A Parable of Talents

by Craig E. Bacon

Why is it important for women to study, teach, and contribute to the fields of theology, biblical studies, and philosophical theology? What are some practical ways we can encourage women to do this?

1. The Parable

I’d like to begin with a parable. There was once a man who was blessed with many natural talents, and who found himself with access to ample opportunities for development. With a bit of work, he could have become…well, almost anything. But, finding himself with rather a comfortable lot in life, he considered this work superfluous and never did apply himself. And for a long time, he didn’t feel too bad about all that wasted potential. However, upon some reflection later in life, he realized that his neglect of his natural talents had been an immoral one—immoral, because had he cared properly for his duty, he would have cared also for the means to fulfilling this duty. Since he could not be sure just what challenges he might encounter in the future, he should have worked to develop all possible means for conquering these challenges. And he certainly had been privy to all possible means, had he only taken care to cultivate his gifts. As it stood, his failure to cultivate his talents had, at many points in his history, led to an abdication of duty by default; he simply had not prepared himself for it. A lesson learned late, he came to understand that he had a duty to himself to—for the sake of duty—cultivate those natural talents with which he found himself gifted.[1]

2. The Problem

The man in the parable is, of course, the fields of Theology, Biblical Studies, and Philosophical Theology. Well, okay, in the original story the man represents each individual person. But there are unified collectives about which we can speak as analogous to an individual: the Christian church(es) may be thought of as one body of Christ; an otherwise diverse nation may conceive of itself as one people; and one team wins it all in sports(ball). If the same goes for these academic disciplines (and those related, such as Philosophy of Religion or Religious Studies), then there has been a failure of duty—a failure of each of these fields to itself—to perform due diligence in developing all its talents to the fullest. And women comprise a great, neglected gift to these fields.

3. The People

I don’t mean that individual women have neglected their talents. I think of my wife whose incredible poetry draws from her past work in Biblical Studies and Theology and continues to speak to those fields. I think of my best friend and colleague whose work on religious trauma is, in addition to being groundbreaking and timely, a nexus that draws together several disciplines who need to be working together more closely anyway. I think of my colleague whose examination of the role of heterodoxy within religions both challenges and enriches our understanding of what religious belief even is. And I think also of my colleague whose books and consulting work provides pastors/churches an invaluable resource for addressing cases of abuse in their local congregations. These and myriad other women have certainly developed their individual gifts, which only highlights the fact that they are the great talent that their fields—Theology, Biblical Studies, Philosophy of Religion—should be focusing great effort toward cultivating. But in many cases, these individuals have accomplished their great work rather in spite of not only neglect but even outright suppression.

4. The Practice

While these fields cannot know exactly what challenges the future holds for them, they can know that they have a duty to develop their natural gifts—among these, so, so many women—in preparation for whatever may come. One practical way to do this is to conceive of the work as a duty indeed; cultivating women as the practitioners and compatriots of these fields is fundamental to the very aims that make these disciplines what they are. Women aren’t here to be shoehorned in, begrudgingly. They’re not here to boost an image. They’re not here for seniors in the discipline to chuck a baton at as they leave the field. Clarity on this point, and the beginnings of a good public record as ‘someone’ who is committed to developing all their talents, is one important step forward for these disciplines in which women have been ‘underrepresented,’ i.e., neglected as great talents worthy of all available resources for cultivation.

Craig E. Bacon (University of South Carolina, ABD) is a husband, father, philosopher, and poet exploring the intersections of ethics, religion, and musical experience. When not holding a baby, reading Kant, or listening to prog—and sometimes while doing all three—he listens out for the words to shine light into his experiences.

[1] To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “It’s all in Kant, all in Kant.” Parable adapted from Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals, 4:423. Please temporarily bracket (don’t, ultimately, ignore!) the implied racism in the original text.

Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash