Letter: University theology must be based on Religious Truth

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Sir: I think we are in some difficulty if theology is taught simply as 'a critical study of religious texts, practices and beliefs' in Keith Ward's words (letter, 28 December). The Oxford English Dictionary defines theology as 'the study or science which treats of God, His nature and attributes, and his relations with men and the universe'. It is not primarily the texts, practices and beliefs that we are interested in, but God.

The comparative question to ask Richard Dawkins (letter, 27 December) is not what he personally believes about the genetic bases of religion, but what he believes about genetics. It is scarcely necessary to ask. He believes in his genetics. What he says about the genetic bases of religion or the 'selfish gene' may be rubbish or a hopeless over-simplification: you have to be a much more complicated entity than a gene to be selfish. But there is a good deal more than that to the genetics that Dr Dawkins believes in.

The Church may be a diminished band, but it still looks to departments of theology to serve a believing community with the scholarship and intellectual underpinning needed. That presupposes that the belief can be shared, and is shared, by sufficient of the theologians. There has always been a tension between the Church and its theologians, but it cannot be a service that is contracted out. It is up to the universities to decide whether it is a service that can be provided with integrity from within an academic community. I believe it can.

Yours sincerely,


Motherwell South (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

28 December