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February 21, 2005

Comments

mythago

Paul in fact was being appallingly liberal to his contemporaries.

I admit that I really do not get the argument that we can expect Paul, or other early Christians, to advocate for a radical and transformative view of God while simultaneously saying that, gee, the whole equality-of-the-sexes thing just goes a little too far. Jesus as Lord, sure, we can see that, but women the equal of men?! Hey, dude, rein it in a little!

Maybe some of you Christians can explain it to me: Paul was human, not divine, and I do not understand why the Church has embraced his recasting of Jesus's teachings. Paul was fallible, after all.

(And yes, I do have a bone to pick with him, what with that throwing out of ritual law in order to make Christianity palatable to the Gentiles.)

Hugo Schwyzer

Mythago, again, how do we know he is recasting Jesus's teachings when the epistles are earlier than the gospels? And when it comes to throwing out ritual law, note Jesus' own behavior in that regard (sabbath for man, not man for the sabbath,and all that)!

Xrlq

They may have been written earlier than the gospels, but that doesn't make their teachings older. To the extent the gospels are correct, they relay what Jesus actually said during his life time, when S/Paul didn't even know him. I'm more inclined to believe a book on Elvis published in 2005 by historians who knew him during his lifetime than I am to believe a book published in 1985 by someone who claimed to have spoken with him then.

Hugo Schwyzer

For those of us who are believers, XRLQ, Paul certainly "knew" Jesus -- his encounter on the Damascus road and subsequent transformation grants him special status as an equal apostle with Jesus' companions. Whether that is accepted by non-Christians or not, it's how the church has viewed the issue for some 1800 years, since at least the 2nd century a.d.

djw

What's interesting to me is that no one (well, I think, I read rather quickly) has suggested that perhaps the textual material provided in all of the many translations of the Bible out there leaves ambiguity on the question of Paul's views on gender relations. Hugo can point us to gestures of ambiguity in Paul's thought, but those can hardly cancel out the various and sundry passages that read plainly like patriarchal sexism to me and XLRQ (and good-old fashioned family values to any number of Christian conservatives).

Do any people interested in the debate concede this point? When I first tackled the Bible in the mode of an analytical social theorist type (rather than an adolescent kinda-maybe Christian), this (and other) fundamental ambiguities seemed as plain as day.

mythago

And when it comes to throwing out ritual law, note Jesus' own behavior in that regard (sabbath for man, not man for the sabbath,and all that)

Jesus didn't throw out ritual law at all in that regard. His teachings were the same as those of many rabbis, including Akiva, and I believe there is at least one school of thought that Jesus was one of Akiva's students. You may have heard the old parable about learning all of the Law while standing on one foot.

But Jesus counseled, for example, going to temple and making offerings. He didn't say hey, go ahead and eat shellfish, God decided nothing is unclean after all.

erica

I really like what was hinted at earlier. The fact is, there is power distance between God and the Church. But in Jesus, we see that distance obliterated in the giving up of power to embrace us, die for us. The power of God is then demonstrated again in the resurrection for our good. Like it or not,there is power distance in our society between men and women in the aggregate. Is it right? I think that a lot of what Hugo advocates is men teaching other men what best to do with their, what does he call it? privilege. Show me a man that will both relinquish power for his wife (or his neighbor for this matter), and at other times utilize it for her good without sparing himself. That man is loving his wife like Christ loved the church, according to Paul. That is content of paul's advice: what can be done with privilege and power. to the rich, to the master, those with power are called to use it for good. It is revolutionary; it is also peaceable. It goes beyond shaming those in the wrong, to the heart of the matter- redeeming power itself.

Stpehen

"Yeah, it was really nice of Jesus to die for my sins and all, but that doesn't make us equals, not by a long shot."

This is so convoluted it beggars the imagination. XRLQ, I'm with you on most social issues but this is a statement of staggering hubris and dis-respect. (Similar to saying, "Yeah, that whole slavery thing was a kind of a drag.")More to the point, it's fundamentally non-sensical. If you're not a theist then you likely don't give a rats behind if someone historically died claiming to do so for your sins.

Per your post, you claim not to be a Christian because you see Paul as sexist and supporting slavery? Yet, many of the social sufferage movements which have fought racism and sexism have their roots in a faith communities. Somewhere in the fabric of the Chrisitian tradition many, many individuals found the resources, indeed the command, to combat sexism and racism. I'll grant that the opposite is also true and it troubles me greatly and reminds me that most of our time should be spent on our knees saying, "Lord, have mercy."

But, to claim that we can discount the Christian faith because of the imperferctions of Christians is similar to saying that we should discount the idea of parenting 'cause all (all) parents are imperfect. To roughly paraphrase Chesterton, give me on good reason to believe in human beings after a cursory look at history.

Finally, if you want a argument against belief, I can give you much stronger arguments than "I don't like Paul." Read Dostoevsky, Annie Dillard, others. Some of the most daunting arguments against belief come from those within the tradition. It ain't a tidy tradition but a hell of a lot more compelling and, dare I say it, True, than some sort of vague self-congratulatory humanism which seems to be all the rage these days.

Chaim Potok once said, "I rather believe in a meaningful universe with pockets of meaninglessness than the alternative."

Stephen

John

Well, Mythago, for an Akiva-following Jew, He got threatened with stoning an awful lot. In fact, his breaking of the Sabbath annoyed an awful lot of people. And while He didn't say "eat shellfish" while on earth, He said it when He got back to heaven, to Peter. "Call not unclean that which God has made clean". See the book of Acts. And He did it in a vision to the observant Jew, who was so shocked, it had to be repeated. He did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it. As for Paul being fallible, yes he was, and he said so. But the epistles, while written by Paul, are inspired by God, and thus are infallible. As for Paul abolishing Jewish ritual, he was certainly advocating for doing that, but the actual decision was taken by the Apostles in Synod, at the Council of Jerusalem. It's in the book of Acts. And yes, Paul did know Him. The encounter on the Damascus Road made him the last of the "first generation" of witnesses. All the gospels contain eye-witness accounts contemporaneous with Paul. If the apostles didn't like his teaching, or they thought he was re-casting, they would have said so. In fact, they denied it, testifying to his apostolic call, and "giving him the right hand of fellowship". They continued to do so until the end of his life. No, accept the gospels and Paul, or neither. Both stand on the same basis. I cannot understand accepting Luke and not Acts, John and not his letters; Peter and not his. It is a seamless fabric, tear it in one place, and it is useless. And, DJW, I consider that with careful exegesis, your so-called "textual problems" will become managable. So no, if I have understood your point correctly, I am not conceeding it.

John

Quite right, Stephen.

Xrlq

I admit my choice of words was a bit flip, but the point was the opposite of hubris, namely that Christ's very ability to die for my sins (not to mention those of billions of other people) make for a relationship that is anything but equal - with Christ, not me, as the superior. Which is precisely why I find analogies to men vs. women offensive.

I agree it is unfair to judge Christianity by the failings of individual Christians. The problem with Paul's "failings" were not personal failures but fundamental teachings that he peddled - and most Christians to this day accept - as God's word. God's people fail like the rest of us, but surely God himself doesn't!

hopefulamphibian

I think there is something about analogy here that needs to be pointed up. Any analogy does not posit an identical similarity between two things. At some point, any analogy will break down. (We are like sheep in that we have a tendency to go astray without a shepherd's guidance, but we do not produce wool, nor do we eat grass.) We need to look at why a particular analogy has been made. In the case of husband:Christ wife:church, Paul spells out the terms of the analogy in the verses that follow. But to say that husbands are therefore 'superior' to their wives is to press the analogy too far (and far, far beyond Paul's intentional use of it). It is crucial that we understand how these literary devices work, otherwise we will end up with a form of literalism that, as XRLQ and others note, lends itself to abusive use - a form of literalism that the scriptures themselves do not ask for.

Barbara

hopefulamphibian and others:

You may say that the scriptures do not ask for literalism but in fact many Christians disagree with you and literally interpret that anyone who is deemed to be the "head" of something else as being superior in judgment and rights if not value. And djw is totally correct: There are many people who have no problem reading Paul unambiguously -- they are conservative Christians. I have always felt that Paul's letters are deeply problematic when engrafted onto the Gospel. Basically, Paul's real mission was the creation of permanent churches and he used the language of patriarchal custom approvingly, more or less depending on circumstances, but nonetheless to enduring effect. In many denominations, Pauline interpretation is more important than Gospel original.

Somebody who has to ask about justification by faith needs to read a lot more theological texts. Sorry. I'm not going to debate that one. Start with Augustine and then flip to a discussion of Luther and Calvin and then try Richard Hooker for a counterpoint. There is a lot of modern spin on this theologically extreme doctrine, but it hinges on a basic assumption that all humans are meritless and that human action is worthless. It is Paul, not Jesus, who gave us the seeds of that concept.

La Lubu

"But to say that husbands are therefore 'superior' to their wives is to press the analogy too far."

And that is exactly what we get from people who want to press a sexist agenda, and why this phrase can still tick people off, even non-Christians or not-really-practicing Christians. I was married to a man who hadn't attended church for years until we eloped and found a minister who would marry us (we were both Catholic; long story, but no, I wasn't pregnant). He never attended any church since then either. But he always kept rubbing in the "love, honor, and obey, even though "obey" was not in our ceremony, and I insisted that it not be unless he wanted to hear "I don't" in front of the altar! And he made liberal use of scriptural references that could be easily interpreted to basically say that women need to ride the back of the bus in the relationship.

And if you don't think this isn't driving women out of the church (any church), you're wrong. It is amazing how much some people want to hang on to sexist interpretations, and noninclusive language. When I attend Mass, I try to make the Mass with the inclusive priest who recites "....for us, and for our salvation...". I still see and hear fellow parishioners (and they are always fellows) who loudly exclaim "for us men and for our salvation...." and glare defiantly at the priest.

I'm not a Bible scholar, so I am wholly unqualified to weigh in on that part of the conversation. My practice of my religion is pretty much the practice of my mother and grandmothers, and great-grandmothers too (though they are no longer with us). What matters to me is whether or not women are included as being full members. It probably goes without saying that the Catholic Church has issues with women. I made the decision to stay, and try to be an agent for the (eventual) full acceptance of women. I struggled with this decision, but finally came to the conclusion that (a) my people have been Catholic for a couple thousand years, so that Church is just as much mine as anyone else's, and (b) I work for change in other areas of my life, so why run away from this area?

But. I can't honestly tell you that I won't feel compelled to leave at one point or another. All I can say is I'm going to try. I don't feel abandoned by God. But I do feel abandoned by the Church hierarchy, by some of the priests, and by some of my fellow Catholics. Which of course just begs the question, "What is a church? and What is its purpose?"

Anybody hear me? Keep insisting on the sexism (and maybe you don't interpret is as sexism, but I certainly do), and women (including myself) will keep on walking out the door, looking for that communal experience of God's love, since we still feel that experience in our own hearts.

Here's and analogy for you: invite me to dinner, but insist on serving me last and serving me smaller portions than the rest of the diners, and I won't come back to your dinners.

Hugo

La Lubu, last time I went to Mass, what I saw were women of all ages outnumbering men in the congregation. Last time I went to a Campus Crusade meeting, I saw more women than men. Anecdotally, Christianity -- even the most conservative branches -- seems to have a remarkable number of female adherents. Now, the role of women in the future church is a worthy subject of debate, and it's worth doing something about (women's ordination, etc.) But if Paul is the root of the church's issues with women, I'm surprised that after two millenia, there are any women at all left in the faith. Perhaps you are equally surprised!

hopefulamphibian

I readily agree that the bible has been used abusively, time and again - and still is. Yesterday I heard of an instance of such which is deeply affecting a (female) member of my own family.

I would also argue that the response to abuse of scripture is not non-use but proper use. Which is why I am not for excising those bits which are abused but for interpreting them properly. Certainly there are many biblical feminist scholars who argue strongly that Paul (not some of his interpeters) is liberatory in his writings, when read in his historical and cultural context.
It is easy to play off Jesus against Paul - but I'm willing to bet that there are many sayings of Jesus we'd all rather forget (remembering he said more about the fires of Gehenna than most of us find comfortable.)

Lee

Man, I am clearly not hep to the approved translations. I still read an old RSV (not NRSV) I got when I "graduated" from Sunday School at Hillside Presbyterian about 20 years ago. As well as an NKJV translation of the Psalms. What does that make me?

La Lubu

Well, Hugo....Sicilian Catholism has a decidedly different flavor than what the Vatican would prefer, and Sicilians have always been simultaneously very religious and very anticlerical. So, I'm not so surprised...people have a way of making their faith a part of their lives, even if Church hierarchy is at odds with it.

And yes, you will almost always find more women in church than men. However, that's nothing compared to the number of women who are out searching for a church that will accept them fully, searching even for a different religion that accepts them fully, or abstain from belonging to any faith community because they can't find one. 'nother words, there's more women who still believe staying home out of frustration that they will ever find a faith community that accepts men and women as spiritual equals.

Jennifer

I'm sorry Barbara, I should have clarified. I understand the doctrine of justification by faith; I just didn't understand your interpretation of what it meant to those who suffered from injustice and inequality. I have read most of those texts, except for Richard Hooker, but I'll confess it's been a while. I disagree with your conclusions, but I respect your wish not to debate.

Others have said this above, and I agree - if you discount Paul completely, you mistrust Jesus, who called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles, and the 12 apostles, and Luke, and the other dozens and dozens of co-workers of Paul, and the people in the house churches who heard his letters and passed them onto other house churches, down through the centuries. I suppose it comes down to the belief about Scripture being inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I was also thinking that if we only trust the Jesus in the gospels, well which Jesus? Mark's Jesus is a lot different from John's.

Barbara

Let me be clear: I don't view Paul as totally untrustworthy, just as significantly compromised because of the goals he wished to achieve on earth -- namely, permanent, non-intinerant church communities that could survive within their larger cultural context. Taking Paul's words literally, to me, is especially disturbing because it is so clear that he was influenced by these earthly factors. And yet, though you may not take them literally and may be willing to make allowances for the social setting (as I would be and am) there are many who are not and do not. There is, you could say, a serious split among Christians that is not necessarily simply along the lines of protestant and catholic.

I don't wish to insult anyone, and I will say outright that there are many protestant groups that emphasize charity and good works. But evangelical protestant denominations are much more likely to focus on missionary work than "good" works as a matter of emphasis. This emphasis is arguably the product of an extreme view of justification by faith. It's a complicated subject, but let's say I get a hothouse view, as I am a Catholic married to a Southern Baptist.

And for La Lubu and Hugo, there are many women at church. It's a shame the Church doesn't appreciate them more. La Lubu, I endorse every word you said. On the other hand, Christianity has in general been better for women than other religions. Sort of like democracy is the worst government you can imagine, except for every other form of government.

kim

While it is one thing to call contemporary Christians or the Church "sexist," I don't think it's entirely appropriate to apply a modern concept such as sexism to 2000-year old writings originating in the Greco-Roman world. Sexism as the concept we know today did not exist in Paul's time and removing Paul's writings from their original historical context can lead to all sorts of misinterpretations. Considering the relationships and lack of equality between women and men in the ancient Mediterranean world, Paul's teachings on gender relations and the early Church's inclusion of women in significant roles were revolutionary at the time. Of course if we compare Paul to 21st century standards, he will not live up to our feminist ideals. But when measured against the prevailing attitudes of his contemporaries, he was clearly undermining the status quo that treated women as little more than property.

jefurii

While we're talking about translations, does anybody know where i could get a copy of the Bible without any headers, chapters, or even verses? No cross-references or study notes. either. Just the text.

All this extra stuff is really useful for studying, but it's a distraction when i just want to read. i have the new testament part of The Message, and it was really refreshing - more like the collection of history and stories and letters and poetry that it is, and less like a study session. The only problem was the translation itself, which tries so hard to be hip and fails so badly.

all that said, i'd still like to have sentences and punctuation though. and maybe paragraphs. :)

saint

Hello .

Oh hello...um...er...God. Umm. So this is the resurrection is it?

Sure is. So what do you have to say for yourself? Do I know you?

Umm. Ur well, I didn't believe in you because um....I thought Paul was a sexist. And he was you know.


Do you know me?

Um, Jesus?

La Lubu

saint, I don't think anyone here has abandoned their belief in God because of interpretations of the Bible or other early writings (although I could be wrong); some people (and I am one) clearly find our churches as a barrier to our worship and relationship with God. I'm pretty much limited to having private, solo prayer and meditation be my only real relationship with God; I feel marginalized by the Church.

So, if God is gonna send me to Hell for that, I guess I never stood a chance. To quote Curtis Mayfield, "if there's a Hell below, we're all gonna go."

jp

The wiggle room that Hugo and others are trying to find in Paul (and, in my opinion, it's not just Paul which is sexist--I've commented before that Mary wasn't asked to be a part of all of this--she was simply told what was going to happen) reminds me of Ptolemy and his epicycles. You can try to paint Paul (and others) as not being quite as sexist as others think, but the whole damn book is sexist, no matter how many turns of phrase you interpret as not 'as sexist' as others have.

God is a man.
Jesus is a man.
The Holy Spirit impregnated Mary--sounds male to me.
All of the apsotles: Men.

It's a freakin' boys club, and as such, is pretty sexist from the get go. You have to do a lot of bending to get it to be any other way.

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