Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ THEOLOGIANS

Alert readers Veronica Abbass and Linda Grilli called my attention to today’s Jesus and Mo, and the nice h/t that the artist gave me:

Today’s script is thanks to Walter Kaufmann (1921-1980). The quote, which is heavily edited in the barmaid’s speech, was spotted and posted by Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True. Thanks!

The artist reads me! I’m chuffed!


The J&M link goes to the original quote by Walter Kaufmann (remember Kaufmann Week?), which came from his 1961 book Faith of a Heretic (pp. 126-127).

Indeed, [theologians] resemble lawyers in two ways. In the first place, they accept books and traditions as data that it is not up to them to criticize. They can only hope to make the best of these books and traditions by selecting the most propitious passages and precedents; and where the law seems to them harsh, inhuman, or dated, all they can do is have recourse to exegesis.

Secondly, many theologians accept the morality that in many countries governs the conduct of the counsel for the defense. Ingenuity and skillful appeals to the emotions are considered perfectly legitimate; so are attempts to ignore all the inconvenient evidence, as long as one can get away with it, and the refusal to engage in inquiries that are at all likely to discredit the predetermined conclusion: that the client is innocent. If all else fails, one tries to saddle one’s opponent with the burden of disproof; and as a last resort one is content with a reasonable doubt that after all the doctrines that one has defended might be true.


  1. caitlinburke
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Martha Angell argues in Science on Trial that a key difference between medicine (which many scientists hardly recognize as science!) and the law, is that in medicine, evidence is something you gather in the course of evaluating a possibility, whereas in law, evidence is something to you *create* by testimony or other forms of placement into the legal proceeding. This skirts the law-enforcement investigation component, but then trials often do, too, by actively shaping the way evidence is presented.

    I don’t offer this as a counterpoint but rather to note another similarity: that both of these institutions and their methods are explicit constructs, made by people.

    • Matthew
      Posted February 20, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      I agree that both are constructs and with the comic’s (and Kaufmann’s) comparison between religion and the practice of law. That said, our (American) system of law is adversarial by nature, it is incumbent on the other side to point out his opponent’s weaknesses. The system is by no means perfect, but its nature of inviting criticism and argument stand in stark contrast to all religions’ fierce opposition to such.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted February 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        I have had this debate before but should again wish to point out that it is expected that practitioners at the English and Scots Bar should observe their overriding duty to the Court by citing all relevant cases albeit that some may not assist their client and may per inadvertence, have not been cited by the other side. Can one imagine a defender of a faith citing evidence which could cast doubt on the veracity of such faith?

        • gillt
          Posted February 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          Can one imagine a defender of a faith citing evidence which could cast doubt on the veracity of such faith?

          That would be the times of doubt among believers we hear so much about, which then becomes inverted as bolstering the virtue of faith.

  2. Derek
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    As a lawyer, the key difference I see between lawyers and theologians is that lawyers are not legal apologists. That is to say that lawyers’ aim is not generally to defend the correctness or morality of the law but to make the best case for their clients within the framework of that law; whereas many theologians are religious apologists, looking to defend the correctness and morality of their religions’ texts and worldview.

    • Pierre Masson
      Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      This would be less true in the case of the prosecuting lawyer. Implicitly, s/he is kind of promoting the law (and respect thereof), otherwise why prosecute someone in the first place. This would seem to me to be a role similar to an apologist.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted February 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Well, basically it’s a job. Provided one does not know that a person is guilty it should matter not whether one takes on the job of prosecution or defence. The burden is the same or two sides of the one coin. To have it proved or not proved beyond reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed by a named person.

      • Matthew
        Posted February 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Also, in most (if not all) jurisdictions, prosecutors are under an ethical jurisdiction not to prosecute a charge he/she knows is not supported by probable cause. I’m sure more than a nominal portion of apologists are spouting nonsense they know to be untrue.

  3. Greg Esres
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “The artist reads me! I’m chuffed!”

    Hmmm, maybe you ARE the artist. Quite clever, pretending to be British.

    • Sunny
      Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      You mean “The Artist Formerly Known as Coyne”.

  4. Gordon Munro
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Read Kaufmann thirty-five years ago. A required primer for all devotees of this here site until the heat death of at least this Universe.

  5. Patrick
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Huh. I’m a lawyer, and when I’m in company where I can sound off, I regularly compare the Supreme Court to theologians.

    I guess I’m kind of bothered by the implication that theologians should feel bad because they were compared to lawyers.

  6. Schenck
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    There’s a lot of truth in the Lawyers-Theologian comparison, especially consider that, in particular within Islam, there are various schools of Islamic-Jurisprudence, the religion splits into sects in large parts based on the different schools of jurisprudence.

  7. Schenck
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Also, consider how different Law is to Science, we don’t conduct scientific investigations using an adversarial system/method, scientists investigate and report. Religion can’t investigate it’s own claims either, and at best theologians can only “play devil’s advocate” when considering the other side of an argument.

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