Sunday, October 21, 2007

The theological emperor has no clothes

Richard Dawkins said about Theology:
“What has 'theology' ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has 'theology' ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that 'theology' is a subject at all?”

reposted from: Newsline 19 October 2007
Chris Street comments are in bright green; highlights in blockquotes (yellow).

Oxford University has a system of what it calls Permanent Private Halls -- these are educational establishments, usually religious in character, that are attached to the University, but not part of it. They can award degrees, but usually these are in theology and are awarded to members of a particular religious order. One of these Halls, Wycliffe, has recently been the centre of controversy after objections were raised about the right-wing evangelical direction it was taking. Now there is talk of the University ditching Wycliffe because it does not uphold Oxford's liberal tradition.

The editor of the Oxford student newspaper asked the NSS President, Terry Sanderson, to contribute a few thoughts on the situation. And here is what Terry wrote:

"The controversy over whether Oxford's Permanent Private Halls can offer a balanced education commensurate with Oxford's liberal traditions raises another more fundamental issue. Is theology a subject that should even be part of Oxford's academic life?

As Robert A. Heinlein once said: "Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything."

Theology is nonsense on stilts and yet grown men of high intelligence spend their entire lives running in circles pursuing answers to questions that aren't even questions. They seek to make excuses for the inexcusable and apologies for the unforgivable.

The battle between the hard-line theology of the kind that is proposed for Wycliffe and the softer kind, championed by such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is a battle between two sorts of drivel. Neither should have a place in a modern, progressive institute of learning -- and certainly not one with the liberal pretensions of Oxford.

The evangelical extremists which the Archbishop of Canterbury opposes may make him seem reasonable in comparison, but don't be fooled. Rowan Williams' theology is just as nutty as that of the biblical literalists, it is simply delivered with more gravitas. If it is spoken with due solemnity and in that gravely serious voice that clerics reserve for talking about their fantasies, then it can take on an air of seriousness that it really doesn't deserve. If looked at objectively, the theological emperor has no clothes.

If individuals want to waste their lives chasing shadows, let them do it at their own expense in independent institutions dedicated to such useless pursuits, where they won't trouble sensible people. They should not have the cachet that is attached to an Oxford education.

Even that great American Thomas Jefferson was clear that theology has no place in a seat of true learning. He argued fiercely against a theological college being established at his own university in Virginia way back in the early 19th century. It has taken all this time for the same argument to reach Oxford.

It is time for Oxford to consign its Permanent Private Halls to history, or to the backwater of self-delusion where they belong. I support the opinion of one of my great heroes, Bertrand Russell, who said: "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic."

Well, the persecution and vitriolic conflicts that are sparked by theology (Love they neighbour, until he contradicts your theology -- then cut his throat) are well chronicled.

In these days of religious warfare and power-seeking, we need less theology, not more. The world is not improved by Oxford's Permanent Private Halls. Indeed, an argument can be made for the exact opposite."
19 October 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment