Should someone hostile to theology be appointed to a theology position?

This one comes up from time to time, but I have pondering it today while grouting my tiles – as you do. It is not uncommon these days for someone to be or have become somewhat hostile to theology. It is a pseudo-science, he or she asserts, studying objects that are figments of the imagination. It usually doesn’t get to the point of assuming that theology, or indeed religion, is the cause of all the world’s ills (like the ‘new old atheists’). But it may appear as consistent attacks on theology, dismissals, efforts to prove its inconsistencies, or simply disdain.

Now it becomes interesting. It is also not uncommon these days for such a person to apply for a theological position, whether in a divinity school in the USA, a theological faculty at a European university, or even a theological college.

Should they apply? Should such applications be accepted? Should they be offered a position?

It is not a matter of religious belief, which is a red herring in this context. Rather, it concerns the discipline itself. Would any interview panel seriously consider an application for a sociology position, or history, or linguistics, by someone who held these respective discipline in complete disdain?


34 thoughts on “Should someone hostile to theology be appointed to a theology position?

  1. Only when they know who they are angry at, and know what the real truth is. I can help in that regard. The atheist is not looking at God in a religion that thinks that stone throwing at a sexuality is a good thing.

  2. Yet aren’t many who are or may be perceived of as “hostile” to this-or-that discipline actually the ones who end up occasionally completely reworking that discipline and setting the trajectory for subsequent generations?

    1. Obviously it depends what is meant by hostility. I am not thinking of someone who is frustrated with the discipline, is amazed by the blockheads and sociopaths who get hired, or with the sheer conservatism that comes with disciplinary preservation. In that case, you are right, for the possibility of shaking things up comes from outside the margins.

      I am thinking of the person who thinks it is utter crap, is about as useful as phrenology, is a waste of space and should never have been granted any serious attention whatsoever.

      1. Apart from the bit about thinking that the discipline is utter crap, it seems like you just described 99% of scholars.

  3. I don’t know if there is a close enough analogy with other disciplines, as Dan suggests. I thought of say a Russell McCutcheon or a Timothy Fitzgerald in a closely related discipline, religious studies. But neither would say that the study of the object (religion) can only ever be a pseudo-science, so that’s not quite what your hypothetical example is about.

    Then again, would a practising theologian who considers theology a pseudo-science not more realistically object that it should be done in a different way? She might think it should be done as the history of theology, or as sociology of theology, or as the study of theologians, as examples. Presumably in taking on a position at an institution, her goal wouldn’t be to shut down that position as soon as she takes it. (Although, I’d have to respect that particular move if ever made.) And in that case the situation is closer to McCutcheon and Fitzgerald. But I’ve changed your example – although, in defence, I can’t ever see somebody being as pure in their opposition to theology as that.

    But back to the terms of your original example, as I understand them. I think they would have to be rejected by the institution, as a fundamental refusal to play by the rules of the game. Just as somebody suddenly doing scientific historical Jesus scholarship at an evangelical theological institution set up to pseudo-scientifically affirm the truth of the New Testament must rightly be fired.

    1. McCutcheon is more interested in hearing his own voice emerge from his wobbly jowls than anything else. But I wouldn’t have raised the question if I didn’t know a good number of people who qualify and think that theology is a pseudo-science.

      However, you touch on something that I deliberately left out: any discipline is actually an intersection of myriad disciplinary paths, so a pure discipline doesn’t exist. But that’s another question.

      1. Yeah – I assumed you were talking about rejecting dogmatic theology. Obviously somebody wo thinks that theology today has all the scientific value as phrenology could do theology from an historical, political, or sociological basis, or do biblical studies in a theology department, etc – and would plausibly contribute something to “theology”. I guess there’s a field/discipline distinction to think about.

      2. You do slip around and misread. I am not talking about dogmatic theology, nor the petty distinctions made by practitioners desperate to create a niche. As I’ve suggested before, theology should be understood in terms of a disciplinary intersection: it deals with the nature of mythology and literature (the central stories with which theology deals), nature and the environment (creation), with the human condition (anthropology), why the world is the way it is (harmatology or the doctrine of sin), the problem of suffering (theodicy), the nature of the human subject (via Christology), how human beings might live together (ecclesiology), and the nature of history and hopes for the future (eschatology).

      3. Well, defined that widely, it’s difficult to think of any practice that couldn’t be called “theology”. Your “theology” has basically become “science and the humanities”!

        It also makes your original hypothetical situation fairly unrealistic – do you really “know a good number of people who think that [the sciences and the humanities are] a pseudo-science”? More to the point, do you really know any theology institutions who proclaim to study everything under the sun who would also have any grounds for objecting to a job application by somebody who thought that “theology” was a pseudo-science? I don’t even think this scenario makes any sense any more. But your hypothetical situation becomes a genuine issue if we are talking about an institution which requires an approach which involves some distinctly (dogmatic) theological presuppositions, if a job applicant thinks these are crap.

        Have you been recently defending what you do at your university, huh?

      4. It’s a fairly unremarkable definition, but I fear you hanker after small targets. Of course, given that the narrative of ‘scientific’ disciplinary independence is one that had to achieve identity over against a dominant parent (theology), it should come as no surprise that theology does have such a reach. But even more, it’s pretty clear that any discipline is really an intersection of all manner of others, as I have pointed out before.

      5. So – just to confirm your train of thought here – I take it you’d conclude that “disdainers of theology” should apply for a job in theology, because the field of study is certainly wide enough to encompass “disdainers”? And conversely, applications by disdainers of theology should also be accepted by theology institutions?

      6. As I mentioned earlier, given the sociopaths who do seem to get positions, I sometimes wonder whether a theological despiser would be better.

        But I am also thinking of those who do despise theology, yet accept a position and then pretend they are doing something else – like ‘history’ or ‘sociology’ or ‘anthropology’ or ‘science’ or ‘classics’.

      7. I suspect that most of the despisers of what they call “theology”, those who don’t think that “theology” should be practiced in the university any more than phrenology, are despising a sort of dogmatic theology, a faith seeking understanding, rather than theology as more broadly defined say by the one-man leading centre of religious research excellence in Australia.

        The narrower, dogmatic conception is, after all, what a whole lot of institutions doing “theology” describe themselves as doing. So the despisers are fair enough to distinguish themselves from “theology”, to claim to do something quite different. Because in terms of the narrower, dogmatic conception they are really engaging in a different discipline in the same field of study – just not in terms of the broader definition of theology.

        And to go back to my original answer to your questions, but reframed in terms of this distinction in definitions of “theology”, generally speaking, a theology institution operating under the broader definition of theology should accept the despiser of dogmatic theology (assuming she wouldn’t reject every discipline with which the object of the field could be approached), but a theology institution operating under the narrower definition of theology should reject the despiser of dogmatic theology.

      8. These internal distinctions are really a bit of a joke, in which various frogs argue over which part of the lily pad they should occupy. For an observer from an institution-wide perspective, or someone from outside that strange world of intellectual turf wars, theology designates systematics, church history, biblical criticism and few other bits and pieces. It’s not for nothing that faculties are still called by that name in many parts of the world.

      9. Deane Galbraith, shame on you for bourgeois individualism: ‘one-man leading centre of religious research excellence in Australia’. We have a rather dynamic collective under way here.

      10. Ha – sorry, I mean it’s the Newcastle Commune, not you, as number one spot on the Australian religious department charts.

        The distinction I was making between dogmatic theology and theology more broadly conceived is independent of the internal divisions of systematics, biblical studies, church history, Christology, the Other Religions, etc. Each of these can be done within the rules of dogmatic theology or within the rules of theology more broadly conceived. My answer to your original hypothetical is that you only get a problem where the institution does dogmatic theology and the applicant is against dogmatic theology (but for theology as more broadly conceived).

      11. Theology itself is evil. The atheist knows it on a subconscious level but does not know at this time how to voice the biblical truth. I can help. A basic; love whoever as yourself.

      12. No, he’s not him, I asked him a while back.

        But I don’t despise dogmatic theology – it would be more accurate to say that I’m largely bored by it. Or slightly amused like when I encounter a ranting homeless nutter downtown, but after a fairly short time get sick of them and move on.

        But your fallacy of ad hominem aside, I wasn’t assuming any position on dogmatic theology when I considered your hypothetical situation. It’s just that I can’t see any hiring-problem if theology is defined by all parties as broadly as it can be; the problem only arises if there is a mismatch between a dogmatically theological institution and an anti-dogmatic applicant (perhaps vice-versa, too). And this mismatch is a matter of degree. Anthony Le Donne obviously became too scientific for the pseudo-scientific dogmatic theological stance of Liberty Christian University, for example – although he’s hardly a despiser of dogmatic theology. The question of the demarcation of science from pseudo-science has been fairly much settled (aside from some raving positivists on one side and raving idealists on the other) – like all human activities there are no clear grounds of distinction, but some approaches (phrenology, included) are, given the current state of knowledge, still much worse than others.

      13. ‘The question of the demarcation of science from pseudo-science has been fairly much settled …’

        Sounds like a scholar I know, who is known to opine, ‘nothing more can be said on x-topic, since I have said it all’. Or the confident assertions that the reasoned West is firmly on its way to secularisation.

      14. Then you’re mishearing: nobody has or can come up with any grounds for the demarcation of science from pseudo-science. Nobody has succeeded, and the debate has reached an impasse. This is not the declaration of a position, like “the secularisation thesisis clearly right”, but the opposite, the admission that no position on this matter can be defended on any logical ground.

      15. I’m all for creative misreadings, but in this case:

        ‘The question of the demarcation of science from pseudo-science has been fairly much settled (aside from some raving positivists on one side and raving idealists on the other) – like all human activities there are no clear grounds of distinction, but some approaches (phrenology, included) are, given the current state of knowledge, still much worse than others’.

        It is a rather convoluted sentence, that says one thing, back down and then reasserts it with less certainty.

      16. I admit I said too much in that sentence. First point – there are no sound logical grounds on which to demarcate science from pseudo-science. Second point – although we have to rely on some other basis than strict logic (abduction will do), I’d still claim that some methods are better than others, in light of our background knowledge – and this is, of course, an utterly contingent claim, but better than throwing our hands up in the air and proclaim that any method is as good as any other.

      17. Retraction accepted .. and agreed.

        Another question: should one deny an unemployed and brighter comrade a position by taking that position oneself, even if one already has another, obscenely overpaid, position?

      18. Now this hypothetical scenario is sounding like one of your (strictly fictional) typology of scholars.

        My answer is definitely no – not if they are a comrade (ethically speaking, in a non-ruling-class ethical manner of speaking).

      19. A long list of to contemplate.
        Agreed. Being hostile is bad period. Humans are hostel toward the zoosexual, and other sexuality names like Pedo too. When they are in the presence of hostel haters the atmosphere is the same when humans chanted crucify him to Jesus. The pharisees = religion using the law of Moses. They used the sabbath day to accuse Jesus of bad. How many religions will tell you this ? KJV Romans 14:5;One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Lucifer who became the devil fell like lightning. He can physically looks like a bright being. In spirit he is in religions perpetuating persecution of others that persecute no one. The hatred influences laws against them. He will show up calling fire down from the sky to deceive human into thinking he is God. KJV Rev, 13 -13. What comes out of the mouth potentially is perverted, defiled, abominable.
        Jesus is a not a stone thrower hence does not want to hurt a human. Hence will ignore riot generating laws that humans use to harm, kill, and incarcerate humans. They are the laws of Moses that Jesus ignored, but the religions embraced. Those religions used those laws against Jesus, and meek lowly non violent humans that have Jesus in them giving the air of holiness with external appearances.
        The sin of Sodom, and Gomorrah is not sex. It is door rushers like swat teams military police teaching the terrorists to be terrorists. God spells it out in KJV Isaiah 1. to be white as snow is not be what is described in verse 10 – 11 sacrificing ritually thinking’s God liked it. War is worse sacrificing human lives. Verses 17 is oppressing. Sexualities have been oppressed.
        Hell is not a place. Hell is Gods light seen to the human that kills or hates not being like Jesus is like it was fire. KJV, 1 John 1;5This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light. Heb; 12:29;For our God is a consuming fire. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights. Revelation 20 (King James Version)9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. Hell is the face of God Moses could not look into or become ashes.
        That fire is in reality the light – Glory of God that will melt the elements with fervent heat when Jesus comes back the second time. 2 Peter 3:10;But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
        The parts that are seen by us to be less honorable are the genitalia. But God wants us to bestow more abundant honer to those parts because to God they have more abundant comeliness. This means the young should not see those p[arts as being bad insomuch as allowing furry suits portray them, and the sheath that the genitalia are in.
        1 Corinthians 12; 23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
        You need to love all seeking peace, being, kind, thoughtful, forgive, believe, hope, endure, bear all things being meek, not seeking evil, rejoice in truth being wise, harmless, honest, edify, not waring giving mercy, not boastful, haughty, highminded not giving guilt, have compassion being slow to anger, not accusing, condemning, or persecuting, set humans free, dry tears, give joy, be reborn, KJV, Mat 18:3. Then be like Jesus is.
        All that is what is below has nothing to do with any kind of sex,or nakedness being bad at all. What it is saying is what comes out of the mouth is bad. Your soul is perverted because of what comes out of your mouth.
        Humans pervert the ways of justice. KJV,
        Proverbs 17 :23A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
        Humans that pervert the ways of Justice will have deceit. That is not zoosexual sex.
        Proverbs 12 20,Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellers of peace is joy.
        Humans with deceit will have a froward mouth not being friendly or affable.
        Those unfriendly humans will be hypocrites wanting to destroy their neighbor with their mouth.
        Proverbs 9An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
        A hypocrite will have a defiled soul giving froward words.
        Matthew 15:11 ,King James Bible
        Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
        A defiled soul; will be abominable. Sex does not come out of the mouth.
        Proverbs 12 22Lying lips are abomination to the LORD.
        Proverbs 3, 32For the froward is abomination to the LORD.
        Proverbs 15 4A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.
        Proverbs 19 :1Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool. The Human animal against the zoo is soul foolish waring against the zoo.
        Proverbs 4 24,Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. HMmmmm that’s not any kind of sex either.
        Does that help to show that the word pervert has nothing to do with sex, nudity or even with sex another species ?
        Philippians 2:3;3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

        There are 8 places I can find old,and new combined where the KJV says the heart figuratively is to be circumcised,and the not the penis tip at all. Deuteronomy 30:6, Deuteronomy 10:16 ;Jeremiah 4:4 , Jeremiah 9:26; Colossians 2:11-15;Acts 7:51;Leviticus 26:41;Romans 2:29,
        KJV, Pro; 6;16God hates no type of sex, Whoever Hates a human is a murderer. KJV 1 John 3 13Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. Humans hate the zoosexual. That is undeniable. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. Hethat loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: All haters, accusers, froward abominable, perverted, defiled, deviant liars need to apologize with a broken, and contrite heart.

      20. You can stick your ethics up your non-ruling class arse. Of course, the example is fictional , and any resemblance to any known scholar, living or dead, is entirely accidental.

    2. No defence needed, nor has it come up. Allow me some shameless self-promotion, from a university-wide propaganda magazine, written by a journo. The opening reads:

      ‘Roland Boer is not your average scholar, nor is he a typical theologian. The academic who once penned a conference paper for the Society of Biblical Literature titled Too Many Dicks at the Writing Desk, or, How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Fest, believes a measure of provocation is a good thing if it stimulates thought and discussion about religion.

      Boer describes himself, on his curiously titled but well-patronised blog Stalin’s Moustache, as someone who likes “speaking my mind, being misinterpreted and scaring the shit out of good, upright and conservative citizens.” The researcher with the Faculty’s Group for Intellectual and Religious Traditions (GRIT) basks in one reviewer’s assessment of his sentiments as “the oddest I have ever read in a scholarly work.”’

      That’s the face of religion at Newcastle.

  4. Do you do blog topic requests? If so, I’ve got a question: Was Marx a vulgar Marxist? Was he relatively vulgar, compared to say Althusser?

    1. Good question (and yes, why not?). Too tired for it now, but of course Marx was a vulgar Marxist. Or rather, he plays off vulgar and dialectical continually – and a good thing too. Always need a good dose of vulgar Marxism (I once organised a series of debauched parties under that title). Lenin’s great insight into Marx was to play off the vulgar-dialectical thing as well.

  5. There is truth, and falsehood. Falsehood harms. The people wanting to harm see it as a threat to not be able to use Gods word to harm. Hence think those coming in to change it seem to them to be hostel, and they are not hostel at all. The people thinking the ones coming to change the present thought in theology as being hostel are only projecting on others what they are themselves.

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