Tara Isabella Burton‘s travel writing occasionally catches my interest, and I knew she has a theology degree, which made a sort of sense since all travel, really, participates the itinerarium ad Deum. She’s written a cheerful manifesto here for the utility of theology which doubtless comes much too late to save the life of most theology departments and which vastly overestimates the rigor of most of them now; they usually don’t really teach you Second Temple wisdom texts, Alexandrian metaphysics, or make you read Byzantine kontakia in Greek, but are rather more often just a somewhat dumbed down Critical Studies curriculum recast in the lingo of Leonardo Boff. But given the sort of curriculum she’s talking about, she makes some very good points.
But her vindication of theology would be even better were she not to make the fatal concession to scientism, by which any public truth claim about theology as metaphysics or revelation is renounced, and whereby theology becomes instead simply the interdisciplinary apex of the humanities regarded as the study of subjectivity (humanities in this scheme being carefully sequestered from Hard Science, which is accorded the status of Realityology). Such a Queen of the Humanities rules over a realm reduced to historiography, since the real queen of humanities, regarded classically, is an art, namely, rhetoric; to make a universal thesaurus of “imaginative universals” as Vico called them, queen of the humanities makes all the humanities history. Ms Burton’s theology can only be a mytho-axiology, a museum of civic religions sociologically understood. But natural theology as metaphysics, science of the structure of the contingent cosmos as indicating Being Himself, and revealed theology, what that Being has to say to us who depend absolutely upon Him about Himself and about our origin, state, and end, are not museums of human fancy; they are, in fact, the most reliable travel guides there are. That theology should indeed be of interest to all, believers and unbelievers alike- not because it is a common literary thesaurus, but rather because in it is the very voice of Reality inviting us on the greatest travel adventure of all.