Sunday, January 29, 2006

I have a soft spot for zealots

That is, of the nonhomicidal, nonviolent kind. There is just something about their tireless devotion, their singlemindedness, and their boldness that I find endearing and attractive.

This week I celebrated my birthday which falls on the feast day of the conversion of Paul, one of the most celebrated zealots in history. I grew up in the Roman Catholic church but left at 13 to join an alternative religion, an act that was completely acceptable in California in the 1970s. Later, at a different point in my life, I rejoined the church and was confirmed as an adult, at the age of 27. Searching for a confirmation name, I looked at the saint whose feast day fell on my birthday and saw, with disappointment, that it was Paul. What a misogynistic jerk! At least that is how I had always viewed him since I returned to studying religion. He said that husbands should rule over their wives and slaves should obey their masters...I couldn't imagine a figure more opposed to my liberal religious beliefs.

But I had taught by one teacher to always look for the small kernel of truth, even amidst the garbage and so I read through his letters, finding words that were difficult and challenging as well as patronizing. Sure, he could be harsh, anti-sexuality, anti-gay, overly dualistic (spirit vs. flesh), inconsistent, arrogant and grandiose, and, at times, anti-Semitic. But those failings obscured the fact that he also had some interesting and even funny things to say.

So, I decided to embrace my inner Paul, full of ignorance and blindness as he was, and chose Paulina to be my confirmation name.

Now, in honor of my birthday and Paul's conversion, I'm going to share a few lines from his letters that I find interesting, challenging, poetic, or surprising. They are not the most theologically significant or important. In doing so, I am violating the primary rule of biblical scholarship--do not remove passages of texts from their literary and historical context! You miss all of the subtlety of their meaning and can easily misinterpret the words and symbolism. Those folks are completely right but this is my blog so I'm going to violate those rules in hope that anyone reading this might find something of interest.

For those of you who are atheist, anti-Christian, or hostile to religion of all varieties, you can skip today's and future installments of "My Favorite Zealot" (I've divided it up into parts). I'll return to hashing out other ideas and the mundane details of life soon enough.

So, here is Part I of my completely arbitrary selection, in no particular order:


For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.

There is no partiality with God.

Their throats are open graves; they deceive with their tongues; the venom of asps is on their lips; their mouths are full of bitter cursing.

Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.

I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, "You shall not covet." But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin is dead.

What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate...for I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.

I consider the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother or sister.

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something so that no human being might boast before God.

Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within?

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.

For you have been purchased at a great price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.

If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that.

Food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, nor are we better off if we do.