Saint Paul’s business ventures

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Washington National Cathedral in March 1968. Robert Wright agrees, sort of, writing in the April Atlantic that “whether or not history has a purpose, its moral direction is hard to deny.” Wright’s essay is an 8,000-word argument that the three great monotheistic faiths may help create a more beneficent world through globalization.

The lengthy deck headline for Wright’s essay puts the question well: “Is globalization, in fact, God’s will?” That teaser, however, offers more than this excerpt from The Evolution of God (due in early June) delivers. Instead, Wright spends what feels like too much space on nitpicking historical criticism of the gospels, making much fuss about how the Gospel of Mark differs so much from Matthew, Luke and John:

The Jesus in Mark, far from calmly forgiving his killers, seems surprised by the Crucifixion and hardly sanguine about it (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). In Mark, there is no Sermon on the Mount, and so no Beatitudes, and there is no good Samaritan; Jesus’ most salient comment on ethnic relations is to compare a woman to a dog because she isn’t from Israel.

At least Wright abstains from other writers’ preening accusation that Jesus was a bigot.

Wright also spends considerable space developing a theory that Saint Paul was an entrepreneur, such that even his encouraging the early Christians to show hospitality had an underlying purpose of spreading “the Jesus brand”:

Paul’s letters to Christian congregations often include requests that they extend hospitality to traveling church leaders. Such privileges, as the scholar E.A. Judge put it, were increasingly “extended to the whole household of faith, who [were] accepted on trust, though complete strangers.” This extension was a revolution of sorts, since “security and hospitality when traveling had traditionally been the privilege of the powerful.” The Roman Empire had made distant travel easier than at any time in history, and Christianity exploited this fact. The young church was, among other things, the Holiday Inn of its day.

This is all written in a brisk and entertaining style, and The Evolution of God will be important reading in June. For now, though, this essay gives short shrift to both Islam and Judaism, and too often it treats early Christianity like a business venture.

I have included the TED video with this post because it depicts Wright’s dry humor. On a related note, he explores religion themes regularly at meaningoflife.tv.

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  • Ira Rifkin

    Remember, this is just a relatively short excerpt from a book, which I and I’m sure most GR-ers have yet to read. So the short shrift given to Judaism and Islam in the Atlantic piece may say more about the magazine’s editors than Wright and his book.

    Still, it strikes me as a great ommission not to mention the Baha’i Faith, which does as a matter of theology consider globalization to be God’s plan.

    Globalization, Baha’is believe, is another example of monotheism writ ever larger. As above, so below; one God, one religion, and eventually one centralized earthly authority.

    Christianity and Islam both self-identify as THE favored universal faith. Ditto for the Baha’i Faith (which is how Bahai’s refer to their religion).

    This, of course, is heresy to orthodox Muslims, which is why Baha’is are persecuted ruthlessly in Iran (this and because their world center happens to be in Israel – an accident of the Ottoman prison system I won’t detail here – which in Iranian eyes renders all Baha’is everywhere Zionist dogs). Additionally, one way Hamas has sought to discredit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is by spreading the rumor that he is a closeted Baha’i.

  • Julia

    I just read an article about conversion being the result of Christian branding and entrepreneurship and comparing the methods of televangelists and Dr Phil to this model of religious conversion. Religion as marketing must be the au curant paradigm.

    It’s from the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture:

    “You Either Get It or You Don’t”: Conversion Experiences and The Dr. Phil Show

    R. Danielle Egan, Assistant Professor
    Stephen D. Papson, Professor
    Department of Sociology, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY

    http://www.usask.ca/relst/jrpc/art10-drphil.html

    We are interested in how The Dr. Phil Show blends a religious narrative into the commercial world of branding through self promotion. For the purpose of this article, we explore the ways in which religion is used in service of the profane with regard to marketing, spectacle and capitalism. We contend that The Dr. Phil Show employs the religious structure of a conversion experience

  • Jen

    I don’t usually comment here, but I just had to point out that “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not the simple cry of despair that it appears at first sight, but the first line of Psalm 22. The psalm begins in despair, with the psalmist lamenting his sufferings (“all who see me mock me…for my clothing they cast lots”) but turns to faith in God and trust in his deliverance. Jesus’ hearers would have understood this, and Mark expects his readers to know it too.


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