A theologian should not head a university in the 21st century
April 15, 2007. Professor Russel Botman was inaugurated last week as Rector of the University of Stellenbosch. Botman is a theologian.
Should a theologian lead a university in the 21st century?
A monument, reflects Australia’s popular historian Geoffrey Blainey, is a proclamation of what is important; but people living 15000 years ago – and incapable of hewing heavy blocks of stone and transporting them far – had to turn to the sky for their monuments, some visible only to the trained eye.
For some nomadic societies the sky was a monument created by their ancestral beings – a life-giving skyscape of maintained contact with the dearly departed.
Later religions were profoundly influenced by the night sky. The Jewish calendar was based on the moon. Buddha was born at a special point in the cycle of the moon. A bright guiding star apparently pinpointed the manger containing the babe Jesus. The sacred Hindu festival of lights takes place on the full-moon day of a certain month. The holiest day in the Christian calendar is determined by the moon. The Islamic calendar is still based on the moon and Ramadan officially begins at the moment the new moon is visible to the naked eye. Chinese civilisation honoured the moon and stars.
John the Seer’s mindset when authoring the Book of Revelation, contends theologian Bruce Malina, was one of intense interest and fascination with the sky, especially with those “beings” in the sky – constellations, planets, comets, sun, moon, and zodiac – that controlled the destiny of the Earth and its inhabitants.
Malina asserts that John has his own interpretation of the sky that follows not the Greco-Roman astrological myths but the Jewish and Christian story of God’s salvation in the Messiah. John thus stands as an “astral prophet” who interprets the sky in accordance with what has taken place in Christ. This vibrant reading of Revelation is buttressed by innumerable ancient literary and archaeological sources that demonstrate that John’s world was indeed one enamoured with the sky and its significance for planet Earth.
Even the first universities, rising in the Middle Ages, gave emphasis to astrology. To be a professor of astrology in one of these universities, in the 12th century, was to possess real power.
Were the astrologers of the Middle Ages respected men? Undoubtedly! Wise men? Certainly! Men of influence? Of course! They consulted Christian Kings, no less! Learned? Most assuredly! Probably at the top of academia… in the 12th century.
How many schools of astrology are attached to universities in 2007?
Why? Because the astrological conjecture is not a legitimate alternative weltanschauung worthy of consideration and respect! Because Copernicus, in the 1500’s, shot astrology from the academic sky. To accept that the stars determine human destiny is absurd! Astrology has no academic status and no astrologer will today be considered for any position of responsibility. Such an appointment would be unthinkable!
Similarly, a theologian can not possibly be leading a university in 2007! It is a travesty!
I hear protestations already: Do you propose that people be disqualified from certain positions on the basis of what they think?
Well, yes, I do!
A phrenologist should not head Neurology. A palm reader should not head Strategic Budgeting. An alchemist should not head Metallurgy. A flat earthist should not head Cosmology. A magician should not head Physics.
Someone convinced that a diet of sweet potato and assorted herbs alone may counter the effects of HIV infection should not be the Minister of Health.
And someone conceiving a supernatural being as the perfect and omnipotent and omniscient originator and ruler of the universe should not head a university.
Why? Because the God conjecture is not a legitimate alternative weltanschauung worthy of consideration and respect! Because Darwin and Dawkins, in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries shot “God” from the academic sky. To accept that “God” determines human destiny is absurd!
Theology, I suppose, can be considered an academic pursuit – as a subset of Literature. Certainly textual criticism and hermeneutics are intellectual disciplines that serve academics well.
Yet one would have a reasonable expectation that a professor of literature does not regularly converse with the phantom of Elsinore…
“Stay! If thou hast any sound or use of voice, speak to me!”
It would probably be unnecessary to ascertain whether a professor of literature, one, say, that was considered to head a prestigious university, accepted as historical fact the encounter of Macbeth and the three ancient hags upon the heath…
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!”
It no doubt could be considered prudent to accept unquestioningly that a professor of literature would not consult Oberon, dread King of the night, shadowy, formidable, with train of goblins, sprites and elves; and with Puck, his grinning, mocking henchman by his side in matters bearing on the management of men, woman and assets; on matters pertaining to cultural and, at Stellenbosch, language decisions.
But a theologian, even allowing liberally for exceptions, can not summarily be regarded as someone who does not consider “God” – a supernatural being, the perfect and omnipotent and omniscient originator and ruler of the universe – to be real and present in his life.
Such a mindset is preposterous and supremely unscientific. It is bunk and would be ample grounds for disqualification from consideration as a possible leader of an institution of higher learning.
I suspect, and no measure of investigation would either confirm or deny the suspicion, that Botman was never once questioned on his world view by the eminent convocation that considered his appointment.
Does Botman believe in God, and does Botman accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal redeemer from sin, and does Botman seek, as a measure of course, the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
Does Botman accept that this Christ was born of a virgin, died an expiatory death on the tree, consulted with the ancients’ spirits in Hades and rose again to robust life on the third day; ascended to God, his father, to return shortly to fetch his followers to everlasting life?
I think Botman does subscribe to this world view. It is the gist of the “Geloofsbelydenis” (creed) he recites every Sunday.
Theologians believe in God. And they communicate with God. Already, at the inauguration, professor Elna Mouton, Dean of Theology at Stellenbosch, asked God – nowhere to be seen, I hasten to add, and not listed on any official university invitation list – to impart Botman with practical wisdom, good health and inner calm.
The mind boggles.
Imagine, if you would, an inauguration of a littérateur – as principal of a university – and the Dean of Arts invoking King Lear to impart the appointee “with practical wisdom, good health and inner calm.”
I am reliably informed that there is an academic at the University of Stellenbosch whose credibility is somewhat suspect for a belief in UFOs. The rector, however, believes, or at least associates with people who believe, that some supernatural entity will soon appear in the sky to fetch supporters – both dead and alive – to everlasting bliss beyond the blue. Yet the rector’s credibility is unquestioned. Until now.
Russel Botman is an able man. And this critique is aimed at theologians generally, who seek academic and political office. Botman’s appointment represents overt academic approval for an unscientific world view; for a metaphysical world view, and sends a message that such asininity is acceptable, is justifiable, is somehow legitimate.
And yet, the one thing a university should represent above all else, is the fact that humans have only each other against the terror of existence. Any deviation from this code represents disaster.
Someone who sees fairies in the garden when none are evident should not lead young minds into the future.
I have only a small flickering light to guide me in the darkness of a thick forest. Up comes a theologian and blows it out. (Denis Diderot)
When I look upon seamen, men of science and philosophers, man is the wisest of all beings; when I look upon priests and prophets nothing is as contemptible as man. (Diogenes)
Geoffrey Blainey. 2004. A Very Short History of the World. Viking. Victoria.
Nathan Bond. January 29, 2007. Irreducible idiocy. Tart Remarks. Vol 2 No 3.
Leon Garfield. 1991. Shakespeare Stories. Gollancz Children’s Paperbacks. London.
Bruce J. Malina. 1995. On the Genre and Message of Revelation. Star Visions and Sky Journeys. Hendrickson Publishers.
Complete Works of William Shakespeare. 1994. HarperCollins Publishers. Glasgow.
atheistcartoons.com by Bill Mutranowski