feel it's worthwhile resuming this pursuit after a long hiatus.