Continued from Doing Theology – sorting it out (Part 2) or go to Table of Contents


This particular part of the discussion is, by necessity, a little more complicated and to some extent theoretical. Bear with me, as the rest will be largely practical.


Since theology is subject to constant change and growth, based to our ongoing experience in God’s creation, identity and praxis are also under pressure to change. Praxis is, in its most straightforward sense, how we live our theology. Our very being, who and what we are, is inextricably intertwined with our concepts of God and God’s activity. We are, therefore, a work in progress, as is our worldview. By extrapolation, theology is also a work in progress of the minds and souls of humans as yet still developing as a result of previous shifts in theology.


The Hegelian dialectic cycle or the “circle of praxis” used in social analysis[1] offers an interesting way of looking at the personal development of theology. While the language is somewhat turgid, the concept is not that complicated. It is an exercise in reconciling contradictions, at least on this level of discussion. This kind of thought process functions much like a three dimensional progressive spiral. A complete cycle is one full coil of the spiral and is the result of four things, one of which serves two purposes – the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.


Now, at this point, if your eyes are rolling back in your head and you can hardly stay awake, scroll down to the last paragraph and read the part in bold print. If you can accept that statement, you can avoid reading this section. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like you to read it. It’s just that I don’t want that to result in you becoming comatose.  The next section will be more to your liking, I think. Deal? Okay.


First, a thesis is developed. A thesis is really just a conscious thought or intellectual proposition, in this case regarding belief. For a start, let’s assume our thesis is that God is both omnipotent – all powerful – and all good. A person then acts on that thesis and sees what happens, which is sometimes easier said than done regarding theology. Let’s say that we simply act by looking at what goes on in the world and noticing that really bad things happen. Simplifying the thought process, if God is all powerful, then bad things must be the work of God (big leap here, but go with me). But, if God is all good, how can God be responsible for bad things. The thesis is tested and certain contradictions become apparent. Next, we formulate an antithesis – a contrary position for sake of demonstration. Let’s just say our antithesis is we were wrong – God is neither all powerful nor all good.


Now we come to what is critical to Hegel’s process – aufheben (sublation). This is not synthesis or a fusion into one new idea, but rather the combination of negating, preserving and elevating elements of the original thesis.[2]When a notion is sublated, it does not cease to exist but is retained and preserved in the advanced notion(s) that follow it – a process which involves both negotiated inclusion and partial negation. Our result could be any number of things. Let’s just say that it is that, when all things are considered we think the following: based on what I understand about being all-powerful and all-good, God cannot be both – perhaps my understanding of one, the other or both is flawed. Unlike synthesis, which results in a fully blended new thesis, sublation results in a theological thesis that takes into account and retains newly-developed or pre-existent contradictions and, thereby, remains aware of its own inadequacies in fully describing God-world relations.


For me, this describes the process of life. We are unfinished products; we are not entities frozen in time and space by the particularities of our birth or life experiences, but are constantly in the process of analyzing our notions, sublating them, and wrestling with the contradictions that are inherent to our existence. Anyway, if I haven’t lost you at this point, the sublation becomes the new thesis and the process begins again on a new cycle. This is repeated, and each step produces a more finely tuned (hopefully) thesis.


My developing years in Australia, a country that has neither forgotten nor forgiven its colonial history, and my adult life in the U.S., have been lived as an expatriate British citizen, not out of patriotism to a homeland, but more out of my experientially developed aversion to joining or belonging. This plays out in many of my familial relations, which are almost all long-distance, as well as my tendency to be introverted, intuitive, introspective, independent and, not infrequently, irascible.


Consider a fictional dynamic based very loosely on my family history. As a small child in England, I did not understand the distance between my family and our neighbors. The neighbors were rude (thesis). In later years, I began to notice that my darker skinned mother and sister, with their jet black hair, were treated differently than the lighter skinned members of the family, which included my father and me. The neighbors weren’t rude to everyone in my family, just the dark skinned ones (antithesis). Darker skinned people must not be as likeable (sublation and new thesis). I find out more about my family. My mother was U.S. born, but went to England with her father and brother when her parents divorced. We immigrated to Australia in search of work, and people acted the same way. All people must associate skin color with being different and nobody likes people who are different (antithesis). I like my mom and my sister, and don’t get along with my dad, so I am going to choose to be different by getting more tanned. People will then not like me because I am different, and I will be like my mom (sublation).


While the circumstances are much more complex than this, I did make a conscious choice to be different and distant from my neighbors – certainly not by getting tanned, but I’m guessing you knew that. Ultimately, I chose to align myself with my mother, and chose to dwell closer to the edge of culture. After arriving in the U.S., and meeting my grandmother for the first time, I finally perceived what had been in front of me the whole time – my mother is part Shawnee, having been born to a “mixed-race” woman whose culture and traditional sense of family were different than my mothers and, certainly, my own. I went through a whole new dialectic process. This has left me with an empathy with and appreciation of indigenous peoples and theologies, but without any inclination to “become” Shawnee myself. Suffice it to say, I wear my “whiteness”  a little uncomfortably, but have not been so uncomfortable as to discard it. The dialectic process I undertook to try to understand my family inescapably informs my theology as I see family and relations differently than many.


Also, the abuse I suffered in childhood is another major contributing factor to how I construct worldviews and theology. The patterns of my abuse started with my father, extended into my church “family”, neighborhood, schoolmates, and even the curmudgeonly old family doctor. All the systems on which I was dependant as a child and early teen – family, community, medical and educational – were sources of cruelty, as well as strict programming to conform to identities that were not of my own choosing. This is not to say that all my experiences were as a victim of abuse but, apart from my mother, the instances of kindness were limited to few individuals and not as memorable as those at the other extreme.


My antidote – or more correctly, self-medication – in the years from the mid-teens to the early thirties was chemical abuse and dependency. I was, however, occupationally functional and quite adept and ruthless in business environments, whose systems I learned to abuse for my own benefit. I unabashedly and ruthlessly pursued profit, prestige and power until almost forty, even though I remained socially distant from “polite” society. Looking back from where I am now, it seems as if I instinctively knew that to enter into culture completely would require loosing some essential element of my identity that I was not willing to give up. I opted instead to remain a usurper of economic advantage for much of my life. Developing conscience, and the emergence of the long stifled moral person within, initiated a long period of re-examination of my life, values and worldviews


All this resulted from myriad coils on the dialectic spiral. Each step of the way I formed a thesis, tested it, challenged it and then formed a sublation. How I understood my self in relation to the world changed over time based on new information and revised thought processes. These experiences inescapably inform my theology and my praxis. “God the father” was a concept I could not embrace, the church was a cruel system that visited the sins of the parents on the child, and so on and so on. So it is for each and every person – life leaves indelible imprints on how we perceive God and how we believe God perceives us, and we figure that out in a much more sophisticated way than simple trial and error.


Continued:  Doing Theology – Sources or return to Table of Contents

[1] Joe Holland and Peter Henriot S.J., Social Analysis – Link Faith and Justice, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983), 8.

[2] University of London, “Hegel: Glossary” webpage, Philosophy BA Course Material 2001-2002 website,, accessed 4/7/06.


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... or, preaching from both ends


That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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