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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Theologian as Dead Frog

After reading this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by someone who identifies himself as "theistic off the job and professionally agnostic,” I'm wondering if I should reconsider my Theology studies. He explains:

“Theology [as opposed to religious studies] also views itself as an academic discipline, but it does not attempt to advance knowledge. Rather, theologians practice and defend religion.”
How can theology be so unambitious?

“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.”
It seems I should also reconsider my vocation as a priest.

“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.”
Can somebody explain this to me? As far as I can tell, this analogy doesn't make any sense, because shouldn't the religion researcher then be dissecting the theologian? And, if so, wouldn't that make it hard for the theologian to invigorate or perpetuate anything? Unless, perhaps, maybe after dissection the frog is resurrected? But, then again, this might not "kill" religion, but start a new one. I'm confused. And, besides, I don't want to be the dead frog. Maybe I could be a virus?

Also, apparently, if I want to persist in being a priest and a theologian, I'm going about it unethically:
“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.

But, thank God, it seems that my qualms may be unwarranted. He wants to reassure me:
“Am I trying to imply that theology is without value? Certainly not.”

So, maybe it is safe to step back into the sanctuary, and the classroom. And, in case you were wondering, I checked: not from the April Fool's issue.