Bad Theology

In The Courage to Be, Paul Tillich describes bad and painfully wrong theology.

The God of [bad] theological theism is a being beside others and as such a part of the whole of reality. He certainly is considered its most important part, but as a part and therefore as subjected to the structure of the whole. He is supposed to be beyond the ontological elements and categories which constitute reality. But every statement subjects him to them. He is seen as a self which has a world, as an ego which is related to a thou, as a cause which is separated from its effect, as having a definite space and an endless time. He is a being, not being-itself.

As such he is bound to the subject-object structure of reality, he is an object for us as subjects. At the same time we are objects for him as a subject. And this is decisive for the necessity of transcending theological theism. For God as a subject makes me into an object which is nothing more than an object. He deprives me of my subjectivity because he is all-powerful and all-knowing. I revolt and try to make him into an object, but the revolt fails and becomes desperate.

God appears as the invincible tyrant, the being in contrast with whom all other beings are without freedom and subjectivity. He is equated with the recent tyrants who with the help of terror try to transform everything into a mere object, a thing among things, a cog in the machine they control. He becomes the model of everything against which Existentialism revolted. This is the God Nietzsche said had to be killed because nobody can tolerate being made into a mere object of absolute knowledge and absolute control. This is the deepest root of atheism. It is an atheism which is justified as the reaction against theological theism and its disturbing implications.

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This gives a possible explanation for the rise of atheism in the 19th and 20th centuries. They simply reject this kind of god. I don’t blame them. Unfortunately many Christians (and those from other faiths) seem to act this way. Maybe it is the fault of our language with its subject-verb-object formula. We take the role of the subject, and nouns—things, places, and people—fill the role of object. We make people objects. We make God an object. (Another word for object is idol.) We assume God makes people objects too. Our language implies it. Just listen carefully to people as they talk about God. Listen carefully to the words used in prayer.

The God of good theology is pure subject-subject relationship. I-Thou as Martin Buber would say. Never I-It of subject-object relations like our language. We have a hard time staying within the presence of an I-Thou relation with anyone for very long. We always slip back into I-It. Even our very own thoughts, memories, and emotions become its to us. It is only in I-Thou, within subject-subject relation, that true freedom exists because I must give Thou the freedom to be thou, to be an I also.

Please forgive me when I have treated and used you as an object, be it within my actions, my words and thoughts, or within my prayer. I am sorry. I love you as you.