Preaching to the Perverted
For example, when Paul rails against things like sorcery and witchcraft, eliminate from your mind innocuous images of earth-worshiping radical feminist lesbian wiccans dancing around naked in the forest (and get that erotic image out of your mind; see picture at right-->). Although undoubtedly kooky or disturbing, going after Shirley Maclaine or Jean Houston is not really what Paul had in mind.
Rather, witchcraft and sorcery had entirely different connotations in a Greco-Roman context. Ruden cites the example of Horace's image "of a small boy buried up to his neck and left to starve to death while staring at food, so that his liver and bone marrow, which must now be imbued with his frenzied longing, could serve as a love charm." You know, that kind of thing.
To see a closer approximation of the context, we would have to travel to Haiti or to Africa, where violent witchcraft is still common, for example, witch doctors "who kill people, especially children, for their genitalia and other body parts, which are believed to be love and money charms" (Ruden).
Also, if Ruden is correct, then much of the puritanical, anti-pleasure reputation of Christianity is rooted in a huge misunderstanding. She points out that Paul is indeed the original authority for all puritanism. The only problem is that his condemnations of certain activities must again be understood in the proper cultural context. For example, when he forbids "carousing" or "revellings," he isn't talking about having some harmless fun and blowing off a little steam.
Rather, Ruden points out that Paul was likely talking about something with which his audience would have been very familiar, the drunken and destructive komos. Imagine someone understandably condemning Chicago Bulls fans for rioting and setting fire to their city, but taking that to mean that one should never celebrate if one's team wins a championship. A komos "was a late-night, very drunken sometimes violent postparty parade," and "which could even end in kidnapping and rape."
And when Paul councils things like meekness and long-suffering, he is certainly not talking about being a wimp. Rather, it is almost impossible for us to imagine how impulsive people were in the past, and how quickly emotion led to violent action, with no space in between. I discussed this a bit in my book, and Ruden confirms everything written there. As she says, things would "often go from strong emotion straight to violence." Today one occasionally sees a patient or father-in-law with this particular problem, but one must imagine an entire culture composed of such people.
Ruden notes that "Hatred and revenge were not marginal or shameful for the ancient Greeks and Romans, but matters of routine and pride. A person who simply forgave an injury was held to be feeble and a coward," for "How could he protect his family and friends?" Likewise, "when there was political rivalry, someone always ended up getting plundered, exiled, or killed." That is human nature in the raw, and that is what Paul was fighting against.
The ancients projected these same violent attributes into their "self-centered and merciless gods," which in turn sanctioned their behavior -- similar to how the violent Mohammed is taken as the ideal man for Muslims, thus sanctioning their own violent jihad.
Again, the reason why the Christian message was so appealing to people is that it offered them a way out of the awful human conditions that had prevailed from time immemorial, or "since the Fall," if you like. In my book I suggest that the problems began when man became self-conscious and had to adapt to the strange new condition of having thoughts, emotions, and impulses. Every baby that comes into the world must repeat this journey, i.e., learn to regulate and master these things. But there was a historical time when virtually no one had this capacity. (This was also the central thesis of Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.)
Perhaps I should also emphasize that this problem of impulsivity (or what I call "brake failure") has hardly been mastered by contemporary man, for it is the stock in trade of the clinical psychologist. Almost all patients are struggling with some form of impulsivity, whether it is anger, or sexuality, or food, or alcohol, or video games, or stalking my blog. Furthermore, the more primitive the person, the more impulsive -- or, the more "holes" in the personality structure, where impulses "leak out," outside conscious control.
Indeed, as the B'atman once said, the liberal is someone who exalts in self-expression and outsources self-control to the state -- for example, "I refuse to take care of my health, so you must do it for me."
Interestingly, when Paul uses the word "faith," he is doing so in an unprecedented way. Ruden says that "Before Christianity, neither the Greeks nor the Romans seem ever to have used the concept in what we could call a spiritual sense." Rather, for them, it was much more analogous to what we would call "protection," or having someone to watch one's back. For pagan polytheists, it was analogous to having faith in one's fellow gang members to strike back if one is punked by a rival gang.
Sexuality in the Greco-Roman world was probably even more twisted than you might imagine. First, it took human beings in general a very long time before they could tolerate the ambivalence of expressing both loving and sexual feelings toward the same object. Here again, this is something the psychologist deals with on a daily basis, because millions of contemporary individuals still struggle with this dilemma which no premodern man seems to have mastered. (I might add that it is really not until around the 12th century, I believe it was, that we see the full flowering of romantic love in the Western world.)
Ruden points out that household slaves "were less respected as outlets for bodily functions than were the household toilets," and that one of the sanctioned roles "of slave boys was anal sex with free adults." And make no mistake, this was a sadistic act, just as many psychoanalysts believe that contemporary male homosexuality is often an expression of sadistic impulses. Whatever the case may be, it certainly wasn't caused by "genes": "The Greeks and Romans thought that the active partner in homosexual intercourse used, humiliated, and physically and morally damaged the passive one," and that "the satisfaction needed to be violent, not erotic."
Some psychoanalysts theorize that compulsive male homosexuality has to do with the need to magically incorporate the masculine essence of the object through the sex act. Interestingly, this is what the ancients believed: "a real man needed to transform an at least potentially active and powerful creature into a weak and inferior one." I don't know if this is true, but I also read somewhere that victorious armies would sodomize their vanquished opponents before killing them outright, first "stealing" their masculine essence via the back door. (I am also reminded of how Mike Tyson would taunt opponents by boasting that he would make them his "bitch.")
Well, that's it for today....