Thursday, May 27, 2010

No one would notice if I stopped writing

With H/T to Titus One Nine here is an excerpt from an anti-theology rave by Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society (UK): my italics ...

"Theology is an excuse for grown men to spend their lives trying to convince themselves, and others, that ridiculous fairy tales are true. Some of them get paid for it. On my Sky Box there are dozens of channels under the heading "Religion". If you choose one of these channels at random you will either find someone wanting your credit card details or someone strolling around a stage carrying a large Bible before him. He will be explaining to his attentive audience the meaning of some of the more ambiguous verses in the good book.

Five minutes after tuning in to such a session, you will begin to wonder whether you've had one of those strokes that make your native language incomprehensible to you. You recognise individual words as English, but they have no meaning. Despite the shouting and the emphasis put on them by the speaker, you have no idea what he is talking about. And yet the people in the audience are nodding sagely, making notes and generally seem to understand what is being said. This is theology.

I look at it this way. If science disappeared from human memory, we would soon be living in caves again. If theology disappeared from human memory, no one would notice. Theology is a completely and utterly useless pursuit. It is self-indulgence of the first order. It grieves me that public money is spent on theological colleges while real education struggles to gain the funds it needs to maintain itself."

This is an odd rave. Not unexpected, of course, from the President of the National Secular Society. But still odd. He makes it sound like theology is the only form of learning which is 'self-indulgence of the first order', but secular society tolerates many such indulgences: quite a bit of mathematics, philosophy, poetry, music, cosmological research about the edges of the universe that changes nothing about human life, etc.

Then there is a very odd description of theologians as 'grown men' (what about the women theologians?) spending 'their lives trying to convince themselves, and others, that ridiculous fairy tales are true'. Mostly theologians do not do that! Convinced that certain things are true, they spend their lives probing ever more deeply the meaning of these things.

Still best not to get defensive about these things! There is a very intriguing challenge here: 'If theology disappeared from human memory, no one would notice.' Is that true?

Among several responses one could make, it may be worth saying, 'Yes, that is true in respect of quite a chunk of theology which is badly written, easily forgettable, and, in any case, locked up in libraries few people bother to access'. But the whole of theology? Including the theology unlocked in the pulpit week by week, and in the reflections of Christians day by day as we read Scripture and pray to God? Rather than overplay one's hand here, in a society such as ours or the British, in which few people participate in church in such a manner that deprivation of theology from human memory would be noticed at large, I suggest a couple of questions worth pondering.

If theology disappeared from human memory would the future of society be religious or secular? If religious, what kind of (non-theological) religion would be present? (For instance, actual fairy tale religion? An anti-science religion?).

If the future of society was utterly secular, would the value of human life, and the motivation to love one another increase or decrease over time?

Still what would I know. Being a grown man believing in fairy tales he is not yet convinced about is no kind of grounds for saying anything useful and rewarding about theology. Let alone believable. Disregard all the above. Get on with life and enjoy yourself. And do not think there is any being greater than yourself to thank for that enjoyment!?


Anonymous said...

It is an uphill struggle getting the word across in a society where the level of physical comfort and the average longevity of its memebers are far greater than at any time. 'Memento mori' hasn't been a strong message in a long while. Nevertheless, we must take the battle to the enemy, by questioning their easy assumptions about the origin and validity of their own god, human rationality. 'Whose Reason? Whose Rationality?', I think was a title by Macintyre. And I still find that brighter young people grasp that the possible how's of creation (big bang? evolution?) don't answer the why ('why is anything there at all?')
The popular theology of sermons could do with a good level of apologetic engagement. I think people like William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias provide excellent material that churches should include in their programs - and maybe ministry educators in theirs? ;)

Rev. Z said...

I would notice Peter..... I'd have one less procrastination tool =(


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Rev. Z.
The faithful few fans fearlessly and fecklessly forfend far more important matters for lesser forays here!