Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Theology 2006-02-13

To: BB,
Subject: Re: Sen McGlinn’s _Church and State_
Date sent: Mon, 13 Feb 2006

> So would you say the following was the statement which led to your
> disenrollment? Also, do you regret writing this sentence, would you
> now alter it in any way or do you stand by it?

Yes, yes and yes. I was obviously on the far side of the moon as far
as foreseeing how these words would be read. I remember your own first
reaction to the word “theologian”, as if it was a shock-and-horror
category. It just never crossed my mind that people would have those
associations with the words theology and theologian. I’ve been
studying in faculties of theology, reading books by theologians, being
taught by theologians (and by non-theological students of religion)
for half my adult life. I’ve never encountered even one who was
dogmatic, tried to impose authority, etc — not even the ones who were
priests or ministers or monks or nuns as well as being theologians.
They had one hat on when they were doing their jobs and in some cases
exercising authority in their church or religious order, and they took
it off when they were sitting with others doing theology, or teaching
theology in a classroom. In my experience, theologians and the
students in theology faculties are a really nice, serious-minded,
caring bunch of people. That goes for the Bahais who do theology, such
as Jack McLean and Udo Schaeffer and Julio Savi, but also for the
Protestant and Catholic theologians and also the few Islamic
theologians I’ve met — though the latter are probably not
representative of the Islamic theologians in Egypt or Saudi Arabia,
because I meet the ones who are exiled to the West, or at least
invited to conferences in the West. It may be hard for a non-
theologian to believe, but people who like to spend their time
thinking about God, and reading and sharing about God, do not
necessarily become megalomaniacs trying to take over the world. In
some cases, a steady concentration on God even seems to be good for
the character.

In short, I was completely out of touch with the meaning these words
have for people outside faculties of theology. I am sorry I phrased
that paragraph in the Foreword the way I did. I have since rewritten
it, and if the book ever comes out in a commercial edition this
‘warning to the reader’ section will either be removed (it was only
put in response to a criticism from my supervisor), or it will say
something like this:

I should declare at the outset that my stance is not that of a historian or academic scholar of the science of religion, but of a believer, writing from and for a religious community, and I speak as if the reader shares the concerns of that community. As a participant, rather than an observer, I seek to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahai community, to enable Bahais to understand their relatively new faith and to see what it can offer the world. The approach is not value-free. I would be delighted if the Bahai Faith proved to have a synergy with post-modernity, if it prospered in the coming decades and had an influence on the world.


Related content:
Compilation on the learned
What is theology, and what’s it good for ? (2008)
The knower as servant (response to Paul Lample) (2008)
Knowledge: project or process? (2009)

and in the email archive:

Scholarship and review in the Bahai community (1990)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 1 (1996)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 2 (1996)
Foreword to ‘Church and State’ (2005; see the section on the limits of theology)
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theology 2005-10-17
Theology 2005-10-21
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theologians, the learned and the wise (2006)
Theology 2007-01-01
Theology 2008-06-03
Church, State, experts, consensus (Oct. 2009)
Theology – a defence (2009)
No Clergy?” (2009)
Theology 2009-10-00
Bahai Studies and the academic study of religion” (2010?)
Method and focus in my Church and State (2010?)

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