Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Theology as a discipline en se

Martin Luther wrote in the Heidelberg Disputations: “A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”

If much academic work in the humanities is regarded as parochial, it is also because of the enormous respect academics have for the texts of long-dead authors, as opposed to the themes with which these authors were themselves concerned. In an English department, you study what Keats thought of love, you do not try to understand love via Keats. In a classics department, you study Epicurus's thoughts on greed, not greed via Epicurus. The emphasis is on recovering exactly what Epicurus said, or in trying to understand precisely what Keats meant. No one gives a thought as to whether this might ultimately be quite dull or mistaken. The University is a culture of quotation.

In a way, science suggests an antidote. The "culture of science," announced C. P. Snow in his book The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, "contains a great deal of argument, usually much more rigorous, and almost always at a higher conceptual level, than the literary persons' arguments." Scientists "have the future in their bones" whereas literary intellectuals are "natural Luddites who wish the future did not exist."

Both disciplines, however, serve as pedagogues for the theologian.

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