Thursday, 11 October 2007

'Theology - what's that ?'

BBC Radio 4 hosts a quintessentially British institution – ‘Thought For The Day’.

It’s a sort of daily audio blog that’s been around for years. A 'worthy' guest speaker gets five minutes to mull over an ethical or philosophical subject, usually connected in some way with the news. In the past it was always done from a Christian point of view. Now, in a nod to multiculturalism, the view can come from any religion. But the worthy individual always represents some sort of religious connection, and invariably delivers his ramblings with smug piety and assumed gravitas.

And every time I hear it - it makes me fume.

I just can’t accept the premise that a religious conviction should be the basis for profound insight. In fact given the historical evidence of how religions have behaved through the ages, and the role of religion in most of the world’s current problems, I would rather seek the opinion of just about anyone else than a clergyman or theologian.

And I take offence at the idea that the study of religion should be synonymous with learning and wisdom or even just morality. As a relic from the Middle Ages when universities first sprang into existence we have Theology departments and even ‘Doctors of Divinity’. Imagine the scene of an ethical dilemma - 'make way I'm a doctor...'

Let's face it, in institutions dedicated to the pursuit of reason, theology departments should have been shut down at about the same time as departments of alchemy. (Or if we must study religion, in order to understand its cultural effects, let's stick it in the Anthropology and History departments).

On the subject of theology I love this quote from the God Delusion. Think of it as an epilogue to the story of the emperor’s new clothes:

'I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk...

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.'

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