Saints and Angels

From Wikipedia Commons

San Francisco. As I take a look down the coast I see Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego. So many saints and angels. And, of course, San Luis Obispo. I’m here in the city of Saint Francis (an odd choice for a rustic saint) for the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. Before I began this blog, I attended this conference every year, and then the societies decided that they didn’t like each other any more and had a trial separation. Unwittingly, they were following religion, American style. If we don’t like you, even if you’re in the same tradition, we’ll take our marbles (presuming we have any) and go form our own denomination. This easy divorce of dogma is very American.

For such a religious nation, the United States is remarkably prone to hatred. Even scholars of religion can’t get along. We call each other names like “liberal,” “conservative,” “evangelical,” “secular,” “atheist.” Each a swear word. Long ago it was recognized that these two academies have more in common than not. I mean, come on! Dowdy professors studying utterly impractical, arcane beliefs bridging magic and modernity? Who do we think we’re kidding? I used to give papers here based on one single word of the Bible! So in the city of Saint Francis we are together again. American Academy of Religion, meet Society of Biblical Literature. In the same hotel, but maybe not yet ready to share the same bed.

We reflect the society we inhabit. Christianity in America has a venerable tradition of splitting and reuniting. Evangelical United Brethren, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, anybody but the Unification Church. We come together and soon learn that some molecule of doctrine is out of place—time for an atomic reaction. We are the scholars of religion, and we can’t stand each other. So we’re leading the way, America—we’re reconciling! We’re trying to get together for awhile. Next time let’s make it in a Protestant city.

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