First, I want to thank everyone for the great feedback on my last post on my Mormonism class. I especially appreciated the posts from some Mormons who gave us all a little more understanding about the Mormon faith. My next class is tomorrow, and I am looking forward to learning more!
Today, I had a class on Paul, and a class called “Reading Congregations.” The Reading Congregations looks to be a very interesting class, but I’m going to save that for another day’s blog entry. For tonight, I thought I would talk a little about my Paul class.
Being a Lutheran, and considering that Martin Luther had a huge appreciate for Paul, it makes sense that I would be required to take a class on Paul. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the class, though; partly because Paul is generally known as being anti-woman, pro-slavery, and lots of other beliefs where I disagree. And yet, I have also been interested to learn more about Paul, the context of his writings, and how and why he wrote the things he wrote. I have actually already come to terms with his more radical writings as writings that must be considered within the context that he wrote… but I have also always guessed there’s still more to it. And now I get to learn a little bit about the “more.”
Today’s class was only the beginning of our second week, and so we have not gotten very far. At this point, we are talking about how Paul reads and understands the Torah, and how this compares with what the typical Jewish understanding was at that time. We have also discussed (and are still discussing) other influences on Paul. Although there have been scholars who have argued that all you need to understand Paul is the Jewish perspective, most other scholars have pointed out that Paul lived in Rome, in Roman times. Yes, he may be Jewish, but he would be quite influenced by Roman thought and beliefs, as well.
We have discussed how there were many different groups of Jews at the time, as well. The ones we often hear about are the Pharisees, which is what Paul was before his conversion. It is the Pharisees who Jesus often rebukes, and it is the Pharisees who were known for being very strict to the Law. They were quick to tell those who were sinning that they were unpure, and to basically “shun” them. The Pharisees were big into separation in order to keep holy; separation of meat/cheese, cloths, and people. The Romans, on the other hand, were much more inclusive. They took a more, “anything goes” attitude. And yet, these Pharisees and Romans were living together in the same city.
My professor pointed out today that this really isn’t that different from what we often see today. We were talking about the controversy in Paul’s writings and in Acts regarding circumcision. Jewish belief and custom demanded circumcision, and of course, at the beginning of Christianity, there wasn’t really a separate religion for Christians… it was an extension of Judaism. And so, the question was, as people became Christians, must they follow Jewish law, also? Must they also be circumcised? The Apostles in general (all Jews) said yes, but Paul said no. My professor explained that we must understand that the uncircumcised were seen as the “other,” they were unholy… unclean. They were not trusted and excluded. They were outcasts. Then my professor said, “It’s like how Muslims are treated today by many North Americans.”
Boom. That hit me. Now, I should explain, he was not trying to say that all North Americans exclude Muslims. However, he was pointing out that many people, especially in North America, do not trust Muslims. Many believe all Muslims are terrorists… or at least are suspicious. Most of us do not understand the Muslim faith. And so, that lack of understanding, and the fear of our own safety, translates into our exclusion of an entire group of people because they believe differently than we do, and because some people who claim that faith, are violent against us.
I think this is more clear than ever when you consider the accusation that is often thrown that President Obama is a Muslim. Where it is clear, though, is not in the accusation, but in the response. The response I usually hear is, “No, President Obama is Christian,” which is true. However, that response assumes that there is something wrong with being Muslim. Even those who do not mean to exclude or imply any negativity about Islam do actually contribute to the exclusion and fear associated with Muslim when we respond in this way. Why do we not say, “So what if he was Muslim? Why would it matter ?” I think we are more concerned with protecting the reputation of our president than we are with changing the perception of Islam and its followers.
But I digress. The point is, my professor used our current day prejudice/fear/exclusion of Muslims to help explain the ancient day prejudice/fear/exclusion of the uncircumcised, and I found this to be quite compelling. He does this often… find modern day equivalents to the issues that are being discussed in Paul’s letters. It makes me wonder… how much have things really changed?