Brilliance in Pursuit of Futility10 July, 2008
Today I had an off-site program up at a scout camp to the north. I used my own vehicle, so (((Wife))) could come along. It gave us a chance to talk without the normal household interruptions, which was kind of nice.
We talked about the church she attended while in Junior and Senior High — a UCC church just outside of Boston. Her minister (for whom she also occasionally babysat) had a Doctor of Divinity from Harvard. The man was absolutely brilliant. Intimidatingly brilliant. He had devoted most of his life to the study of one set of books written between 1800 and 3,000 years ago. He spent a large chunk of his life arguing which version of the Bible, which translation of the Bible, which pieces of which story, were the actual word of God.
Well, I’ve heard it said that, in any discipline, the further along you go in your education, the more you know about less and less. I admire anyone who can manage a doctorate from Harvard. That is impressive. But, I have to wonder. Could he have devoted his intelligence to a less useful discipline? A doctorate in divinity strikes me as an absolute waste of brain power.
I majored in history (specifically European military history (focusing on the modern period (ca 1500 to present))), so my comment may seem a little hypocritical. After all, does the study of the Bible or the study of real history have any real effect on the world? I can show at least one instance (off the top of my head) in which the study of history has had a real effect — during the Cuban Missile Crisis, John Kennedy read Barbara Tuchmann’s The Guns of August which laid out an effective argument showing that the First World War had been an accident. Kennedy altered his approach, consciously trying to avoid an accidental war.
Arguing about a set of anonymous stories collected in it’s (approximate) current form 1800 years ago really doesn’t help today. If anything, by narrowing the options available to only what is found in those few pages, the study of the Bible forces decision makers into an us-versus-them mentality which, had Kennedy thought along those lines, would have made a catastrophic war more likely, not less.
Now for the question which may generate flames: Did (((Wife)))’s brilliant minister, with a Doctor of Divinity from Harvard, possessed of an insightful mind, really believe the ‘miracles’ within the Bible? Would not study have exposed the contradictions, mistranslations, complete lack of contemporary historical references, bowdlerizations, or outright impossibilities? What selective cognizant dissonance allows an otherwise brilliant person to swallow that one piece of absurdity on faith when all other education focuses upon proof?