Mr. Congeniality

It's my position that the entire enterprise of theology has contributed absolutely nothing whatsoever of value to humanity in its entire history. Not only has it not provided an iota of useful or necessary knowledge in any human endeavor, but it hasn't even come any closer to answering any of the questions it asks in the first place. Are theologians any closer to demonstrating unequivocally which religion is the correct one? Which sect of that religion is the correct one? Has theology ever cured or treated any disease, fed the poor, raised the standard of living for human beings, or led to peaceful co-existence?
"But Mike," I can already hear them saying, "that's not the job of theology; just because it doesn't give us scientific knowledge doesn't mean it's worthless. Theology brings people closer to God, helps them find meaning in their lives, gives them comfort, and helps them navigate difficult issues of faith." Or something along those lines. 

Except, it doesn't even do anything like that, either. That's because theology can only bring you closer to what you already believe; it cannot help you bridge the gap between, say, Buddhism and Islam. It can only bring the meaning that people bring to it themselves. And as Pascal Boyer so pointedly observed, religion only gives us comfort to the extent that it provides relief from its own pathology — Christianity tells you that you're sinful and corrupt, facing an unimaginably awful eternity after you die, then 'comforts' you with salvation. Religion, in my view, is mostly divisive and unnecessary at best, and fanatically self-righteous at worst. This is to say nothing of religious people, mind you, many of whom are wonderful, charitable, kind people. I think those people would likely still be charitable and kind without religion. But even not withstanding the fact that religious people do good (regardless of which religion, incidentally), theology is another animal. It's the pursuit of fitting a square peg into a round hole — trying to reconcile the fact that the world around us does not look much at all like we ought to expect if some sort of God existed, and especially if one particular religion — among the incalculable thousands spanning human history — is the one correct one.

I realize of course that what I'm saying here is controversial, especially among people who study theology. The weight of evidence is not enough to convince them, and surely one ranty blog post will not be, either. But I say it to drive home the important point that when discussing these matters, congeniality is overrated. Not that I endorse being overtly insulting but in the rarest and most clearly warranted cases of self-aggrandizing haughtiness or sheer contemptible inhumanity, but there's no reason to treat a fruitless intellectual pursuit, inexplicably sheltered by a hollow shell of academic prestige, as anything but the pure, unadulterated nonsense that it is.

I'm certainly not the first to say that theology is the study of made-up stuff. But If I wrote a blog post writing about how I think science is a bunch of made-up stuff, I'd be swiftly rebuked by anyone smart enough to note the obvious fact that computers on which blog posts are written would not exist without quantum mechanics, or that the GPS in my phone would not work without General Relativity, that the clothes I'm wearing are made of materials cultivated from genetically engineered crops, or that I'm very likely alive today in part because of a host of antibiotics and vaccinations.

Yet if theology were summarily erased from history, I have a hard time seeing how our world would be any worse off. Religion, if it existed, would be free from the innumerable schisms which result from theology's complete inability to identify and eliminate erroneous claims and assumptions. We'd probably face death and tragedy as they actually are, rather than conjuring up complex theodicies that try to rationalize the motives of an invisible, undetectable entity whose actions are apparently indistinguishable from pure, blind randomness. And we'd probably spend lots more time on the internet doing important stuff, like looking at cat videos, than arguing about religion. 

Theologians, of course, really don't like it when you tell them that everything they do is a sham. They retort with what PZ Myers (remember when everyone liked him?) insightfully coined "The Courtier's Reply": essentially, to puff and posture with righteous indignation at the slight, claiming that the field is deep and nuanced and sophisticated, rich in philosophical and existential insights. You know, anything but actually saying what theology actually does, or what it's actually accomplished. Because facing that truth marks a bitter moment for someone who's wasted years of their life pursing what is, at best, intellectual masturbation. A great paraphrase from American Pie comes to mind: hitting a tennis ball against a wall is fun, but it's not really a game.


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