Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

avatar

Hurrah for Saint Paul!

October 16th, 2010, Promulgated by Ink

In an attempt to make myself better-acquainted with some of our Church documents, I decided to start with the New Testament epistles.  Saint Paul has made me smile, since I’m sure he is looking down on our world right now and saying, “HEY, THAT’S WRONG!”  Emphasis mine.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

Source: Romans 1:18-32, Revised Standard Version.

Food for thought.

Tags: , , , , ,

|

2 Responses to “Hurrah for Saint Paul!”

  1. avatar Monk says:

    Thanks for sharing this Ink. Isn’t interesting that the solution to our problems today were described over 2000 years ago and yet our society has banished God from the public square. We are witnessing the results just as St. Paul describes.

  2. avatar Mike says:

    Ink,

    Anglican Bishop N. T. (“Tom”) Wright offered these reflections on Romans 1:18-32 in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, pp 434-6 (published in 2002). I found myself reasonably impressed with Wright’s analysis, especially in view of the turmoil then (and still now) in the world-wide Anglican Communion surrounding the subject of openly practicing homosexuals and Wright’s preeminent stature within that communion.

    1. One still meets, from time to time, the belief that there is nothing really wrong with the human race. It is unhealthy, we are told, or perhaps morbid to dwell on sin or always to be drawing attention to it; it is pathological to approve of punishment, still less retribution. It is bordering on blasphemy to suppose that God would ever be wrathful.

    Romans holds these notions up to the light and exposes the counterfeit theology they contain. There is such a thing as human wickedness, and if God does not oppose it relentlessly, then God stands accused of conniving at destructive and dehumanizing practices. The generation that has known both mid-century totalitarianism and late-century apartheid and “ethnic cleansing” should be in no doubt of systemic injustice, rooted in the reality of wickedness deep within the human heart. Within such settings, “embrace” (a gentle liberal toleration of different viewpoints) is not enough; there must also be “exclusion,” the making and implementing of judgments that risk pronouncing a “no” as well as a “yes.” Finding the appropriate coexistence of those two is an urgent task for our day.

    2. Our generation has seen the resurgence, in the Western world, of various forms of paganism. The worship of blood and soil, and the symbols that evoke them, was characteristic of the Nazi movement and remains all too familiar within the tribal and geographical disputes that still disfigure our planet. The worship of Mammon, granting absolute sovereignty to “economic forces,” whatever the human cost, is endemic in much contemporary culture of both East and West. Eros, the god of sexual love, claims millions of devotees who genuinely believe they are bound to obey its every dictate, however many times its grandiose promises prove hollow. Mars, the god of war, is worshiped by many, tolerated by many more, and still wreaks havoc. And serious nature worship is on the increase, as the old “god” of eighteenth-century Deism has disappeared from view, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the “forces” within the created order, producing various kinds of pantheism.

    We cannot, then, dismiss Paul’s analysis of idolatry as relevant only to his own age. In some cases we can easily see how such idolatry leads to dehumanized and dehumanizing behavior when, for instance, worship of Mammon by the few leads to widespread poverty for the many and when, faced with the call to remit large-scale and unpayable international debt, many in positions of power and financial security kick and scream rather than give up a single dollar of “owed” interest. Paul’s thesis that dehumanizing behavior is rooted in the worship of idols deserves full contemporary exploration.

    3. Paul’s comment about homosexual behavior is deeply controversial today. Attempts have been made to mitigate its force by saying (for instance) that he is only referring to a deliberate swapping from heterosexual to homosexual practice, not to what in recent years has been regarded as an innate homosexual condition, or that he was only concerned with practices directly related to idolatrous cults. As in some other matters, it would be wrong to press 1:26-27 for a full analysis of same-sex desires or practices; but equally it is wrong to minimalize or marginalize what Paul teaches here. He is not saying, as in an individualistic culture he is inevitably read as saying, that individuals who are aware of same-sex erotic tendencies or who engage in the practices that result have themselves been worshiping idols. He is not proposing a case-by-case analysis. Rather, his argument is that the existence of homosexual practice in a culture is a sign that that culture as a whole has been worshiping idols and that its God-given male-and-female order is being fractured as a result.

    We cannot isolate these verses from Paul’s larger argument, both in this paragraph and in Romans as a whole. From this it is clear that he regards homosexual practice as a dangerous distortion of God’s intention. It is quite logical to say that we disagree with Paul or that in the light of our greater knowledge of human psychology we need to reassess the matter. That can be argued either way. What we cannot do is to sideline this passage as irrelevant to Christian ethical discourse, or for that matter to the argument of Romans, or to pretend that it means something other than what it says. It is, of course, important to remind ourselves also that Romans I is followed at once by Romans 2, with its emphatic warning against a moral superiority complex. As the argument goes on its way, Paul’s most damning condemnation is reserved, not for those who engage in what he sees as dehumanizing practices, but for those who adopt a posture of innate moral virtue while themselves failing in their most basic vocation, to be the light of the world.

    4. Paul’s concern with truth, and with the tendency of humans to deceive themselves about it, addresses precisely the clash in contemporary culture between modernity and postmodernity. The Western Enlightenment bequeathed an intellectual climate in which it was assumed that “truth” could be known “objectively,” by scientific and similar observation. Clear and hard thought, it was supposed, would probe into and lay bare the secrets of all subjects. Suspicion about this has been aroused in recent years as post-modern thinkers have pointed out, following Friedrich Nietzsche, that claims to truth are often covert claims to power. The old Roman legal question, cui bono? “who stood to gain by this?” formerly restricted to criminal deeds, is now asked of every human action and statement.

    Paul’s warnings about the ways in which humans distort the truth and come to believe and approve lies remind us of the postmodern critique. There is such a thing as a darkened heart, a mind made foolish or futile through idolatry. The practice of injustice does indeed “suppress the truth” (1:18). However, postmodernity proves too much. Not only does it, quite appropriately, self-destruct. (How do we know that the postmodern claim about knowledge is itself true? Might not it, too, be subjective posturing?) It runs the risk of ruling out what Paul emphatically claims, that despite all suspicion there is such a thing as truth, and it can be known. However, since for Paul the truth is ultimately not something objective, discovered by observation and reason alone, but something personal, given in encounter with the living God, the debates of recent centuries are transcended within a Christian epistemology. Though modernists may sneer and postmodernists gnash their teeth at the very thought, there is in Paul’s book such a thing as a mind renewed by the Spirit, and he is so bold as to suggest, in Romans and elsewhere, that this is attainable in Christ (see, e.g., 1 Cor 2:14-16).


-Return to main page-