The global number of believers in the existence of a god as portrayed in the bible is undeniably dwindling. One area where that does not transpire is the number of people who are enrolling in theological schools. In spite of the positive evolution towards a secular world, thousands of theology enthusiasts aspire to become a Master of Divinity.
There are a number of factors that explain this seemingly contradictory phenomenon. One simple explanation is the fact that more and more religious organizations require their leaders and active servants to hold the degree of “Magister Divinitatis”, before they can assume any professional capacity in their organization. But what is a Master of Divinity?
Part 1: the Study of the Unknowable
Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary) defines ‘divinity’ as the ‘quality or state of being divine’, or fudge made of whipped egg whites, sugar, and nuts. Using the English terms instead of the ones derived from Latin: godliness is the quality or state of being godly. Because this isn’t really helpful, the definition of ‘divine’ might clear things up:
Divine 1: relating to or proceeding from (a) god 2: being a deity 3: directed to a deity 4: supremely good 5: heavenly, godlike
Divinity (godliness) is the state of being divine (godly), and being divine (godly) is being a deity (god) or being godlike. As professed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this state of godliness – divinity can only relate to the one and only existing god. The study and mastery of divinity can therefore be equated to the study and mastery of god, as he is the only divine being. In monotheistic religions, a Master of Divinity degree is a Master of God degree.
Do these students of divinity actually study god? Not entirely. The majority of hours dedicated to this curriculum, deal with more practical matters. Church history may help you to organize your present day church organization. The study of church growth might give you insights on how to grow your own organization, in combination with evangelism which teaches you how to grow your flock of bleating sheep. Canon law can help you settle disputes between and within church organizations of your specific denomination, while the study of the classical and biblical languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin give you an aura of expertise and authority on the foundation writings of your religion.
None the less, these fields of study remain dependent on the basis of the respective religion you may adhere to: theology, the study of god, or the nature of god. This brings us to the crux of the entire scam that religion really is. For theology is the study of the nature of an entity whose nature cannot be known to humans. In spite of that, priests, imams, rabbi’s, deacons, pastors, ministers – under whatever name they go by – all tell you that we are not meant to understand or are not intelligent enough to understand god, but make a career out of explaining god to others. Somehow, they are either more intelligent than the majority of people, or they have a direct phone line to god that no one else has access to. Religious apologists would have us believe that the universe could not have come into existence without a conscious being outside of the universe causing it or creating it. That being is immaterial, is outside the space-time continuum and cannot be detected by any natural sense of humans, or by the most advanced technology at our disposal. But somehow, these extraordinary knowledgeable people not only know there is such a divine being outside our universe, they also know its nature (although technically it cannot even have a ‘nature’). It is the perfect set up to make god into anything they want him to be. The only challenge is to make others believe what they claim. A Master of Divinity curriculum is one of several tools to meet that challenge. But outside the self-reinforcing circle of believers or prospected “swing-voters”, this pat-on-the-back piece of paper is hardly worth anything. So why are so many people lured into believing that this degree really is worth their effort, time and money? Well…precisely the latter: money.
Part 2: La Casa de Papel – the Money Heist
Saying that religion is a business is nothing new. That it is a multi-billion dollar business doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone either. Religious organizations are the conduits of vast rivers of money. A big tributary to the religious money river is the paper industry of printing out meaningless titles to the students of nothing. The M.Div. – title in and by itself may be completely worthless and only serve as a piece of framed wall paper. But making it a prerequisite to hold a paid position within a religious organization does turn it into a coveted prize; a prize that doesn’t always come cheap.
The Association of Theological Schools groups some 270 institutes from the United States and Canada. That covers a large part but far from all religious institutions where you can study theology or obtain a Master of Divinity-degree. The Catholic Church alone operates more than 1,300 universities and colleges for higher education. The ATS’ collected information is fairly precise, but only shows you a small brook in the catchment areas of the global flow of money into religious organizations.
Not all M.Div.-certificates seem equal. The financial cost can differ extremely. Some seminaries offer the M.Div. curriculum for free. So why would you pay high sums of money to obtain it? While the average cost of the 2019-2020 academic year in the institutes under the umbrella of the ATS hovers around 14,190.00 USD, some institutes charge 3 to almost 4 times that much. Most expensive is the University of Notre Dame Department of Theology. This faculty makes you cough up 55,308.00 USD for the first year of your attempt to get the Master’s. Yet surprisingly enough it is not the institute that raked in the most tuition and fee payments for this discipline of study in 2019. That would be the Fuller Theological Seminary in California who enrolled a Full Time Equivalent number of 1,159 students for its Master of Divinity program and collected 22,530,960.00 USD (22.5 million dollars for this one discipline). In order of tuition and fees collected, Notre Dame is only eighth in the list. Collectively, the 273 (member, associate or candidate) schools of theology collected 667 million dollar in tuition and related fees for the academic year 2019-2020. Now multiply that by 10 for the tuition paid worldwide (which is a vast understatement) and then multiply by 10 for the past 5 and next 5 years: 66.7 billion dollar. Calling the Masters of Divinity industry a multi-billion dollar business is definitely not an exaggeration! Let’s keep in mind as well that the Master of Divinity discipline is but a part of all possible religious studies. But if the tuition fees paid in the coming five years will easily exceed 3 billion dollars then you’re not wrong in trying to get a piece of that – no matter what the academic value of your degree might be outside of the realms of religion. All that money ends up somewhere of course.
If the investment of an average of 50,000.00 USD over three years’ time (and after your undergraduate studies of course) enables you to become a well-paid pastor with a salary between 50 to 80,000.00 dollars a year, then the to-be-framed wall paper sure gives you a very profitable return. Who knows, you may even become one of the lucky few: a tenured professor of theology at a reputable institution and make a lot more. In the references below you can find some links that give you an idea of the remunerations of clergy members.
Part 3: The seats of Moses
Most religious organizations have some form, figuratively or not, of the “seat of Moses”. For the Catholic Church the highest seat is the papal throne, for Anglicans it is the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral. On the lowest levels of clergy however, every church, mosque or synagogue assigns a place from where the respective leader preaches and teaches to its members. Literally speaking most churches have done away with the actual seat and have their pastors or rabbi’s stand up (even though “cathedra” and to “preside over” still literally mean “to sit in front of”).
Moses' seat at the ancient synagogue of the Greek island Delos.
As with any hierarchical organization, leadership positions become fewer the higher you move up the ranks. Low level positions of clergy may not be the most interesting jobs financially, but the larger the organization, the better chance you have to obtain a better paid position. Money may not be the first or most important motivation to become a pastor, priest, minister or imam. But a Master of Divinity degree is clearly aimed at becoming part of that select group of people who feel the need to explain others who or what god is and what it’s all about. In other words, you’re setting out to do the impossible. For what is the purpose of a “man of the cloth”?
On the one hand, you may agree that humans are incapable of fully understanding god, or are simply not meant to. But if that is true, then there is no way that you can; let alone explain god to others. Your job as priest, pastor, rabbi, imam or missionary is completely pointless. On the other, god has revealed himself perfectly through the Tanakh, New Testament or Quran and can be completely understood as the one and only truth by everyone on their own. The only difference between believers and non-believers is whether they accept this truth or reject it (this is the mantra of “presuppositionalists” like Sye Tenbruggencate or Jeff Durbin). If this is true, then no amount of bible thumping will convince these non-believers to accept your truth, because it’s not a question of a lack of understanding. Again, your job is completely pointless. In both cases, priesthood in whatever religion is completely self-serving.
If the above two considerations do not make you think twice about paying 100,000.00 dollars or more for a piece of paper that will only serve you within the fortifications of a particular religious denomination, then you might add the following consideration.
Not only does the position as leader of a community bear with it the increased exposure to vanity and arrogance (thinking you know better because you have studied and obtained a title in theology or divinity). You will be one of those people whom Jesus himself warned his disciples against and whom he criticized so strongly:
“As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”- Mark 12:38-40
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah”.” – Matthew 23:1-10
Halas for all the women out there who are vying for a position of teaching or authority…this goes even more against the principles of the bible. Paul says it in the clearest of words. He does not accept a woman to teach or hold authority over a man. You may not agree with him, but it is the bible and the bible is the word of god. Of course, I presume you agree with me if I submit that god/the son of god himself holds higher authority than his “first and most important apostle” Paul. And if that’s the case and you want to live by his words (as you set out to teach others to do), then you will refrain from setting out to teach others the nature of god or the meaning of his words. If you really can’t help yourself however, just use the amount of money you intended to spend on your M.Div. to buy a few thousand bibles and give those out for free. Most people in the world either know how to read or know someone who does. You can be sure that some of them are just as intelligent as you are.
After all, the more people read the bible for themselves, the more people will come to understand that the god character portrayed in it is nothing but a manmade fiction. The best way to serve humanity and be a “minister” is by not bothering anyone with your crazy theories or to drag others down with you in the cesspool of your religious delusions. Not dissuaded yet? Here’s what the bible also has to say on the matter:
“Then the lord said [to me], “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.” – Jeremiah 14:14
“This is what the lord almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the lord.” – Jeremiah 23:16
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” – Psalm 118:8-9
The above verses raise the justified question: why should we trust anyone who claims to speak in god’s name? Why should we trust you, calling yourself Master of God? Maybe you should use your money to get a master’s in surgery. That way, you might end up saving lives for real.
Richard Dalet PHD, February 01, 2021
Sources and references:
Association of Theological Schools https://www.ats.edu/uploads/resources/institutional-data/annual-data-tables/
Master of Divinity, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_of_Divinity
On clergy salaries: https://www.salary.com/research/salary/benchmark/pastor-salary https://churchanswers.com/blog/five-things-you-should-know-about-pastors-salaries/ https://careertrend.com/how-do-pastors-get-paid-13656049.html https://work.chron.com/preachers-make-money-26918.html https://www.zippia.com/professor-of-theology-jobs/salary/
O'Gorman, Robert T. (2007). "Reflections of an 'Investigative Journalist' on the Four Content Areas of the MDiv" (PDF). Theological Education. The Association of Theological Schools. 43 (1): 1–2. ISSN 0040-5620. Retrieved 17 September 2015
Fuller Theological Seminary, https://www.fuller.edu/master-of-divinity-degree-outline/
Image source: holylandphotos.wordpress.com