The clergy are still fighting viciously to prevent the people from having . . . .

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by Neil Godfrey

richardjeffersonA passing comment by Professor Richard Jefferson at an Open Access and Research Conference today struck me as very amusingly pertinent to today’s crop of theologians and other biblical scholars. Paraphrased, it was something like this:

The history of religion has had one constant: the clergy have fought viciously to prevent the people from having direct access to the answers.

And it continues today, though I doubt RJ was aware of what many readers of religion blogs have come to learn. But we know that even today the most venerable scholars of God and The Good Book frown severely down upon mere lay folk from daring to draw their own conclusions directly from their own readings of the sources and the scholarly pronouncements upon them. It is the lay person’s job to revere the opinions of the scholars — no matter that scholars are not agreed with one another or that they give contradictory reasons for believing or assuming what they all believe or assum

The people cannot be trusted to make tentative judgments or entertain honest questions about the fundamentals. Even the non-theological scholars of the Good Book warn the laity that they cannot handle the depths of necessary knowledge in ancient languages or sophisticated historical methodologies that require great finesse of intellectual tweaking in order to come to the “right conclusions”. Leave it to the lesser mundane modern disciplines like astrophysics or evolutionary biology or modern historical studies to speak plainly to the people in ways they can understand for themselves the pillars and grounds of modern knowledge. Not so with the study of the greatest historical event ever when God was reputed to have intervened and changed the course of history. Now that is just too hard for ordinary folk to handle by their own little selves, untrained as they are in all the specialist knowledge that only a “True Scholar” could ever hope to master.

Let the people soak up the slogans, the clichés, wide-eyed and reverential as they sit at the feet of those glorified with great and exalted minds.

I liked this conference. Met several academics with whom we mere lay people could discuss questions without being told that our pointy heads were not equipped to know the secret reasons for things that only those closer to God can fathom.

Of course I would expect that those credentialed minds who must be revered solely because they are so well credentialed would scoff at these thoughts of mine and claim I am being anti-intellectual, opposed to scholarship, etc. On the contrary, I am all for scholarship — but scholarship that does not exalt itself as if credentials and learning themselves earn a right to be revered and respected.

In my book it’s what one does with one’s learning, and how one shares it and responds to honest questions that tells us whether or not someone who has earned lots of letters also deserves respect.


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Neil Godfrey

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2 thoughts on “The clergy are still fighting viciously to prevent the people from having . . . .”

  1. What amazes me is the new jargon invented by clergy to obfuscate their tenacious hold on vacuous “knowledge”. Recently “incarnational” seems such a word — google ngram shows it and other such faddish words to be attempts at making the magic work so that followers can go on believing these religious “professionals” [oxymoron].

  2. I wonder if it is in large part fueled by the threat of the democratization of information and knowledge posed by the internet. It would be interesting to do a study on how many times biblical scholars have expressed their fear and loathing of information-sharing on the web — how many have scoffed at Wikipedia, how many have ridiculed the ability of “anyone to post anything” online, and so forth. These complaints and fears are an expression of distrust of the ordinary person. Interesting that evolutionary scientists like Dawkins or Coyne don’t seem to share this fear and loathing of the ability of the commoner to grasp the facts and recognize the wheat among the chaff. Hawking has no comparable fear or suspicion that the public will misrepresent and misuse their popular sharing of knowledge in theories of the origins of the universe.

    But New Testament scholars and some of their allies appear to have barricaded themselves from the unwashed masses by polishing and raising on high their titles and credentials and ignorantly mocking and spitting on those who do not respect their conclusions — conclusions too hard for the commoner untrained in ancient Nabataean and papyrology ever to discern or truly comprehend.

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