What Is 'Good Theology'?

Article excerpt

Moez Masoud, the 29-year-old Muslim televangelist, had a powerful message for the 1,500 people who poured into a hall in Alexandria, the ancient Mediterranean city on Egypt's north coast. " 'We will be responsible to God on Judgment Day,' he said, arguing that violence against non-Muslims violates God's will. 'He will ask: Did you represent our religion correctly? If you feel happy that non- Muslims are being killed, this is wrong. They are our brothers.' "

Mr. Masoud and others "promote 'a sweet orthodoxy, which stresses the humane and compassionate' as an alternative to 'unthinking rage,' said Abdallah Schleifer, a specialist in Islam and electronic media at the American University in Cairo" (The Boston Globe, Dec. 6, 2007).

Voices such as Masoud's compete with those of Muslim extremists who espouse intolerance and hatred. With so much debate going on among those with differing perspectives on religion, it's helpful to ask, What is good theology?

That question is discussed by Karen Armstrong, a prolific writer on religion. She maintains that all the religious traditions agree on what makes a particular theology good. In her view: "The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self- righteous, or if it led you to kill in God's name, it was bad theology" ("The Spiral Staircase - My Climb Out of Darkness," p. 293).

Once Jesus was asked by a lawyer, "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Jesus replied, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. …