The essence of theology is neatly summed up in a well known definition given by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). In fact, as a theological student, this was the first definition of theology that I was taught. The notion of 'faith seeking understanding' demonstrates clearly how intellectually vacuous theology is, and how low its credibility should be as an academic pursuit (in the sense of actively engaging in its production, as opposed to its purely academic study as part of the history of ideas). Theology turns the scientific method which we have followed since the Enlightenment upon its head. Where scientific research may start with a reasonable proposition based on prior evidence (a hypothesis) and then examine further data to see if this proposition is factually accurate, or may simply lead to the discovery of data which no-one had previously predicted, theology starts with the acceptance of ideas that have no factual basis or for which the evidence is appallingly weak and proudly proclaims acceptance of these ideas on the basis of 'faith' as a virtue, and then goes on to attempt to make these a priori beliefs appear intelligible and rational. In other words, the 'results' of theology have been arrived at before study to confirm them has taken place. The theologian does not approach the basic tenets of Christian faith as possible truths to be tested for logical consistency; he or she instead begins with the conclusion that a series of internally incoherent, pre-scientific, and fantastic 'beliefs' derived from 'faith' are true, and then attempts to dress these beliefs up in the clothes of intellectual credibility. Theology is not in this sense a proper academic pursuit, but is instead the attempt to mask superstition in a fog of pseudo-intellectual verbiage.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Standing on theology
Former theologian Edmund Standing captures theology in a nutshell: