I have become acutely aware recently that theology has some very serious shortcomings, or perhaps I should say that my personal theology seems to be getting more and more inadequate (if that is not a mixed metaphor). This evening I was watching a television special about lost civilizations (is that an oxymoron?) and the program came upon a place called the Ardeche Caverns in France. These caverns were apparently a religious site for a civilization of Homo sapiens--people just like us, that is--but the site was in use more than 30,000 years ago.
Keep in mind that the oldest civilizations that we are familiar with date back about ten thousand years. The culture that produced the Ardeche Caverns is so far back that the cave art within them can be called the oldest known works of art produced by human beings.
Before that, the Cro-Magnon people themselves emerged from the mists of time, slightly after the Neanderthal people (we presume). The two human races are not related, which is to say, the Neanderthals were not "another race" as we think of race today. All the human beings who live on earth today are Cro-Magnon, or Homo sapiens, and the Neanderthals, who had a myriad of physical differences from ourselves, no longer exist (as far as we know).
The Neanderthals had a brain that was much larger than the brain we have, for example; it is theorized that they never forgot anything, and it is theoretically possible that they had "ancestral memory," possibly passed down from generation to generation through mitochondrial DNA.
Imagine what that means, for a moment. Suppose I could remember experiences that my mother had--childhood illness, or her wedding, or my own birth. Suppose I knew everything that she knew, like her cooking or housekeeping skills. The concept has limitations: for example, I was born when my mother was 27 years old and my brother, when she was 30. So would he have more ancestral memories than I? It seems likely (though I am not a reliable authority).
How, then, does Christian theology deal with these people: these people who were fully human--the Neanderthals--but experienced a mode of consciousness quite different from our own? What do the concepts of salvation and redemption have to do with them?
What experiences would the prehistoric people go through after they died, that have any bearing or relationship to Christianity? Do not waste my time dismissing these millions of vanished people as taken care of because they are all in hell. We actually know from their writings, that ancient people actually did have near-death experiences, and that their civilizations developed theories about life after death that included what they were told by those who related their out-of-body episodes.
In another context, human behavior has been divided into right and wrong with the maxim that if it is not a choice, it is not a sin. Ipso facto, any human behavior that is unconscious and automatic cannot be either right or wrong. We are what we are.
This view of human behavior is at the center of the heterosexual-homosexual debate because if sexual identity is determined outside the realm of will, it can neither be right nor wrong. At this point we must face the fact that real scientists (as opposed to moralists and preachers) do not know what is the cause of homosexuality, or even if there is one. The only thing we know is that about 10% of all human beings are homosexual, for reasons we do not know.
It is related to one particularly arrogant episode in science, though: some years ago, when the human genome was being explored, there was a belief that human cells contained "junk DNA" that was present perhaps in order to balance and complete the famous double-helix structure that we have all seen in diagrams.
However, scientists have come to the realization that--surprise, surprise!--we don't yet know all about DNA, and perhaps we never shall. So those little DNA molecules that have no known function may have any number of crucial functions of which we are unaware. Among those functions may be sexual identity--that is why gene therapy has been floated as a "cure" to homosexuality, perhaps by DNA manipulation in utero, if and when we can determine with absolute certainty that a baby is about to be born gay. The scientific caveats of such a theory are mind-numbing at this point.
And when Christianity seeks a theology, it must encompass all human beings. We cannot write off the Neanderthals, the prehistoric Homo sapiens, the ancient civilizations, just because that makes it easier to tell fairy stories about who gets saved. What is Christian theology to the Pharaoh Akhenaten, or Ramses the Great, or Julius Caesar?
This is the subject that I will spend a lot of time addressing in the near future, as we consider scholarship that has emerged only recently--even scholarship that we are not presently aware of. Scholarship (reality, that is) takes precedence over theology. It has to, or theology is a toy for children.
And there is no one theology for Christians, unfortunately; one only has to look at the teachings of various denominations for that to become clear. In fact, the doctrines and dogmas or individual denominations also evolve from generation to generation--the fanciful stories of Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon may be dear to the heart of the collective LDS Church, but in fact I have not yet met a Mormon who realized that Jesus is portrayed by Smith as a mass murderer (in Chapter 9 of the Third Book of Nephi). Another doctrine that is falling by the wayside as I write is Determinism: the idea that some lucky people have been assigned to heaven, while others have been condemned to hell, before any human being was ever born is no longer logically acceptable to mainstream Christianity.
The process of sorting this out--at least in mainstream theological thought and scholarship--is coming up in 2013.
For more info: by the way, please read III Nephi: 9 before you flame my comments, if you are a Mormon. Otherwise I will consider your comments irrelevant.