Monthly Archives: March 2008

Is the Apostle Paul a Bigot?

Sparked by some brief, but troubling comments made by journalist Chris Hedges at a book promotion event, I began a little series about a week ago on some common misconceptions and concerns about the Bible. Here is the list of reasons Hedges listed when he cautioned against reading the Bible as the revelation of God:

  1. It was rewritten by Christians over time and especially at the Council of Nicea.
  2. The Bible is anti-Semitic.
  3. The Bible, Paul in particular, is bigoted toward homosexuals.
  4. The Bible supports genocide, especially in the case of the Canannites.

Today I’ll take a stab at the bigotry accusation. Of course this means I’ll once again have to revisit the controversial homosexual issue. In starting out, I think it will be most helpful to examine first what exactly a bigot is.

Dictionary.com says: a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

The American Heritage Dictionary says: One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

Curiously, I think we can apply this to Christians who sometimes refuse to listen to anyone who disagrees with their perspectives, however you can find people like that in every religion and nation. The hard part here is drawing a line between opinions/perspectives and the hard edge of bigotry. If we find passages in the Bible where Paul lists homosexual behavior as a sin, we do not necessarily have the same thing as bigotry. If a pacifist believes it is sinful to kill under any circumstances, does this belief make the pacifist bigoted toward the army? If a pastor says it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage, does this belief make him bigoted toward the thousands of people who do?

The distinction here is key, and the larger problem rests in how we have applied these texts. In other words, Paul is not a bigot, but we can take his words and use them to be bigoted.

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Stanley Fish Puts the Media in Its Place

If you’ve grown weary of the media and it’s attempt to force candidates to denounce and renounce what other people have said, then you need to read the latest opinion piece by professor Stanley Fish:

This denouncing and renouncing game is simply not serious. It is a media-staged theater, produced not in response to genuine concerns – no one thinks that Obama is unpatriotic or that Clinton is a racist or that McCain is a right-wing bigot – but in response to the needs of a news cycle. First you do the outrage (did you see what X said?), then you put the question to the candidate (do you hereby denounce and renounce?), then you have a debate on the answer (Did he go far enough? Has she shut her husband up?), and then you do endless polls that quickly become the basis of a new round.

He goes in for the kill by praising Obama for his speech and gutting the media:

He [Obama] rejected Reverend Wright’s rants against the United States and against the white power-structure, but he refused to reject the man to whom he had looked for spiritual guidance. And he deplored the tendency “to pounce” on every “gaffe,” because, he said, if we continue to do that, we’ll just be “talking about some other distraction, and then another one, and then another one.”

The odd thing is that the press that produces these distractions and the populace that consumes them really believe they are discussing issues and participating in genuine political dialogue. But in fact they have abandoned genuine political dialogue and have committed themselves to a conversation that differs only in subject matter from conversations about Eliot Spitzer’s and David Paterson’s sex lives. It’s not politics; it’s titillation clothed in political garb.

It makes me glad that I generally skipped all of the coverage and analysis save for Obama’s speech itself. It’s like gossip on a national scale surrounding a high stakes “vote” for the class president.

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Another Year, Another Lent, Another Fast, Another Rabbit Card

Easterbunny Easter is a little different in our home. While we are Christians who believe that the Resurrection is one of the most important holy days, if not THE most important holy day, we also plunge headlong into the rabbit craze of Easter. It’s not that we badly want to blend the new life Christians celebrate with ancient pagan rituals, fun though it seems for some. No, we use Easter to also celebrate our three rabbits: Eva, Baxter, and Evan–the jerk who eats our carpet.

So while we wind down our fasts, read through the abridged daily liturgy of the Divine Hours, and set the alarm for a ridiculously early hour for Easter sunrise service, we also stock up the mushiest, cutest, furriest bunny cards. It’s a competition to out-cute the other. This year I swept in with two adorable gray bunnies snuggling with a pink backdrop, thinking I had a lock on the competition. However, Julie countered with a beautiful brown bunny sitting alert in a field and glaring with that penetrating dark bunny eye, much like the one I’ve inserted at the top of this post.

So, yeah, we’re a bit strange about all of this. Of course we also finished up our Lenten fasts…

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Standing by the Cross

Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary’s sister, Mary the wife of Cloppas, and Mary Magdalene stood by the cross in Jesus’ final hour. John mentions his own presence there almost as an afterthought with Jesus requesting that he care for his mother.

The Jewish leaders and people passing by jeer at Jesus. The soldiers gamble for Jesus’ clothing. The Sabbath was fast approaching with sun-down, and the Jewish leaders, though guilty of murder, sought to ensure that the bodies would be removed from the crosses before the Sabbath. The final moments of Jesus’ life approached rapidly. The small crowd gathered by the cross must have known that while death was inevitable at this point, their vigil would be far shorter than they probably expected.

Standing by the cross is lonely business.

Imagine, standing in such a public place, a hill outside the city gate, and identifying yourself with a convicted “criminal,” a criminal dying the most ignominious of deaths. We rightly focus on the suffering of Jesus and the way his death functioned as a sin offering. However, we should remember that very few of Jesus’ followers stood by him in his final hour.

There were five left.

The Jewish leaders must have felt pretty good about themselves.

Perhaps Jesus’ mother and Aunt weren’t necessarily even close followers at this point. Even if they were, they could at least be counted as family who wanted to be near a dying relative. As for the other two Mary’s and John, they could only claim an affection for Jesus, a belief in his teachings, and a loyalty to him. That was a dangerous place to be. Their reputations were no doubt soiled by this literal stand.

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Maundy Thursday: Setting Aside Power

It’s a cold, rainy, windy Maundy or Holy Thursday here in Vermont. According to Wikipedia, Maundy Thursday is the

The feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.

On this day four events are commemorated: the washing of the Disciples’ feet by Jesus Christ, the institution of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot.

That’s a  lot of events to cram into one day. In observance of Maundy Thursday I’ve been reading the account of the last supper in the Gospel of John. The last week of Jesus’ life occupies a huge amount of space in John’s Gospel and much of John’s material is unique.

Right off the bat in John 13, just as things are warming up, John makes a startling statement about Jesus:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God. (John 13:3 NIV)

This is what John wants us to know right before Jesus starts washing everyone’s feet: he had all power, but he still humbly served his followers and remained committed to dying for our sins. Keep in mind that execution on a cross in Jesus’ time was a reminder of Rome’s power, but in Jesus the cross became a symbol of power set aside, power restrained, power held up until the fullness of time: the time of the Resurrection.

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Ben Witherington on Depak Chopra’s Latest

The other day at the book store I was looking at the top 10 hard back bestsellers and sure enough another Depak Chopra book was listed as number one: The Third Jesus. I checked out the dust jacket and it seemed to be as I suspected, another new age-take on Jesus that draws on the love and redemption of Jesus, but sort of skips over the cost of discipleship and the road to the cross.

The language is all spirituality and enlightenment, which can be applied to Jesus in a few ways, but does not capture the complete, orthodox picture the Bible and historic church give us about Jesus.

Noted Biblical scholar Ben Witherington has written up a review of the book at his blog and comes to this conclusion:

Jesus did not, and does not come to take us to a higher spiritual plane, so that we might better get in touch with the little bit of God that is in us all or our own God-consciousness. Indeed, he seeks to lead us to have a relationship with the God he called Abba who is wholly other, and who urges us to recognize the Creator Creature distinction. We are not God, nor is God inherently in us or a part of our being. The end result of navel gazing is that we may well get more in touch with ‘our inner child’, but we do not get more in touch with the ‘outer’ God who created the universe and all that is in it. The former sort of spirituality is a form of narcissism, or at its worse, self- worship. The latter form of spirituality reinforces the Creator/creature distinction and leads to worship of the one true God.

I don’t claim to have Jesus all figured out. I don’t claim that people can’t learn from Jesus even if they won’t become committed followers of Jesus. However, I do not believe Chopra presents an accurate view of Jesus with his Biblical grab-bag approach.  Of course the main difference here is my Christian tradition values the Biblical witness and the traditions passed down throughout Christian history. Chopra is coming from a completely different angle, an angle that I think misses out on the life-changing revelation of God and call to discipleship.