God, science and hot debate

January 31, 2008

I went to university to study a subject that touched on questions that mattered to me more than anything but that was as academically demanding as I could have imagined. When I hear statements that theology has no place in the academy, I can only assume they are made by those who confuse a faith standpoint with mere subjective prejudice ("Losing our religion", 24 January). Such gross misunderstandings are fuelled by the unscientific insistence of Richard Dawkins and his sympathisers to propose only extreme fundamentalism as typical of religious commitment. As Wittgenstein might have said, a pre-judgement that great is too big to be a mistake. It is a wilful refusal to inhabit another language. Its existence is reason enough for theological literacy to be high on the agenda of the academy.

To exclude theology from the university would be at best an insular lack of hospitality. At worst, it would be an act of intellectual oppression. Ironically, it would be evidence that ardent secularism can become as uncritical and dismissive as any ecclesial tradition.

Theology deserves a place in academe only if it is rigorous and self-critical. But to assume that faith and understanding are simply incompatible is to close down a question that remains live, open and urgent. To think we can grasp the naked and all-sufficient facts of life without any need for interpretation is a modern disease as fatal as any hoary superstition.

Steven Shakespeare, Liverpool Hope University.

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