I’ve put in my Glee piece for the TLS and the Guardian commissioned someone else to reply to the idiotic Bea Campbell in re. ‘No Platform for Bindel’, and so I can take a few minutes to talk about something else I have been obsessing with quietly over the past few weeks.
Someone rightly pointed out that right-wing Christianist fundie homophobes don’t regard themselves as obliged to follow the purity codes of the Old Testament about mixed-textile clothing, or diet, and that this is because Paul says Christians are exempt from those codes. This does not explain why they still feel entitled to adopt Old Testament punishments, of course, so it is not quite the knock-down argument that was claimed; it would seem to me that if you are using the New Testament to govern your own behaviour, and the Old Testament to govern other people’s, there is a fundamental inconsistency people should be asked to address.
(And in this context, since we are talking about Christians and Christianists, I think that’s the appropriate vocabulary to use when referring to those books, just as I would try to make a distinction between the Jewish and Christian Bibles even when they are largely the same text, and be aware of the different canons of the various Christian churches. I grew up reading the Book of Tobit as part of my bible, having been reared Catholic, and am sometimes surprised when Protestant friends do not know what I am talking about if I refer to it.)
Meanwhile, Paul…Odd chap, I think we can agree on that, who created Christianity in large measure without having ever met Jesus. A man of his time, with conventional attitudes to slavery and women – and I have never understood why things he said that do not fit with the Gospels get taken so seriously as doctrine. He seems to have thought some very odd things – like that the tendency to bisexuality among Greeks and Romans was a madness caused by worshipping pagan gods. Does this mean he invented the concept of false consciousness? Probably not; it is doubtless somewhere in Plato.
He is, though, far more of a problem for people who believe in biblical inerrancy and fundamentalism than they generally acknowledge. When they need to justify homophobia and the general stigmatization of sexual sin, they have a knockdown quote from Paul to hand.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God?
Now, those of us who are not Christians can simply ignore all that anyway, but believers have a problem, because they always ignore the later bits of that quite long shopping list. Revilers – Fundamentalists tend to have a nice line in horrible insults to those they disagree with; the claims by Pastor Ssempa in Uganda that all homosexuals are paedophiles obsessed with fisting and the eating of excrement being a case in point. Extortioners – I will just say three words of which the first is Tithes, and the second is Superchurches and the third is Televangelists. Covetous – well, all of the talk about fancy people and Hollywood elites and East Coast liberals that you hear from these people does seem to indicate a certain discontent with being poor and pious, and their preaching of the gospel of success, the idea that making money in the free market is a Christian duty, does seem to raise one of Paul’s deadly sins to the status of a cardinal virtue.
And that is setting aside the question of how many Christianists have a problem with booze, even if they are currently dry drunks.
Paul equates all of the things he regards as sins as being equivalent problems – and if they truely believed in biblical inerrancy, you would expect them to do likewise.
Yet somehow homosexuality, to which many of them are apparently not inclined, is seen by them as a bigger sin than those spiritual sins to which they seem addicted. Someone needs to work out the origin of that particular idea – Jusitinian thought sodomy caused earthquakes and Peter Damian got the mediaeval churh to be hotter on it than had been the case previously – but it is clearly not in Paul, let alone in the gospels, where it is one of the things Jesus never bothers to mention.
Religion becomes toxic, as do other ideologies like radical feminism, when they become a license for hating other people, and treating them as less than human.
I stopped being a Christian decades ago. But some of what I learned as a child has resonance for me still – love thy neighbour as thyself, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, let him who is without sin cast the first stone. The Beatitudes. The Parable of the pharisee and the publican.
Jesus is a man – or perhaps a literary construct, but my money is on his having really existed – who deserves rescuing from his worshippers. Including, let us be clear, Paul, fine as some of his writings are.
Oh, and because I’ve had this argument before with eg autopope, one of the major reasons why I think that there was a historical Jesus is that no one in the succeeding centuries ever raised the possibility that there was not. The Jewish controversialists argued that he was the bastard of a legionaire, rather than that he never existed. Roman historians like Tacitus and buraucrats like Pliny took it for granted that he was real – Pliny in the context of an extended report to the emperor about these pesky cultists. And it is not as if a culture in which one of the ultimate punishments was having your life and work struck from the records post execution as if you had never existed – Augustus did this to a couple of poets – was incapable of claiming someone had not existed even if they had, let alone if they genuinely had not.
But saying that there was a historical Jesus is not saying that he was God any more than saying that there was a historical Mohammed is saying that he was the Final Prophet of God.
In a way, simply denying their existence is a cheap way of terminating conversations with believers, which may well be a good idea but not what I want to do.