Monday, April 12, 2010

Historical footnotes

The New Testament has a lot of interesting material.  At the moment I am reading Corinthians 1 and 2 and the things Paul, the author of those sections, comes up with are remarkable.  Some examples follow:

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  Corinthians 11:14

I absolutely love the idea that everyone can tell by looking around at nature that a woman should have long hair.  Where does this information come from?  Praying mantises?  The whispering of wind through a ash grove?  The sight of a sunset over the crashing surf at the ocean?  It amazes me that people take quotes from the Bible and tout them as truth when this sort of ridiculous thing is also present.

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.  Corinthians 14:34

And here again we have shameful bigotry portrayed as righteousness.  Women are not allowed to speak in a holy place but must rather rely on whatever answers their husbands provide and moreover they are "subordinate as the law also says".  There can be no doubt that support of the Bible as the literal word of God is intrinsically wrapped up in gender discrimination and repression of women.  It is sad that so many claim to support equality and yet also support the Bible due to being unaware that such contradictions exist.

Another thing I find worthy of comment is the interest Paul takes in issues so obviously wrapped up in ancient historical custom.  He writes at length about the best way for a believer to deal with potentially eating something that has been placed as a sacrifice at an idol - it must have been a big issue for Christians at the time.  He ends up advocating eating whatever is served even if you think it may have been offered as a sacrifice to an idol but refusing to eat it if it that fact is pointed out to you by someone else.

I certainly think it is fascinating to read about the concerns of ancient peoples and to understand the ethical dilemmas of their day.  If a history book was talking about religious custom and the problems that surrounded people eating food that was offered to an idol when they didn't necessarily know it had been offered to an idol I would be absolutely entranced.  What an insight into their lives and the issues they wrestled with!  The survival of such information from that age is a wonderful thing for it allows to us to see so far back and gain some inkling of the conditions of the time.  The unfortunate part is that this historical footnote is portrayed not as a way to gain greater understanding of an outdated custom but rather as timeless, immutable truth.

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