Theology and religious studies
In some contemporary contexts, a distinction is made between theology, which is seen as involving some level of commitment to the claims of the religious tradition being studied, and religious studies, which by contrast is normally seen as requiring that the question of the truth or falsehood of the religious traditions studied be kept outside its field. Religious studies involves the study of historical or contemporary practices or of those traditions' ideas using intellectual tools and frameworks that are not themselves specifically tied to any religious tradition and that are normally understood to be neutral or secular. In contexts where 'religious studies' in this sense is the focus, the primary forms of study are likely to include:
Anthropology of religionComparative religionHistory of religionsPhilosophy of religionPsychology of religionSociology of religion
Sometimes, theology and religious studies are seen as being in tension, and at other times, they are held to coexist without serious tension. Occasionally it is denied that there is as clear a boundary between them.
See also: Criticism of religion
There is an ancient tradition of skepticism about theology, followed by a more modern rise in secularist and atheist criticism.
Thomas Paine the American revolutionary, wrote in his two part work The Age of Reason, "The 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."
Ludwig Feuerbach, the atheist philosopher sought to dissolve theology in his work Principles of the Philosophy of the Future: "The task of the modern era was the realization and humanization of God – the transformation and dissolution of theology into anthropology." This mirrored his earlier work The Essence of Christianity (pub. 1841), for which he was banned from teaching in Germany, in which he had said that theology was a "web of contradictions and delusions".
A.J. Ayer the former logical-positivist, sought to show in his essay "Critique of Ethics and Theology" that all statements about the divine are nonsensical and any divine-attribute is unprovable. He wrote: "It is now generally admitted, at any rate by philosophers, that the existence of a being having the attributes which define the god of any non-animistic religion cannot be demonstratively proved... [A]ll utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical."
Critics of theology as an academic discipline
Critics dating back to the 18th century have questioned the suitability of theology as an academic discipline and in the 21st century criticism continues.
Robert G. Ingersoll stated that when theologians had power the majority of people lived in hovels while a privileged few had palaces and cathedrals. In Ingersoll's opinion science rather than theology improved people's lives. Ingersoll maintained further that trained theologians reason no better than a person who assumes the devil must exist because pictures resemble the devil so exactly.
Mark Twain stated that several mutually incompatible religions claimed to be the true religion and that people cut the throats of others for following a different theology.
Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins has criticized the validity of theology as a subject, saying: “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?”
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