This book study begins September 29, 2019.
With a style as serenely clear as its content is powerfully persuasive, this book is an elegy for Christianity's earliest baptismal creed which promised that Roman distinctions would not become Christian discriminations and that the basic differences of race, class, and gender would not become hierarchies of oppression. When that inaugural creed is forgotten, Christians are born again, not into a transformed world, but simply into the same one as before. Read this book not just a s past Christian history but as present American challenge. - John Dominic Crossan
"The Forgotten Creed" carries a vital message for our time: at the heart of Christianity is a call for solidarity that has been lost. In his careful examination of one of the earliest Christian creeds and rituals, Stephen Patterson reveals our long history of fearing others and exposes the categories used by the powerful to divide, conquer, and oppress. 'What does Christianity have to say about race, class, and gender?' Patterson asks. 'Everything." At the core of "The Forgotten Creed" is a vision for communities in which differences is honored, diversity is celebrated, and equality is divine. An urgent, necessary book that should be required reading in every church." - Sarah Sentilles
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Week 6 Questions
1 – Pick a viewpoint (perhaps a level of moral development) and develop a story of the origin of sexuality from it. How is yours better than the ones in the book? 125
2 – Are “desire and sex, the source of every evil” ? 127
3 – Does the idea that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is an interpolation (not written by Paul, but added later) change the way you read our author’s discussion of these passages? How? 134
4 – Our author prefers the male/power version of the Gospel of Mary (pg. 140). How do male and female models of leadership differ? How is this appearing in our current presidential politics?
5 – Describe the difference between boss and patron. 144
6 – How do you reconcile tolerating intolerance? 157
7 – What change do you think offers the best hope of being able to live in a world in which “You are all children of God”? 160
Responses to Questions for Week 6
1. Pick a viewpoint (perhaps a level of moral development) and develop a story of the origin of sexuality from it. How is yours better than the ones in the book? [p.125]
To begin with, I think it’s a big mistake to assume that any “story of the origin of sexuality” will ever be accepted unless it’s based upon scientific fact. Most such stories have been just that – imaginative fiction. Our history in this area has been far too clouded by cultural mores and religious pronouncements that then presumed an authority that was just that: presumptuous – whether it was “sacred” scripture or the centuries of male dominance that both wrote and then became the sole interpreters of it. As far as I know, the story of human sexuality has more basis in biology and psychology than it does the mythologies of any religion – ours or anyone else’s.
All human beings have had to figure out what works best for themselves in terms of balancing sex, love, intimacy, and commitment within the confines of their culture. Collectively we are a tragically confused species. How we understand our biology in relation to our behavior shows just how confused we really are. We’re directed not only by our evolutionary past, but by the overlapping and yet independent drives for love, sex and reproduction, coupled with the individual variations in our sexual preferences and drives, as well as the powerful effects of our culture on top of it all. You’d think, given the evolutionary importance of sex and mating, that natural selection would have been our guide – as it seems to have been within other mammalian species. But, that doesn’t seem to have been the case.
As far as I know, human beings basically have been the same, anatomically, for about 100,000 years or more so it would be safe to say that if we enjoy sex now, then so did our cave dwelling ancestors – along with every variety and version of the genus homo that came after them. From what I know of psychology, though, what people actually experience of their sexuality has always been a mixture of both biological and social conditioning. We experience desire for another person, but our minds interpret what society will accept and what it won’t, and then all of the rest of the signals are edited out by whatever culture we live in. So, the idea that there’s a sexual line that must never be crossed – but, in practice, often is – is far older than the myth of Eve's temptation by the serpent.
Our hang-ups with sexuality, regrettably, can actually be traced back to scriptural missives (like Paul’s observations in 1 Corinthians) that focused on abstinence – supposedly because Jesus Christ himself defined celibacy as a better life choice for us all. Really? Drawing on this specious conclusion, the early Church fathers (of course, it would be “the good ol’ boys”) developed the concept that, while intercourse is totally justifiable, it should only be “used” in order to create children. Even here in the 21st century, only very cautious overtures are being made by the institutional Church to recognize that our sexuality also can be an expression of conjugal love independent from procreation.
We still live in an era when sex, gender, and sexual orientation continue to be subject to very controversial religious and political issues. As we know, some nations have laws against homosexuality, while others have laws protecting same-gender marriages. At a time when there still seems to be little agreement, it makes sense that we should all ask ourselves, just what is “normal” sexual behavior and what isn’t? More importantly, though, who should decide which of those binary behaviors they are? The truth is, our sexuality is far less concrete than most people assume. Gender and sexual orientation are not limited to the polarities of either heterosexual or homosexual categories; they’re spread across a very creative continuum. What’s more, sexual fantasies and behaviors are literally all-over-the-map depending upon who you are and what culture you live in.
So, bottom line, we’ve got a whole lot more sociological, psychological and scientific study to do – followed by the willingness to honestly talk about those discoveries with each other – before ever assuming that we can develop any accurate and comprehensive “story of the origin of sexuality” at all.
2. Are “desire and sex, the source of every evil”? [p.127]
Of course not. That was just Philo of Alexandria trying to harmonize Jewish scripture – mainly the Torah – with Greek philosophy while screwing up both and losing the sense of himself while doing it.
3. Does the idea that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is an interpolation (not written by Paul, but added later) change the way you read our author’s discussion of these passages? How? [p.134]
Possibly. Patterson seems to continue to justify Paul’s (or pseudo-Paul as the SV claims) statements on the basis of naturally occurring cultural and scriptural biases. It does present a somewhat fractured portrait of Paul. He can’t be in favor of the social subordination of women and be a champion of equal rights for women at the same time.
4. Our author prefers the male/power version of the Gospel of Mary (pg. 140). How do male and female models of leadership differ? How is this appearing in our current presidential politics?
I don’t think that Patterson does “prefer…the male/power version.” He’s just unpacking the translation and noting how combative Peter becomes in the face of a competent woman’s demonstration of leadership. As our author points out:
“In the Gospel of Mary, she is the wisest and most powerful of the disciples.
She knows things the others do not [and, in that sense,]…Mary, it seems,
was the first apostle” (p.141).
I also think that we can’t isolate different models of leadership based solely upon gender. Men and women can and do share the same characteristics of both good and bad examples of leadership. Our perceptions of the difference, however, is most often colored by our cultural biases – where the very same behavior admired in men is criticized in women (e.g. confident self-assurance seen in the one while being considered obnoxious assertiveness in the other). Once you start stereotyping behaviors based solely upon gender, you erase all possibilities of seeing that both men and women share, equally, potentials for competence and incompetence. Gender-specific behaviors have become based more upon the cultures in which we live than in our ability to recognize that those same behaviors are, in fact, not limited to any single gender.
As far as how this is “appearing in our current presidential politics” is concerned, misogyny is rampant as male dominance has felt threatened by intelligent and competent women. The real tragedy, however, is far deeper. If these same blustering males were more in touch with their own sublimated feminine side, and dismissed females were more accepted for their confident assertiveness, we would be far better off as a country – not to mention in our political and judicial systems.
5. Describe the difference between boss and patron. [p.144]
I find it fascinating that the Spanish/Latino word “patrón” actually means “boss” (equivalent to jefe, or “chief” in Spanish) while in English a patron, of course, is considered to be a customer, client, or paying guest – especially a regular one. Asking to describe the difference in our Anglo community, however, it’s clear that “the boss” is the one who’s in charge – the one who either employs or superintends workers. A less assertive-sounding title might be “manager,” but, historically, a boss is the one person in any organization who makes the final decisions, who exercises complete authority and so dominates that organization. Used as an adjective, “bossy,” implies the added negative characteristics of arrogance and someone who has a domineering personality. [Just an aside (Forgive me, I was an English major as an undergraduate!): As I grew up on the Dutch island of Aruba, I discovered that the etymology of our word “boss” is actually derived from the Dutch word "baas" which was simply anyone who was considered to be the “master” of something or the “foreman” of any project.]
In the context of this chapter, however, “the Roman custom of patronage” that Patterson’s talking about here was the kind of patron who was “a person of means who could offer [both] social and financial support to a client, or, often, many clients.” So, as our author points out, when Paul refers to Phoebe as his patron, it “means that she had supported and promoted him socially and financially and that he, in turn, was obligated to her.” Patterson goes on to remark that in the context of that early Christ-community: “You might [even] say…that Phoebe was a proto-bishop.” She was a VIP and had considerable “social capital.” What’s more, she was decidedly not “a unique or rare example of female leadership in these early churches…” That the history of the institutional Church has both buried and intentionally overlooked this fact is a tragedy – and not just for women.
6. How do you reconcile tolerating intolerance? [p.157]
You can’t. Obviously, if you tolerate intolerance you become complicit in that intolerance yourself. As Patterson rightly points out, tolerance disguised as unity has only gotten us “demagogues, bigots, and bullies.” It’s one reason, sadly, why I came to identify our own denomination as a kind of oxymoron – we’re neither United nor Methodist. So, what are we? We’re lost. But we may still find our way again that can be closer to “the Way, the Truth and the Life” shown in Jesus – just not exactly the way in which the Gospel According to John has depicted and deified him in that verse (John 14: 6).
7. What change do you think offers the best hope of being able to live in a world in which “You are all children of God”? [p.160]
The change that I think offers the best hope is when we begin to recognize that difference does not mean dangerous or illegitimate. In fact, difference is at the heart of creation. No single thing is exactly like another. That’s the very nature of reality. More than that, being different can be a gift.
One fundamental aspect of evolution involves a change in what went before. Difference often means the ability to adapt in order to survive. Failure to change – to avoid becoming something different in order that something new might be born – often has led to extinction. The twin resistances of “We’ve never done it that way before!” and “We’ve always done it this way!” continue to stand against the ways of creative and positive change. Such change accepts and expects difference to lead the way.
If we can accept all of this, we might be able to embrace our differences so that a strength in one can assist a weakness in another, a giftedness in one can meet a need in another, a blindness in one can lead to a new way of seeing by virtue of another’s insights, an enmity may be transformed into kindness and respect. When we celebrate difference, the possibilities for positive change are endless.
So, what are we waiting for?
Week 5 Questions
1 – Do you know of any ancient cultures where slavery was NOT practiced? 100
2 – Does a slave revolution always fail? Why? 101
3 – Can you think of a future beneficial social change, like the abolition of slavery, that most people now simply don’t see because it’s like the air we breath? 105
4 – How would you rationalize having both slaves and owners in your church? 108
5 – After all our author’s waffleing about Paul’s position on slavery, what do you think Paul was really trying to say? 110
X – It took about 10 minutes to read Philemon. You might try it.
6 – How would you envision your life changing if you were a female slave and then joined “the church”? How would you benefit? 115
7 – I don’t understand the conclusion to be drawn just before IN A WORLD . . . What conclusion did you draw. 117
8 – Comment on the chapter’s final questions. 119
Responses to Week 5 Questions
1. Do you know of any ancient cultures where slavery was NOT practiced? [p.100]
I do not. For virtually the entire history of the ancient world, it was considered “common practice” to enslave people who were defeated in regional conflicts and wars. Some might make the argument that, in spite of the slavery that existed in the United States for a century or more, that we did not enslave members of the indigenous population. However, we did either kill them or relegate them to “reservations” in lands across this country that white people thought (at least initially) were worthless.
2. Does a slave revolution always fail? Why? [p.101]
While many slaves throughout history did find ways to “earn their freedom,” I don’t know of any instance where armed rebellion (i.e., my understanding of a “revolution”) led any permanent freedom. You might be able to make the argument that our own Revolutionary War – since it did include the revolt of some slaves – leading to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865, was “a slave revolution” that succeeded. On the other hand, that we’re still having to struggle against the denigration and “under-employment” of others, based solely upon race, you might be right to conclude that our own revolution has yet to have come to any just conclusion. This fact, alone, is why the “Black Lives Matter” movement has received – and should receive – renewed attention today.
3. Can you think of a future beneficial social change, like the abolition of slavery, that most people now simply don’t see because it’s like the air we breathe? [p.105]
I think of the “Me too” movement that highlights, not just the sexual predation of women, but the systemic inequality that women continue to face in employment. In some corporations and board rooms the proverbial “glass ceiling” remains firmly in place, so it still needs to be shattered once and for all. Another inequality that most people “simply don’t see” – or consciously refuse to see – is the lack of educational opportunities for children and youth due to unfair practices that undermine public education. And, once again, people of color – to the greatest extent – are the most victimized. Here’s just one more afterthought: what color are most Band-Aids; and what does that tell you?
4. How would you rationalize having both slaves and owners in your church? [p.108]
I would not.
5. After all our author’s waffling about Paul’s position on slavery, what do you think Paul was really trying to say? [p.110] X – It took about 10 minutes to read Philemon. You might try it.
I’d, first, defer to expert church historians – such as our author – on this conundrum. So, as Patterson does point out here, “Paul was truly ambiguous on this matter.” In that, I think he was captive himself, in a way, to his own culture. Again, as Patterson notes, “Everyone – even slaves – believed in slavery.” It was simply part of the ethos of Paul’s day. In that, it’s similar to the ongoing mistreatment of immigrants and indigenous peoples across the entire world today – including within our own country.
6. How would you envision your life changing if you were a female slave and then joined “the church”? How would you benefit? [p.115]
If such slavery actually existed today – as it did in the Ancient Near East – I would expect to be treated from then on, and in every way, as an equal. That should be the fundamental right and benefit of any human being – regardless of his or her former condition. That it has not been so is the very reason why Patterson speaks throughout this book about a creed that we’ve “forgotten.” In my assessment, however, we’ve never really embraced it at all – as a culture or as a Church.
7. I don’t understand the conclusion to be drawn just before IN A WORLD . . . What conclusion did you draw? [p.117]
Patterson does note, here, that this piece of devotional literature “is a multilayered composition, with many additions, later alterations, and tendentious redactions.” In spite of all that, “its traditions were originally gathered together under the presumed authority of a freed slave.” The new Christian communities that were forming could very well have led, then, to “a happy ending for slaves.” What’s more, such freed slaves might be able to envision “a future of human freedom and dignity born of [true] generosity and good will.” That’s the conclusion that I drew from Patterson’s exposition.
8. Comment on the chapter’s final questions. [p.119]
These would be my thoughts on the three groups of questions as I see them outlined:
i) “Does Christianity endorse the world of the billionaire and the pauper, or the utopian vision of a world without radical class division?” My response would be, regrettably, that the history of Christianity has shown that we’ve never treated people equally. While, in principle, it should endorse the latter; in reality the distinctions common to the former continue to be practiced within congregations and the institutional Church all across the world.
ii) “What if that clear and unwavering statement [“there is no slave or free”] had become the plumb line…for all of subsequent history in the lands that would be shaped by Christian ethics and consciousness? Would that have made a difference?” Clearly, my response would be that it surely would have. The reason that I agree with our author that this creed has been “forgotten” (worse, I’d say we’ve ignored it) is that as a species – let alone as a religious community – we haven’t really believed in such egalitarianism, so haven’t accepted it. In that, sadly, we Christians haven’t even “practiced what we’ve preached.”
iii) And, finally, “…was the Stoic position always inevitable” and is it with us still? My response, to begin with, is to note that while very little of life is as inevitable as “death and taxes,” this position should not be. I would argue that we all ought to have the freedom, opportunity, and the will to choose the lives we all desire to have. More often than not, sadly, we don’t. A life without bigotry, slavery or sexism at least would move us three steps closer to being truly Christian. But we’re not nearly there yet. That we haven’t made such a choice is as much a failure of our own will as it is due to dominant forces currently beyond our control – whether they’re cultures, governments or well-established institutions. Even so, I think that chilling statement (made, somewhat, in jest by newspaper cartoonist, Walt Kelly, to promote Earth Day in 1970) still remains to be true today: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Week 4 Questions
1 – Where do you like to get your ancient history, or conversely what sources do you avoid? 72
2 – What issues are involved when different groups share meals? 75
3 – How important do you think history is in your life, and how well do you think you know enough about it? 84
4 – How would you compare the Jew – Greek relationship with modern day Christian – Muslim issues? 87
5 – What kind of reception would you expect for someone like Paul presenting his message in Northern California in 2019? 90
6 – Comment on Marcion’s ideas of God, as explained by our author. 92
7 – How do you understand Acts (of the Apostles)? 95
Responses to the Questions for Week 4
1. Where do you like to get your ancient history, or conversely what sources do you avoid? [p.72]
For real accuracy, I would turn to texts written or compiled by recognized authorities on ancient history – i.e., historians (Note: when it comes to religion, our author is one of those). Regrettably, most texts considered to be sacred scriptures (e.g. The Tanakh, Mishna, Talmud and Midrash of Judaism, The Quran and Hadith of Islam, The Sutras of Buddhism, The Vedas of Hinduism or our own Bible which has been shaped by early Christianity), are not good sources for fact-driven reports of ancient events. They almost always view history through the eyes of theological interpretations of those events, not the unbiased and accurate eye-witness accounts of what actually happened.
A memorable moment for me in all of this was the time my professor of ancient history stood up at the beginning of the semester, dramatically held up our textbook for that year, looked intently at all of us, and said, “I want you all to know: the texts of ancient history have been written by the victors” (i.e. the dominant culture); “rarely do we ever hear the voice of the vanquished” (i.e., the subordinate culture). It was an astounding lesson for me. I’ve never forgotten it. The reports from either point of view, then, will always be open to question in regard to their accuracy and authenticity.
2. What issues are involved when different groups share meals? [p.75]
Questions like these inevitably arise: “What’s this?” (i.e., this doesn’t look or taste like what I’m used to) or “I’ve never eaten this before” (i.e., I’ve never considered this to be edible; I’m suspicious it.) or “How do you eat this?” (i.e., What’s the socially acceptable way to approach this food? or, who do I watch to know how to eat it?), and similar examples of uncertainty. On the other hand, some might simply say, “Oh, I love Korean food!” (or insert whatever ethnic name is traditionally associated with that meal – e.g., “Jewish,” “Chinese,” “Italian,” “Hawaiian,” et al.). So, our cultures – the shared meals that we’ve experienced from our childhood on – have a significant effect, not only upon how we view what we eat, but on those rituals that may be involved in eating it.
3. How important do you think history is in your life, and how well do you think you know enough about it? [p.84]
I’m reminded of a quote by the philosopher, George Santayana, who once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s a quote that’s also been changed, subtly, over the years to versions like “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.” There is much wisdom in this observation. So, I think history – and our accurate knowledge of it – is extremely important. The terrible truth of this quote above from Santayana is that it has come true over-and-over-and-over again. It’s as if we’ve never truly learned the dangers of despotism, bigotry, xenophobia, religious intolerance, slavery, racism and the like.
As a child of the sixties, I’m reminded just now of the point behind the descending series of these poignant lines from that anti-war folk song sung by Pete Seeger:
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing….
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?....
Where have all the young men gone?....
Gone for soldiers every one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they every learn?
Where have all the soldiers gone?....
Gone to graveyards every one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
And, still, we’ve not learned this lesson.
As far as the answer to the second half of this question is concerned – “…how well do you think you know enough…,” I guess that I can say I know just “enough” to know better. Regrettably, however, I do not know enough to be able to quote chapter-and-verse of all the facts and lessons learned from history to be able to convince the-powers-that-be to change their ways of doing things. With the 2020 elections looming, though, these issues are of critical concern to us – not just as a nation, but as global citizens and even as a species whose very survival is under threat.
4. How would you compare the Jew – Greek relationship with modern day Christian – Muslim issues? [p.87]
I’m not sure that there are that many parallels. I think the ancient Jew/Greek relationship was more cultural and philosophical than the currently tense Christian/Muslim relationship – which seems to me to be dominated more by deeply-held religious points of view than by cultural ones (although, there are those). Patterson ought to know, though, as his sources are considerably broader and more accurate than mine; so, if he says that Jews and Greeks remained “in fear and loathing and mutual contempt” toward one another, he must be right.
5. What kind of reception would you expect for someone like Paul presenting his message in Northern California in 2019? [p.90]
I think that you’d have to first explain just which of Paul’s messages you’re referring to. But if it’s the one on this page – i.e., his message to all the nations that the covenant God made with the Jews (as expressed through their scriptures) wasn’t as important as the fact “that love should someday conquer violence and hatred” – then such a message is as good now, anywhere, as it was then.
6. Comment on Marcion’s ideas of God, as explained by our author. [p.92]
Marcion’s view of God is just one among many at the time. As Patterson rightly points out, Marcion’s vision was of God as “wholly Good, pure Truth” and with a “Mind” (a mind, then, not unlike ours only filling the entire universe) that physically “sent Jesus Christ into the world”…“to save his people and establish the kingdom of God on Earth.” That sounds like a pretty orthodox view – up to that point. Where Marcion got in trouble with his contemporaries, though, was that he rejected the Hebrew Bible and, therefore, the God of Israel. He claimed that the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the actions of Yahweh who, he contended, was the belligerent god of the Jews.
Such a viewpoint was eventually considered to be heretical, but its vestiges remain even today – most particularly in Christianity’s reference to one testament of our Bible as “old” (therefore, out-of-date) and the other “new” (considered to be a replacement of the former). Tragically, for centuries it’s led to condemnation of the Jews for their rejection of Jesus as their own long-sought-for Messiah. Unfortunately, this is also how Marcion misunderstood the teachings of Paul – that he was inventing an entirely new religion that was meant to replace Judaism. That wasn’t Paul’s intention at all.
7. How do you understand Acts (of the Apostles)? [p.95]
Really? One could write a doctoral thesis on this. But, let me see what I can do.
To begin with, the Book of Acts definitely is not history-remembered, but events re-interpreted theologically by Luke in this, his follow-up, book. His biggest fiction in this story was his invention of Pentecost (Acts 1: 1-13), and he made sure that it was supposed to be understood as a universal happening. In that, he expanded on the story of Elijah because now God’s Holy Spirit wasn’t bequeathed to just a single disciple, but to all disciples. As John Shelby Spong points out in his controversial book, Unbelievable, “Luke’s Jesus was Elijah magnified .…” (p.195). So, Luke just chose a template from the Hebrew scriptures and “improved” upon it.
I do tend to agree with Spong, though, when he said that God is not some kind of distant being, but “Being itself.” So, surprisingly enough, one of my favorite biblical quotes comes from Luke’s Acts commentary that the reality of God is that sacred presence in which we all “live and move and have our being” (17: 28) – whether we know it, accept it, or not. That ought to unite us at least as much as this “forgotten creed” should.
I’m reminded of (and forever grateful for) the exceptional information given to me by Bob Funk – renowned biblical scholar and founder and force behind The Jesus Seminar (later, the Westar Institute) – that all of these stories about Jesus and those first disciples were composed during the last quarter of the first century by third-generation authors solely on the basis of folk memories preserved in stories that already had circulated by word of mouth for decades. These oral stories that then Mark, Matthew, Luke and John recorded, already had been shaped, reshaped, augmented, and edited by numerous storytellers for half a century or more before they were put in the forms that these four did after all of that time. What’s more, these – now written – stories were then copied and recopied, modified, “corrected,” and augmented, yet again, for the next century or more before reaching the physical state in which we modern readers now “know” them.
What’s more, re-enactments – like Luke’s story of Pentecost, for instance – unfortunately came to be considered to be more realistic and so are mistakenly assumed to be more historically reliable. When these storytellers reframe their stories this way, though, scholars and literary critics call that a “recounting.” In fact, paradoxically, these stories are actually less convincing because they depend on the reliability of the narrator. Unfortunately, for centuries, the Church has taught that because we should rely on what Mark, Matthew, Luke and John have written down, we should conclude that they were telling the historical truth. It has all been history re-interpreted. In fact, most – if not all – of the library that we call our Bible should not be known as fact, but as folklore.
Week 3 Questions
1 – About how long did it take for “the church” to move from “you are all children of God” to “Jesus is the ONLY son of God”? 51
2 – Does “love your enemies” appear anywhere in the Bible before Jesus? 53
3 – How do you understand the idea that we are not simply flesh but spirit, too? 55
4 – Why do we have to “suffer with him (Christ) in order that we might be glorified with him”? (And what does glorified mean here?) 56
5 – Most of the early settlers to our country were fleeing religious persecution (albeit in one Christian form or another) and so were almost certainly baptized. What has historically been the baptism rate in U. S. history? 59
6 – Faith, or Love, or Wisdom may make you a child of God. Which one would you choose, and why? 61
7 – Do you have any idea why there is no Bible story of Jesus baptizing anyone? 64
8 – Does your understanding of baptism fit into any of the views presented here? pg. 64 – 70
Responses to Questions for Week 3
1. About how long did it take for “the church” to move from “you are all children of God” to “Jesus is the ONLY son of God”? [p.51]
It happened sooner than some people might think. Many biblical scholars think that it didn’t happen until the decisions that were made at the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. There was discovered, however, a non-canonical writing dated as early as the 2nd century that had a very high Christology: the Epistle to Diognetus. There the author expressly states that Jesus wasn’t just some kind of angel or divine messenger; he was – extraordinarily enough – the very creator of the universe. Now, for Jews, that was an attribute only God possessed. According to this epistle, Jesus came in human form in order that he might bring salvation to other humans. But he wasn’t just the “son” of God; he was literally sent to be among us “as God.” The author of this epistle also seems to be familiar with the Gospel According to John as he repeatedly refers to Jesus as the logos – “the Word” who appeared to the apostles revealing himself in just this transcendent way.
So, the answer to this question is that it didn’t take very long for this theological shift to occur; it happened very early on among the many versions of Christianity which were swirling around the Ancient Near East in those first two centuries of the Common Era. This concept shift is, literally, the stuff of myth and legend.
2. Does “love your enemies” appear anywhere in the Bible before Jesus? [p.53]
While the Gospel According to Matthew claims that this originated with Jesus (5: 43-48), it’s not far from what was preached in Leviticus:
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of
your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am
the Lord” [Leviticus 19: 18].
Then there are these thoughts in Proverbs:
“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to
be at peace with him” [Proverbs 16: 7]
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give
him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the
Lord will reward you” [Proverbs 25: 21-22].
While none of these sayings in the Hebrew Bible seem, exactly, to be about selfless love for one’s enemies – but sound a bit more like “gaining points” for being orthodox – they do seem to be an impetus for good works. So, while they might be close, they’re not as clear as, simply, “love your enemies.”
3. How do you understand the idea that we are not simply flesh but spirit, too? 55
I might start with that 17th century Latin philosopher, René Descartes, whose phrase Cogito, ergo sum has been translated as “I think, therefore I am.” It recognizes – from the very beginning – that we are more than just physical bodies; we are entities who ponder our very existence. For me, then, it’s not a great leap from such a statement of our “being” to the related concepts of our “spirit” or “soul.” It’s all part of recognizing that we’ve been endowed with intellect, insight, emotions, and passions, but also have been given the reasoning powers of understanding, judgment and creativity. All of that, and more, I would say, emanates from the core of our being that I believe is our “spirit.”
4. Why do we have to “suffer with him (Christ) in order that we might be glorified with him”? (And what does glorified mean here?) [p.56]
We don’t. The choice is up to us. Note, however, how this part of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome (8: 17) is translated – very differently – in the SV (Scholars’ Version):
“And if we are God’s children then we are also heirs, heirs of God and
co-heirs with the Anointed, since we experience the same abuse as he
did in the hope that we may share his exaltation” [ref. The Authentic
Letters of Paul, p.229].
So, it’s not about a demand for some version of self-flagellation or ritualized exorcism, as some Christian cults surmise. More profoundly, it simply means that if we were to live and act as Jesus did, we’re going to suffer for it – and probably make enemies. So, staying the course, as he did, we could very well be forced to endure suffering, ostracism or even death – not as a choice, you understand, but as a consequence. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was just such a contemporary example – and yet so was Mohandas K. Gandhi, and he wasn’t even Christian!
As far as glorification is concerned, unfortunately, conservative evangelical Christians assume that means being elevated to celestial glory in some mythical place called heaven. I choose to see it, more temperately, as being found to be kind, forgiving (cf. p.57) and extraordinarily honorable – i.e., becoming a person who is worthy of praise and admiration – and so nothing at all to do with some version of deification.
5. Most of the early settlers to our country were fleeing religious persecution (albeit in one Christian form or another) and so were almost certainly baptized. What has historically been the baptism rate in U. S. history? [p.59]
Without extensive research, I have no way of knowing for certain. I suspect, however, that the numbers coincide with the dwindling membership in the institutional Church – i.e., fewer young families joining the church means that there are fewer people being baptized.
6. Faith, or Love, or Wisdom may make you a child of God. Which one would you choose, and why? [p.61]
Without love, faith would be bankrupt of compassion and wisdom would be made captive to ignorance. Even though Paul may have been quoting someone else in 1 Corinthians 13, it’s still got a great ending: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
7. Do you have any idea why there is no Bible story of Jesus baptizing anyone? [p.64]
I could only guess that he was more concerned about orthopraxis than he was orthodoxy. Living a moral life was more important than any religious ritual – leave such things to the priests.
8. Does your understanding of baptism fit into any of the views presented here? [pp.64–70]
Not really. Baptism is a symbol of a deeper reality: that all people are worthy of love and should be welcomed into the communities in which they live and discover their essential identities. While something deeply emotional might happen during this ritual, nothing is supposed to change within the person being baptized. It’s meant to be a recognition of the fact that we ought to be bound closer together simply as human beings than history has shown. You do not, therefore, “become” a child of God through baptism; you already were. The ritual is only meant to celebrate that fact.
So, for me, it’s never been about reclaiming some “heavenly origin” or intending to “return there again” someday (p.68). What’s more, nothing is “washed away” in this ritual – except maybe the actual dirt that people may have had on their skin before they stepped or were carried up to the font.
Week 2 Questions
1 – The reason for modern travel seems to be (at least in part) to visit “the other.” What difference in people explains the positive or negative interest in “the other”? 32
2 – How do you think power is related to our positive or negative interest in the other? 36
3 – How can a person newly defeated or sold into slavery be reconciled with Aristotle’s idea of “servile by nature”? 38
4 – Can you think of any class distinction today that is analogous to the Roman free vs. slave? 41
5 – What is our author’s purpose in his detailed description of slavery? 43
6 – How “powerful” is the female “power behind the throne”? 45
7 – What percentage of the way to female equality have “we” come? Think of we in several different cases. 49
8 – How do levels of moral or spiritual development interact with fear and othering described on pg. 49?
9 – What replaces power if you live by this three line creed? 51
Responses to Week 2 Questions
1. The reason for modern travel seems to be (at least in part) to visit “the other.” What difference in people explains the positive or negative interest in “the other”? [p.32]
I should think that if you come from a culture in which you hold a position of privilege and power (for whatever reason), you may expect to be treated in much the same way when you leave your home country. Over the years this has given rise to the phrase “the ugly American” when travelers from the USA assume that their privileged position at home will be recognized wherever they may be. It’s often led, sadly, to negative views of Americans traveling abroad (the majority of whom, for example, expect everyone else to speak English). What’s more, these Americans often expect the same levels of variety and convenience in their housing and meals – which might not be available. Simply because a culture is different doesn’t make it uncivilized, “backward,” or wrong.
On the other hand, being open to “the other” can lead you to a greater appreciation of their view of the world – one that you might not share. If you’re paying attention, though, it could challenge your own views and even enrich them. It also may foster cross-cultural friendships that can last a lifetime.
2. How do you think power is related to our positive or negative interest in the other? [p.36]
I addressed this, to some extent, in the question above, but to further point out, with power all too often comes the assumption that others will recognize your power and will always defer to your demands or whims (Donald Trump is a despicable example.). Such behavior isn’t restricted to our own culture, of course, and can be described as those people who just are used to giving orders to others “under” them. What’s worse, however, these people become used to being obeyed and, when they’re outside their sheltered framework, are shocked and offended when they’re not. So, a presumption of power over others (real or imagined) tends to denigrate the less powerful – certainly those who are seen as having little or no power at all.
3. How can a person newly defeated or sold into slavery be reconciled with Aristotle’s idea of “servile by nature”? [p.38]
Unless one is tortured into submission, brainwashed, or severely enculturated into accepting such a “reconciliation,” it is not logically possible to conclude that any human being is “servile by nature.” It is a culturally biased social construct. There are deeply sensitive, compassionate, and caring human beings by nature, of course, who will choose professions that serve others, but such behavior does not rise out of any innate nature of servility. People who demonstrate such humility or kindness, sadly, are all too often taken advantage of by the churlish and demanding among us, but no one – not even the most handicapped – are “servile by nature.” Such a description is always imposed by those inconsiderate and insensitive people who assume others are lesser human beings and therefore deserve no respect. It wasn’t just the Romans, sadly, who viewed others as “livestock” or “tools with a voice,” far too many people are mistreated in much the same way today – even in our own culture.
4. Can you think of any class distinction today that is analogous to the Roman free vs. slave? [p.41]
I think most of the workers from 3rd world countries who are hired (some, outright enslaved) by 1st world countries to do menial jobs that their own citizens might think are beneath them, creates just such a distinction – e.g., field laborers, domestic workers, and sex-slaves are a few examples.
5. What is our author’s purpose in his detailed description of slavery? [p.43]
You’d have to ask him, of course, but this entire chapter is about defining and delineating these race, class and gender issues. Slavery is one of the more egregious examples of injustice based upon “class” and I think that Patterson apparently wants us to understand just how bad it truly can be.
6. How “powerful” is the female “power behind the throne”? [p.45]
Given that her “power” is more often given than it is assumed – any emperor could remove her at his slightest whim – such “power behind the throne” is a transitory thing. As Patterson points out here, even a son can have his mother assassinated for reasons as spurious as jealousy and ambition.
7. What percentage of the way to female equality have “we” come? Think of we in several different cases. [p.49]
Without objective evidence, it’s impossible to answer this question with any degree of accuracy. In almost every profession, I think however, women remain behind men in every significant measurement – from inequitable salaries to diminished positions of power – by at least 2 to 1 (or 33%). You might think that women’s pay is at least on parity with men in the field of education, but ever since women were encouraged to enter the classroom, it was because the powers-that-be felt that they could pay women less than they had to pay men. Again, I’ve no evidence at all upon which to base my opinion, but my gut tells me that we’re no way near gender “equality” in any field of endeavor. In this, I think that Patterson’s exposé here remains pervasive even today:
“Ancient men were afraid of the foreign other, the slave, the women in
the bed next to them, so they did what all men do, have done, will do:
they sought to dominate that which they feared. They faced down fear
8. How do levels of moral or spiritual development interact with fear and othering described on pg.49?
If your grounding begins in love and compassion and expands to see all of humanity as “children of God” (as this “forgotten creed” contends), then there’s simply no place for either fear or “othering.” A less enlightened moral or spiritual understanding, sadly, has and will continue to perpetuate these old clichés. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened – even within the institutional Church.
9. What replaces power if you live by this three line creed? [p.51]
To begin with, I think that it would mean a real celebration of diversity – not just a recognition of difference, but gratitude over the loss of fear that for far, far too long has been associated with “being different.” Diversity should come to be seen simply as a fact of reality. It might then lead us to try to discover ways that we could actually benefit from this disparateness. It could lead to a more egalitarian outlook between all human beings – not just across races, classes and genders, but across cultures, countries and even religious and political points of view. Living according to the precepts of this creed could, ultimately, lead to a different understanding of power itself – that it’s more effective if it’s shared and not imposed from hierarchical positions of dominance.
Whenever I’m led to recite our “Pledge of Allegiance,” however, I always murmur or speak aloud two words as an alternative ending: “…with liberty and justice for all,” some day. I say that meaning that it shouldn’t be just some unspecified time in the distant future, but must happen on an, as yet, unspecified but specific day. We’re not there yet. So, we should redouble our efforts to get there.
Week 1 Questions
1 – How do you see the racial divide in our churches today? 2
2 – Continue to the church divisions on class and gender. 3
3 – When has it made a difference in your life if you were in or out of one of these three categories? 7
4 – Our author is constructing his own “Life of Paul” out of the very thin stories / letters in the Bible. How much credit do you give to his construction? AND how much credit do you give to other constructions from Bible stories into history that you have read? 14
X – You may want to reread Galatians in “The Authentic Letters of Paul”.
5 – How persuasive do you find our author’s argument that the creed was not original with Paul? 22
6 – Comment on the idea that the three distinctions in the creed “do not rest on anything real.” 24
7 – When (if ever) do you find yourself “somehow participating in Christ’s continuing existence”? 25
8 - “Where did these ideas come from?” 29
Responses to Week 1 Questions
1. How do you see the racial divide in our churches today? [p.2]
It may not be as rampant as it used to be; but, clearly, it’s still there – and not just in the USA, but in churches all over the world. While it might not be as true as it used to be, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said something very significant: “11:00 on a Sunday morning remains to be the most segregated hour in Christian America.”
2. Continue to the church divisions on class and gender. [p.3]
Where these divisions remain, I think that they’re, for the most part, due to ignorance as well as long-standing cultural and ethnic biases. Only to a lesser degree today are they due to blatant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, or homophobia.
3. When has it made a difference in your life if you were in or out of one of these three categories? [p.7]
I must say at the outset, I’ve been a privileged minority for so long (white/male/citizen of the 1st world), that it’s difficult for me to identify with any one of these three categories simply because of that privilege. If anything, as a child and then young adult, I was blind to my culturally induced prejudices.
So, in the spirit of Patterson’s introduction, I would begin to respond more fully to all three of these opening questions by saying the following: I think that this book presents a profoundly simple and yet simply profound premise. Difference is not a valid reason for exclusion. Ever. Patterson – a true historian of religion – points out for us that the heart of this creed, in fact, should not be forgotten. I fervently agree with him. This “forgotten creed” is actually affirming that, in the midst of our difference, it must be still possible for us to come together as one people. In the language of religion, there ought to be no ranking of who’s in and who’s out of the Kingdom of God – but particularly no such distinction based upon race, class or gender as this early baptismal creed first proclaimed.
Why, then, have we in the Church forgotten this? I think it can be attributed to the immutability of the Church itself. As an institution, it has fiercely resisted change. The result has been a slow tragedy in the making over at least the last several millennia. The curse of the institutional Church, then, has been the countless ways in which it has defamed, tortured, excommunicated and excluded people for centuries based solely upon its own narrow definition of orthodoxy. Entire races and ethnicities have been condemned to outer darkness – or, worse, death – because they did not conform to the dominant ecclesiastical community’s definition of what it meant to be an acceptable “child of God.”
This ongoing rejection of difference – whether it’s been cultural, racial, religious, or through more blatant displays of misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and the like – I believe, has been the sole reason for the Church’s inexorable and now unsettling decline. What’s more troubling, that decline will continue unless and until religious communities across the globe come to some new understanding of just what it means to be a fully human being. For Christians, specifically, that most likely will include our need to not only redefine the teachings of Jesus, but the fundamental nature and very meaning of Christianity itself. Such an enterprise may seem daunting, but difference – in and of itself – must never again be a reason for any person being expelled from the community. The right to belong must be a fundamental human right. This does not mean that we have to get rid of the Bible as we’ve received it from our ancestors. It must mean, however, a sweeping reinterpretation of its history, formation, and doctrinal conclusions.
Here’s a personal example: While I’ve already survived an ecclesiastical trial for being an openly supportive straight ally of all LGBTQ people in – as well as out of – our church, I wonder when (if ever) I might again be “brought up on charges,” but this time for having a radically progressive and decidedly unorthodox theology? I ask that question because, I confess, I remain convinced that Jesus never was divine, that he did not perform “miracles” (in any sense of violating the laws of physics), and that God isn’t some kind of “Big Daddy” entity overseeing every aspect of our lives. What’s more “Heaven” and “Hell” are what we make of them and therefore do not represent some spatial reality to which we’ll be consigned by “Big Daddy” who will finally bring us to face “His” judgment after our deaths. Does that still make me “a child of God?” You tell me.
4. Our author is constructing his own “Life of Paul” out of the very thin stories/letters in the Bible. How much credit do you give to his construction? AND how much credit do you give to other constructions from Bible stories into history that you have read? [p.14] – cf. Galatians in “The Authentic Letters of Paul”.
Of course, there are regrettably few facts in our Bible about the historical Paul – there actually may be more about the life of Jesus than the life of Paul! So, all that scholars can reconstruct about the man come from his letters. As we’ve all learned, however, “every translation is an interpretation.” Take Galatians 3: 23-28 that Patterson quotes here (p.15). The single word that he, quite literally, translates as “faith” (πίστις – pistis in Greek) the SV (Scholar’s Version), however is represented by a much more nuanced phrase: “this kind of confidence in God” (refer to The Authentic Letters of Paul, p.57). Where the NRSV has the next lengthy phrase as “imprisoned and guarded under the Law until faith would be revealed,” the SV is rendered as “under the surveillance of the law, held in bondage until the awaited disclosure of such confidence” (Ibid.). Do they mean the same thing? How do you understand the subtle differences? What do you think?
So, everyone – even the highly trained biblical scholar – constructs his/her own “Life of Paul.” The stories and letters may, indeed, be “very thin,” but they’re all we’ve got. I give as much credit to Patterson in this, then, as I do Dewey, Hoover, McGaughy and Schmidt (the team who, together, quite skillfully wrote The Authentic Letters of Paul). In the final analysis, we should not read the Bible (or any of the extracanonical literature) as history. In a so many ways, scripture is much like a very opinionated sermon – and I’ve given a lot of those!
5. How persuasive do you find our author’s argument that the creed was not original with Paul? [p.22]
I’ve no reason – let alone the expertise – to doubt the thoroughness of Patterson’s scholarship and research. He may not have the linguistic skills of Arthur Dewey, Roy Hoover, Lane McGaughy or Daryl Schmidt (authors of The Authentic Letters of Paul), but he is a recognized specialist in the origins of Christianity – especially of the hidden histories found in books that were not included in the Bible. I am persuaded that he knows what he’s talking about.
6. Comment on the idea that the three distinctions in the creed “do not rest on anything real.” [p.24]
Beyond, simply, our shared humanity, individuals and cultures have created these distinctions. In that sense they are counterfeit constructs, inappropriate, untrustworthy, irrelevant, therefore “unreal.”
7. When (if ever) do you find yourself “somehow participating in Christ’s continuing existence”? [p.25]
This reminds me of a bracelet that was favored by evangelical Christians years ago; it simply had the letters “WWJD” emblazoned across it. The letters stood for a question that the wearers supposedly would ask themselves (as well as others) to consider, daily: “What Would Jesus Do?” Never mind the conservative theology behind its creation, I do think that it’s a very good question to ask oneself at any moment – especially in moments of crisis or when facing a significant decision. I think this kind of mindset is behind E. P. Sanders’ image of “participation theology.”
When I’m most aware of being confronted to make a critical decision in my own life – or even an impulsive response that might give rise to anger or violence – recalling the life of Jesus can, and indeed has, caused me to pause and moved me to consider doing “the right thing” in that moment – whatever I think it might be. In that moment, then, it could be said that I am “somehow participating in Christ’s continuing existence.” Not surprisingly, these kinds of dialogues between my head and my heart ultimately led me into the ordained ministry and, if I’m paying attention, his teachings and witness remain to be my daily guide. That doesn’t mean that I always “measure up” of course. In fact, in too many ways, I’ve “fallen short” in participating in the ways that Jesus has modeled for us all.
Ironically enough, Jesus wasn’t trying to raise a cult following in the ways that the institutional Church has created this Christ figure. He was simply trying to reform his own culture and religion. An example (at least for me) has been that verse from the prophet: “What does the Lord require of you [but] to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6: 8]. That might just be the essence of Judaism. A corollary, however, might well be this one:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set
before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that
you and your descendants may live.” [Deuteronomy 30: 19]
I think that Jesus must have tried to live his life in the ways in which these pronouncements directed him – more than that, he came to embody them. In that, he was a participant in just such a way himself – only it was Judaism.
8. “Where did these ideas come from?” [p.29]
I think Patterson gives us a clue two sentences earlier when he says of this “forgotten creed” that “It is not a statement about God, or about the mysteries of Christ. It is about people and who they are, really.” At least, it was meant to be.
On the other hand, this question is also our author’s way of introducing the subject of Chapter 2; it arose from a cliché that comes from very ancient bigotries (p.31). Sadly, tribalism and xenophobia that came to demonize the “other” is part of the long history of our species. Such attitudes, tragically, have proven to be far stronger and more influential than the egalitarian imagery that’s at the heart of this ancient and truly forgotten creed.