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Who needs theology?

Who needs theology? That was the question raised last month by Bob Russell in a letter to the editor of the Free Press. In it he quoted well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, who asked: "What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody?"

Theologians, Dawkins went on to say, "don't do anything, don't affect anything, don't mean anything. What makes anyone think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?"

Russell’s letter elicited a few replies, but none were from theologians, as far as I could tell. So I thought I would ask a few to respond. Excerpts from their submissions were carried in my Sept. 20 column on the Faith Page; here are their full replies.

Jamie Howison, pastor of St. Bendedict’s Table in Winnipeg

"The article of July 19, ‘U of M helps keep religious studies students here,’ generated a little flurry of letters, each of which in different ways raised questions regarding the point of the whole theological enterprise. Bob Russell’s letter of August 21 quoted Richard Dawkins as some length, which rather neatly summarizes what lies at the heart of the question of who needs theology—of why theology might matter.

"If one follows the reasoning of Dawkins and of the other currently fashionable roster of new atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Philip Pullman, et al), the theological enterprise is absurd. Etymologically, ‘theology’ is God-talk or words (logos) about God (theos), yet if God’s existence is not rationally necessary, much less demonstrable, what is the point? According to these thinkers, when it comes to God not only is there a lack of good hard data, but there is also a sordid history of all manner of evil perpetrated by the church in the name of this God.
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