With Pope Benedict about to hit NYC it is appropriate to note what biblical scholars have recognized for more than a century — that St. Paul put a spin on the Gospels of Jesus which diverted a call for social justice to ceremonial worship of death. This distinction is sometimes called that between prophetic Christianity which derives its precedents in the prophets and the apocalyptic vision in which Paul focused on imminent death and destruction of the individual — but also the world with the murderous return of Jesus in the figure of the Christ.

A Canadian scholar who converted to Judaism which he views as the true religion of Jesus, Barre Wilson, makes this critical point in his current book, How Jesus Became a Christian:

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Became-Christian-Barrie-Wilson/dp/0312362781

I personally discovered this distinction when I studied theology for 3 years between my undergrad years and continuing on in philosophy. I had taken this detour sincerely as my grandfather, whom I had never known, had been our leading American biblical scholar in his day:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Foster_Kent

As well as a scholar he had also been a liberal social activist who had challenged the antiSemitism and racism of the early 20th. century and had worked to open the doors of our universities to both Jews and African Americans who were then being excluded.

I was personally shocked to discover that I was really studying two different religions in divinity schools here and in Britain. The one stressed love and care for one’s fellow humans. The other specified hatreds of others — Jews who had been persecuted for two millennia by Christians, culminating in the Holocaust, and such others as gays or ones who violated the dogmatic claims that had been added to the initial hostilities — towards sex and any restrictions on it that halted the mass production of babies at any cost to their mothers or to communities overwhelmed with limits on their capacities to provide for them.

There are archetypal Christian churches that illustrate the contrast between these two religions with a broad spectrum ranging between the two. These are respectively the Roman Catholic church with its authoritarian structure and death oriented moral scheme versus the Quakers and other peace churches which strive to fulfill the Gospel claim that we respect and care for those who need us to do so.

I would not say that Benedict means to defy the exhortations of Jesus per se. But he more than other recent popes has steered his church towards the abyss. There is a certain irony here in that he was led into the scholarly world by one of the Catholic theologians who had it right and who has been repudiated by Benedict — Hans Kung:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_K%C3%BCng

Many other CAtholic theologians have been silenced along the way such as John Courtney Murray, SJ, whose essay on natural law I included in one of my collections in legal philosophy. There is a long line of such, unhappily, who have been side tracked by such as Benedict who was the hit man for John Paul who steered the hierarchical appointments to the far right. I have good friends who were former priests and nuns who have left the Benedict’s church. And it is dying out in Europe if flourishing in some (but not all) parts of the third world. Benedict was severely criticized in South America where evangelical protestantism is thriving.

One assumes that Benedict will be warmly welcomed — particularly in this political year. However, he faces the near bankruptcy of his church here in the U.S. following upon the pedophile disaster. And his church cannot staff itself any more with heterosexuals who see celibacy as a sick tradition. He will have to decide whether gay priests who behave themselves are the way to go? How odd, but certainly understandable, as gays were the primary enemies of St. Paul — see his horrendous Letter to the Romans where he attacks both unconverted Jews and gays. And sad that Benedict is reintroducing such hatreds — even into his restoration of liturgy from which they had been removed!

Sorry to blast here, but people should be aware of the wrong headedness of this man. Perhaps protests from disappointed Catholics will have some impact?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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