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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

But some of my best friends are theologians

Just read an interview of Lawrence Krauss in the Atlantic posing the question of whether his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing spelled the end of religion and philosophy. In the interview he did come off a bit arrogant in his critique of "moronic" philosophers and theologians. But it was nevertheless a good reminder and even clarification of his book which I had read and enjoyed.

His demonstration as to the plausibility of particles of matter and anti-matter emerging in empty space and of multiverses I accept as I do Darwinian evolution without going through all the research, observation, and testing that these scientists did. I think it would be most exciting to resolve the "something from nothing" quandary without an appeal to supernatural entities.

However, I don't think that undermines the profession of theologian and philosopher.  Maybe that of bishop and ayatollah (I hope!).

Religion I think will always be with us as long as our species does not self-destruct or morph into some higher one.  It is simply the way we work. Numerous studies in neuroscience have shown our capacity for building and interacting with our environment through ideas within belief systems.  One of the belief systems that expresses transcending experiences in many of our symbolic activities is religion. The most we can hope and work for are religions that are self-critical and so not an obstacle to passing beyond or transcending our beliefs towards greater understanding and more worthwhile action.

And that is where good philosophers and theologians come in. They raise questions about our belief systems.  They probe the concepts by which we are expressing our latest interactions with each other, our social order, our world, and our universe for elegance, consistency, and meaning. They create a community of inquirers and let us all in. That's why they often get in trouble with those who are trying to maintain the organization, i.e. the ayatollahs and bishops.  (I remember going with my parents to Mass at Saint Dominic's when Pastor Neri from the pulpit said that the only problem with the church was the theologians confusing laypeople with new ideas.)

For example, head of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Doyle, is the CEO of a large institution.  He is NOT a theologian, nor are any of the popes or most priests even though they studied church doctrine.  Neither are they educators.  Their theology and their "teaching" is really apologetics--repeating and defending the present doctrines, dogmas, decisions of the hierarchy--keeping it from"error." They settle, not raise, questions.

Bureaucrats serve a very useful purpose to an institution, but it is one of preservation, not agitation.  I know.  I was a CEO or director of numerous organizations and charged with maintaining and growing the institution.  I had to believe in that organization or that I could change the organization in order to head it.  I also know that a healthy organization encourage entrepreneurs and innovators from within.  And there were times when I realized that I could neither believe in, nor change, the organization and quietly resigned.

Since religion will always be with us, we act to encourage a religion that is open and transcending, never stuck in its traditional beliefs and doctrines.  That can happen at the congregational level even in as closed and oppressive an institution as the Roman Catholic Church. Pastor Neri was right.  It often happens when good, usually "controversial," theologians get involved or are at least read.  And, even nontheist that I am, some of my best friends are theologians.

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