Blog 065: Is Theology Harmful to Humanity?

Marco DeRossi


Jacques Prévert

On September 20th 2015, the International Association of Free Thought (IAFT), on the occasion of its Vth Congress held in Montevideo, Uruguay, issued the following declaration denouncing the use of public funds to finance churches and religions:

“We reject the idea that religion be considered a separate category among the variety of convictions of Humanity. Or that it should be given special status exempting it from rational and human criticism. Or that it should in addition be financed by public funds taken from the total contributions of taxpaying citizens.”

Declaration of the IAFT

Indeed, why should religions be distinguished from other absurdities, such as astrology or cartomancy? Why should we have to pay for them?

Theology is the study—and the lackey—of religions, based on a definition of esoteric and spiritual philosophy. Theology can be considered as one of several world-views, one which consists in the study of so-called “divine” doctrines and the phenomenon of religion, in accordance with an interpretation of so-called “sacred” scriptures. With respect to this definition, here is an interpretation offered by Pope Leo XIII (quoting St. Gregory the Great) which, unfortunately, is still considered official doctrine even today:

“the judicious and instructed theologian will by no means pass by that method of doctrinal demonstration which draws its proof from the authority of the Bible; ‘for (Theology) does not receive her first principles from any other science, but immediately from God by revelation. And, therefore, she does not receive of other sciences as from a superior, but uses them as her inferiors or handmaids.’”

Providentissimus Deus, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Study of Holy Scripture (1893)

In fact, the etymological meaning of the word theology corresponds literally to the expression “reason of God.” However, there is nothing reasonable about god-research, as theology represents both self-contradiction and nonsense, because belief in god results from a lack of knowledge and the experience of god from a mental disorder well identified by the neurosciences. A child of metaphysics, theology has no experimental or empirical basis whatsoever and is thus inferior to a scientific approach. By means of mental reflection—which is necessarily systematic—it can be made to say anything whatsoever. Nothing scientific can be found in theology, because it consists in the study of subjective concepts of reality represented by various conflicting and intermingling doctrines. Furthermore, unlike scientific theories, there is no universal theology resulting from any consensus, because the various sacred texts are, for the most part, nebulous as to their interpretation and different for every religion. Moreover, theology cannot be a discipline of critical research because it never dares to question its own foundations, which are, of course, completely without foundation. Theology’s core is completely devoid of intellectual rigour because it places faith above reason.

It is therefore highly deplorable that academic programs in theology are offered at the university level because such programs have no basis other than traditional beliefs. They try to afford some credibility to faith, which is merely a measure of the intensity of one’s personal irrational conviction. In other words, theology attempts to express the content of religious faith using a language which tries to be coherent, but never succeeds. Is there anything intelligible about the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or the resurrection, or reincarnation, angels, paradise, etc.? No! Consequently, theologians get lost in conjecture in attempts to explain the undecipherable.

Several universities around the world offer programs in what they call “religious sciences.” This is as bizarre as saying, the science of beliefs or the science of mythologies, because they explain nothing and prove nothing. Academic scholars and humankind should be sufficiently evolved by now to know that beliefs, just like religions, are in no way scientific. In fact, in contrast to a theory, a belief is defective in two aspects: it has no theoretical framework with explanatory power and it has no convincing or conclusive experimental basis.

Why do universities still offer such academic programs? After all, the various aspects of religion—sociological, anthropological, psychological, linguistic and others—are already covered by other university faculties. What is left of theology per se that could justify a separate program? Nothing! In Quebec, we have many theology faculties: Laval, Sherbrooke, Montréal, McGill, Concordia and some campuses of the Université du Québec. Are there not considerable savings to be made here?

French-language universities teach Catholic theology. Others teach Protestant or evangelical theology. Who holds the truth? To illustrate, do we bother to question the difference between ufology and theology? Both these domains deal with belief in extra-terrestrial entities, but theology manages to get itself taught at university! If one were to contemplate offering ufology programs at university, such programs could not be justified using the same criteria. What then is the value of a master’s degree or a doctorate in theology?

Theology never questions its own fundamentals, just as it never attempts to challenge beliefs widely held in society. In fact, religion represents only a primitive stage in the evolution of human reason. It should be supplanted by an objective scientific approach. The teaching of theology in publicly funded schools has a prejudicial aspect. It is indeed unacceptable in Quebec not to consider the total separation between church and education as stipulated in the report of the Parent Commission in the 1960s. The incursion of religion into the pedagogical arena of universities has an even more insidious character than the relatively simple debate concerning the wearing of conspicuous symbols by certain state employees, or the debate about wearing the niqab during Canadian citizenship ceremonies. Why? Because these antics are merely symptoms whose ultimate cause is the teaching of absurdities.

There is clearly a certain disaffection for theology programs. Students are deserting them, and for good reason, because such curricula are no longer adapted to today’s (evolved and progressive) society. Should we be content to watch the numbers decrease in theology programs? Is it sufficient to simply wait for them to dwindle into extinction through natural selection? No, because public funds continue to be wasted on programs which promote religion. The Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program which is compulsory in Quebec’s elementary and secondary schools is an obvious example of this waste. The new program named “Centre for the Study of Contemporary Religion” at the University of Sherbrooke is another.

Beliefs undermine the health of our societies. The phenomenon of belief is like a drug which prevents people from facing reality with discernment. Believers consume this immaterial drug like insatiable addicts. In fact, in order to believe, it is essential to avoid any process of doubt, so necessary for scientific understanding, as it is impossible to believe and to doubt at the same time. Just as they oppose reason, beliefs show themselves to be immutable convictions. In sum, theology is the apologist of belief, and it is for this reason that it is so harmful for human evolution. Beliefs are deleterious because they imprison people’s minds in mythologies and impede our striving for objective knowledge. Beliefs are opposed to free thought; they stifle civil liberties; they are stagnant. The teaching of dogma represents an impediment to social evolution.

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