Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why was St. Paul such a chauvinist?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Can you explain why St. Paul was such a male chauvinist?

Mary Jo Van Istick

Dear Mary Jo,

I’m not sure he was such a chauvinist. He wrote, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” (1Cor 7:4)  As far as I know, Paul of Tarsus was the first person in history to say that a man and a woman had equal rights over one another in any way.  He also forbad divorce in an age when divorce was easy and common. He conceded that a woman under certain circumstances could divorce her husband, though a Christian woman who did so could not remarry.

This is amazing. I have long studied ancient texts etc. because I don’t really have much of a social life, but in my many years of study I have never run into a document earlier than the time of St. Paul that allowed a woman to divorce a man. Men could and did divorce women frequently, but women tell a man to go packing? Never! Women did not have the right to initiate divorce until around a century after St. Paul wrote these words. (1 Cor. 7:10-13) “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord), a wife must not separate from her husband, but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. A husband must not divorce his wife. For the rest, I say this (I, not the Lord): If a brother has an unbelieving wife and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. If a woman has an unbelieving husband and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. (1 Cor. 7 10-13)

Apparently, Paul thought it permissible for women to divorce men under certain circumstances, but not to remarry as the Lord Jesus taught. He seems also to have taught that a Christian man could never divorce his wife with the sole exception of a non-Christian wife and then only with her permission. This is astounding considering the customs of the time. Further, Paul says the prohibition against a man divorcing his wife is a command from the Lord and not just an opinion of Paul’s. The permission to divorce an unbelieving wife if she wants out of the marriage is Paul’s opinion not the Lord’s. Fascinating.

Paul clearly indicates that some of what he says is from the Lord and that some is not. Again, amazing! Paul, unlike most modern theologians, was able to admit that his opinion was not necessarily God’s opinion!! How can this be? If it’s in the Bible isn’t it God speaking? Apparently not. Paul clearly says that some things he orders as a legitimate Church authority are not from God, but others are.

This brings us to unveiled women speaking in church. There are two particularly egregious and irritating passages about women kept quiet in church. “As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people, women should remain silent in the churches, they are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35) and “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1Timothy 2:12)

Corinth and Ephesus were important Greek cities in the Roman Empire. Corinth was an important trade city that straddled the narrow isthmus between northern and southern Greece. To save time and avoid danger, ships would be hauled out of the water by slaves on one end of the isthmus and dragged to the other end. There were lots of sailors with a lot of time on their hands. There was also a temple dedicated to Aphrodite the goddess of “Luv” on a hilltop right in the middle of town.  In it were a thousand beautiful women who served as priestesses of the goddess. The ancient believed that intimacy with a temple priestess, or a transvestite temple priest depending on your tastes, was an act of religious devotion and would bring good luck. For a certain monetary consideration the women (and quasi-women) clergy of Corinth were happy to be of help. Needless to say, the sailors ran into town to pray while their boats were being dragged across the isthmus. In the ancient world women talking with strangers in the streets was simply not done, except of course for those in the service of pagan religion. They went about heads uncovered saying things like, “Hello, Sailor!” to perfect strangers.

The new sect of the Christians considered itself a family of faith and was a very small group of people. They first seem to have met in private homes for worship and as one would in a domestic gathering the ladies took off their veils, greeted everyone with a kiss and talked freely. You know how neighbors love to talk. The Corinthians, I imagine, peering through the lattice at their Christian neighbors, seeing unveiled women talking and kissing, must have thought, Oh Good! Another outpost of the worship of our goddess! To this St. Paul responded, “Put your veils back on and be quiet ladies. The neighbors are getting the wrong idea!” 

Ephesus was another port town just across the Aegean Sea from Corinth. It was even more religious than Corinth. It was the home of the great temple of Artemis (Diana) the virgin goddess, patroness of hunters. Diana was served by a great number of priestesses called Melissai or “honey bees”. At first they were all virgins but customs change. The honey bees conducted the rituals of the temple which included sacrifices and ceremonial prostitution. The temple at Ephesus was magnificent and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World which was an ancient bucket list. There were actual tours that would take you to see the seven wonders, and the Temple of Diana at Ephesus was on the list. Lots of tourists; lots of honey bees. So what has this to do with women being kept quiet in church?

(Next week: St. Paul and the revenge of the Honey Bees!)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Can we show a little love for Humanae Vitae?

Allow me to repeat. We are running out of children. We are not running out of people just young people. The world population is continuing to grow. The ranks of the old, among whom I am counted, gets bigger and bigger. I just got back from a trip overseas. Germany, the land of my ancestors, is a retirement home. The countryside of Spain is depopulated. One can drive for miles without seeing a soul.  Whole towns are for sale in Spain and Italy simply because they are uninhabited. 

Again, let me refresh your memory of some basic demographic concepts. First there is something called replacement fertility rate. To keep a stable population every single woman in a given population must have a minimum of two children. One to replace her and one to replace her knight in shining armor who is at the present unable to give birth. There are many people who do not have any children, slackers like myself who am celibate. The generous woman who must already have 2 children must now have 2.1 children in a developed country or 2.5 in an undeveloped country where the mortality rate is higher. If this fertility rate slips below a certain level under 2.0 some researchers theorize that the fertility rate cannot rebound. People get used to being spoiled, only children. I know a number of people who, when asked if they have children say, “Yes!” and show you a picture of their dogs or cats while cooing, “Aren’t my babies’ precious??” Have you noticed that the pet food aisle in some stores is much larger and more fully stocked than the baby aisle? 

Lots of young moderns don’t want to be bothered with babies when you can get just as much love from a pet. Let’s look at some 2016 Total Fertility Rates. (Source: CIA World Factbook) Poland, 1.34 children per woman, France 2.7, Italy 1.4 Japan 1.4, Hungary 1.4, Germany 1.4.  Europe is dying.  Let’s look at the Americas. Cuba 1.7, Puerto Rico 1.6, Mexico 2.25, Costa Rica 1.9, Brazil 1.76. That’s 1.76!! And our own beloved USA? 1.87.

All these nations will soon face a shrinking labor force and increasing rate of dependent old people. Fewer workers must care for more old folks (like me), by paying into the pension funds and social security accounts. That means if you have 1.7 children you are expecting someone else’s kid to pay for your  retirement benefits. The countries are increasing where old people face a poor and lonely life, where medical services are rationed and resources are increasingly scarce. This is not just happening in the developed West.

Iran had a total fertility rate in 1960 of 7 or 8 children per woman. In 2016, they had a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.83. Do the Math. Those 7 or 8 children born in 1960 are now almost 60 years old.  They are past the time of childbearing and will soon have to depend on the 1.8 children born last year to take care of them in their old age. I don’t think the 1.8 children are going to like that situation. Things are similar throughout the east. Bangladesh has a TFR of 2.2. They are definitely an undeveloped country and need 2.5 just to keep up with things. India 2.45, Saudi Arabia 2.1, Morocco 2.1, Indonesia 2.1!  The only people who are still having children are sub-Saharan Africans, Afghanis Iraqis and, God bless them, Filipinos.  You cannot have an economy without children. Old people own enough stuff. Young people need and buy stuff. I don’t think that 1.5 self-absorbed children are going to want to maintain 5 or 6 old folks.

I’m just not that optimistic about human nature. Much of the unrest of times may in fact be a result of depopulation and not overpopulation. Syria is a shrinking country between death and emigration. Things are bad all over the world, and the European world, the Americas, Australia, are quickly committing demographic suicide.

Why am I whining about this? I have heard that a “study group” is looking at a new interpretation of the infallible encyclical “Humanae Vitae” which forbad the use of artificial contraception by Catholics. Don’t these fools understand that the coming dystopia (a fancy word that means rotten future) is not the result of overpopulation, but under-population? These addled experts are like people who think it’s a good idea to light a cozy campfire in a burned-out building. The canoe is already over the waterfall and they are still planning the canoe trip. Should they make it easier for Europe and its former colonies to commit narcissistic demographic suicide?

What would I suggest? Move to the country and learn to grow chickens. By the way, thank you to those parents who are brave enough and responsible enough to have large families. I believe that nations and churches will survive and flourish only to the degree that they accept the wisdom of “Humanae Vitae.”

Yours ever,
the Reverend Know-it-all.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Of Martyrs and the state


I am writing this on the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. Thomas More was an ambitious lawyer and John Fisher a bishop. King Henry VIII of England had numerous mistresses, but one, Anne Boleyn, would not give way without the promise of marriage and coronation as queen of England, so Henry asked for an annulment of his marriage to the Spanish princess and reigning queen, Catherine of Aragon. Pope Clement refused the annulment.

In 1534, by the Acts of Supremacy, Henry declared himself head of the Church in England and gave himself the annulment. All were expected to sign the Acts. Henry had what he wanted. Thomas More, chancellor of England and servant of Henry’s government, could not agree that the king was head of the Church in England. For this he was eventually killed by beheading. All of England went along with the king, save for Thomas his chancellor and Bishop Fisher.

His friends said, “Thomas, will you not go along for the sake of fellowship?” Thomas replied, saying, “If you have signed the Acts of Supremacy in good conscience and you stand before God at the judgment, and you are sent to heaven for your good conscience, and I am sent to hell for violating my conscience, will you come along with me for the sake of fellowship?” There were 26 bishops in England at the time. Twenty-five signed the acts of supremacy. One, John Fisher, did not. He, like Thomas, was beheaded.

Christian religion is mostly dead in England. The Church that Henry founded is very progressive. They have women bishops, lesbian bishops, same sex marriage etc. etc. etc. etc. A few years ago, the Spectator published an article titled, “2067: the end of British Christianity.”  In the article, we read that “Every ten years the census spells out the situation in detail: between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week. If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.”  By providing a church that will allow you the relationship you desire, Henry killed the church in England. Still he got what he wanted.

There is a wonderful movie “A Man for All Seasons” (1966). It tells the story of St. Thomas More and references St. Bishop John Fisher. It leaves out St. Thomas’ faults, which like for all saints were many, but by in large, it is good history. Watch it. Please, watch it. Thomas did not say what he thought about the King’s new marriage, even to his wife. He relied on the English common law principle that a man may not be executed or punished for what he does not do, only for what he does. The king was determined to execute his old friend Thomas regardless. When he had been falsely tried, he decided to unburden his conscience by speaking plainly. He said that he had come to this place because he would not bend to the marriage!!

Here we are. Catholic, bishops and laity, increasingly hemmed in by an unjust government and a sleeping populace. Will we bend to the marriage?

Yours sadly and sincerely,

The Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 13

The Rev. Know-it-all’s “Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law”, finally terminated.

In my previous ravings, patient reader, I explained that among the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses there are 365 don’ts and 248 do’s. Among these commandments there are commandments, witnesses, and rules that have no apparent reason. If Jesus says that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is fulfilled.” (Matt 5:18), how, pray tell, does Jesus fulfill something like the law prohibiting Shatnez?  Allow me to explain. 

Shatnez is cloth containing both wool and linen which Torah prohibits.  Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9–11 prohibit an individual from wearing wool and linen fabrics in one garment, the interbreeding of different species of animals, and the planting different kinds of seeds together. My suspicion is that the prohibition against these inter-mixings is a reminder of the wall of separation between Israel and the nations that surrounded them. The law requiring circumcision and much of the dietary law had the same function. I remember inviting Rabbi Lefkowitz to dinner at my rectory with the alderman. It was a Chicago kind of thing.  It had to be a kosher catered meal served on sealed, disposable plates, glasses and flatware. An observant Jew cannot eat in a Gentile home except with great difficulty. We are unclean. If that does not put a damper on chumminess, what will?  Mixture is discouraged at every turn, and this is reasonable.

The Canaanites among whom Israel found itself living practiced abominations like religious prostitution and child sacrifice. An invitation to dinner might involve who knows what?  As the Yiddishe bubbi (grandmother, for us goyim) says, “It’s better vee shouldn’t mix in!” This is a huge biblical principle, not just the worries of a nervous grandmother. Why should they mix in? Simple.

The idea of a moral and righteous God was new to the world. Religion had almost nothing to do with what we think of as morality among the nations of the ancient world. It was more a kind of practical voodoo about how to get what you wanted and how to keep the gods from squashing you like a bug. This whole Israelite thing about a righteous God who loves humanity with a passionate and jealous love was unheard of in the ancient world. If you think about it, that sort of thing really doesn’t come naturally to us humans. We are far more interested in the voodoo that allows us to do pretty much what we please.

In the law, God created a people set apart. By the time of the Roman Empire about two thousand years ago, the concepts of the religion of Israel were pretty well known and fairly respected. The nation of Israel had prospered and the books of Moses were known throughout out the Persian and Roman empires. The Roman Empire was about ten percent Jewish. Jews had trading colonies as far away as India and Spain. They filled the Greek speaking world and the Roman Empire. Separation had done its job. The God of Israel, the Righteous One, was poised to replace the innumerable capricious gods of the pagans. The wall of separation would come crashing down in the teachings of the Messiah Jesus, in His sacrificial death for all mankind and in His miraculous resurrection.

Paul of Tarsus the Pharisee talmid (student) would explain this fulfillment in his many letters.  We fulfill the commandment by doing more than the law requires. Not only do we refrain from adultery, but we love our spouses as we love our own bodies, St. Paul explains. We fulfill the commandments of witness by living and dying for the Lord. We are allowed to trim the corners of our beards if we live in such charity that the world can see the law fulfilled in our love and kindness for those around us be they pagan or believer.

The first Christians fulfilled the witness commandments by their deaths in the Roman amphitheaters. The witness commandments are fulfilled every time a Middle Eastern Christian has his head lopped off by one of the enemies of God. But Shatnez? How does Jesus and how do we fulfill this prohibition and those like it, such as circumcision and the refusal to eat lobster?  The key lies in one Torah text. (Hang on. This will be obscure.) I refer you to Exodus 39:29:

 “…and (you shall make) the belt (for the high priest) of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, the work of the weaver in colors, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Rabbinic Judaism maintains that Shatnez, mixture, was mandated in the case of the high priest’s belt, in which fine white linen was interwoven with purple, blue, and scarlet material. According to the sages, the purple, blue, and scarlet were made from wool and interwoven with the fine linen. The high priest wore a symbolic word around his waist that one day Shatnez would be allowed.

If Jesus is the great high priest the fulfillment of the priesthood of the temple he fulfills this prophecy made in fabric and the prohibitions against Shatnez are no longer necessary. Go, enjoy a ham sandwich. Just make sure you honor the image of God in every human being you meet but without submitting the immoral practices of the nations such as abortion and promiscuity.

I think I am about finished with this whole thing about the law.

Rev. Know-it-all