the faith hope

an ongoing exploration of a thankless subject

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Location: Adelaide, Australia

Founding secretary of the Urbane Society for Sceptical Romantics, a club I take very seriously indeed.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Peterson’s Paul: Romans 1 24-32. Or, Paul scrapes the bottom of the barrel

two more hellbound cuties smearing each other in filth

So God said, in effect, "If that's what you want, that's what you get." It wasn't long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!
Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either—women didn't know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!

This is one of the least pleasant passages in the NT, and one that provides much comfort to many an intolerant modern commentator. Peterson goes as far as having Paul put words in yahweh’s mouth, condemning and dismissing ‘them’. As to who ‘they’ are, some commentators describe them vaguely as the pagans of his time, while others are more specific, mentioning Ephesians and other cultural groups. It doesn’t matter much, the diatribe is familiar and tedious, in Christian and many other contexts. The impurity of the other is emphasized, especially sexual impurity. The conservative obsession with the value of purity should be recalled here – ‘smeared with filth, filthy inside and out’ is a phrase designed to physically revolt the reader. This is apparently what happens to you if you worship any other god than Yahweh.

God is love of course and if you don’t know the right god you are incapable of love – Peterson promotes in his translation the idea that men going with men and women going with women is defilement and abuse and cannot contain any element of love – another triumph of bigotry over evidence. Not that Peterson goes against the spirit of Paul’s message here.

It’s an important passage in the history of Christian intolerance – the only categorical mention (and condemnation) of female homosexuality in the bible, making it pretty easy to blame Paul for the anti-gay element in conservative Christianity (though his attitudes would of course have been standard for the time). It seems to put sexual license at the forefront of a more general degradation, which Paul goes on to describe in one of his most embarrassing outbursts of hate-filled rhetoric, a passage hardly worthy of comment, except to say that it’s very human – we’ve all of us had these feelings of annihilating anger against those we’ve decided are our enemies. Maybe that’s what made the Romans burn Carthage to the ground. It’s certainly what inspired the Nazis towards their Final Solution. So many of our worst behaviours begin with rhetoric, falling in love with our own rage. The important thing is to get over it, to get outside of our ranting heads and actually observe others.

I'm having problems posting pics at the moment, the toolbar has disappeared.

Also, I'm disappointed at the lack of secular commentary on Romans. I often check to see what others have said about particularly stinky passages, but mostly I find Christian commentators either explaining away or expanding on their own intolerance.


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