October 10, 2009

Various uses of the word "Theological"

I have long been confused and frustrated by people who use the word “theological” and I think I’m finally beginning to understand the main reason why. As far as I can tell, it’s quite simply being used in too many ways, in various circles.

In academic writing and conversation, “theological” can be genuinely God oriented, or skeptically dismissive, or deliberately ('admirably') vague, or politically expedient. At various places and times, it can either denote spiritual facticity or creative philosophies, or it can be merely an academic categorization intended to alter the rules of engagement.

Depending on who is writing or speaking, the word “theological” may subtly suggest an academic’s personal cry for holy devotion, or it may thinly veil someone else’s opinions of superstitiously invented beliefs. Skeptics and believers alike can use this word as a weapon or as a dividing wall – which means I must be really stupid to pick such a battle with both sides at once, but I feel that I must.

I simply do not understand how any term that is so flexible in meaning can be employed with enough precision to be of any consistent and lasting use, academically. Is this clear, effective, positive communication? Does this really provide the kind of specificity academic pursuits are supposed to require? In other words, am I really the only nimrod who struggles with this?!? I suspect not. But if no one else speaks up, I'll continue to wonder...

One explanation may be that Biblical Studies is still moving slowly away from an age in which political needs outstripped academic desires. The overall custom does seem to do a very good job of keeping certain things in specific places. Aaaaand that'll be my cue to shut up now. ;-)

For now...

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