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Theology – truly a naked emperor

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In the words of Robert A Heinlein, 'Theology ... is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there'

The question: What is theology?

In my work as president of the National Secular Society I sometimes receive manuscripts from people who have come up with what they imagine is the definitive refutation of Christian claims. "Publish this," they say, "and Christianity will end within a year!" (See here for an example.)

I find these turgid tomes no more convincing than the ones that they seek to refute. They are anti-theology, and given that theology is drivel, efforts to unpick it are hopeless.

What is theology? I think one of the best definitions was given by the sci-fi writer Robert A Heinlein when he said: "Theology ... is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything."

And, indeed they can. They can twist the language, invert the meaning of words, tie themselves into logical knots and then get admired for it. We are told theologians are there to make sense of The Big Questions.

But I have a problem with The Big Questions – you know the sort of thing: Why are we here? What comes after death? What, indeed, is the meaning of life? My problem is that these questions don't have an answer – no matter how long you think about them and however much you try to bring God into the equation, you'll get nowhere. Or, as Gertrude Stein so eloquently put it: "The answer is: there is no answer."

Take Rowan Williams, for example, who is lauded far and wide for the vastness of his theological knowledge. He is said to have a brain the size of Jupiter because he can produce convoluted writing that nobody with their feet in reality can comprehend. ...Continue reading

TAGGED: ATHEISM, COMMENTARY, RELIGION


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