Friday 8 May 2009

Saint Paul, founder of capitalism?

Who was the really remarkable character in the Bible?

If we strip all of the miracles and other nonsense out of the Bible, we find that the Israelites first appeared in the Fertile Crescent, were captured and enslaved by the Egyptians, escaped, committed genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Holy Land, built the Kingdom of Israel, established laws which Moses claimed came straight from God, split into two kingdoms, and then were conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans. So Moses’ main achievements were creating the fiction of a very angry and cruel deity, a preposterous list of religious and dietary laws, and a nation which distinguished itself chiefly in genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the unlucky habit of being conquered over and over by their neighbours. History has plenty of leaders like him – not terribly remarkable. He did launch the rather destructive notion of monotheism as a concept, but other than that...

Joshua? Poster boy for genocide. Go read the book named after him. An unremarkable leader – the pages of history are filled with bloodthirsty mass murderers just like him.

How about Mary, venerated throughout the Catholic world? A rather clumsy peasant girl managed to get pregnant, as peasant girls have been doing for thousands of years. She claimed that she was still a virgin, and that the child inside her was actually...God, implanted by the Holy Spirit (the “Holy Spirit” was probably that cute shepherd over in the next valley). This story is so dubious that Matthew and Luke tell it two completely different ways. So the whole story of Jesus, and indeed all of Christianity, got started because of a pregnant teenager, one of the oldest, most unremarkable stories in human history.

How about Jesus? In a culture where men get married and take up a trade as teenagers, Jesus did neither, possibly due to his illegitimate status. He wandered around the Galilee for a couple of years, telling sweet Aesop-like stories to farmers and fishermen. His philosophy of brotherhood was quite noble, but Greek and eastern philosophers had been preaching many of the same concepts for at least 300 years. Jesus went to the holiest site in the entire Jewish world, the temple in Jerusalem, and went nuts and trashed the place. The local authorities, already suspicious of messianic preachers, did the inevitable: they executed him. So, Jesus...a profoundly good, moral man. But in and of himself, not really remarkable.

Saint Peter? An unimaginative leader who died for his faith like hundreds of other Christians of the Roman era. And his whole team was not too bright – they didn’t start setting up a church because they thought Jesus was coming back immediately. Unremarkable.

The really remarkable figure in all this? Saint Paul. Originally a bitter opponent of Christianity, he was open-minded enough to embrace totally new ideas. He crafted Christianity into a message that could be spread across the Roman Empire. He persuaded the original Jewish leaders of the sect that they would need to let go of Jewish law if they were going to sell the new creed successfully – it would be impossible to win new adherents if their first decree to potential converts was to chop off their peepees. He travelled across the Empire repeatedly, selling the message, making the Church grow and grow, and managing for many years to avoid being executed by either the local pagans or the local Jews. He supplemented that effort with letters, exhorting followers to stay on message and spread the word. He refereed personal and philosophical conflicts, building a Church strong enough to thrive and grow in a sometimes hostile environment, and refining the original teachings into a sturdy doctrine. He converted Christianity from a tiny sub-sect of the already tiny sect, Judaism, into a faith which blew away ten centuries of Greco-Roman paganism and conquered an Empire, and then a continent. By the time Paul was done, he had laid the groundwork for a global enterprise which would survive many challenges (including Luther, Henry VIII, Galileo and Darwin) and remain powerful and profitable for almost 2000 years.

Profitable for two millennia.

Name a CEO who ever accomplished anything of the kind. Who comes close? The Krupps? The Rothchilds? The East India Company? Rockefeller? Lloyds? Dupont? The Bank of America? Hearst? Lehman Brothers (LOL!)? Carnegie?

Saint Paul, founder of capitalism. Not Adam Smith, not Ricardo, not Ayn Rand, not Henry Ford.

You would think that the rightwingers would have latched onto this guy, who perfectly united their two favourite things, Christianity and capitalist-style enterprise. But, ya know, a lot of these guys don’t actually read the Bible. Too busy with the World Nut Daily, Breitbart, Fox....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To such a fearing world as this, which stood in abject awe of supernatural powers, the mystery religions came with the message of salvation through union with the lord of the cult. This was good news, indeed, for such an alliance robbed the unknown spiritual world of its terrors and gave the initiate the assurance of special privilege in relation to the potent beings who controlled the destinies of men. Practically, the lords of the mysteries were the most powerful spiritual beings that gentile religionists of the Graeco-Roman world were acquainted with. In the background of each of the mysteries hovered the vague form of the supreme power itself: the Anatolian Magita Mater Deum or the Ahura Mazda of the Persian system. In the foreground, ready for action, stood the mediator who chiefly made the divine power manifest in life and in nature: the youthful Attis or the invincible Mithra. The mystery gods and goddesses were also potent as netherworld divinities. Persephone reigned as queen of the dead and Osiris presided as judge of the souls of the departed. By means of initiation into their cults, the devotee was enabled to share vividly in the experiences of these divinities and even to attain realistic union with them. Thus, united with the gods themselves, the initiate was in touch with currents of supernatural power which not only operated to transform his very being but also rendered him immune from evil both in this life and in the next. In this way the mystery religious, by means of their initiations, answered to a second great demand of the age--the yearning for the mystical type of religious experience.