Romans: Reflecting

Instead of continuing with the text, I think it's fair to stop and take a reflective moment of what this all means to me.

Because at this point, it may seem that I'm agreeing with Paul and his religion. Explaining clearly what he means doesn't mean I agree wholesale with it, though.

Here's the mechanism that I see Paul advocating: All are sinners, Christ provides a safe haven from God's just wrath, and humans take advantage of it by believing that the haven is actually available. It's all a bit ontological, isn't it? Much like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, or better, how Harry Potter gets the Philosopher's Stone from the Mirror of Esired. You see it happening, and it happens.

Paul's very apparent rejection of the flesh is going to appear soon here in Romans. It's a constant theme of his: he advocates no marriage if possible, and derides his theological opponents for their preoccupation with circumcision (in one of his cattiest remarks, he wishes that if his opponents like cutting down there so much, they should just cut the whole thing off and be done with it!).

It's a symptom of Paul's ultimate orientation to the Greek mindset, where body and soul were so seperated. His writings reveal to me someone who had rejected this background to become a passionate student of the Law, and then just as violently rejected this for his new purpose, synthesizing both viewpoints.

Such a mindset couldn't have thought much of the daily animal sacrifices at the Temple. How much neater the one sacrifice of Jesus, once for all, so that the effluvia and slaughter could cease! It was a modern take on the old religion - by separating the fleshly bias of the Torah from its spiritual underpinnings, Paul hit upon a system to convince the world of the value of the Jewish revelations, one much easier to understand than the writings of his contemporary Philo.

Because all things Jewish are Paul's true concern - how to preserve the specialness of the Jewish covenant in the modern Greek world. For Paul, the answer was the gospel he was called to preach, the reason for his existence and opportunities: the story of Christ crucified and exalted. Jesus becomes as vivid a turning point in Paul's history of the Jews as the Exodus, and it is this history that gives the life and death of Jesus any significance at all. It is the context. You would think it impossible to honor the Messiah and dishonor the people who produced him, wouldn't you?

We know the unfortunate falsity of that sentence, though.

And isn't reuniting the two viewpoints of my past what I'm up to here, in a way? Convinced of the value of my youthful religion, yet stuck smack dab in the middle of this modern world, here I type, working out a way to understand both while respecting both. The respect for both may not always be perceived, just as Paul, and God forbid I kick off a new religion. Mormonism and Scientology are enough modern religion for anybody. The world doesn't need any more religion - we're all eaten up with it as it is.

No, I'll be content with understanding where Paul's coming from, and if there's any value to that message today, and how to apply it. Joseph Campbell had no affection for Christianity - he labeled it a sick religion, and did give his reasons for doing so. Yet his ultimate summary of the spiritual core of mythology is this: Follow your bliss. No one can deny that Paul did just that. Paul had the temerity to suggest that a particular bliss might be worth more than the others, and gave his reasons as well. Romans is one of his greatest statements on the matter.

Where Paul is going is this statement: "Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, to the glory of God." It's the Pauline version of John's "Love one another." The greatest bliss is finding a way to live among each other in peace, and sharing that way with others. Seeing how this message worked its way through the life and writings of Paul can only help us as we labor to bring that message out into our world today.