Being a religionist is the world’s hardest job. That’s because you are trying to peddle something that everyone gets for free – their own religious opinion. No other professional field has such universal competition. From the time our parents mutter their first bedtime prayers to us, we begin to become masters of religion. With an entrenchment deeper than any wisdom tooth, we know, on a sub-atomic level, that we are right. We consult lawyers about the law and physicians about aches and pains, but on the level of religion, we already know we are right. We seek houses of worship that agree with our way of looking at things, and if the minister strays too far from our views, we go shopping again. Never try to make a career out of studying religion – it is a dead-end street.
I bristle whenever someone calls me a “theologian.” I am not. I have spent my life studying religion, sometimes participating in it, sometimes sitting back and watching it, but always analyzing it. Theologians deal with abstract concepts that can never be verified or falsified. The unquantifiable is their realm, and their rarefied debates seldom touch those of us of less exalted mental energy. And they are also never wrong. Those of us in religious studies watch how people’s religious outlooks impinge on the real world. Put your tin cup on the sidewalk in front of you. Everyone knows the answers already.
For some 25 years I have been specializing in religious studies, and I still assert that it is the most important, yet neglected academic field in the humanities. Twice I have been released from a living in the field by religious folk with less theological acumen than Cal Meacham. (If you don’t recognize the reference please educate yourself!) Not even eight years of a brutal Bush administration could convince university folk that the study of religion should be given priority. The most powerful nation on earth run by a recycled fundamentalist, and we don’t care to understand, thank you. Everyone is an expert. As we watch religious leaders of “foreign” nations posture with their weapons and rhetoric, we can sit back and be assured that even if they start a nuclear war, we were right about religion all along.