By the time Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans (one of his latest writings) his own personal nastiness had seeped into all aspects of his theology. The book of Romans — a book that is central to orthodox Western Christian church doctrine — is not a nice book.
Paul says horrible, nasty, judgmental things about everybody. In Chapters 9-11 of Romans, he specifically targets Jews. These writings have been used for many centuries by the Church to justify its persecution of Jews. These chapters are simply awful, awful, awful, and no person of faith should pay them any heed.
But Paul doesn’t attack only Jews in his letter to the Romans. He targets everyone who doesn’t accept Paul’s own teachings. Ironically, in doing so, he targets God the Mother and God the Father (as they actually are), along with the man who lived as Jesus son of Joseph (as he actually was).
To understand what Paul meant when he used the term “grace” (charis in Koine Greek),* read Chapter 11 of Romans. It’s clear that Paul believes some people have been specially chosen by God. This small group is “the remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5).
Paul didn’t invent the idea of “the remnant.” The specially chosen remnant had been spoken of centuries before by Jewish prophets (eg. Isaiah 37:31-32; Ezekiel 6:8; Micah 5:7-8). But in Paul’s head, the chosen people now include only his own people — Paul’s people. The people who follow Paul’s teachings about sin, salvation, sacraments, and separation from God. The people who call themselves Christians. Not the people who follow the teachings of Jesus.
Paul didn’t invent the idea of the “remnant,” an idea that’s very appealing to anyone who’s addicted to status. But Paul did invent the idea of “grace” as it’s expressed in the Letter to the Romans. It’s his biggest contribution to the history of religious doctrine. Paul’s doctrine of grace is the bedrock of orthodox Western Christianity. Remove it and there’s not much left except sin, damnation, judgment, hell, and a nasty, judgmental God.
Grace is Paul’s way of keeping hope alive. Grace keeps your hope alive, your hope that one day, for no particular reason, God will suddenly decide to single you out for special, preferential treatment not offered to your peers at the present time. Sort of like winning the spiritual lottery. One day you’re broke, debt-ridden, and worried sick about all the money you owe. The next day — presto! A million dollars falls into your lap! Yippee! No more worries! For the price of a single lottery ticket (sorry, I mean for the price of a single baptism) you can always hope you’ll score big on the big grace lottery in the sky.
Of course, this means that God would have to be a fickle, immature parent who favours some children over other children as a way to acquire attention and status from vulnerable human beings, but hey — why not, right? Plenty of human parents behave this way, so why not God? Why should anyone expect God to be a parent you can actually look up to?
Paul’s God is so unlikeable that I wouldn’t want to invite them to dinner, let alone call them “Mother and Father.” Paul’s God demands fideism (blind faith). Paul’s God loves people conditionally, not unconditionally, and not with forgiveness. Paul’s God saves only the people who worship at the “moveable Temple” (a.k.a. the body of Christ). Paul’s God insists you obey and respect the civil authorities, because they were chosen by God to look after you (Romans 13:1-10). Paul’s God wants you to ask no questions, make no waves, respect the status quo, and always be vigilant against the corrupting power of Satan and sin and the law. Paul’s God is a status addict who loves to be feared and obeyed.
I’m thinkin’ it was probably Paul who wanted to be feared and obeyed. But that’s not surprising. It’s all part of the narcissistic mindset. Full-blown narcissists carry around a whole raft of nasty thinking, and they’re always looking for ways to raise themselves up at the expense of others. (This often means they try to make other people fear and obey their narcissistic wishes.) Worse, they constantly believe they’re “victims,” and they blame other people for the mistakes they themselves make.
They’re not very nice people (read what Paul says about himself in Romans Chapter 7). Yet they can’t tolerate the idea that some people actually are nice. It sticks in their craw. It makes them sneer. It makes them feel angry and resentful. It makes them feel contemptuous. It makes them want to get revenge.
The real problem is that God the Mother and God the Father are nice people, and because they’re nice people, narcissists (such as Paul) react to them in the same way narcissists react to nice human beings. The niceness sticks in their craw. It makes them feel angry and contemptuous. It makes them want to get revenge against God.
Think the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — isn’t overflowing with the cup of human narcissistic anger toward God?
Who needs a traditional Jewish Messiah — prophet, king, warrior, priest — if not to serve as a punching bag for narcissistic feelings of revenge? This way people can transfer their hostile feelings onto a Messiah figure, and not have to face the fact that they’re constantly angry with God.
The world doesn’t need any Messiahs, and it doesn’t need any Divine Saviours. What the world needs is self-honesty, healing, and a giant dose of common sense.
Plus a whole lot of people who are willing to open their hearts to divine love.
* The Greek word charis can be translated in a number of different ways, including “benefit; charitable act; an act of favour; free favour; grace; graciously bestowed divine endowment; sense of obligation.” These are values commonly associated with PATRONAGE in the first century CE Roman Empire. Paul is presenting God as Patron, Christ as Saviour, and Spirit as in-dwelling Life, thus covering his theological bases in one neat package.
Paul is one clever shark.