Caught in the Pulpit, pg 91

Feb 15, 2017

“Students who enter seminary, like any students who have committed time and tuition payments to specialized, masters level education, are strongly motivated to complete their studies and succeed in their chosen fields. Like all serious scholars, seminary students have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to apply it properly. Most graduate students hope for ultimate financial security and some measure of respect from their community. Seminary students hope for that and more – a special place in society. They will be addressed as “Reverend” or “Father” or “Rabbi”; they will be perceived – among people who share their beliefs and even among some who do not – as representatives of God’s words on Earth. They take their studies seriously, Hoping to use their advanced knowledge to carry out their work. However, as we saw in the previous section, there are surprises in store for those incoming students who expect that their faith will be deepened, and for those graduates who expect that their flocks will appreciate their wisdom.”

–Linda LaScola & Daniel Dennet, Caught in the Pulpit, pg 91


5 comments on “Caught in the Pulpit, pg 91

  • After ordination Roman Catholic priests in Holland are given the prefix ‘Sir’ by their relatives as a token of respect. My father used to call his priestly brother ‘Heerbroer’ (Sir brother) and we addressed him as ‘Heeroom’ (Sir uncle). But because we thought his proper name was ‘Heeroom’ we turned that into ‘Oom Heeroom’ (Uncle Siruncle). A fine example of double Dutch! But like the cases featured in the “Caught in the Pulpit” book Sir uncle clearly had his doubts all along because after some thirty years of pious pretence he ended up living in sin with his housekeeper! Better late than never I say.

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  • However … there are surprises in store for those incoming students who expect that their faith will be deepened and for those graduates who expect that their flocks will appreciate their wisdom

    That would surely depend on the nature of the student, and of the institution?

    The quality of tertiary education, in any field, I observe, varies greatly.

    Any school of divinity focussed on supplying spiritual awakening through lack of rest and sustenance (yes, really, even the big / ‘respectable’ religious organisations get up to this kind of thing), supplying received wisdom and inculcating dogma is likely to succeed at ‘deepening’ faith-based belief.

    On the other hand, any theological ‘college’ with philosophical pretensions will achieve what any good university/college achieves – and will challenge the thinking and positions of its students, and present the students with a stimulating kaleidoscope of alternative ideas. Add to this the necessity of a grounding in epistemology to defend the faith in a World filled with educated ordinary folk like you and me, and … the stage is set.

    The reality is probably that most institutions of this kind fall somewhere between these extremes. But even assuming the first case, the bury-your-heads-in-the-faith-sand, to be a real school, is that really a concern?

    In a World filled with science that works it is hard to avoid, at least, the contrast between the purely rational and the rational and empirical. Once free of the direct influence of the institution it then becomes a matter of time to reach a point where questions arise. We know from many personal experiences made public that, indeed, questions may even arise before the end of the course.

    No doubt some bury their doubts as ‘challenges-to-faith-to-be-overcome’. You can lead someone to the Fountain of Truth, but you can’t make them drink.

    Then there is the personal investment already made to be overcome, and we all know how difficult it can be to get anyone to change their mind about anything using something so unreliable and untrustworthy as facts. Yet it happens, in its own sweet time, again as many have attested.

    Most churches get involved in social work. Trained for it or not, dealing with people who have been dealt one of life’s poorest hands is a sure fire way to open minds. Only the monstrously bigoted have minds that can remain closed in such scenarios and they exist, to be sure, but in a small minority. A World with a growing disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ only increases the likely encounters.

    Then there is the growing realisation that the biggest, and fastest growing, market opportunity is atheists, and that a ready repartee is a requirement. Any religious graduate who had not studied this phenomenon would feel that they had received a poor education indeed. But, of course, this is a two-way street …

    By simply being involved in the Modern World, religious teaching must address an increasing number and severity of influences, pressures and realities. The increasing popularity of nationalist and authoritarian politics – and their common support for religions – is the only fly in our ointment.

    We must not rest on our laurels, my friends, but rather we should look to these positive signs and work even harder to make our World what it should be. Be of good cheer, that ‘holy one’ may be more ready for you than you think. Don’t try to de-convert – a little intervention, from time to time, will get them there just fine.

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  • Seminary students hope for that and more – a special place in society

    Perhaps that is what is the most apealing for them. To be protected from any responsibility by their father figure, uniform and special way of addressing. Haha… I think that church organisations attract people who seeks power over another human being, people who wants to be part of this are hungry for dominance, control etc. This titles that gives them power (in their minds) are like some sort of goblet for them and a shield. They perhaps can be very surprised when in practice no one gives a shit for their titles, but then than can become perhaps even dangerous by that revelation. They can come up with an idea(in their deluded mind) to presuade someone in their authority and higher rank by very strange and ill methods.

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  • Granted, this is a selection of one paragraph from a book, so it is impossible to know what else they say on this topic. But if we take this paragraph in isolation, it is a drastic over-simplification of the psychological aspects of motivations, intentions and reactions of seminary students. As one example, some seminary students are driven by a desire to have a ministry to a particular group of people, such as drug addicts, youth, etc. They are genuinely interested in helping those people, and may believe that the best way to do that is to reach out in love and understanding. Yes, some people are motivated by a desire for prestige, but certainly not all. I think we need to recognize that the universe of personalities that pursue seminary and ordination is actually quite vast and complex. And we cannot reduce motivations down to one or two important drivers in most cases.

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