Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Religion: Amongst the Cities of the Plain

I am now in the closing section of the book—mentioned below—that has lately been my 4:00 a.m. reading: Sze-kar Wan’s, Power in Weakness, the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. In a subsection entitled “Paul Lays Down the Gauntlet: 10:1-16” Wan quotes the following passages from the first letter to the Corinthians:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1:18-19 NRSV)


We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1:23-24 NRSV)

Leading up to the next subsection, entitled “Attacks on the Super-Apostles: 10:7-11:15” Wan writes (again quoting Paul):

The power of God is capable of destroying all human wisdom, all “strongholds…reasonings and every haughtiness raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:4-5).

And Wan goes on in the next paragraph to cite the authority of Philo (fighting philosophical fire with fire) as perhaps having influenced Paul’s choice of words:

The first-century writer Philo used the term “stronghold” to mean an argumentative edifice constructed out of empty speeches and human reasonings which at the end diverts one from honoring God. It was the favorite technique of the Sophists and flashy orators, according to Philo, to hide their vacuous thoughts behind flowery words and trickeries. These arguments may seem, on the surface, impervious to attacks, but in reality are only empty talk that does not probe the reality of God’s true character. By using this same criticism, equating “strongholds” to “reasonings,” Paul presents his opponents as cunning orators and sophistic chatterers who have erected an empty edifice that cannot withstand divine attack…

Finally, in the closing paragraph of this subsection, Wan writes:

With this, the battle lines are drawn. On one side are the flashy talkers prone to using eloquent words to persuade the world. On the other side stands Paul, a weak and unimpressive figure. But he makes clear that he stands for the power of God which comes through the meekness and gentleness of Christ. The Corinthians will now have to choose between these two camps.

In traveling through the Christian blogosphere, I find the elaborate edifices of many of such rhetorical “strongholds” standing along the way like cities of the plain. Within those gates, should one try to cut through the Aristotelian sophistry with the keen edge of a simple Bible verse, one is almost assured of being accused of resorting to the tactic of “dueling scriptures.” One soon discovers that his interlocutors are the theological-tactical equivalents of the neocon sloganeers who make their pitch on the cable TV talk shows: every response comes tagged with a mass-marketed bumper sticker. Hard on the heels of “dueling scriptures”—should one persist in citing the words of God to present one’s understanding of the Christian project—is the label sola scriptura. Ah, those Latinisms: the dagger’s thrust must go straight to the heart, if presented in the dead language of dead scholiasts. Amo, amas—say what?

In the service of what ends is this obfuscating language deployed? The only conclusion that can be drawn by stepping back and considering the phenomenon objectively is that the end—as in Paul’s day and age—is power. The “super-apostles” of the contemporary blogosphere are not different in kind from the overbearing “Three Pillars” with whom Paul had to contend in order to disseminate his personal revelation. And since their gig is, and was, a power-trip, the simple statement of one’s own beliefs can be seen by them only as an attack on theirs. Here again we see that they ape the paranoia of the neocon contingent with whom they most naturally tend to ally themselves as citizens and voters.

But one soldiers on. What else is a boy to do?