Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Populode of the Musicolly

Terry Sanderson's Guardian article discusses the issue of theological language, which I've been trying to interpret without success: Theology – truly a naked emperor (h/t http://richarddawkins.net)

First things first, it helps if you know what theology is about...

"What is theology? I think one of the best definitions was given by the sci-fi writer Robert A Heinlein:"

Heinlin, "Theology ... is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything."

...
Down to business, the language...

"They can twist the language, invert the meaning of words, tie themselves into logical knots and then get admired for it."
...
"Take Rowan Williams, for example, who is lauded far and wide for the vastness of his theological knowledge. He is said to have a brain the size of Jupiter because he can produce convoluted writing that nobody with their feet in reality can comprehend. And because no one can fathom it, it must be very important, right?"

Sanderson treats us to a few words from Williams...

Williams, "The word of God is not bound. God speaks, and the world is made; God speaks and the world is remade by the word incarnate. And our human speaking struggles to keep up. We need, not human words that will decisively capture what the word of God has done and is doing, but words that will show us how much time we have to take in fathoming this reality, helping us turn and move and see, from what may be infinitesimally different perspectives, the patterns of light and shadow in a world where the word's light has been made manifest. It is no accident that the gospel which most unequivocally identifies Jesus as the word made flesh is the gospel most characterised by this same circling, hovering, recapitulatory style, as if nothing in human language could ever be a 'last' word."

"But when he has reached the very depths of his profundity what does it amount to? I can do no better than HL Mencken, who said:"

Menken, "For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing."

"Theology is an excuse for grown men to spend their lives trying to convince themselves, and others, that ridiculous fairy tales are true."

And Sanderson's view of TV evangelists...

"Five minutes after tuning in to such a session, you will begin to wonder whether you've had one of those strokes that make your native language incomprehensible to you. You recognise individual words as English, but they have no meaning. ... This is theology."

"Theology is a completely and utterly useless pursuit. It is self-indulgence of the first order."

Sanderson finishes by treating us to a use of language that is intentionally obscure, yet far clearer and easier to follow that the clip from Rowan Williams...

"If you wish to hear a really brilliant theologian at work, here's a great one."

2 comments:

MadPriest said...

Atheism is searching in a dark cellar for a black cat at midnight, finding it, and then getting all huffy and pretending it isn't there.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi MP,

What is it we've found that we're denying? In the original quote the cat is a metaphor for God, what is it a metaphor for in yours?