"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Paul's misogyny, libertarianism and the Book of Romans

A few last notes from Paul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

Keep in mind the author believes some of the books attributed to Paul are actually products of a later era when "the Church" with its bishops and other offices was becoming a more organized entity.


"The misogyny of the Christian tradition could claim its origins in the writings of the New Testament. ... [insert woman-hating quotes by Tertullian].  But is any of the blame for this to be laid at the feet of Paul?  True, in his letters Paul introduces the idea ... of the Fall of Man; 'as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.' The conclusion drawn by the later fathers of the church is that the blame for Adam's death must be attributed to Eve, but this is not something which Paul ever seems to have thought for himself.

[Having read all the Pauline letters many times, I tend to agree.  I've often noticed how Paul uses Adam, Adam, Adam and maybe once or twice mentions Eve (or woman) so I've never felt my gender is particularly blamed from just reading Paul. If anything humankind as a whole is blamed and I'm OK with that having realized quite a while ago that I'm a sinner and so is most of the rest of the world!]

His writings do not suggest misogyny. True, he thought that the woman is the glory (doxa) of the man. But it is hard to know what that means. He believed in the Jewish myth that women were created from Adam's spare rib and that women were created for the sake of men. This is not what most people think in the late twentieth century, but it does not mean you were misogynistic if you thought it during the reign of Claudius or Nero.  In those days you would have been hard put to find anyone who believed in 'sexual equality' in the modern sense, and the person who comes the closest to it is, strangely enough, Paul."



"Many modern people, even Christians, regard Paul as a restrictive or puritanical presence in the Christian tradition. They blame him for taking what they suppose to have been the simple religion of Jesus and institutionalising it, or theologising it, or somehow making it more 'restrictive.' A reading of the few surviving authentic writings of Paul - Romans, Galatians, the two Corinthian letters, Philippians - absolutely contradicts such a view.  Paul is the great libertarian of religious history. Though a Jew of Jews - by his own account - he had the most cavalier view even of the written word of God. ... Paul believed that human beings were the temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit flows through us, and Christ lives in us.  In order to find out the mind of Christ you need to look in your own heart."   (pg. 172)

He gives this passage as example: 

1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  (2 Cor. 3:1-3)

I also think of Romans 14 one of my personal favorite passages when dealing with 'gray areas.' You think it's wrong to eat pork, then don't do it! But don't dare judge another person whom God has accepted.  It's not your call to say their eating pork is right or wrong. You think it's wrong to celebrate Christmas or Independence Day because they aren't mentioned in the Bible, then don't. But don't look down on the ones who choose to celebrate those days.  Seriously, check out Romans 14 and feel scolded for judging others while at the same time feel encouraged to do all things in love...even forbidding yourself a ham sandwich if eating it makes a weaker brother or sister stumble.


"For it is the most interesting, as well as the most impenetrably difficult, book about 'religion' ever written.  In fact, of course, it is not about 'religion' at all, if by 'religion' we mean Judaism or Islam or Taoism or Seventh Day Adventism or Roman Catholicism.  Romans is one of the most devastating pamphlet attacks on 'religion' ever penned. No one who read it and absorbed its profound messages could feel happy with membership of a 'religion' ever again. Jesus might or might not have gone into the temple in Jerusalem and said that he would pull it down and build it up again in three days. The letter to the Romans pulls down the temple at Jerusalem and the temple at Ephesus and the temple at Piraeus and the altars of Athens and every other altar and temple ever build by human hand. 'St Paul understood what most Christians never realise, namely, that the Gospel of Christ is not a religion, but religion itself, in its most universal and deepest significance.'"   (pg. 195)

That last bit the author quoted is from "W.R. Inge, Outspoken Essays, p. 229" according to the footnote.

I've never thought of Romans like this before, but now I'm going to have to read it with this thought in mind to see if I agree!

Your thoughts on any of this?


sanil said...

Good post. :) Thanks for sharing.

Suroor said...

"St Paul understood what most Christians never realise, namely, that the Gospel of Christ is not a religion, but religion itself, in its most universal and deepest significance."

What do you think about this?

Interesting post!

Susanne said...

Sanil, thanks much for reading! :)

Suroor, I puzzled over that because I don't know exactly what religion "in its most universal and deepest significance" means to the guy who said that. For me, it may be relationship; for another, ritual or purpose in life or comfort. I just don't know. Maybe it's all those things. Any ideas?

Thanks for your feedback!

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