Friday, February 22, 2013

Thinking about Paul

So I have a young friend who is quite a biblical scholar and who is extraordinarily fond of St. Paul.  About this he and I disagree, rather profoundly.

The oldest writings in the New Testament, excepting perhaps the Book of James (who was the brother of Jesus), the letters of Paul are perhaps the first gospel.  Some scholars believe that these letters were actually published and were written in highly polished Greek because they were intended for publication.  The lack of this polish is how scholars distinguish between the authentic letters of Paul and the so called Pseudoepigrapha, the letters written by others and said to be written by Paul.  These letters were written by Paul to the groups of Christians he had mentored across the Roman Empire.

Now my problem with Paul is pretty simple really.
1) Paul never met Jesus.
2) Paul never studied with Jesus.
3) Paul was not at the last supper.
4) Paul was not at the Pentecost
5) Paul never studied with James or Peter or any of the other Apostles, so far as we know.
6) Paul was in fact one of the chief persecutors of Christians during the early days of the Jerusalem church.
7) The so called vision on the road to Damascus is IMHO nothing less than an authorization tale, designed to provide for Paul the mantle of Apostle by someone putatively identified as the same author of the Gospel of Luke.  Truth to tell we do not know who wrote the Gospel of Luke, so we don't know who wrote Acts either for that matter.  The text of Acts was written approximately about AD 66-67 in memory of the recently deceased Paul.  This story exists nowhere else, there is no double attestation which would prove that it is more than an invention of the author of Acts.
8) Paul was in fact a Roman.
9) Paul was trained as a Pharisee, the very group who were the butt of many of the Parables of Jesus.
10) Paul's letters attack ministers who come among those Christians he had mentored teaching a message divergent from his own.  Scholars think these ministers teaching a divergent message had been sent from the Jerusalem Church founded by the Apostles who had actually studied with Jesus.

So, one has to ask then, just where do these teachings in Paul's letters come from?  They can't possibly represent the teachings of the Jerusalem Church which were in the direct line of Christ's own.

Paul's teachings survive mainly because he was dead when the Jerusalem Church was destroyed and his followers were spread among the diaspora Jewish community when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70.  In addition, those who created the text of the anthology we call the New Testament were followers of Paul.

I contend that if we are really going to know what Jesus the  Christ taught, we have to discard Paul.  The teachings of Paul have so eclipsed the teachings of the Jerusalem Church, his followers have worked tirelessly to suppress the teachings of the Jerusalem Church, so that if we are to see what Christ taught we have to look beyond Paul back to the beginnings of the Church.

We might begin with Phyllis Tickle's book, The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord with Reflections.

One of the Reviewers of this book writes: "We've heard them from the pulpit, scanned the red-letter words in our Bibles and quoted them in scripture memorization. But when we listen --- really listen --- to the words of Jesus, they may change us irrevocably. So says renowned religion writer Phyllis Tickle in THE WORDS OF JESUS, which offers a new way of looking and listening to familiar passages.

The book began with a simple question from a colleague who asked Tickle, "Did you ever wonder what you would really find if you took out the duplications and triplications and connective tissue of the Gospels and stripped it all down again to just His words?" The question stunned her, and she admits, "I had never wondered such a thing...I was also fascinated by the potency of the Sayings format and drawn to the intellectual game and pleasure of trying to tease out just how and why that format works so well."

The "Sayings" format is indeed unique. All of the words of Jesus from the four gospels and the first chapter of Acts are compiled and arranged into five different "books" and then organized by topic. In each book, Jesus' personality is "shaded and shaped by the particularity of either his audience --- public, private, or intimate --- or an activity --- healing." Rather than relying on a particular translation, Tickle brings her own scholarship and the texts of several translations to bear to recreate Jesus' words.

Tickle suggests that the reader begin with Book Two, Christ's words of private instruction to His followers. Here, He is "most self-revelatory and open to us." Bits and pieces of Jesus' words reach out and pull the reader in. "Be careful that you do not look down on one who seems small or unimportant and trivial...," Jesus says in one passage. In another, "Sit down in the humblest place." And, "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Each saying in each "book" is grouped under a topical header.

Tickle divides the other four books of Jesus' Sayings into The Words of Public Teaching, The Words of Healing Dialogue, The Words of Intimate Conversation and The Words of Post-Resurrection Encounters. The 21 Sayings under "healing" are interesting, Tickle points out, as most of them have little or nothing to do with the healing itself: "Rather, they read now as if much of the time the act of healing becomes a platform for teaching health of more than just the body." Good food for thought.

One of Tickle's passages that resonates particularly well is the idea that the brain and the heart are both organs of perceiving and being. "We must assume that there is in the human being a means of knowing other than that of the brain." Her surprise, she said, was that the Sayings of Jesus "entered prayerfully" are first heard somewhere other than the mind. "The heart, it would seem, has its own consciousness and knowledge and ways that can be experienced just as the brain's consciousness and knowledge and ways are experienced. They are just not as scientifically measurable at the moment, and may never be."

Tickle, who has worked with other sacred writings before (The Divine Hours series), has a delightful blend of humbleness and confidence in her reflections on the Sayings. As she began compiling the "words" of Jesus through the past two years, Tickle said she wrestled with new perceptions about what it is to be a Christian, as well as to be herself.

So reader be warned. If, as Tickle says, "It is the correct and proper business of followers to try to discern the meaning of God's words," then THE WORDS OF JESUS is a good place to be about our business. But readers will encounter the sayings of Jesus through this book in new ways --- and may come away changed."

--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I am beginning to grow very tired of the arguments my Evangelical neighbors are making in their efforts to overturn Roe V Wade.  Now it must be very clear to anyone who listens to the blather of these good people that they imagine America to be a theocracy where biblical logic takes precedence over every other kind of logic we believe to be the basis of our Democracy.

Let us begin at the beginning of their logic.  First, they begin with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, literally correct and inerrant.   This blather like their other blather is anchored in grotesque misunderstanding. First, this book they call the Bible (Latin for book) is an anthology of many texts written by a variety of hands, most of which belong to individuals without names, other than  those given them for convenience by the editors of the volume in the 4th century.  A good many of the letters of Paul, for instance, we know were not written by him. These pseudo-epigrapha are, to put it bluntly, forgeries accepted into the anthology by the sheer ignorance of the 4th century editors.

Secondly, the texts of this anthology were "massaged" (that is to say rewritten somewhat) by their editors during the amazing debates over the proposition of an influential priest named Arius, who asserted that The Son of God was a subordinate deity to God the Father. Their rewriting of scripture allowed them to defeat Arius and send us on our way into the amazing dogma of the Trinity, which virtually no Christian understands to this day. Mysteries are that way, it is explained to the trusting faithful.

This little trick of rewriting sacred text to win arguments is still being practiced by the anti-abortion editors in our own day.  So much for the idea of inerrancy.  But then there are so much evidence that demolishes this sacred cow of the evangelicals that they have (as a young graduate of the Truett seminary put it to me recently during a professional conference) created their own brand of "Yawbut" theology. To every exception to this inerrancy assertion a student might come up with his professors were always ready with a "Yes but" [or in the dialect of Texas, "Yawbut"] theological response.

Thirdly, the reason the Bible was created in the first place--the reason that editors sorted through all the many other Gospels held by ordinary Christians to be sacred text in the preceding 300 years--was that Constantine had begun to build for his new God Franchise [Christianity] massive new churches, and the priestly managers of these grand spaces needed something to read in the new system of public worship [liturgy] he was devising.  Of course, it is likely all Gospels and sacred texts were written for public reading in the early house churches which had sprung up across the Roman Empire of the first, second and third centuries.

But when the new God franchise was created by Constantine he had to--in the tradition of every good empire--standardize the text. Standardization is after all the hallmark of a good empire, weights and measures being the first Standard to be put in place.  So what was sacred and what was not sacred, what was acceptable and what was not, had to pass muster of Constantine's appointed editors and compilers.  This bible-is-the-Living-word-of-God meme is nothing more than an authorization trope designed to empower the clergy of the new God franchise. And thus we invented the Canon and cast into the outer darkness all competing texts making every effort to obliterate them and all who clung to them.

So since America is not a theocracy run by empowered Clergy, we can dispense with these Bible based arguments.  They convince no one but evangelicals of the inerrancy tribe.  What then can we agree on?
I suppose it is fair for us to agree that biological life begins when the sperm hits the ova.  It is equally fair to think that this biological life is human.  It is equally fair to think that this human life should be accorded respect once it achieves viability which medical science is pushing back further and further into the weeks after fertilization. Currently, most agree that viability occurs at seven months or 28 weeks.  Up until then Roe V Wade permits the mother to terminate the pregnancy if she chooses. Viability has occurred at 21 weeks, but the chances of survival are very challenged at 21.

So what is the status of the fetus prior to 21-28 weeks?  Our bibliocists demand that we give the conceptus all the legal rights of a Citizen from the moment of conception.  They are working over time to conceal their biblical imperatives so they will have weight in a court of law, where these decisions will be made.  Currently, the best of their arguments resides in the Potentiality argument that argues that since the embryo is potentially a Citizen it should have all the rights of a Citizen. "Best" does not necessarily mean convincing, I hasten to say.

The problem with all these arguments, of course, is that our ancestors who wrote the books of the bible were dyed-in-the-wool misogynists.  In the days of our Bedouin Hebrew ancestors, women were property with few rights.  This misogyny persists for nearly two millennial so that it has only been in the last century when women threw off the shackles of patriarchy and demanded an equal share of respect, legal rights and liberty such as Citizens have the right to expect.  So our evangelical friends argue from texts that deny the importance of woman from the outset.  These arguments are irrelevant in modern context where women have long been accorded equal rights.  Even as we speak, however, many legislators drawn from the evangelical camp struggle to strip women of these hard won rights and long to return them to the status of chattel property.  Such is the intent and purpose of these Personhood arguments, in my opinion.

Surprisingly, we have learned more about gestation since Roe V Wade than we knew in the preceding 7,000 years.  It is nearly miraculous how much we now know about the process of gestation and in particular embryogenesis. Not withstanding this avalanche of new technical information, our evangelical friends retroject this information back into our early history assuming the authors of books like the proverbs knew what fertilization was.  One notable authority on personhood even demanded that we interpret the line in Proverbs that says "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" meant that God knew us at the point of fertilization.

Now fertilization is a microscopic event and we had no microscopes until 1590. It is impossible for these ancients to have imagined such a process.  Secondly we did not know that a woman even had an ova until 1827.  So the idea that the ancients could have imagined that God knew us when sperm and ova collided is patiently absurd. It is the very epitome of the logical error retrojection. But then if you don't believe in Critical Thinking as evangelicals mostly do not often militantly so, they could hardly protect their logic from such fallacies.

So if we begin with the idea that all women--poor, middle class and wealthy--are Citizens fully equal to men who have the right to control their own bodies, we cannot begin to accept that the State has any right to curtail their rights to control the most intimate process of her anatomy.  The ludicrous demands of our evangelical friends to demand the state reach out and seize control of a woman's uterus and its inhabitants flies directly in the face of the conservative  quest for smaller and less intrusive government possessed of fewer regulations.

This kind of governmental regulation always fails, witness the effects of such regulation in the matters of access to alcohol, marijuana, all schedule one drugs, immigration and even voting rights.

And truth to tell, they are not mounting an argument aimed at the upper classes.  Their arguments and legislation are aimed directly at poor women as witness their attack on Planned Parenthood which has been a major source of health care for poor women.

It should be obvious to any reasonable individual that what we have here is nothing less than an effort to deny women equality under the law.  Men want to return to a day when women did not compete with them in the Job Market, could not control their own money, and control their fertility.  They would like to dismantle the divorce laws, and Title IX which gives women equal access to the sports fields and programs.  They dislike women serving in the military let alone in combat. And so on and on in their not so subtle misogamy.

Those of us who really love women, and respect them to the degree that we want our wives and daughters to be equal before the law in every way a man is should be very alert to the real thrust of this personhood argument.  It is nothing less than misogyny concealed.

If these good Christian folk really loved the fetus as they say they do, wouldn't they:

1) Provide sex education of a real and meaningful sort so both women and men know how their reproductive organs work, how STDs are contracted, and how they should think about their health when they are trying to bring a child into the world?

2) Provide prenatal care to poor women who can't afford it?

3) Provide legal protection for women who have been raped and to treat rape as the heinous crime it is in ALL cases.

4) Defend a woman's constitutional rights to control her own body as vigorously as they defend their second amendment rights.

5) Provide health care to poor women so they can receive adequate care during difficult deliveries of their infants.

6) Provide health care to poor women in the difficult months after a birth so their children might not become a statistic on the mortality roles of infant death.

7) Provide preschoolers with Head Start funding so they will be ready for school

8) Provide children with a good education so poor women have some hope that their children really do have access to the American Dream.

9) Stop incarcerating the husbands and men folk of poor women through draconian drug laws and mandatory sentencing which have resulted in the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized  nation. Raising children requires a father in the home just as much as a mother.

10) Stop the massive legislative efforts both in State legislatures and Congress during the last four years to restrict a woman's ability to control her own body and the attendant media which demeans poor women as welfare queens and murders of unborn children.

11) Work to improve job prospects for the poor and middle classes. The conservative blockage of all of Obama's efforts to create jobs especially through much needed rebuilding of our infrastructure has ironically been the motivation of many families to curtail building their families through all methods of contraception and early term abortion.

12) Work to make marriage a viable institution for all segments of society.  Currently half  of all infants are born out of wedlock, and half of all marriages end in divorce.

How are we to encourage pregnant poor women to want to take their pregnancies to term if we continually leave them bereft of hope that there will be equality of opportunity for themselves and their children.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Fetus Fetish

Fetus, fetus, fetus, who love this fetus anyway?  I begin to be really irritated by the fetish certain sectors of the political spectrum have for this entity called the fetus.  I have even begun to suspect that this fetish has nothing at all to do with fetal life and everything to do with controlling the reproductive life of women.  I have even begun to suspect that all this legislative hand wringing over these little precious tongues of flesh don't love the poor, don't love poor women, I even suspect they don't love women at all.  I am almost positive that these male legislators have no love for pregnant women of any stripe.  I know for sure they do not love fetuses at all. 

 If we really wanted to protect the fetus wouldn't we want to ensure that the mother entity was delighted to be pregnant?  Wouldn't we want to be sure that the mother entity was well informed about what pregnancy meant, how pregnancy happened, how she could stay pregnant and how she could deliver a healthy infant?  Wouldn't we want to give that mother entity the feeling that we respected her, loved her and encouraged her to be the best mother she could be?

Yet what do we do? Nothing of the sort. 

We humiliate them, embarrass them and go out of our way to wage war on their demographic.   

We threaten to poke an unltrasound wand up their koochies, a required procedure which the state also requires they pay for.  

We humiliate them by allowing pharmacists to deny women access to contraceptives if the pharmacist claims such a sale would offend his religious views: not withstanding that women use contraceptives for far more than just preventing pregnancies.  

Their most private and intimate biological process are suddenly the stuff of debate and argument by men who obviously have not even the most minimal understanding of how the lady parts work.  

Supposedly educated and supposedly happily married men energetically propose an entire taxonomy of rape including illegitimate rape and legitimate rape, as if it weren't a horrific crime but a kind of inter-mural sport they long to be spectators of.

Then the House of Representatives refuses to pass the Violence against Women Act, as why would they when they seemingly enjoy discussing rape, imagining rape and its consequences.

Then 30 States have laws on the books that allow rapists to have parental rights for the child of their forcible rape.   I can tell you that if a rapist were to show up on my door wanting to have his parental rights with my grandchild he forced my daughter to have in a violent and ruthless sexual attack, there would be one very dead former rapist "burglar" in my house.  Or there would finally be a good use for "Stand Your Ground" Laws.

And then there is the State of Utah which reached into the bottom of the humiliation barrel and recently criminalized miscarriage. Not abortion mind you, they criminalized that event that most women are completely devastated by.  Way to go Mormons!

So it is pretty clear to me, that these fetus fetishists are liars, hypocrites and knownothing spiritual raopists.  They don't care about women, they don't care about fetuses, and the particularly don't want to honor women in that most challenging moment in their life when they accept responsibility for another life growing under their growing breasts.