Of What Use is a Degree in Theology?

Thomas Paine

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Rationally, a degree in theology is of no honest use. Of course, there’s a dishonest use for such an “achievement,” but I can think of zero utility that obtaining a theological degree would have for anyone.

Theology is the study of religion and religious practice and experience. But not in any useful sense since it’s specifically the study of God from an assumption that this God actually exists. In theory, one could have a theology for any god that man has invented through time. There are Islamic and Hindu theologies. Many universities offer “degrees” in theology, particularly those universities that were founded with religion at the forefront. Notre Dame has a Department of Theology. You can earn a “doctorate” in theology, tack a clever Ph.D. after your name and forever more demand that friends and acquaintances refer to you as “Dr. This” or “Dr. That.”

As a doctoral student at Notre Dame, you will be mentored by world-class scholars, access vast research and learning opportunities, and experience depth and diversity in curricula and communities. The Doctoral Program places a very high percentage of its graduates in academic positions, the vast majority of those in tenure-track positions.

“Vast research” and “tenure-track positions.”

What can you do with a Ph.D. in theology?

Apparently teach more people about “theology.” Or preach. Or write books about “theology.”

But you’re still less qualified to flip burgers at McDonald’s than a high school drop out. You can’t create anything of utility (architecture, printed circuit designs, new polymer plastics, new computer operating systems, etc.). You can’t discover anything real about the world -about the actual history of humanity and life on the planet with any meaningful (to reality) sense.

You’re stuck being a minister, pastor, “theologian,” professor of “theology,” writer, or some other low-skilled position. I can hear the objections: “but writers have skillz!”

Definitely. But if all you’re writing about is what you know…

So what happens to theologians who grow up, realize they wasted hundreds of hours of their youth, thousands of dollars, and have little to show for it? You resort to cognitive dissonance, compartmentalize and rationalize your “theological” worldview -tell yourself over and over your beliefs are real, valid, and worth the above expenses, and shout down anyone that says otherwise.

It’s a tough world out there. Suddenly you come to your senses, you have a “theological degree” and you’ve got a decent-paying gig as a minister, a wife and 2.5 kids, dog, mortgage, two car payments, credit card bills…. You can be honest and say, “you know what? I’ve been lying to myself and the congregation all this time! I can’t believe this superstitious mumbo-jumbo about resurrections, virgin births, transubstatiation, and zombie messiahs anymore. Guys… I’m an atheist.”

You’d also be unemployed and discovering that your burger-flipping skills need work.

“Dr.” West at Zingliusredivivus had this to say about a recent “atheist minister” story run by ABCNews yesterday:

There’s only one reason an atheist would be a minister or an unbelieving minister would remain in his pastoral office- money.  M-O-N-E-Y.  Fearful of the job search, the ‘pastor’ who doesn’t believe is the most profound of all hypocrites. [...] Cowards … and liars too and unworthy of any sort of respect.

I agree with the beginning of his quotes above. Money is a powerful and valid motivator. And it is hypocritical to pretend belief. But no more dishonest than those that pretend to study “theology” and claim they have some sort of genuine academic standing. Liars? Sure. But so is the holder of the Ph.D. in “theology.” The difference between them and the atheist ministers mentioned in the story is that the latter are at least honest with themselves.

“Theology” is no more significant or important than “fairyology.” Or, as Thomas Paine put it, “[t]he study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”

The study of “theology” reminds me of those guys that sit around studying Klingon language and customs, or people who play Dungeons and Dragons. But only to a point since, generally speaking, these good folk don’t truly believe they are Klingons or Wizard Elves.

Every once in a while, Jimbo seems to get rubbed the wrong way by an atheist or atheism -perhaps it threatens his own worldview (that cognitive dissonance again)- and he has to write something scathing to ridicule or belittle those who hold a more rational perspective than he. In fact, that’s how I discovered his little blog. He declared the war.

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