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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Evangelism From Paul To Global Warming–A Hard Sell Without Miracles

The Pauline Epistles are fascinating, for they describe Paul’s attempts to promote his new religion to Jews and pagan Gentiles without miracles.   Jesus bestowed the power of miracles on his original apostles so they had a relatively easy job.  If unbelievers were not convinced of the rightness of the Christian cause or the divinity of Christ, the apostles could demonstrate God’s power and authority by curing the sick and raising the dead. 

Paul on the other hand never performed miracles, and he had to convince new Corinthian, Roman, and Galatian Christians of the nobility of Christ, his promise of redemption, salvation, and eternal life, through the power of persuasion alone.

The Epistles of Paul describe how he built the foundations of the Church.  The Gospels describe the life of Christ and his death, but the epistles are chronicles of Paul’s evangelism.  Paul, who did not know Jesus and had only a passing friendship with James, Jesus’ brother and with Peter, had to use his own logic, scholarship of the Hebrew Bible, and understanding of his audience to win and keep converts.

In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul goes to great pains to explain why carnal knowledge is a bad thing. Christ was flesh, he explains, and that as Christians our  bodies are extensions of his; so that when we fornicate He is fornicating:

Our bodies, says Paul, are ‘members’ – literally, limbs – of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:5) so that the way we handle them inevitably draws Christ into our activities.  Paul exploits this notion as far as possible by a novel application of Gen 2:24 (‘the two shall become one flesh’) to all sexual unions, not just marriage. The physical joining in sex with a prostitute actually links Christ’s body with that of a representative of sin – a union which Paul finds utterly scandalous (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1118)

Paul goes on the develop his convictions about sex and the body.  Celibacy is the best route, he suggests; but if this is not possible, ‘stay as you are’.  If you are married, don’t get divorced.  If you are single, stay single.  Marriage is not a bed of roses, Paul says, “"Those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that." ( 1 Corinthians 7:28); which is perhaps why he remained single.  The point is only that the epistles reveal a man who can think on his feet, deal with his own personal life and experiences, and fashion a message which resonates with his audience.

Paul had a particularly difficult time squaring Christianity with the Hebrew Bible.  He could not ignore the Hebrew Bible as a foundation for Christianity; but at the same time he had to discredit it.  The Law, he says, referring especially to Mosaic Law, in fact contributes to sin.  Before Moses explained what sin was, man had no idea that he was sinning.  Moreover, now that man knew, he was tempted to try it; so the interdiction actually resulted in an uptick of sinful behavior.  In Romans and Corinthians Paul walks the Old-New Testament tightrope; but by 2 Corinthians he holds nothing back and becomes a severe critic of Jewish Law.

Acts, probably written by Luke, is the first part of post-Resurrection Biblical history and forms a bridge between the Gospels and the epistles of Paul. 

Both the apostles and Paul were speaking to both unbelievers and new Christians whose faith was still wobbly and needed shoring up.  Unlike Paul, however, the apostles had the benefit of miracles, a sure way of reeling in any doubters.

Many miracles [described in Acts] were performed by the apostles (2:43). Peter healed the lame man at the Temple (3:7-11). God answered Peter in a miraculous earthquake (4:31). Ananias and Sapphira were slain by the Lord (5:5-10). Signs and wonders continued to be done by the apostles (5:12). Peter healed many from various cities (5:12-16). The prison doors were opened by an angel (5:19). Stephen wrought great wonders and signs (6:8). In Samaria, Philip did great miracles and signs (8:6,7,13).

In all of Paul’s journeys throughout the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, and Rome he developed a new Christian theology as he went.  The Corinthians, for example, were known for their sexual freedom; but this was simply the physical expression of an esteemed tradition of personal freedom and spirituality.  The Corinthians thought that they already had a very good ‘theology’ and moral construct, and were suspicious of Paul’s admonitions which to many were considered hectoring.  The Romans, based in large part on their history in Palestine, were critical of Judaism and the Hebrew Bible. Paul built on that mistrust, and was able to craft a more muscular approach to Christian theology than he had in other venues.

The point is that Paul did all this without the benefit of proof.  He could not say, as the apostles did, “If you don’t believe me, watch this.” He had to be compelling and convincing through his oratory, writing, and logic.  His letters are examples of a good entrepreneur.  He needed to make frequent visits back to his new churches to be sure that they weren’t straying, that their sales figures were up, and that they were continually recruiting new salesmen. 

All of which is meant to say that those present-day evangelicals such as those preaching about Global Warming, have their jobs cut out for them.  They cannot count on Biblical floods or plagues to show the world that the end is coming.  They have to weave a compelling narrative much as Paul did.  They need to take whatever slight evidence they have and build an unassailable logical argument based on it.

The leaders of the Environmental Movement are smart and canny.  They know that their evangelical work is as daunting as Paul’s was.  Only a small minority of Americans either believe in global warming or believe that it is a threat.  Not only that but a significant political opposition has been mounted against the environmental mission.  Once again, their struggle is no different from the earliest Christian evangelists like Paul who had no proof, a tough sell given current socio-economic and geopolitical factors, and no miracles.

Environmentalists, like Paul, know that they have to use inductive logic and not be deterred by counter-intuitive data.  Yes, winters have been unusually cold recently; but that does not disprove the theory of global warming.  It proves it.  The Arctic ice cap is melting, increasing the amount of cold water into the seas, and thus producing colder weather in the Northern Hemisphere.  While they neglect to mention that the Antarctic ice cap is not melting, and the warming-cooling phenomenon has not been observed in the Southern Hemisphere; their logic, if only partial, has successfully strengthened their narrative. Caveat emptor has been their unwritten slogan. Let the skeptics did for Antarctic data if they want.  Soon enough the Southern oceans will begin to cool.

This selective, often torturous logic, may be good in the short run; but just like the Romans and Corinthians in Paul’s time, few intelligent people can be fooled for long. Paul’s crafty conflation of illicit sex with the body of Christ may have created more doubters than he intended; but his dismissal of the Jewish Law while at the same time respecting the Old Testament God was brilliant.  Paul was indeed the ancestor of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church’s most brilliant and elegant logicians.

The other feint so adeptly used by environmental progressives is conflation.  By linking all social ills to global warming, their argument is strengthened.  The continued oppression of women, they say, contributes to climate change because women who are naturally nurturing and caring would be committed and dutiful caretakers of Mother Earth if only given a chance. 

American capitalism, the One Percent, and the pervasive greed of Wall Street and private industry, is a major contributor to global warming.  It is these venal and arrogantly self-interested captains of industry and finance who rape the world of its natural resources, pollute irresponsibly, and accelerate the rush to the Apocalypse.  American neo-colonialists are also complicit in global warming for dismissing traditional societies and their respect for the land, water, and skies.  Just as they have destroyed the sensitive lifestyle of the American Indian, driving him into a drunken stupor in hostile reservations, so they maraud the peaceful lands of Africa.

The collegiality of illogical interests goes on.  It is, however, a good strategy.  In the absence of miracles – i.e. proof – a cause needs as much abductive reasoning as possible.  By engaging the apostles of women’s rights, gay rights, socialism, and world peace in one mega-struggle with one anthem, progressive environmentalists can make it seem like many Americans are believers.

Up until now this strategy has not worked, and a pitifully small number of Americans still could care less about climate change and global warming.  To them, the conflation of suspect causes only makes matters worse.  How can they trust global warming prophets who endorse homosexuality, distort of family reproductive values, and go against the black-and-white injunctions of the Bible?

Paul is environmentalists’ favorite Biblical personage.  Ultimately he was successful in his evangelism.  In fact it didn’t take long at all – a scant few hundred years - before Christianity had spread out of Palestine and as far as Western Europe.

Paul, his apostle colleagues, and Jesus himself however, were selling salvation, redemption, and eternal life.  With or without miracles that is an attractive product. It was desirable and in demand; and there were few if any opportunity costs associated with adopting the new religion.  Preaching dread and a fiery end to humanity is not in the same category. 

Environmentalists might take a lesson from both the Bible and the Koran – martyrdom. Both Islam and Christianity put considerable emphasis on dying for their faith; and if environmentalists could sacrifice their lives for the cause, they might be more believable.

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