Odium theologicum

From Academic Kids

The Latin phrase Odium theologicum, literally meaning "theological hatred", is the name given to the particular rancor and hatred generated by disputes over theology. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell explained odium theologicum in the following way:

"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion."
("An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish'" in Unpopular Essays 1950)

The difference between hatred and odium is that we express hatred and we endure odium. One is active, one passive. "Odious" characterizes the qualities that inspire hatred.

The antidote to odium theologicum, Russell would agree, is science. The early linguist Leopold Bloomfield saw the necessity of developing linguistics as genuine science, both cumulative and non-personal. In viewing the non-ideological development of the American Linguistics Society, in a talk in 1946, he said that it had

ôsaved us from the blight of the odium theologicum and the postulation of schools... denouncing all persons who disagree or who choose to talk about something else," and he added "The struggle with recalcitrant facts, unyielding in their complexity, trains everyone who works actively in science to be humble, and accustoms him to impersonal acknowledgement of error."

In the controversy over the validity of fluxions, Bishop George Berkeley, in his Defence of Free-Thinking in Mathematics (1735) addressed his Newtonian accuser:

You reproach me with "Calumny, detraction, and artifice". You recommend such means as are "innocent and just, rather than the criminal method of lessening or detracting from my opponents". You accuse me of the odium Theologicum, the intemperate Zeal of Divines...

Compare intolerance, anathema, abomination.


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