I had a couple of fun conversations with some kindly and curious non-believers recently and I thought it might be useful to others to see them.
The first was with a teacher writing to a Lutheran friend (Elaine) and me and trying to decode our quotation (referring to Christianist apologists for Trump’s outrages) “God’s Name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” She wrote:
Hey Elaine. You and Mark always use this phrase, “blasphemed among the Gentiles.” Can you give me the historical context of this phrase as the ignorant modernist here. Does Gentiles refer to “the people” generically or non-Jews? Non-Christians? Does it mean not setting a good example for potential converts? Like the critique of the Puritans of the Anglican Church? Thanks in advance.
I replied, “Romans 2:24. Paul is writing to his fellow Jews as a Jew and pointing out that Jewish sins scandalize Gentiles. The same principle is applicable to Christian sins that drive non-Christians away.
I see. So those self-righteously proclaiming piety are driving away those that are not pious but can clearly see the utter hypocrisy. So Paul meant non-Jews but you and Elaine mean people like me. Thank you. That’s what I suspected but wanted to be sure. Just looked up the passage too. Thank you! Would be a good companion text to the Letter to the Galatians (thinking as a history teacher of course).
The two letters are intimately related. Romans is written to an ethnically mixed community in which the burning issue is the notion that Jewish Christians are superior to Gentile ones since Jesus was a Jew and the faith began in a Jewish matrix. Galatians is written to a community in which that racist claim is in danger of hardening into the notion that Gentiles *cannot* be Christians unless they observe all the ceremonial laws of Moses such as circumcision and kosher laws. Following the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) Paul’s essential argument to both communities is that this is like patients on a cancer ward arguing about who is the least terminal since, in fact, nobody keeps the law and everybody is deathly ill and can only be saved by the Divine Physician who is Christ. For Paul, the purpose the law is to point to our need for Jesus. That done, it’s work is at an end and pissing contests over who is the best lawkeeper are a waste of time and an appeal to ego.
I see. Incredibly helpful. Thank you. Paul is a fascinating figure that I’ve always had trouble understanding (and have asked Elaine for help with before). I love the Galatians letter because it’s so clear and the first text I’ve found to help students begin to see the divergence between to two belief systems (maybe the wrong word?). But it’s tricky not to venture in to vaguely anti-Semitic rhetoric. The application of the term “Gentile” to “non-believer” really puts this in a much more universal perspective for me, which is obviously how Paul meant it.
Paul has all the gifts and difficulties of a colossal genius who thinks far beyond his audience and who has trouble expressing the richness happening in his brain. C.S. Lewis once remarked (in, if memory serves, Reflections on the Psalms) that he cannot be the only person to wonder why God, having given Paul so many other gifts, withheld from him the gift of lucidity and orderly exposition. 🙂
Meanwhile, elsewhere, an atheist with whom I have become friends keeps having her prayers answered, except she doesn’t think she believes in prayer, so it’s weirding her out. She’s a good woman who has realized that if things are going to get better in this world, she need to seek out people of good will wherever they can be found–even religious ones. In this, she demonstrated far more wisdom than Christianists, who are still battening down the hatches on their tiny tribal bubbles and kicking more and more people out of their social circles in the interest of “purity”.
The consequence for Liz (that’s her name) is that she has remarked with astonishment that she never would have dreamed ten years ago that she would be calling so many Catholic her friends.
Anyway, she has remarked several times recently that she has expressed her wishes for this and that to the Universe and been astonished to find this and that happening. Most recently, she was astounded to see Rudy Giuliani come right out and announce that Trump had indeed paid off Cohen for the hush money paid Stormy Daniels and then follow this confession up with an even more catastrophic performance on “Fox and Friends” and asks:
…did I “will” this? I could have sworn I looked up at the sky last night and said, “Please, please let the next stop on Campaign Hubris be at Fox & Friends!”
And here it is!
Which led to this little exchange in which I replied:
You should just go ahead and start prefacing your prayers “Dear God” since it is obvious he is hearing them.
Lol, the key is that you can never ask for anything for yourself. 😀
And I said:
Actually, you can. (“Give us this day our daily bread” is the placeholder for asking God to supply your needs). But prayer for our own needs is subordinated to the two greater goods of 1) hallowing God’s Name (since it is fitting to honor, above all, him who is Honor itself) and 2) putting others first (“Thy kingdom come” covers all the prayer for the common good and care for other people–especially the least of these). Pray in the right order and you’ll find that God will often be ridiculously generous to those whose prayers for daily bread are ordered toward having the supplies necessary to accomplish good for others.
Then I added:
You know those meet cute rom-coms where Jennifer Aniston spends the movie swearing that she can’t stand the guy and then finally admits she loves him in the last five minutes?
I keep thinking of those as you keep showing your heart’s deep love for all the stuff God loves while imagining that somehow you and God have nothing to do with each other.
Think of me as the wise gay friend in all those movies who keeps saying, “You are so into Him. Why don’t you *talk* to Him?” 🙂
To which another reader replies: “Shhhhhhh….. you don’t want people to screenshot this as proof you are gay, lol”
I do not write for the Metaphor-Impaired. 🙂
Just a couple of little bulletins from the Internet Mission Field.