Founded by concerned parents and spouses, there is a new 12 step program on the block: Theologians Anonymous, or "Friends of Will W."
Jill W. (names have been changed) said that the last straw for her was five years ago, when her husband sat down to his favorite meal, lovingly prepared by her for their wedding anniversary, and then popped open a volume of the Early Church Fathers to read at the table. "I kept it together for the meal, but I swore I would never listen to Gregory of Nyssa over lasagna again," she declared.
The support group Jill W. has founded--Enable Theologians No More--has heard these stories over and over again. Jill decided that, having created support for the spouses and families of theologians, the time for large scale intervention was right. The time was right for Theologians Anonymous.
Jill's "released theologian" Will W. has been a spearhead behind the new movement. (Released theologian is the term preferred; "reformed theologian" was initially used and caused denominationally-backed arguments and fights within the recovering groups.) "I believe in God," said Will, "but I'm not a slave to theology anymore. I used to conjugate Latin at breakfast and compare the English translation of Balthasar's Mysterium Paschale to the original German at lunch. I snuck The Summa into my data entry cubicle and tried to read an article at least once a half-hour, saying I needed to rest my fingers. I got into a heated argument with a teacher's aide about whether the Victorines "proved" the Trinitarian nature of God at my son's kindergarten graduation. Today? Well, I like to read comic books now. And watch Doctor Who. Even worship isn't a problem, since I attend a church where the pastor pretty much says 'Just love your neighbor' for every homily. I live a much less complicated life."
The traditional 12 steps are somewhat revised to accommodate the unique challenges of being addicted to theology. "Enable Theologians No More" helpfully has provided a few tips for those planning to confront their own theologian:
1. We admitted we were powerless over theology - that our lives had become unmanageable.
--This step is, unsurprisingly, the hardest one. Most theologians get into knots over the free will/predestination debate implicit in step one. An indication of addiction is spending over three hours discussing whether Augustine or Calvin was right on this topic (or one hour if the debate was between the Jesuits and Dominicans).
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
--Once again, a potential stumbling block: your theologian may digress into Whitehead and Process Theology, or worse yet, the nature of sanity as defined by Michel Foucault. Steer your theologian past these rocky shoals by encouraging speaking in plain English as much as possible.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
--The likely hot topic here is in defining the pronoun "we." We the Christian Church? We the friends of Will W.? We the world? Once the terms of other religions get into the discussion, your theologian is lost for days, at minimum. Be patient but firm.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
--Actually, searching is where theologians tend to thrive. The problem could be getting them to stop.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
--Once again, your theologian may be on firm ground here; just convince him or her this doesn't need to be a dissertation with footnotes. Citing Augustine's Confessions is evidence of backsliding.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
--For moral theologians, a possible digression into the adequacy of virtue theory awaits, but otherwise, all systems go.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
--A humble theologian... think of the challenge. Just remember, with God all things are possible.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
--If the theologian was published or a professor, despair can set in at this point. A list comprised of groups, rather than individuals, is acceptable in this circumstance.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
--Suggested amends are sincere apologies combined with soap and a bubble wand. No one can think deep thoughts blowing bubbles.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
--Setting a time limit--at most, one hour a day--for personal inventory may be helpful for your theologian.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
--"Praying only for knowledge of His will for us...." That means that knowledge of creatio ex nihilo vs. contemporary alternatives informed by chaos theory, etc., are off limits.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to theologians and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
--Just don't suggest the theologian go to an academic conference to spread the word. He/she will get sucked in, the temptation will be too great.
There has been a backlash, in the form of handouts posted at universities, and left on tables in libraries, calling itself the "Free Will" movement. Jill and Will W. are not deterred. "TA will be big," Will argued. "It's funny--even the acronym describes the person with the addiction, since most are grad school teaching assistants. I'd say it's providential, if I could remember what that meant."
(Who actually likes and admires 12 step spirituality a great deal. And my best friends are theologians....)