Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Must a Theology professor believe?

Gerd Ludemann asks the question and gives his answer in this article.

Jim West then gives his answer here.

This is an issue I've thought about quite a bit. Unfortunately, I don't have a dynamic response to the question. My answer, though, is yes. Here's the comment I left on Herr West's site:

I’m certainly in agreement. Theology cannot be done properly outside of faith (I’m going to get in trouble for that). However, the Venerable John Henry Newman makes the analogy of a blind man. “To speak to a blind man of light and colours, in terms proper to those phenomena, would be to mock him; we must use other media of information accommodated to his circumstances…” Likewise, when the mind is not submitted to the mysteries of God, the theology will be lacking. This is yet *another* dreadful consequence of the “Enlightenment” where the seminary was replaced by the university.

What say ye?


Quixie said...

Methinks it's all territorial elitist self-congratulation.

Theology, like any other branch of mythology, can be adequately taught by anyone who is qualified, whether they subscribe to a particular sect or not. The study of "god" is not equivalent to prima facia religious fervor. One can even be atheist and study (and teach) the phenomenology of "god" (theos).

Could a Jesuit monk hold to his Christian convictions and vocation and simultaneously teach a course on Buddhism (as long as he is well informed)?

(I vote "aye")

Should Karen Armstrong be disqualified from writing about Islam?
(I vote "nay")

Should Edith Hamilton be disqualified from teaching about the Greek pantheon just because she doesn't pray to the gods herself?
Is she "blind" to their reality?
("nay . . . . and "nay")

Whosoever thinks the university inferior to the seminary has probably invested a good deal of time and money and faith in the latter.

And, whosoever laments the Enlightement from the vantage point of this early 21st is a funny bloke indeed.

(Does anyone know if there's a yahoo group for Latter-Day Luddites?)


Josh McManaway said...

And, whosoever laments the Enlightement from the vantage point of this early 21st is a funny bloke indeed.

Or just well-read in history and philosophy. :-)

Thanks for the comment.

Jon Watson said...

Quixie might have a point if Christians didn't believe that they are actually supernaturally illuminated by God to believe first, then see and understand what would otherwise be unbelieveable, unseeable, and ununderstandable.

The study of "god" is not equivalent to prima facia religious fervor. One can even be atheist and study (and teach) the phenomenology of "god" (theos).

The study of the 'phenomenology of "god"' is different from the study of 'god'. Even if Christians aren't in touch with a divine other, theorizing about their experiences by one who has never had the experience is vastly different from descriptions of those experiences "from the inside", as it were.

How could one who's never been in love ever really describe what it's like to be in love? He could report quite accurately what others say, but the moment he tries to advance that knowledge and description, he's liable to make to stupidest errors because he has no reference point.

Quixie said...

Jon, you make some interesting points.
It always boils down to definitions for me, I guess, though, as it does for you, if I'm reading you correctly.

I think it's important that we make a careful distinction between the formal and the casual meanings of terms like these (pregnant as they are with abstract language).

One can use the word "christology" to mean a belief in the intrinsic divinity of Jesus. One can talk about Jesus' "christology" in this sense and how it affects one's prayer life or whatever, for instance (if one is a Christian, at least); however, "christology" can also refer to a comparative measure of that belief. It is in this more pedestrian way that histo-critic people usually use it:

"The fourth gospel's is a much more highly-developed christology than that of even Paul himself."

It is in a similar sense that the word "theology" is often equivocated (appropriated for our own theological needs, I fear).

Theology can be studied as a support for faith, that is, God can be studied as a character who acts and interacts. But, theology can also be studied from a desire to understand god, not as an entity, but as a cultural archetype. We can then explore this worlwide phenomenon's effects on our lives and cultures. One can even study it from a psychiatric lens (I think that all religious experience is a psychological one first and foremost, but I won't go there right now.)
It is for this reason that the work of men like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell sometimes intersected and overlapped into theological enquiry (comparative theology IS theology).

To insist that one has to subscribe to a belief system in order to understand it is not valid to my eyes and ears. I have listened very carefully to all of the rhetoric concerning the trinity. If it makes sense to you and you think it is true, then more power to you—G-sh bless you; but I think it is unfair to say that I can't understand what you are saying simply because I find your rhetoric less-than-convincing (let me add here, than I'm speaking generally, not to anyone in particular). I understand the concept of the Harrowing of Hell, for instance, and I understand how it developed as an oral tradition and the clever rationalizations devised to explain that aspect of the "mystery" of the resurrection. It's a beautifully woven tapestry. I just don't believe it is a literal account of a historic truth or some divinely mandated thing. To say that I don't understand it because I don't venerate it is just silly elitism, in my opinion.

anyway . . .

I tend to disagree with most things on this blog. (laughs).

I'm not trying to be antagonistic, I honestly just disagree (fairly strongly at times). I'll try to not be too derisive in my commenting, though.

I know Josh is basically a good egg.

We're all just studying this stuff, trying to understand it. Y'know?



Josh McManaway said...

Right, I think Jon hit on an important factor that's unique in Theology: the necessity of an experienced theology. Unlike Math or Biology or whatever, Theology has to be lived out, prayed out, in order to be done properly. The submission of the intellect to the mysteries of God is vital. Of course you won't agree, but here's my two cents anyway.

Josh McManaway said...

Also, that's not to say that you can't do theology at all. There are some excellent scholars who have no beliefs whatsoever. But, the Aquinas-es and Augustines of the world aren't going to be people who don't believe.

Quixie said...

"Theology has to be lived out, prayed out, in order to be done properly."

I disagree and think that such a stance is smug, elitist.

"the Aquinas-es and Augustines of the world aren't going to be people who don't believe."

But then, though it wasn't for lack of trying (he certainly was prolix), Aquinas never actually succeeded in the task that he appointed for himself.
In a way, Aquinas even serves as an illustration of inappropriate it is to defend matters of faith on empirical grounds.
And though I think Augustine was a lovely writer, a vital poet, some of the things he came up with are (to my eyes) just nonsense that he never would have come up with had ne never been a Manicheanist for a decade prior. Augustine is a fascinating figure. I admire his writing skill, but I am not duty-bound to see him as Herr Doktor, so I don't.

To insist that post-Enlightenment philosophical work is inferior to Aquinas and Augustine is . . . .

well . . .

Here's the thing:
If it is true that religious experiences are essentially psychological in nature, then all axiomatic constructs around God are rendered arbitrary.
But you're right in the sense that people who are god-drunk can come up with some deep insights. Personally, I think Meister Eckhardt, because he argued not from empiricism but from a more mystic perch, far surpasses Aquinas' prolific futility.

Josh McManaway said...

far surpasses Aquinas' prolific futility.

We must not be talking about the same Aquinas.