The Empty Vase
Religion has nothing worthwhile to say on anything.
Theology is the art of knowing the unknowable. It is an immensely vast and complicated area of study requiring much careful research and dedicated learning to master. Many great minds devote their lives to the subject, gaining qualifications and passing on their wisdom to new students. It is, however, comparable to a large, antique vase: huge and striking, intricate and ornate, ancient and mysterious, but ultimately empty, and created entirely by human beings. I would like to use two modern cultural examples of proxy-theologies to demonstrate this point.
The first of these examples is the Klingon race, a fictional creation within the Star Trek science fiction stories. (I would just like to state for the record that I myself am not a Trekkie, although I do fully acknowledge the right of Trekkies to be Trekkies, as long as they are Trekkies behind closed doors and keep their Trekkieness to themselves.) A quick browse down the Wikipedia article reveals that, far from being represented by a few quickly assembled individual characters on a TV show, the Klingons come complete with biological details, culture, government, legal system, thousands of years of history and, perhaps most astonishingly of all, a complete artificially constructed language. There are many Star Trek fans who have learned to speak this language fluently, and regularly attend conventions speaking no other language for the duration. Many of these same Star Trek fans are experts on the Klingon race, and can relate their knowledge with all the scholarly grace of a learned professor.
The second example I’d like to use, is the land of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s fictional creation. (For the purposes of this exercise, I am going to ignore the fact that Lewis was a Christian apologist, and that his Chronicles of Narnia were a Christian allegory. It has no relevance to the point I am trying to make.) Once again, we have a vast subject. Again, we have fans who truly dedicate themselves to the details of the subject, including Narnia’s geography, cosmology, history and mythological creatures and other inhabitants. Again, these enthusiasts attend conventions across the world to interact with one another. The study is taken extremely seriously and these people talk about their subject with great conviction, passion and command.
But the thing about the Klingon speaking Trekkies and the Narnia enthusiasts, is that they know it’s not real! It is just a hobby, albeit one that they take very seriously, and they are under no illusions that either the Klingon people or the World of Narnia actually exist in the real world. It is, to coin a phrase, just a bit of fun.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for theists. They are well and truly under the illusion that the characters of their study are, or at least were, real. Some of them believe it so strongly, that they are prepared to die in the name of that belief, and to take the lives of others who do not share it. Just like the Klingons, they have an intricate web of detail, names, dates, places, events and even mythological creatures, all of which they attempt to use as an elaborate distraction from the fact that they are without any actual evidence for the truth of their claims. It would be bad enough if they simply wanted us to believe that their fairytale were true, but it doesn’t stop there. On the basis of this elaborate fictional story, they want to tell us how to live our lives, what we can and can’t do, and that what we have learned about the universe through hard, scientific work is wrong. To the theologian I say: thank you but no thank you.
If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?