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Ride Out: a different eschatology
by Dr. Rev. Richard S. Kirby, Mar 12, 2003
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I know this "congregation's" discussion began as a study of G.W. Bush, Eschatology, and War. Well ---may I speak from a slightly different Eschatology perspective than that popular dualistic apocalypticism [as in the "Left Behind" series] which seems to be dominating our considerations?

Incidentally, mainstream theologian Martin E. Marty or similar author wrote an article once: "Even God is helpless in the face of apocalyptic Eschatology," making the point that the Christian Scriptures interpreted in a certain way leave no room for the divine Spirit to introduce the New.

The contrary theological position of T.F.Torrance et al. is that even God changed - in the Incarnation. Change - not stasis or immutability or impassibility - is God's nature. In fact in Hindu theology I am told that the word Brahman for supreme Being implies semantically "The Grower" or "The Evolutioner." So even religion, let alone God, can change.

The slightly different Eschatology perspective I mentioned is the academic field of systematic and philosophical theology, which I studied in New York & London 1982-1992.

I confess that 'systematic and philosophical theology' sounds about as rarified and useless as any warm-hearted activist could imagine, but my claim is that it is a tradition of faith which leads to deeply felt and urgent, effective action in time of war.

So here goes my reasoning. "Our" Eschatology field is named from ancient and Biblical Greek- Ta Eschata (the Last Things) - but there are deep strands in Jewish and Christian culture which believe that in Christ the Last Times/Things have arrived: the End Times {The Time of Love, the end of the Era of Punishment and Vengeance} are now now - so to speak (yes, I really mean those two 'nows': the theologians' slogan is "from The Last Things (Ta Eschata) to the Last One (Ho Eschatos = Christ Jesus).

This is New Testament theology a/c to some theology profs. The 4th Gospel (a/c to St.John) is considered here the fountainhead of articulate 'realized eschatology,' in which it is seen or anyhow believed that in Christ the Kingdom of Heaven actually arrived. And part of that arrival was the end, ontologically and theo-cosmologically, of the Aeon of Violence. (This is SYSTEMATIC theology and not plain Biblical theology.)

Those of us who studied science as youngsters tend to believe pretty easily that this outlook is more congruent with world history and of course with scientific culture than is .

The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (executed by Nazis in Flossenburg, Germany, 1945) spoke famously of Religionless Christianity, Costly Grace, Humanity Come of Age, etc. Interestingly, his metaphysics led him to activism and his execution was for supporting the plots to assassinate Hitler.

The point I am making is that there are very mainstream theologies in which eschatology is a horse of a very different hue than the blood-red apocalyptic Eschatology....and these more irenic (and necessarily multi-faith and ecumenical) theologies, possibly operating thru military chaplains or their bishops, can be an actual force for improving the sanity of armed conflict if we must have it at all. We can describe our ideals - not only for smarter weapons, but for better wars and better presidents. And these ideals are energies - as much if not more than the self-terminating energies of hate.

To put it paradoxically, I think we can at least imagine more 'loving [or compassionate] wars,' which I would describe by deductive reasoning as the terminus ad qualm of the idea of Just War and Smart Weapon.

For if we begin with the premise of love not hate - or perhaps of forgiveness not vengeance {which we can see beginning to appear in the writings of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah inter al.}- we can see that the views of military historians/theorists such as JFC Fuller [in the classic Decisive Battles of the Western World] must be true: the goal of war is peace. Or to put it even more shockingly: the goal of war is love (Freudian + Maslovian version: the psychic-economy goal of hate is love).

As to our president, he is a Methodist - as has been pointed out here. Methodist theology is social in orientation, and is not based on Bible alone but on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.

Now I cannot prove it, but I can hope anyhow that our C-in-C is in principle - and for this reason - and supported by the faith stance of the First Lady - open to better theologies.... should someone or 'some ones' offer them.

This is my hope; and it has practical consequences for our work with military chaplains etc.

Has anyone reading this seen The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie? Our present internationally belligerent situation feels a bit like that in some respects and some scenes: even the Trees in the end get into action. But what I have in mind is that literally hundreds of thousands of Christian groups (churches) in the US alone are waiting (consciously or not) for something which will liberate them from their learned helplessness and incipient despair.

That something is a better idea of the responsibilities of a faith-bearing citizen in a time of war: the responsibility to communicate their vision of the highest good for the NOW to all other political atoms a.k.a. citizens. And this analysis implies a new and experimental form of divine worship aimed at activating the priesthood of all believers in a very exact way: the potent civic spirituality of all citizens.

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