Are Theologians Useless?

Albertus Magnus (fresco, 1352, Treviso, Italy)...
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Professor John Stackhouse provides several reasons to answer No.

Richard Dawkins has been quoted to me recently as such (without a citation, alas: Can anyone supply it?):

“What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has theology ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels, work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?”

Now, the very last question is different than the point made in the bulk of the quotation. Whether theology is a “science,” whether it is indeed a body of knowledge about aspects of reality, is a good question. But let’s suppose for now (since one blog post ought to be about one thing, no?) that it is at least possible that theology does what it says it does. What good would it be?

The knowledge of God (theology–and also mysticism, but let’s stick with theology for now, especially since all good theologians are also spiritual people) is not like the knowledge of technology precisely because God is personal, not mechanical. So the comparison is immediately wrong-footed. How useful, then, is it that there are experts who probe the knowledge of the Supreme Being? I should think it would be highly useful indeed.

For one thing, it’s good to know that there is a Supreme Being and one who is personal and who governs the world in goodness. Otherwise, we waste time and resources and emotion trying to placate other sorts of deities or, conversely, we fail to spend the appropriate time and resources and emotion relating properly to the God whose existence and character we have failed to ascertain.

For another, it’s good to know that God has made himself clear through particular histories (Israel, the Church), books (the Bible), and spokespersons (prophets, apostles) so that we have a rich array of reliable data. This data is so rich, in fact, that we need trained experts (theologians) to sort it all out, much as we need trained biologists to sort out the rich data of natural science. (Continue)

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