• September 19, 2014

The Ethics of Being a Theologian

The Ethics of Being a Theologian 1

Jon Krause for the Chronicle Review

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Jon Krause for the Chronicle Review

"Do you find, as an atheist, that you have difficulty defending religious beliefs to your students?" The question came from a professor of metaphysics whose views of reality, I had just confessed to him, strike me as self-evidently false. Perhaps I should have been more tactful. Nevertheless, his question took me by surprise.

This intelligent man had just made two false assumptions. Without sufficient evidence, he assumed that I am an atheist (for the record, I am theistic off the job and professionally agnostic) and that a professor of religion is an apologist for religious beliefs.

"We study religion, we don't practice it," I told him. This is what I usually say. Sometimes I try to be more gentle: "The study of religion is the study of people, and the gods are interesting to us only insofar as they shed light on the people who conceptualize them."

My encounter with that professor reflects a problem endemic to academe. Most people do not understand what religious study really is. Professors of religion are often confused with, or assumed to be allies of, professors of theology. The reason for the confusion is no secret. All too often, even at public universities, the religion department is peopled by theologians, and many of those theologians refuse to make the distinction that I am about to make.

In my view, the purpose of academe is to advance knowledge, or an understanding of how things are in the real world. I do not accept the trendy postmodern notion that we are incapable of achieving that kind of knowledge. Our colleagues in the natural sciences have an advantage over us, in that they are able to wrestle with reality using research tools unavailable to the humanities or social sciences. Nevertheless, when unencumbered by overtly ideological agendas, even those of us in the humanities and social sciences can advance knowledge.

Religious study attempts to advance knowledge by advancing our understanding about why and how humans are religious, what religion actually does, and how religion has evolved historically. (The latter is my subdiscipline.) Of course, each religion provides its own explanation about why and how the religion exists, but their answers to these questions depend on truth-claims advanced by the religion itself.

Our research is necessary because religion does not do what apologists for religion usually say it does. It does not reveal a god to us or enable us to achieve something referred to vaguely as enlightenment. One does not need to be an atheist to realize that each claim of divine revelation exists for some purpose not stated (or, in some cases, not even known) by the one who claims the revelation. A religious truth-claim can be advanced for any number of reasons. It might be a cynical political ploy or a sincere interpretation of genuine experiences that neurobiologists can help us to understand. Likewise, one need not affirm atheism to understand that sacred traditions, like any combination of cultural artifacts and human ideas, survive and replicate for reasons that have little to do with the truth-claims associated with those traditions.

Theology also views itself as an academic discipline, but it does not attempt to advance knowledge. Rather, theologians practice and defend religion. Theology is a set of words about a god; therefore, while theology is one of many objects of investigation for a religion researcher, it is the substance of the scholarship produced by a theologian.

There is nothing wrong with the practice and defense of religion, but it is not the study of religion. The best theologians are scholars who have immersed themselves in many of the same academic disciplines favored by religion researchers. Like good religion research, good theology is generated by the application of sound reasoning to empirical evidence. But there is a crucial difference. The religion researcher evaluates that evidence from within a tradition of secular, academic "wisdom." The theologian evaluates the same evidence from within a tradition of sacred, esoteric "wisdom." The distinction is not trivial and ought to be recognized and honored by religion researchers and theologians alike.

To clarify the difference between religious study and theology, consider the topic of religious ritual. From the viewpoint of religious study, a religious ritual is a ritual precisely because it is human behavior that accomplishes nothing except the construction of concepts about its own legitimacy. For example, Christians consume a wafer and wine (or some similar elements) "in remembrance of Christ," but they have debated for two thousand years about what this action accomplishes. Does it "deify" the Christian? Is it a "visible word" from the Christian god? Or is it a divine promise, a symbolic action, a signifier of membership in the group of believers, or simply ritual obedience to a divine command? The construction of concepts defending the action's legitimacy are legion, go in and out of favor, and frequently remain unknown to—or misunderstood by—most of the participants.

Since rituals do not accomplish what the religion says they do, the researcher evaluates them on the basis of what they actually accomplish, even when the doctrines do not acknowledge those accomplishments. At the most simple level of evaluation, rituals create a sense of community, maintain identity boundaries, and defeat inclinations to pursue heterodox behaviors. Experts in the study of ritual have developed more-complex theories, but from the viewpoint of a theologian, all such observations, no matter how well defended by data and argument, are dismissed as reductionistic. For theologians, the ritual's raison d'être is defined by its associated doctrines, or the alleged revelation or foundational myth upon which it appears to rest. In many cases, the ritual is defended as behavior that accomplishes genuine changes in the participant.

In other words, the theologian maintains that there exists an irreducible element in religious ritual that we religion researchers cannot hope to comprehend. I expect every theologian to believe this and will never argue with theologians about it. It is not my place to tell religious people how to be religious, and theologians are within their rights to insist on their ideas about their own religions. However, our disagreement clarifies the difference between theology and religious study. Whereas the theologian advances ideas about the religious value of ritual, religious study attempts to advance knowledge about ritual. Moreover, research suggests that most religious participants either do not know or do not care about the theologian's ideas concerning the ritual's significance. They are content to construct their own ideas about ritual, which reveals an irony many theologians fail to comprehend: Not only are the theologian's ideas about ritual irrelevant to the religion researcher, they are irrelevant to most religious people.

In sum, the religion researcher is related to the theologian as the biologist is related to the frog in her lab. Theologians try to invigorate their own religion, perpetuate it, expound it, defend it, or explain its relationship to other religions. Religion researchers select sample religions, slice them open, and poke around inside, which tends to "kill" the religion, or at least to kill the romantic or magical aspects of the religion and focus instead on how that religion actually works.

Little wonder that many academics—and Richard Dawkins is merely the most vocal among them—dismiss the discipline of theology as "talk about nothing." A number of theologians have taken issue with Dawkins, but all of them seem to miss his central point, which is that talk about a god is, necessarily, talk that never advances knowledge. Regardless of one's opinion of him, Dawkins has done academe a great service by providing a quick way to identify a theologian in our midst. If you are uncertain with whom you are speaking, just inject the name of Richard Dawkins into the conversation. The theologian will be dismissive of him; the religion researcher will not.

Recently I met a man who identified himself as a religion professor from a university with which I was not familiar. While making chitchat, I asked him what he was researching. He said, "I am investigating the recent rise and fall of atheism." That intrigued me. "What evidence do you have for a recent surge in atheism and its collapse?" He responded like a theologian. His evidence for the surge of atheism was a list of books by atheists, most prominently those of Dawkins. Published responses to Dawkins by several theologians seemed, to this scholar, to represent evidence for atheism's collapse. Apparently he had not even considered checking demographic research, such as trends in religious self-identification, nor had he formulated his own research method for demonstrating the alleged "rise and fall of atheism."

The distinction that I have drawn between theology and religious study is not merely academic but ethical. In my view, the presence of a discipline within academe that does not attempt to advance knowledge but tries to defend a set of truth-claims for which empirical data are, by definition, unavailable requires of theologians greater ethical responsibility than most of us in academe already acknowledge. Academic theologians' pronouncements give the public a false sense that theology represents an advance in human knowledge. Recent embarrassments, like the rising influence of intelligent-design "science," demonstrate that claims made by theologians have consequences. Theologians must take a hard look in the mirror and ask if they can live with those consequences.

Theologians' failure to meet their ethical obligations is particularly significant with respect to the Bible and other sacred writings. The field of biblical studies includes a great many religion researchers but remains dominated by theologians whose pronouncements about the Bible routinely lead the less informed astray. Not infrequently, theological concepts are packaged as the conclusions of historical research. The problem is not merely that biblical characters like Moses or Jesus are presented to the public as figures of history on the slimmest of evidence, but, more insidiously, that biblical claims about human obligation to a god are presented as though they are supported by some kind of evidence.

Theologians who do not think of themselves as unethical nevertheless sell their pew-sitting laity a bill of goods. The failure of theologians to remind the members of their churches and synagogues that the Bible is an anthology of ancient literature composed by ancient people in an ancient culture has consequences. The laity are entitled to know that any god described in a biblical text is an ancient god, a byproduct of the ancient culture that produced the text. The god of the Bible is the sum total of the words in the text and has no independent existence. It would be reasonable to begin every theological discussion with the disclaimer "the god described in this sacred text is fictional, and any resemblance to an actual god is purely coincidental." This is not an outsider's dismissive opinion, but the reality, and theologians have an ethical obligation to teach that truth even if they also want to believe and teach, as is their right, that a god exists.

Am I trying to imply that theology is without value? Certainly not. I do not presume to tell theologians how to be theologians, and I will not attempt to define the value of theology. I simply request that theologians fulfill basic ethical obligations, such as the affirmation that theology is not knowledge and must position itself apart from those academic disciplines that try to advance knowledge, such as history, anthropology, religious study, and (perhaps especially) the natural sciences.

I now realize how I should have answered the philosopher who asked whether I had trouble defending religion to my students: "I explain complex religious doctrines to undergraduates every time I enter a classroom, and I've never had difficulty doing so. But I tell my students that my role is to explain and evaluate, never defend, religious belief and practice."

K.L. Noll is an associate professor of religion and chair of the religion department at Brandon University, in Manitoba. He is the author of a popular textbook for undergraduates, Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction (Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

Comments

1. kplaxco - July 27, 2009 at 11:19 am

This is a disgusting piece of writing. Did you really just try to claim that it is unethical for a theologian to say that theological claims are reasonable? What would happen if a theologian wrote an article for the Chronicle arguing in the opposite direction that it is unethical for a "religious scholar" to say that the claims of "religious studies" are reasonable? You would say that such a person is dismissive at best and dim-witted at worst. Why the double-standard? Say what you will about theology; even make an argument that theology is, in fact, not reasonable, and that its claims cannot actually refer to divinity (an argument which you merely asserted here, and did not make, given a lack of engagement with, say, Thomas Aquinas) - but please don't behave like an imbecile and claim that theologians are unethical just because they don't think they and believers are FOOLS.

2. clschrader - July 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

"The problem is not merely that biblical characters like Moses or Jesus are presented to the public as figures of history on the slimmest of evidence" - Are you claiming that extra-biblical documents do not prove the historicity of Jesus? Surely not. Please do a little more research before making such a claim. "I do not presume to tell theologians how to be theologians..." Really? Than explain why your article contains statements such as, "It would be reasonable to begin every theological discussion with the disclaimer "the god described in this sacred text is fictional, and any resemblance to an actual god is purely coincidental." You presume to force your worldview on theologians with no proof that you are telling the truth. "The field of biblical studies includes a great many religion researchers but remains dominated by theologians whose pronouncements about the Bible routinely lead the less informed astray. Not infrequently, theological concepts are packaged as the conclusions of historical research." Why don't you read some texts such as, "The Historical Reliability of the Gospels" by Craig Blomberg, or "Can We Trust the Gospels" by Mark D. Roberts before making your sweeping claims against the historical reliability of biblical texts regarding Jesus. If you want to disregard the Bible you must, in all honesty, disregard all ancient texts because they don't come close to the Bible in regards to: 1. antiquity 2. multiplicity 3. the critical-scholarly methodology or 4. the quantity and quality of textually ambiguous passages (variants).

3. stevehays - July 27, 2009 at 01:10 pm

The failure of theologians to remind the members of their churches and synagogues that the Bible is an anthology of ancient literature composed by ancient people in an ancient culture has consequences. The laity are entitled to know that any god described in a biblical text is an ancient god, a byproduct of the ancient culture that produced the text. The god of the Bible is the sum total of the words in the text and has no independent existence. The author's experience of theologians and churches appears very limited. I believe that every theologian of my acquaintance would and does acknowledge the substance of the first two sentences of the excerpt I have quoted from the author. And as for churches? The preaching even in our little Presbyterian church in rural Ohio regularly makes the point clearly and publicly. The parishioners may or may not have digested the point, but the "theologians" who take the pulpit regularly and clearly make the point. Much of what the author asserts is based on a straw man argument. The final statement in the quote is simply a dogmatic assertion. Thoughtful teachers of political theory might (indeed, must?) properly assert of any anthology of political writers that the notions of liberty (let us say) contained in the anthology were influenced by the culture in which they arose. If, however, we were then to claim, "The liberty discussed in this anthology is the sum total of the words in the text and has no independent existence," we would be asserting not a rationally demonstrated conclusion, but an ideological claim or undemonstrated philosophical assumption. In this broad and undefended assertion the author implicitly condemns not merely "theologians," but every scholar who may even loosely be described as a philosophical idealist.

4. stevehays - July 27, 2009 at 01:14 pm

I attempted to set the first three sentences of my comments above (through "has no independent existence") in blockquotes, but it appears that that css/html feature is not supported on this site. If I had known that, I would have put those sentences in quotation marks. They constitute an excerpt from Prof. Knoll's piece. My apologies.

5. jaadler - July 27, 2009 at 01:35 pm

This piece ought to be required reading in every department of religion or religious studies and by the officers of the American Academy of Religion. I completely agree with your general point and with most of what you say. However, it does appear that you occasionally cross the line between "methodological agnosticism" and "methodological atheism" (Ninian Smart's terms). The former is what you presumably want to endorse (as do I) when you say you are "professionally agnostic." But you seem to be methodologically atheistic when you say that "religion does not do what apologists for religion usually say it does" and "rituals do not accomplish what the religion says they do." There is a crucial difference between saying that religion's effects are subjective and therefore resistant or opaque to empirical measurement and saying that it has no effects. The latter position sounds like logical positivism, which I would hope you do not endorse. (If you do, I withdraw my first paragraph).

6. paprieto - July 27, 2009 at 02:40 pm

Theologians are in the business of justifying beliefs. More recently, in the United States groups of theologians have concocted justifications for the structure and behaviour of nations to support belief-based moral or social systems . Beliefs generate their own premises in order to fit circumstances that allow for self preservation. A scholarly theologian should agree that, in essence, his or her pronouncement can not be ethical in the classical sense. As a biochemist I consider structural biology explanations based on "intelligent design" and non-ethical. They are not in the realm of ethics just as it is the case of reports of accelerated gene mutagenesis. The difference is that theology has no measure or standard of accurate reporting while an evolution account based on mutagenesis rates does have ethical and technical standards. The author was too sophisticated suggesting that Dawkin´s mention could be used to unmask a theologian passing for a researcher. He missed the point. The test is simpler, the first personal attack, the first name calling, shall come from the theologian. Once the flower of reason has lost its petals only the thorns remain to sustain a scholarly conversation. I did not get from the original piece that believers were fools. That consideration is presented rather convincingly by a critic although extrapolations without appropriate statistical analysis would not be ethical. Would they?

7. tidemeover - July 27, 2009 at 03:35 pm

This article strikes me as being informed by a rather flat-footed empiricism content to draw sharp distinctions in its own favor; these broadsides allow the author to dismiss the wisdom of ancient peoples (though he studies about them) and the reasoning ability of a discipline of which he appears to have limited experience.

8. bstevens - July 27, 2009 at 06:09 pm

I absolute agree that a professor of religion is not the same as a theologian and I like your biology/frog analogy. About the rest of what you say, I think you do protest too much. However, I share your concern that too many people who are very sincere about their own religion think that makes them experts on religion or theology. Once an administrator tried to get me (dept head) to hire his wife to teach History of the Bible because, even though she had NO formal education beyond high school, she could quote the Bible real well. This is not an uncommon attitude these days. Some of the most devoted followers of major world religions really do not understand religion, even though they are very faithful to their own version of it. You guys should be spending more time worrying about educating people about the difference between the study of religion and the practice of a faith.

9. paprof - July 28, 2009 at 01:30 am

The basic premise here is that the author is cognizant of his own biases and that theologians are not. How presumptuous! According to the author, Religious Studies is inclusive and forgiving and able to referee the academic pursuits of those who engage the "faith" question while Theology is hopelessly caught in a quagmire of unreflective belief. The premise is not only false, but ignorant. It presumes some fictional neutral point at which one could claim to know truth apart from one's historical understanding. Religious studies presumes a post-modernistic vantage point of superiority over the supposedly "limited" view of theology. In fact, both views presume certain limitations. To acknowedge such differences does not diminish one or the other field of study. We approach the questions with an equal regard, and (hopefully) an acknowedgement of the difference.

10. harunkucuk - July 28, 2009 at 06:04 am

I think we should also keep in mind that the theologian is as old as the university whereas the professor of religion came about in the nineteenth century, and at the expense of the theologian. The `science of religion,` as it was called, allied itself with modern science and rode on the 19th-c. optimism about human progress. The professor of religion is essentially a researcher whereas a theologian traditionally is a teacher. In my humble opinion, the theologian's emotional engagement with his work is quite different than that of the professor of religion. A professor of religion is expected to remain aloof from that which he studies. The theologian is also an activist (not in the Marxist sense, but in the sense that he is primarily an actor in his field of study). I think this takes us back to the question of what the role of the person who studies religion in an academic setting should be -- not at all similar to what the Gulbenkian commission was asking about the nature of the social sciences in general. Should not the professor of religion also be engaged in contributing to right action in the field he is studying? To what end does the professor of religion produce knowledge? If he uses his knowledge to stimulate right action, how different would he be from the theology professor? I think the difference between the theologian and the professor of religion cuts both ways from an ethical perspective.

11. dalcyanne - July 28, 2009 at 10:14 am

I don't know which is worse, this piece or that Mark C. Taylor screed in the NYtimes a few months ago in terms of making Religious Studies departments look bad unnecessarily and incorrectly. How any academic could be so glib about and comfortable with "killing" the object of one's study is beyond me. Noll writes, "Religion researchers select sample religions, slice them open, and poke around inside, which tends to "kill" the religion, or at least to kill the romantic or magical aspects of the religion and focus instead on how that religion actually works." Without appreciating the feelings that people have respecting religion (the magical or romantic aspects, too), without defending them to a certain degree as logical, it is impossible to fully understand them and to truly understand their development historically. This is not to say we need to promote religion, we just can't be unsympathetic, even to religions we find personally distasteful. That exclusion otherizes the human experience we are trying to understand, and it also makes us no more objective than theologians.

12. cheard - July 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

The author claims to be a religious researcher, not a theologian, but claims such as "the god described in this sacred text is fictional" are bald-faced theological claims. Should disciplinary turf wars really be fought in the Chronicle's pages?

13. simeonrop - July 28, 2009 at 01:33 pm

Another "religion" expert who thinks he knows something and knows nothing.

14. 11243402 - July 28, 2009 at 05:12 pm

I suspect that a whole host of theologians, from Anselm and Aquinas to Rahner and Pannenberg would challenge the notion that theologians don't produce new knowledge--or that adherents of the "science" of religion necessarily do. The framework in which the article was written implicitly is rooted in a quasi-positivist understanding of knowledge that few in the humanities and social sciences take seriously today.

15. lslerner - July 28, 2009 at 05:51 pm

I often liken reading high-quality theological writing to watching a skilled trampolinist. The latter begins at rest at the center of the trampoline. Then, before one's eyes, she goes through an increasingly complex set of manoeuvers, rising to the spectacular and leaving one filled with wonder that a fellow human can do such wonderful things. And then, at the end, she comes to rest on the trampoline, exactly where she started.

16. transtasman - July 28, 2009 at 06:44 pm

Surely this article is a joke?

17. respondent - July 28, 2009 at 11:27 pm

"Am I trying to imply that theology is without value? Certainly not. I do not presume to tell theologians how to be theologians, and I will not attempt to define the value of theology. I simply request that theologians fulfill basic ethical obligations, such as the affirmation that theology is not knowledge and must position itself apart from those academic disciplines that try to advance knowledge, such as history, anthropology, religious study, and (perhaps especially) the natural sciences." Ok, here is the rough response: this is complete and utter BULLCRAP. Empiricism -- the perspective that seems to "lie" underneath the professor's perspective -- is one of the most racist, sexist, classist forms of imperialism -- that is domination. He's not really talking about real knowledge versus fantasy, in the exact postmodern terms that he deplores, he is talking about who gets to construct so-called knowledge. A few things to point out: 1) Many of the discourses of knowledge, which emerged out of the Englightenment were discourses of knowledge designed to oppress. These discourses are frankly as backwards and oppressive as we claim the ancient discourses were in comparison to the modern world. 2) Point #1 should be pressed further, that especially the rise of religious studies was Anti-Semitic, Anti-Catholic, white supremacist discourse rooted in a White-Anglo-Protestant Male understanding of the world. Early studies that categorized what we "know" about ancient religions, Asian religions, African religions, Mesoamerican religions, was especially tied to fundamental epistemological/anthropological notions of white supremacy. 3) Part of what happens in postmodernity is that this "knowledge" explained in #1 and #2 is theorized and tested, and Enlightenment discourse is found wanting. That is to say, Edward Said was not merely being fanciful when he deconstructed knowledge of the east in "Orientalism." Molefi Asante (and he has certainly be critiqued as "theological" in his critique of Eurocentrism) was not just majoring in mythology in building "Afrocentricity." Deconstruction in its forms on race, ethnicity, gender and even sexual orientation are around dismantling discourses that claim exhaustive ability to know and accountability of what we know. 4) Since the writer claims we should be using a host of Enlightenmnet discourses to inform our work, he seems to either know next to nothing, or rather care about philosophy of science. Thomas Kuhn's work would point to science as a discourse, with limitations, but value to the extent of its revolutionary explanatory power. Richard Bernstein's work, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, would critique the seemingly exhaustive omnipotence the writer and many others would rush to grant to science. Science is as much a discourse and a (not the) way of knowing, as compared with any other way. 5) There has been a rise in theology that has said, among the many -isms of deconstruction, for faith, the biggest ism is secularism. Theology has been domesticated and rendered impotent over against the omnipotent discourses of the Englightenment. We have realized they are just that -- discourses -- words that attempt to explain, backed up at best, if Hume were right, by constant conjunction, and nothing more. And the work Noll does is just claims, he would attempt to back up by creating a theory, by which he would then intepret "evidence." Geeze, it's just an argument, and certainly on its face, no better or worse than a theological explanation about say, how the Bible was created. Yahwist and Eloist explanations, are just that, explanations, theories, interpretations, not the damn absolute truth! 6) Therefore the postmodern moment offers us alternatives, it frees us to choose interpretations based on explanatory power that is not necessarily rooted in an empiricism, that is already heavy laden with presuppositions and biases and isms that we have spent much of the last half of the 20th century trying to get rid of -- with little result. Now go and explain that!

18. landrumkelly - July 29, 2009 at 05:59 am

The problem with empiricism is that it cannot evaluate itself--not by the empirical methodology that it embraces, nor by the methodology of rationalism which it abjures. Landrum Kelly http://www.philosophicalquestions.org

19. dsdeaderick - July 29, 2009 at 09:24 am

Another article in the series demonstrating that the Chronicle's tendencies to be more tabloid than scholarly. This is an anti-intellectual piece of religious culture wars fodder. Steve Hays has argued well against some of the false assumptions behind it (above). Please: some editorial discretion is called for!

20. timmerd - July 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Professor Noll has chosen to pursue the study of religion with the methods and assumptions of the natural sciences. That's fine; there may be insights to be found along that path. But his assumption that all practicioners of Religious Studies do or should follow that path is unwarranted. As someone whose approach to the field is more indebted to the humanities, I don't sense the chasm between religious studies and theology that he does. Although they need to be distinguished from each other, they can also overlap and interact in creative ways. We would not expect a literature professor or a musicologist to treat a writer or composer only as a "frog" to be disected; why should we demand that a religious studies professor so treat a ritual or doctrine?

21. ralandbeck - July 30, 2009 at 03:46 pm

"the god described in this sacred text is fictional, and any resemblance to an actual god is purely coincidental." We may be on the verge of discovering whether theology is or is not a valid human intellelcutal endeavor and if assumptions of the potential for God are myth or real. A new interpretation of the moral teachings of Christ is on the web: I quote: "Using a synthesis of scriptural material from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the worlds great poetry, it describes and teaches a single moral LAW, a single moral principle, and offers the promise of its own proof; one in which the reality of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a individual intervention into the natural world; correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries. Intended to be understood metaphorically, where 'death' is ignorance and 'Life' is knowledge, this experience, personal encounter and liberation by transcendent power and moral purpose is the 'Resurrection', the justification of faith, and the beginning of an entirely new dimension to human existence!" "Here then is the first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged. This new teaching delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable and 'extraordinary evidence' based truth embodied in action. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must now measure for itself, the reality of a new moral tenet, offering access by faith, to absolute proof for its belief." Revolutionary material for those who can handle it. Free copies of this new teaching and revelation are available from numerous sites on the web including: http://www.energon.org.uk

22. new_theologian - August 03, 2009 at 06:56 am

I have 7 points: 1) The author does not define the term "knowledge." I presume he uses "knowledge" in the sense of "the product of repeatable observation after controlled experimentation," given the fact that he denies that theologians advance knowledge. Theologians do not conduct controlled experiments--at least, not insofar as they are theologians (although some theologians are experts in other disciplines as well). But I am not sure that religious studies scholars conduct controlled experiments either, qua religious studies scholars, so one is left to ask whether they advance "knowledge" either. 2) To ask a theologian to confess that the God of the Bible has no existence independent of the text is an absurdity. The moment the theologian does this, he or she is no longer a theologian, since a theologian must be, by definition, a person of faith--faith, that is, in the God of the Bible. The discipline of "theology" in its technical sense, it should be noted, is a product of the Judeo-Christian experience. 3) It does not hold that because the Bible is an anthology written within the emerging life of a particular culture, across its literary traditions, that the God who emerges within it is a creation of that culture. The theological assertion is that this God reveals himself to the world through that culture, who gradually discover him in his self-revelation. This theological assertion is completely reconcilable with the historical facts surrounding the cultural and literary origins of the Bible. 4) The theologian would affirm that he or she does advance knowledge, but knowledge of a different sort from that advanced by other disciplines. Indeed, the theologian would affirm that there are a variety of forms of knowledge accessible through the whole array of academic disciplines, but that all true "knowledge" is finally reconcilable with all other true "knowledge." If, today, we do not always see how certain findings can be reconciled with everything else we know, this is a sign that our knowledge is as yet incomplete. The challenge is then to determine where advancements need to be made. This challenge is shared, in the eyes of the theologian, by all the disciplines, and does not fall solely upon the shoulders of the theologian. 5) The author is apparently unaware that, at least within the Catholic tradition, there are explicit statements concerning the precise competencies and situation of the theologian. Consider, for example, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Instruction on The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. Theologians know, and acknowledge quite explicitly, exactly what they are doing--and it is not apologetics. It is attempting to discover the "reasons of faith" from within the faith experience itself. The object of knowledge for theology is not so much a datum or set of data, but "who God reveals himself to be, and who he reveals us to be in light of his own self-revelation." 6) Before anyone makes the comment, let me respond: Of course I know that most religions involve the assertion that they hold a privileged access to ultimate truth. The task of arbitrating between competing assertions, however, does not really belong to theology, as such, or to theology alone. Philosophy can eliminate certain assertions as inherently contradictory, for example. It is a very complicated task, but it is one that reflects the inherent intertwining of all genuine knowledge. 7) The assertion that a particular perspective holds privileged access to ultimate truth is not the same as the assertion that no alternative perspectives have any access to truth at all. Here, of course, I disagree with the author, who explicitly makes this claim when he asserts, for example, that theologians do not have access to truth from within their disciplinary framework, based, as it is, upon a faith perspective.

23. sheba856 - August 05, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Alas, another examply of "knowing about without knowing." There is some truth to the biblical story in Genesis where the newly created, however that happened, decide that their intellectual acuity is greater that the Creator.

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