Picture of the Day

Hat-tip: Church Pop

John Wayne and his son, Patrick, venerate a statue of the Blessed Virgin in Cong, Ireland in 1950 during filming of The Quiet Man.

For those who don’t know, the great John Wayne, though far from perfect (especially regarding marital fidelity), was a devout believer his whole life, and throughout his life was surrounded by Catholic influences. These ranged from his wives (all three of his wives were Mexican, and at least the first and third were enthusiastic Catholics) to his main leading lady and close friend Maureen O’Hara (incidentally, though Wayne had many affairs, by all account he and Miss O’Hara were never more than close friends). This was back before the entertainment industry became the monoculture it is today (in those days you often had things like ultra-conservative John Wayne working side-by-side with super-liberal Henry Fonda) and when religion was still a matter of common experience in the film industry, so during his career Wayne made friends with people from all different backgrounds and faiths. In the end, he was received into the Catholic Church two days before his death. He is said to have expressed regret that he waited so long, blaming a “busy life” for his late conversion.

Thought: Who Writes History?

Everyone knows the canard “History is written by the winners.” Few people ever point that it’s sheer nonsense. Are there no Confederate histories of the American Civil War? No British histories of the American Revolution? No Christian histories of the Crusades? The greatest of all historians – Thucydides – wrote from the point of view of the losing side of the Peloponnesian War.

History isn’t written by the victors; it’s written by people who write history. That may sound like a tautology, but it’s really not. The key point is that who writes history is whoever has the inclination or skill to do so, which means it’s written by the vanquished as often as by the victor (depending on whether the conquered culture has a tradition of writing, written accounts, and so on). People read history from their own cultural POV, which means they tend to read works that tell the story of their own culture. By definition, it’s one that has survived thus far. Most people, therefore, read history from the point of view of ‘victors’ in one sense or another.

For instance, a Frenchman will typically read history from the perspective of modern French culture. He will thus take the tacit position of the ‘victor’ in the sense of the figures and events that ultimately lead to the current position he finds himself in. But this isn’t a ‘victor’ in the sense that he would only see the British POV of the Battle of Waterloo or Trafalger. In a more real sense, his history will have been written by the losers of the Napoleonic Wars, Franco-Prussian War, and so on. He reads that point of view because it is his point of view, just as a Prussian would read the same history from the POV of the victor, not because history is written by the victors, but because that is his point of view.

In other words, the idea that history is written by the victors is, at best, an optical illusion based on how history is generally read by the common man.

Easter Feminism

Wow, this one is weapons grade stupid!

“But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
— Luke 24:11

Even before we begin there’s a bad sign. Should I deal with this now or later? Later I think.

The men refused to listen to her story. She was publicly smeared as a whore. And when she emerged as a celebrated advocate, powerful men tried to silence her because she threatened their status.

Nevertheless she persisted.

 The woman we’re talking about, though, is not a leader in the #MeToo movement — the viral campaign raising awareness about sexual assault and harassment against women. She is Mary Magdalene, the first person Jesus appeared to after his resurrection, according to the New Testament, and the first person to preach the good news that he had been raised from the dead.

             And we hit the ground running with the very first paragraph. The description they give of St. Mary Magdalene is…off to say the least. But since we’ll be going into more detail into this later, I suppose I’ll save it for then.

As to the ‘MeToo’ thing, I’m not going to talk about it much since I haven’t researched it beyond reading a few articles and commentaries on it. All I’ll say is that I find Twitter activism in general to be faintly ridiculous, and I think the kind of things brought up in this particular movement (sexual harassment and assault by employers and celebrities) are the horrible, but entirely predictable consequences of the social and cultural factors that have been championed by…well, more or less the same forces driving the ‘MeToo’ movement.

That’s not to say such behavior isn’t bad, or that the same things didn’t happen in the past, but that the forces in question broke down and removed pretty much any and all barriers that would discourage this sort of thing, apart from the simple admonition to not do it. This is a big topic and this isn’t the time or place to delve into it, but I thought I should let you know where I’m coming from on the subject.

For billions of Christians around the world, Easter Sunday is a celebration of a risen savior. Yet what happened to Mary Magdalene shows that Easter can also be seen as something else — a #MeToo moment, some pastors and biblical scholars say.

Don’t you just love this? It’s a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the conquest of Death, and the opening of eternal life. It’s also sort of like a months-old ongoing scandal and ‘Twitter’ trend.

That right there pretty much sums up this article.

They say Easter is also a story about how charismatic female leaders such as Mary Magdalene –

Mary Magdalene was a follower, not a leader. That’s what ‘disciple’ means. Besides that, what makes you call her ‘charismatic’? Where in Scripture is she shown moving a crowd, inspiring devotion, or anything of the kind?

– and even Jesus himself –

The HELL?! Jesus is a ‘charismatic female leader’?

were victimized by some of the same behavior that sparked the #MeToo movement:

You mean short-sighted social reformers removing all barriers to abuse on the grounds that they were somehow insulting and then pretending not to notice the inevitable results until it became politically expedient to do so? 

the sexually predatory behavior of men, the intimidation of women and an orchestrated attempt to silence women who drew too much attention when they spoke up.

Oh, that. Okay: what evidence do you have that St. Mary Magdalene was the victim of “sexually predatory behavior”, intimidation, or an “orchestrated attempt to silence women who drew too much attention when they spoke up”? According to the Scriptures, she had “seven demons driven out of her,” and depending upon how you interpret certain passages may have been a prostitute, or at least a very sinful woman. Where do you get any of the things you just said?

One of the most obvious links between Easter and #MeToo, some say, is the way Mary Magdalene has been slut-shamed.

I won’t deal with that stupid buzzword because we’ve got enough to deal with here.

She has been falsely portrayed in books and films as a penitent prostitute rather than what she really was, says Claire L. Sahlin: “The foremost witness of the resurrection and a visionary leader of the early Christian movement.”

Note that it is the feminists who think that a reformed prostitute and adulteress couldn’t possibly be a ‘visionary leader,’ while that sexist old Catholic Church apparently had no problem with the first witness of the Resurrection being a penitent prostitute, nor with venerating said prostitute as one of her most important Saints, naming churches after her, having abbesses and saints taking her name as their own, etc.

You see, the key word there is ‘penitent.’ Leaving aside the question of whether St. Mary was actually a prostitute, the Church honors repentant sinners because that is what we all are, or ought to be. The repentance is more important than the sin.

“The #MeToo movement recognizes that men in authority used their power to sexually abuse women and silence their voices,” says Sahlin, an associate dean and professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.

‘Associate dean and professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.’ That may be the most credibility-destroying description I’ve ever read.

“Mary Magdalene also was a victim of men in authority who used their power to silence her voice.”

What the heck are you talking about? The Gospel writers – all men – cite her by name as the first witness of the Resurrection. Every Christian denomination publicly quotes her every single year and has done so for upwards of two thousand years. Who, exactly, are these ‘men in authority’ trying to silence her voice and how do you think they are going about it? Because they obviously haven’t done a very good job.

Is it possible to see the Easter story through the lens of the #MeToo movement, or are some pastors and theologians twisting the central story of Christianity to fit a “feminist ideology”?

The answer to the first is ‘why would you want to?’ and the second is ‘obviously.’

One New Testament scholar captured the tension between interpreting the Bible and seeing it through a modern lens when he wrote about a push to make biblical translations more gender-inclusive.

What do you mean by ‘captured the tension’? What does that phrase even mean? That he made a point relative to the subject?

“Should we refrain from calling God our Father because some people have had sinful, oppressive fathers?” asked Vern S. Poythress, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. 

“Should we stop using ‘He’ to refer to God because some people will think that God is literally of the male sex? If we allow these concessions, will not others enter from the wings, seducing us into an indefinite series of mollifications of the Bible for the sake of not ‘unnecessarily’ offending modern readers?”

More importantly, these ‘concessions’ are distortions of the Biblical record. Christ Himself calls God ‘Father’ and orders us to do so; there is zero room for interpretation on the point and less authority to alter His words. If you are even considering these questions seriously, you do not understand this subject.

Also, what does any of this have to do with your point? Because you literally never bring this up again.

Others scholars, though, say they’re not inventing scripture. They point to numerous passages in the Easter story and throughout the New Testament as evidence of four ways they say Easter became a #MeToo moment:

Again, if you’re trying to link the Resurrection of Christ to a trendy piece of Twitter advocacy as if the latter were in any way comparable to the former you may be missing the point.

Now, if you want to talk about how Christ interacted with women and what that implies for how men ought to treat women in their turn, then that might be something worth reading about. This is just hijacking the saving work of God to serve a shallow media narrative.

The men didn’t listen to ‘hysterical’ women

You mean the women who claimed to have seen and spoken to a man they had seen tortured to death mere days before? How would not listening to someone who said that be strange? Also, some of them did listen: Peter and John went to see for themselves

Credible witnesses — it’s what the resurrection stories hinge on, and it’s what the #MeToo movement needed to gain traction. In both cases, women are delivering shocking revelations to a skeptical public. The Apostle Paul captured this challenge when he used the Greek word for scandal — skandalon — to describe how the Easter message must have sounded to non-Christians.

And like many scandals, people have trouble believing the women, some biblical scholars say.

Most ‘scandals’ don’t involve people coming back from the dead. Also, St. Paul’s reference to ‘scandal’ had nothing to do with the fact that the message was first brought by women (that would be largely irrelevant, since by that time the eleven, several hundred disciples, and Paul Himself had also seen the Risen Christ), but to the way it seems to overturn all expectations and human knowledge. You are twisting words painfully to try to prop up and extremely flimsy narrative.

 Skepticism of women was literally enshrined in the law; a woman’s testimony didn’t count in a Jewish court during Jesus’ time, scholars say.

“In the ancient world, women were thought to be credulous and gullible, especially in religious matters,” says Richard Bauckham, a theologian and author of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.” 

I have heard that women’s testimony was not considered admissible in court in the ancient world, at least in most matters. Though there are some conflicting accounts about that. In any case, you’ll excuse me if I don’t take your word for the reasoning behind that practice.

“In the second century, the pagan intellectual Celsus, who wrote a book against Christianity, says of the resurrection: ‘Who saw him — Just a poor fisherman and a hysterical woman.’ “

I notice no one is taking up the cause of working men being abused, looked down upon, mistreated, and so on. Nevertheless, what exactly does this prove? A second century pagan, attacking the faith, used dismissive and harsh language. What has that to do with anything? How much influence do you think Celsus had on Christian teaching?

This sexist subtext can even be seen in the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, since the traditional Easter story is told in the Gospels through the eyes of men.

            ‘Sexist subtext’? What sexist subtext? You haven’t established any sexist subject to the Gospels by noting the legal practices of the surrounding world and quoting someone speaking against them.

Also, the Gospels were written by men. Only one of them (John) is clearly told from any specific point of view at all, and it’s the view of the author. Are you saying that if something is written by a man or from a man’s point of view it, for that reason, has a ‘sexist subject’? If so, then ‘sexist’ has no meaning.

If Easter were an action movie, the men would have the juiciest parts. There’s the crafty villain Judas, who betrayed Jesus for a payday; the blustering Peter, whose bravado quickly melted when Jesus got arrested; and “Doubting Thomas,” who spoke for so many when he said he needed proof before he believed.

Are you really judging the central event of Salvation History, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ for redemption of souls, by the standards of an action movie? Not only that, but by the ‘how many of what kind of people get what lines’ standard that is too shallow to apply to action movies in the first place?

To answer you according to your folly, would you really be happier if the Gospels featured women doing the betraying, denying, and doubting while men by and large stood steadfastly by Him?

Also, the Gospels are more or less historical accounts: raising this point is like complaining that Shelby Foote’s account of the Battle of Gettysburg doesn’t provide very many interesting roles for women.

But a closer look shows that women are the real action “sheroes,” some pastors and scholars say.

Mangling words and displaying etymological ignorance is neither clever nor amusing. It just makes you sound like a child.

Also, we already have a word for female heroes: Heroines.

They were the ones who stood by a tormented Jesus hanging on a cross when the men had long fled in fear. And they were the ones Jesus first appeared to, not the men, all four Gospel accounts say.

Yes. That is very well known. It is regularly proclaimed publicly by every Christian denomination. Just about every piece of art depicting the Crucifixion shows this, as do the Stations of the Cross. This isn’t taking a ‘closer look,’ this is have basic knowledge of the subject.

Also, how does that fit into your implied ‘sexist subtext’ again?

“They were the last at the cross and the first to get the good news,” says Karla D. Zazueta, a discipleship leader at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, and a contributor to an anthology entitled, “Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible.”

The Bible, unsurprisingly, has no interest in sexual politics. The Gospels list the individuals who stayed by the Cross, regardless of sex, because the fact that they stayed is what mattered. Yes, the majority were women, but there was also St. John, Joseph of Arimathea, and Longinus the Centurion (though granted the latter two are a bit more ambiguous as to when they appeared and how long they stayed).

In any case, again, this is all very well known, commented on, and openly acknowledged. How is this remotely related to sexual harassment by male celebrities?

Yet they were the last ones the men believed, the Gospels make clear.

The Gospel accounts show that the men initially ignored the women’s declaration of a risen Jesus because, according to the Gospel of Luke, “their words seemed like nonsense.”

Yes, hearing someone say that they had seen someone they all knew to have been tortured and executed mere days before and whom they knew to be dead and buried, probably sounded like nonsense. Though, again, Peter and John at least went to see for themselves and still didn’t believe after seeing the empty tomb.

Moreover, St. Thomas, as you yourself noted only a few paragraphs ago, still didn’t believe even when the other ten Apostles – all men by the way – told them they had seen the Lord and touched him. There is no possible way you can spin this as sexism in action.

Some of the stories even take on the undertone of dark comedy.

The women tell a meeting of the disciples that Jesus has risen and the men ignore them. Men make the same declaration later and they are literally worshipped as saints. 

Are you kidding me? First of all, as I just said, men making the same declaration and with stronger evidence were still doubted by their own friend and companion. Second, Mary Magdalene and the other women are also worshiped as saints! How have you possibly missed that? Also, saying that ‘men make the same declaration and are worshipped as saints’ is a slight compression of the history of the nascent Church. Those same men, with miracles to back up their claim, were regularly beaten, arrested, thrown out of town, ordered to keep silent, and all but one of them was finally executed: hardly a matter of ‘of course men will be believed.’

And again, are you seriously trying to make the argument that the only reason anyone could have for questioning the story of a crucified man coming back from the dead is unthinking sexism? 

Jesus, though, didn’t have a problem sharing the stage with women, according to New Testament accounts. 

The Gospels are full of Jesus treating women in a way that would have scandalized his contemporaries. They were his travel companions and primary financial backers.

‘Primary financial backers’? Really?

Consider an obscure passage in Luke 8:1-4. It says Jesus and his 12 disciples were accompanied by women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna “and many others.” 

“These women were helping to support them out of their own means,” Luke says of the women.

What that means is that the women who travelled with Jesus basically kept house for Him and His disciples out of what they had. They weren’t ‘financial backers’ as if Jesus was running some kind of business enterprise. Nor is there any indication they were in any way His ‘primary’ means of support: we are not given any idea of the financial situation of Jesus and His followers, nor the relative amount provided by the women and the men. The assumption is more or less that those who followed Him brought along what money they had and made a kind of pool of it for their mutual support and that of the poor. Probably they accepted donations as well along the way. In any case, as they were all fairly low-class people it’s doubtful that anyone involved, least of all the women (you have already described how women did not have the same status as men in that time period), could be described as ‘primary financial backers.’

Once again, you are reading modern notions into the story in order to prop up your chosen narrative, without regard to either the time period, other possible readings of the accounts, or even other portions of your own essay.

A rabbi who traveled with and treated women as spiritual equals was unusual for a time when they were treated like second-class citizens, says Zazueta.

“He had a traveling seminary and he mentored women just as closely as his male disciples,” she says. “They were worthy of discipleship. You have this picture of Jesus traveling with a coed seminary that was supported by females with men and women learning and working together. He wasn’t following the rules of his time.” 

You’re making a big jump from “there were women who travelled with them and ministered to them” to “He mentored women just as closely as his male disciples” to “coed seminary.”

First of all, it’s not at all true that He mentored women just as closely as men: the Bible explicitly makes a distinction between His general disciples, which included women, and the picked Apostles, who were all men, and within those Apostles the chosen leaders of Peter, James, and John. Again, it’s a huge stretch to say His mission was ‘supported by females.’ You literally just told us that women were second-class citizens: do second-class citizens usually have the financial independence to be the primary backers of a ‘coed seminary’?

The Easter story itself doesn’t follow the rules of its time, Zazueta says. The Gospels make women the most important witnesses to the resurrection at a time when women were literally and legally ignored.

 “It’s a huge deal because it also gives credibility to the Gospel narrative,” Zazueta says. “No one who invented such a story would have invented a woman as a witness.”

Hey, look at that! A thousand words in and we have our first good point.

And of course the Gospels ‘don’t follow the rules of the time:’ they dealt with a unique figure and unique events. True religious accounts very rarely follow the ‘rules’ of their time. But didn’t you already say there was a ‘sexist subtext’ to the Gospels because men got all the juicy roles? Do you think the Gospels are sexist or not?

They pushed women into the shadows.

Alright, let’s deal with this: women throughout history have had different social roles than men, which were typically enforced by law. This was true of the ancient Middle East and Roman Empire. Women had their place, and within that context could command a fair degree of respect because, and this is the important thing, ancient minds did not see the world the same way we do. The idea that men and women should be treated the same or as equals would not have entered their heads. Nor would treating man and man as equals, for that matter. Their whole concept of the world and society, and their expectations from it, were different than ours. I’m not saying that was either a good thing or a bad thing: it is simply what was.

Women were not ‘pushed into the shadows’ any more than fishermen or carpenters were. Everyone had their place and their role in society, with relatively little leeway one way or another. Who do you think wielded more power and received more respect: Peter the Fisherman or Claudia the wife of Pontius Pilate? Matthew the Tax Collector or Herodias the wife of Herod?

But God cuts across that on a completely different level: His authority and His plans trump human social hierarchies and structures, which is why, as noted above, true religious events rarely follow the ‘rules’ of their time. Our social structures and relations, just or unjust, are always subordinate to the more fundamental reality of our relationship to God.

That is the takeaway here: not this feminist nonsense.

Here’s another peculiar feature of the Easter stories: They name many of the women who found the empty tomb of Jesus. In addition to Mary Magdalene, they name Joanna; Salome; Mary, the mother of James; “and the others with them.”

 Naming women isn’t a feature of the New Testament, says Sahlin, the Texas Woman’s University professor.

So you give a list of the named women who were present at the empty tomb, then claim that naming women at all is unusual for the New Testament. This itself isn’t true, as we will see in a moment, but even if it were, what of it? Again, these are religiously-motivated historical accounts written in the first century: the evangelists would only cite the people they considered had played major roles in the events, and would only give names to anyone if they thought it important to do so. How is that relevant? The most you could say is that men writing divinely-inspired texts in first century Palestine did not have equal representation of the sexes as a top priority.

“Women’s roles have been downplayed in the New Testament,” she says. “When women are mentioned, they are often not named.”

To say that someone’s role in an event has been ‘downplayed,’ you have to have independent knowledge of what their role actually was. The Four Gospels and New Testament writings, together with Church tradition, are more or less the only detailed and reliable sources we have of these events. What evidence do you have that women were, in fact, more involved in the events of Christ’s ministry and Passion, but were ‘downplayed’ by the evangelists? Based on what sources?

You can’t just make a statement like that and then say you are sure it was true because it flatters your preconceived notions.

What I think you are trying to say is “based on some allusions the evangelists couldn’t help but make, we can deduce that there was far more going on that they declined to mention.” Now, it is entirely reasonable to attempt to deduce what the evangelists left out in terms of people, events, and motivations: Scripture was never intended to be the sum-total of revelation and must be interpreted. But here’s the trouble: you still have to prove your case from either Scripture or Church Tradition or from other sources. Thus we can reasonably deduce the motives for both Caiaphas and Pilate on Good Friday from our knowledge of the surrounding history: Caiaphas fears a Roman crackdown, Pilate fears an uprising. Both also are seeking an advantage over the other. This isn’t directly mentioned in the Gospels, but we may reasonably infer it based on our knowledge of the time.

But what you and your ‘scholars’ are doing are cherry-picking certain passages and claiming that they indicate a highly unlikely situation for which there is not the smallest independent evidence, would be contrary to the normal practices and basic assumptions of the time, and which requires you to impute evil motives to the evangelists, all in the service of prejudices that happen to be in fashion twenty centuries after the event.

Consider some of the most famous New Testament stories. We know the names of many of the men Jesus encountered during his itinerant ministry: Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector; Jairus, the heartbroken synagogue ruler; and Nicodemus, the inquisitive Pharisee.

The man born blind. The man possessed by Legion. The man stricken with palsy. The leper. The repentant thief. The centurion. The other centurion.

But the Gospels name virtually none of the women Jesus encountered. They are instead identified by descriptions such as “the woman with the issue of blood,” “the Samaritan women at the well” and the “woman caught in adultery.”

Mary Magdalene, Anna the prophetess, Elizabeth the wife of Zechariah, Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus, Herodias the wife of Herod and Salome his daughter, the women you yourself just listed as being named.

Not to mention St. Veronica, who is not mentioned in the New Testament, but is part of Church Tradition. If the aim were to obscure the role of women, why would the Church add roles for women in her accounts of the events?

Also, the notion of the Church ‘downplaying the role of women’ is kind of ridiculous when you consider the Blessed Virgin. Whatever could be said about the Church’s teachings about Mary’s role in salvation history, ‘downplayed’ is not the word that comes to mind.

What does this have to do with the #MeToo movement?

You mean your misstating your case and utterly failing to acknowledge contrary evidence or alternative interpretations to make an extremely flimsy point?

One of the difficulties some women face when they come forward today is their tormentors have names, but they don’t. Many of them suffered in silence for years because their tormentors had name recognition and wealth. And some of those men used that imbalance of power to intimidate the women into silence.

Just to be clear, you are citing the writing conventions of first century Palestine as being somehow the same thing as Hollywood producers making or breaking careers for sexual favors. In what universe are these things even remotely related? Your case is that (you say) few women are directly named in the Gospel accounts; some women who have been harassed and abused are less prominent and well-known than the men who abused them. Ergo it is part of the same pattern.

Good God; the Riddler’s puzzles on the Adam West Batman show were more logical than that!

Some men in contemporary churches are accused of similar behavior. Andy Savage resigned from his Memphis megachurch this year after revealing he had assaulted a teenage girl in his youth group decades ago. Rob Porter, a Mormon, resigned as a top aide to President Trump after two ex-wives accused him of abusing them. The incidents left many churches wondering whether they needed a #MeToo movement as well.

Why is this here? I don’t know anything about these cases and have no opinion one way or another, but why bring this up? What does this have to do with anything? How does this connect in any way to the point you were attempting to make about names? I mean, that was a stupid and ill-founded digression too, but at least there was a transition from one subject to the next.

I think I know why this is here; it is insinuation, suggesting that sexual abuse, subtly encoded in the Gospel (really, you need to decide whether you think the Gospels are sexist or not and stick to it: you have gone back and forth on that point about three times so far), rears it’s ugly head in present churches.

We’ll come back to that.

The early church fathers used an imbalance of power to silence the women of Easter and other charismatic women in the New Testament, some biblical scholars say.

You haven’t read any of the Church Fathers, have you? Again, publicly quoting the women of the New Testament every single year and holding them up as shining examples of Faith is a strange way of silencing them. What on Earth are you even talking about? And again, where is your grounds for calling these women ‘charismatic’? What scripture passage or pious tradition or comment by the Father’s gives you grounds for describing them thus? Do you even know what that word means, or does it just correspond to ‘good’ in your mind?

“When the New Testament was edited and canonized, women’s voices like Mary Magdalene were suppressed,” Sahlin says. “The New Testament, however, offers clues to women’s leadership roles. Women served as prophets, benefactors and as missionaries in the early Christian movement.”

Again, what are you basing that on? What independent evidence shows that women originally played a larger and (to you) more palatable role that was then suppressed?

I keep saying this because you keep bringing it up, but all four Gospels state that women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection. You yourself have cited this fact several times; how can you argue the New Testament silences women while citing passages where it quotes and honors women? You make a baseless claim that the New Testament authors and compilers downplayed the role of women, then as evidence to your claim cite passages in the New Testament praising women. You are literally disproving your case as you make it.

Yes, women were heavily involved in the Early Church. And the Ancient, Medieval, Post-Reformation, and Modern Church. That doesn’t mean they adopted roles you would find inspiring, or were some kind of proto-feminist prophets preaching the equality of the sexes because, again, the Ancient World didn’t think like that.

Christians often hear sermons about prominent men in the New Testament: the Twelve Apostles, Stephen the martyr, men such as Barnabas and Timothy who risked their lives alongside the Apostle Paul. But how many people have heard sermons about female leaders in the early church such as Priscilla, a teacher of the Gospel who was so dynamic that her name was often listed before her husband’s when they were mentioned?

Probably quite a few people. Just as quite a few people have heard sermons about Mary Magdalene, Martha, the women at the tomb, St. Veronica, the numerous female martyrs and preachers of the early Church, and so on. In any case, how would you know? Have you made a survey of notable Christian sermons on the Saints and found that men are clearly celebrated more than women, or noted clear differences in the worship offered to male versus female saints, or made anything even remotely resembling an attempt to actually research and understand your subject?

This is a form of argument which I admit I myself have been guilty of in the past: you throw out a broad statement about what ‘generally happens’ and hope that your audience fills in the evidence for you. It only works if what you are describing is so obvious and commonplace that you can reasonably expect people to have examples (e.g. C.S. Lewis’s opening shot in Mere Christianity: ‘Everyone has heard people quarreling’).

Only in this case, rather than alluding to something everyone might be expected to have noticed, the author is speaking about what people he very clearly does not associate with might generally hear in places he doesn’t frequent. Honestly, based on my own experience and what I’ve heard from others, most Christians these days probably don’t hear many sermons about any Saint, let alone the more obscure ones glanced over in the New Testament: it’s more likely to be anecdotes about being nice and tolerant to other people.

And yes, the Twelve Apostles, the first martyr, and the companions of Paul are slightly more important to Church history and prominent in the New Testament than a woman who was mentioned a handful of times in passing. She is still honored as a Saint (along with her husband, whom you pass over so casually).

Or how many people know about Phoebe, whom the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 16:1-2 as a “deacon” in the early church and a “benefactor of many people, including me,” according to some biblical translations?

Again, someone mentioned at the tail end of a letter hardly stands out as a major figure in the Faith. I don’t mean any disrespect to these Saints, but I doubt they would take offense at the statement that ‘Barnabas and Timothy are rather more important figures in the Church than Phoebe and Priscilla’ and I imagine they would be even more annoyed to see their names dragged through the mud like this.

And why do people continue saying there were 12 male Apostles when Paul himself says in Romans 16:7 that “Junia,” a woman, is an Apostle, asks Bauckham, author of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”

Why do people say there were twelve male Apostles? Because all four of the Gospels explicitly state that Jesus singled out these twelve men as His particular disciples and lists them by name.

‘Apostle’ is a word with a few different meanings. It chiefly refers to those twelve close companions chosen by Jesus, but in the very early Church it also referred to anyone who had seen the Risen Lord or associated closely with those who had (the Didache gives instructions on how to receive such people), and throughout Church history it has been used to refer to those who were especially zealous and effective in spreading the faith. St. Patrick, for instance, is called ‘the Apostle of Ireland.’ By your logic that would apparently be proof that he had exactly the same authority as St. Peter.

Though since you seem unaware of what ‘charismatic’ means and seem to think ‘scandal’ as used by Paul is the same as ‘scandal’ as used by ‘People,’ I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that you’re not exactly the best person to parse out the various meanings of ‘apostle.’

By the way, what does this list of notable female disciples do your claim that ‘the New Testament generally doesn’t name women’ and ‘downplays the role of women’?

“Paul has no problem calling her that,” Bauckham says. “In the passage, Paul says of Junia that she was ‘outstanding among the Apostles'” and was “in Christ before I was.”

But how can that Paul — who celebrated women as Apostles and declared in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither “male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” — be reconciled with the Paul who says in other parts of the New Testament that “women should remain silent in churches” and that if they had a question “they should ask their own husbands at home”?

Because he was talking on different subjects, to different audiences, and in different contexts. Because, yet again, people saw the world differently back then.

That’s because they’re not the same Paul, says John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar and co-author with his wife, Sarah Crossan, of “Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision.”

Ah, what I call the ‘fan-fiction’ approach to Biblical studies. If you don’t like any particular passage, make up a story about how it wasn’t actually said by Jesus or written by Paul, but inserted afterwards by interested parties. That way you don’t have to expand any mental effort in reconciling the two, or be troubled with the possibility that you may have to adjust your own opinions.

Here’s a thought: how do you know the passages you like weren’t the spurious ones? Maybe Paul wrote the passages regarding marital relations and faceless female radical wrote the “neither male nor female” passage under his name. I mean, if you’re going to create head-canon to justify jettisoning any part of the New Testament that doesn’t correspond with your own personal views, whose to say your jettisoning the right parts?

Most biblical scholars don’t think Paul actually wrote all the letters attributed to him in the New Testament, Crossan says. Some New Testament passages in which Paul denigrates women were actually inserted later by male church leaders threatened by Paul’s radically inclusive vision, Crossan says.

I’m sure he has strong textual and historical evidence, including accounts of the editing process, counsels in which the Church debated the spurious passages, citations from Church Fathers who doubted the authenticity of these passages, and so on. Right?

Scholars can make that determination because the theology and writing style is so markedly different in some of Paul’s New Testament letters, Crossan says.

Funny how the Church Fathers, who spoke the same language, shared many of the same cultural assumptions, and lived in roughly the same milieu don’t seem to have noticed this, but modern scholars working from points of view Paul would never have imagined have, and wonder of wonders, Paul’s actual teaching is more or less the same as what those modern scholars already believed.

Also, note the implication that, as far as the Church Fathers were concerned (those same Church Fathers who regularly ended up crucified, beheaded, fed the lions, and so on), maintaining the deposit of faith was less important than ensuring uppity women got no funny ideas. That was their chief priority, for which they were so willing to doctor the words of Apostles and Evangelists that not one of them voiced the slightest objection.

“It’s like someone producing a letter by someone saying that MLK said, ‘If this nonviolent thing doesn’t work, we can go for the guns,'” Crossan says.

And if someone did that, do you really think no one, including those most dedicated to spreading Dr. King’s teachings and continuing his work, would question it for two thousand years until some daring scholar, working in a completely different culture and language and off of completely different assumptions, pointed out that it was noticeably different from the rest of Dr. King’s writings?

This pattern of powerful men erasing the names and voices of women caused the early Christian church to retreat from the powerful witness of many charismatic female leaders, Sahlin says.

Yet again, you are repeating the same made-up fantasy narrative that you yourself have repeatedly undermined and for which you have not given a scintilla of evidence. Now let me ask; who in the Early Church, specifically did this? Ignatius? Irenaeus? Justin? Clement? Hippolytus? Did any of them say anything about silencing female voices, silencing female disciples, keeping female missionaries quiet or subdued, or eliminating passages dealing with female figures?

For goodness sakes, it’s not like we don’t have any records from this time period! If you’re going to claim this, you have to provide a scintilla of evidence beyond “it would be convenient to my feelings if it had been there, ergo it has been taken out for evil reasons.”

“Sociologists tell us that when new religious movements start, women and others who may be marginalized in society often assume new leadership roles,” she says. “But as the religious movement becomes more institutionalized, women tend to fall back or are pushed back into the shadows.”

Oh, well if sociologists (all sociologists? Some? Most? One?) tell us that, it settles everything! Sociology is, as you know, a most rigorous, objective, and exact science not at all given to being swayed by personal or political views.

Also, the abbesses of the Middle Ages, St. Scholastica, St. Catherine, St. Theresa, and so on would be surprised to know that, not to mention St. Catherine, the patron of philosophers, the account of whose life, by the way, had her defeating multiple male philosophers in debate at once. One more instance of the Church ‘downplaying the role of women.’

On that subject, here’s an interesting side note: we have a letter from St. Jerome – the man who translated the Bible into Latin – advising a female correspondent how best to teach her daughter to read. Yes, it really sounds like the Church Fathers were eager to keep women down.

Discrediting women by calling them bad girls

This should be good.

In the #MeToo movement, some women are ignored, others are pushed into the shadows and still others are discredited as loose women who are the source of their own folly.

Most, it seems, are lauded and hailed as heroes, end up on the cover of ‘Time’ and are generally given a pass for sitting on the information for years and years while other women were abused. Seriously, did I miss something? Since when are the whistleblowers of sex abuse being ignored, discredited, etc.? The only times that seems to really happen is when their stories are so absurdly trivial that not even the most virulent feminist can defend them.

Mary Magdalene suffered all three treatments, some scholars say — including a smear campaign that has lasted nearly 2,000 years. 

Yes, the smear campaign of citing her as one of the greatest of Saints, being held up as the shining example of the repentant sinner, being the patron of innumerable churches, religious orders, etc. and the subject of reams and reams of gorgeous religious art.

Your narrative isn’t just unlikely; it is blatantly contradicted by very obvious and easy to find facts. It’s as if you’re claiming Benjamin Franklin has been smeared, downplayed, and ignored by the American public because he was an abolitionist: the whole foundation of your case simply does not exist.

Most people know her as a reformed harlot. That’s how she’s been portrayed over the centuries in books and sermons, and in movies like “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and more recently, “Risen.”

But Mary Magdalene was never once described as a prostitute when mentioned in the Bible. She is instead portrayed as one of Jesus’ most steadfast disciples, someone who financially supported him and was called the “Apostle to the Apostles” by early church leaders because she brought the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the 12 disciples.

Let’s address the question of St. Mary being a reformed prostitute. It is true she is never described as such in the Bible: when she is mentioned it is said Christ “drove seven demons out of her.” Now, that could mean a few things, the most obvious being that He drove seven demons out of her (I note you don’t bring that up). However, there is a strong tradition of regarding her as one and the same with Mary the sister of Lazarus, who is identified in John as the woman who anointed Jesus with the alabaster jar of ointment, and whom the other Gospels describe as being “a sinful woman.” Furthermore, the designation ‘Magdalene’ could either refer to her being from a certain region or come from a Talmudic expression for adulteress. Taking these passages together, many Church Fathers concluded she was a reformed prostitute (as we know Jesus had such women among His followers).

Though as a matter of fact, different Church traditions have differed on this point, and honestly either side could be defended. The Greek and Protestant Churches dispute it, while the Latin Churches have kept it.

Of course, the main point is that, for the purposes of sanctity or ‘reliability’ it doesn’t matter. You are talking as if Mary Magdalene’s being a repentant sinner was somehow contradictory to her being a devoted disciple and the herald of the Resurrection, which indicates you have absolutely no idea what Christianity even is.

The Church venerated St. Mary Magdalene in part because she was understood to be a penitent prostitute. Again, whether or not she was so in fact it is quite certain that there were repentant prostitutes and adulteresses among Jesus’s followers, as He is described on multiple occasions as keeping their company. St. Mary was more or less made the figurehead and type of these women, and as such has inspired thousands of women to abandon self-destructive and harmful lifestyles and thousands of men to overlook and forgive such transgressions over the past two millennia. In other words, you are holding up as an insult what was not only meant as a glorification, but which has done real, concrete good in the lives of countless women over the centuries.

(Note: No, it didn’t always play out like that for prostitutes, fallen women, etc. We are talking about quite literally millions of lives over countless different cultural milieus. The point is that, to the extent the image of St. Mary Magdalene the penitent whore had an effect on men’s actions, it was one entirely to the good of women, especially women who had transgressed moral norms).

Also, now you are saying early Church leaders – those same ones who tried to downplay the role of women? – hailed her as ‘Apostle to the Apostles.’ That’s about the tenth time you have contradicted your own argument, and it’s an incredibly simple argument!

Bauckham points to the resurrection story in John 20:18, when Mary Magdalene says, “I have seen the Lord!”

“What Mary says — ‘I have seen the Lord!’– is exactly what Paul says when he claims to be an Apostle: ‘Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?’ ”he says. “I think it means that Mary Magdalene was regarded in the early Christian movement as an Apostle.”

See above regarding ‘apostle.’ For goodness sakes, people, there is a list of the twelve who were set apart by Christ to be Apostles in all of the Gospels: this is not a difficult distinction to make.

Mary Magdalene’s spiritual authority, though, was gradually downplayed. By the fourth century, Gnostic texts depicting her spiritual leadership were deemed heretical and excluded from the New Testament canon, says Sahlin.

Aha! The Gnostic Gospels! Had to get to those, didn’t we, since every time a modern scholar talks about the early Church the narrative seems to be ‘enlightened Gnostics pushed aside by evil orthodox,’ though, it seems, without ever actually inquiring what those Gnostics taught.

Note the way it’s phrased, as if the ‘spiritual leadership’ of Mary Magdalene was the only reason they were deemed heretical. I suppose that’s why the Gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Andrew were condemned as well, to downplay their spiritual authority. Because the Church would of course want to downplay the authority of St. Peter.

And I’ve read the Gospel of Mary (it’s about two pages long in its current form and can be found here). It’s pretty much nonsensical gibberish. For instance:

 Then Peter said to him, “You have been explaining every topic to us; tell us one other thing. What is the sin of the world?”
The Savior replied, “There is no such thing as sin; rather you yourselves are what produces sin when you act in accordance with the nature of adultery, which is called ‘sin.’ For this reason, the Good came among you, pursuing (the good) which belongs to every nature. It will set it within its root.”

            Not to mention that Gnosticism was and is a very well known heretical sect, widespread and virulent, preaching that the body and material existence was evil and that magic is the path to escaping the accursed body. There was a lot of variety over time and place in the specifics, but to say the least the elevation and equal status of women was not a distinctive aspect of the Gnostic systems.

Though the Gospel of Mary does have the soul described as “human-killer and space-conqueror,” which is kind of awesome.

One of those heretical texts, The Gospel of Mary, portrays her as possessing deeper insight than the Apostle Peter. Whether the Gospel is historically accurate or not, it reveals tension over the role of women in the early Christian movement, Sahlin says.

No, it doesn’t, because the Gnostics were not part of the ‘early Christian movement.’ They were a separate and heretical group that may have predated Christianity and which in any case twisted Christian teachings into their own goofy cosmology. They split from the Church while the Apostles were still alive and were never considered a real Christian sect. Also, the Gnostics weren’t in favor of women’s leadership: if anything they were more hostile towards women than the orthodox (they hated the body). Once again, you are not going to get your preferred worldview out of the world of antiquity because it did not exist.

“We can read it as a historical witness to an actual conflict over women’s leadership in early Christianity,” she says. “We see in the texts Peter questioning Mary’s authority.”

And…this text was rejected by the Church in favor of the one where Peter listens to her account of the resurrection and rushes to see for himself. Besides which, you just cited this text as proof of St. Mary’s role in the early church (again, by citing the text of one of the early Church’s enemies), now you’re citing it as showing how she was ignored and put down?

There is nothing remotely historical about the accounts of the Gnostic Gospels. Quite apart from the fact that they were written well after the canonical ones, and by a sect hostile to the Church, the Gnostics would not have cared about historical accuracy. It was the ideas, the ‘hidden wisdom’ that rejected matter that interested them; our notion of historical accuracy, to the extent the idea itself existed at the time, would have been anathema to them. The account of Mary Magdalene delivering a visionary sermon in a Gnostic gospel and being questioned as to her worthiness by Peter has zero bearing on our historical knowledge of the Early Church.

The fact that you cite this as historical evidence, without regard to who and what the Gnostics were, is only one more proof that you started with your conclusion and have simply combed the record for anything that might conceivably be taken as supportive of it. In short, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Mary’s spiritual authority in the early church was further eroded in 591 when a powerful Pope depicted her as a reformed harlot.

See above regarding Mary Magdalene the reformed harlot. The idea that this in any way “eroded her spiritual authority” is nonsensical: you might as well claim that St. Luke was trying to undermine St. Paul’s authority by describing him in Acts as a persecutor of the Church, since that would have been considered far worse than being a reformed prostitute. Also you haven’t established that Mary’s spiritual authority in the Early Church was anything other than what is indicated in the New Testament. The closest thing to actual evidence to that regard is a piece of writing produced by the Church’s enemies, which uses her as a mouthpiece for their own non-Christian teachings, and which was written by people who would have had absolutely no concern for historical accuracy.

The writer James Carroll memorably described this ancient version of slut-shaming in a 2006 essay in Smithsonian magazine titled, “Who was Mary Magdalene?”

I don’t have time to go into the idiotic term ‘slut-shamming,’ except to say that it is part of the modern faith in the power of words: assign a bad-sounding phrase to a reality you don’t want to deal with and you will be able to dismiss it from your mind at will. Between that and the claims that Paul didn’t write the passages that don’t immediately appeal to modern sensibilities, there is a lot of wishful thinking going on here.

Yet again, you betray a complete lack of understanding of Christian belief if you consider being called a repentant sinner a form of ‘shaming.’ This is hardly difficult to find out. You would almost have to put more work into making that mistake than in actually learning the truth!

He recounts how Pope Gregory preached a series of sermons in which he described Mary Magdalene as a woman who used to “perfume her flesh in forbidden acts” and turned the “mass of her crimes to virtues.”

Gregory apparently confused and merged different women in the Gospels into the figure of Mary Magdalene, but his distorted picture took hold for centuries, Carroll says.

Note the supposition that St. Gregory ‘confused and merged’ different women in the Gospels. Because Pope St. Gregory the Great was obviously less well-versed in Scripture than ‘writer James Carroll.’

This is part of something I notice a lot whenever moderns of a certain type discuss the past: they always talk as if our ancestors were idiots or children: St. Gregory confused several different figures in the Gospels. The Church Fathers blindly accepted everything that bore the name of ‘Paul’ without considering the content. Everyone was concerned with maintaining their own unearned power over women. No one thought critically or were anything but blindly misogynistic until the glorious modern age.

It would be appallingly arrogant even if the minds on display weren’t so pathetically inferior to those they disparage.

Again, there are very cogent and convincing reasons for thinking these women were all the same figure, though one could argue otherwise. In any case, they’re all presented as positive figures and held up as examples, so the whole premise of this argument is simply and objectively false.

Citing a book by Susan Haskins, “Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor,” Carroll wrote:

“Thus Mary of Magdala, who began as a powerful woman at Jesus’ side, ‘became,’ in Haskins’ summary, ‘the redeemed whore and Christianity’s model of repentance, a manageable, controllable figure, and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.'”

‘Powerful woman’? What in the Gospel accounts makes you think that? The scene where she anoints his head, washes his feet in her tears and dries them with her hair in misery over her own sins? Her role is entirely humble and subservient to Christ, which is precisely why she is honored!

He describes ‘model of repentance’ as a ‘manageable, controllable figure and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.’ He seems to think these are one and the same.

I’m going to make an assumption here. I don’t like doing that, but I think it’s reasonable: his position is that Mary as a repentant sinner is ‘manageable’ because it coincides with the Church’s view of sexuality, which he sees as a means of controlling women and keeping them subservient. He is quoted in an article trying to link the Gospels to modern revelations that women have been being pressured and coerced into sexual favors by powerful men in order to further their careers.

So, if I am reading this right, the position is that Christian ideas of sexuality – either perpetual celibacy or unmitigated monogamy, though with mercy for those who fall and repent – are basically the same as or logically leads to the practice of men extorting sexual favors from women in exchange for career considerations, while what might be termed ‘progressive’ ideas of sexuality – that the moral character of sex is determined by the individual, that it is a source of individual power if applied correctly, and that it is healthy to engage in often and absent commitment – is contrary to said practice. That the former (i.e. advising women to be less sexually available, to resist the imputation of men even unto death, and that both sexes ought to practice continence) is a means of controlling women, and the latter (i.e. that they should be more sexually available, take steps to reduce the consequences of the act, and view sexuality as a commodity) is a means of liberation.

Again, I don’t have time to get into this properly right now, but how did this movement get spun as being good for women?

Also, I want to point out that these feminist scholars are twisting the records painfully and ignoring what these women actually said and did, all for the sake of presenting them as examples of the very narrow type of woman that they approve of. In other words, they are doing exactly what they falsely accuse the Church of doing: creating a single, narrowly defined role for women and either forcing women to conform to their own ideas or rejecting them as worthless, regardless of the actions, ideas, or words of the women themselves.

Meanwhile, the Church holds up and celebrates innumerable women of all classes, types, and personalities: St. Mary Magdalene is a very different figure from St. Priscilla, who is very different from St. Catherine, who is different from St. Scholastica. St. Joan of Arc, St. Hildegard, and St. Claire were all unique personalities who did drastically different things with their lives and are celebrated for their specific and individual actions.

You lump all women into one of two categories: those who fit your image of what a woman should be and those who don’t. You regard the former with patronizingly blind admiration and the latter with sneering contempt.

In short, it is feminists who are insulting towards women, treat women as lesser beings, and ignore the contribution of women unless it suits their own purposes. The Church treats them as human beings and individuals.

The intensity of the smear campaign against Mary Magdalene is revealing, says Crossan.

 The smear campaign to elevate her as one of the chief Saints of the Church.

“The nasty things said about her is proof that she’s important,” Crossan says. “You don’t bother in a patriarchal society to criticize women who are ‘in their place.’ The very fact that you have to do a hit job on her proves to me that she’s not a little member of the serving staff.”

What. The Heck. Are you TALKING ABOUT?! The Church isn’t ‘criticizing’ Mary Magdalene; she’s honoring her, just like she honors the Blessed Virgin and a thousand other female saints. You have created a strange sexual fantasy world in your head and are now trying to read everything, including the past, according to your own ideas, without any regard for what actually happened or what was thought and said. Again, the whole premise of this very silly argument rests on a bald and completely baseless assertion that the smallest familiarity with the Christian religion would show to be nonsense.

Using sexual humiliation as a weapon

It is perhaps the most difficult comparison between Easter Sunday and the #MeToo movement — what one scholar calls the sexual humiliation of Jesus.

In the hands of outlets like CNN, ‘scholar’ is starting to become synonymous with ‘dunce.’

The sexual humiliation of women is an integral part of what led to the #MeToo movement. Tales of women trapped alone with powerful men who forced them into sexually degrading acts are some of the most painful stories to hear.

Uh, some of the most painful stories to hear absolutely? This year? In this context? I’m not downplaying the subject, but that’s extremely sloppy writing.

Some of those same dynamics can be seen in the crucifixion of Jesus, says David Tombs, a theologian and professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

…Uh, no. No, none of the same dynamics of a woman being coerced into sexual favors by her boss or in exchange for career advancement are featured in a legal execution by torture. Apart from the fact that both may be described as very unpleasant, there is nothing to link the two. One involves men abusing a position of power to try to pressure a woman into degrading herself, the other involves the authorities decreeing that a man should be put to death by a particularly torturous and humiliating method. The one is coercive: do this and I do that, or do this or I do that. The other is simply authoritative: this is to be done to you.

Tombs points to a grim detail about Jesus’ death that most people avoid — he was most likely naked when he died on the cross, not covered with a loincloth.

Yes, everyone who has thought seriously on the subject knows that. It’s generally not depicted in religious art for reasons of custom and decorum, but it is sometimes. So what?

The Gospel accounts make that clear, he says. They describe Jesus as being stripped and exposed naked. In Matthew 27, the writer suggests Jesus is stripped three times. The same description is found in Mark 15. Jesus’ nakedness is perhaps clearest in John 19, which depicts soldiers taking Jesus’ undergarments to divide among themselves.

It just says ‘garments’ not undergarments. But once again, so what?

The Romans normally took away all the clothing of crucifixion victims, says Tombs.

“The biblical texts offer no suggestion that this was not also the case for Jesus,” Tombs says. “We don’t have photos of the crucifixion so we cannot tell with absolute certainty, but most scholars would say that Jesus was naked.”

Dwelling on Jesus’ nakedness would be inappropriate at any other time of the year, he says, but during Easter it’s important to know why the Romans stripped their victims.

It really wouldn’t be: Jesus was a man like any other. His nakedness is one way to contemplate that. Moreover, His being stripped of His garments is theologically important because it links Him with Adam, who was clothed by God and who was naked in the Garden before the Fall. Christ, the New Adam, is stripped of his garments before reversing the Fall.

“Exposing a prisoner was a powerful way to shame and stigmatize a male prisoner,” Tombs says. “It was an effective way to attack his identity as a male. It humiliated and undermined his sense of self.”

Nakedness and being stripped is a form of humiliation, yes. It’s not an ‘attack upon his identity as a male’ (why would exposing the male member be an attack upon the male identity? Castration would be, but not mere nakedness). You have drifted close to a rational idea, but have been derailed by the modern world’s adolescent preoccupation with sex, not to mention its inability to enter into the mindset of past ages.

Also, nakedness in the First Century wouldn’t have necessarily had the sexual connotations it has today (actually, nakedness as early as a couple generations ago wouldn’t necessarily have sexual connotations). Men went naked into the bath, into the gymnasium, and during sporting events. Baptism was generally performed naked. People of the time lived closer to nature than we typically do now and so would not have their minds immediately jump to sex the moment the private parts are exposed.

The practice of sexually humiliating prisoners or condemned people wasn’t confined to biblical times, Tombs says. It happens today. He cites the infamous photos of naked Iraqi prisoners stacked on top of one another like a pyramid by US soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison.

What does this have to do with anything? As noted, ‘nakedness’ does not equal ‘sexual humiliation’ when talking about the First Century. It involves humiliation, but the sexual dimension is unlikely to have been distinct in their minds.

You just wanted to fit in a gratuitous swipe at the US, and this seemed the only opportunity, didn’t you?

Also, do you really need to specify that humiliating or even sexually humiliating people wasn’t confined to Biblical times? That is what is called ‘talking down to the audience.’

Jesus’ nudity was not incidental, Tombs says: It was sexual humiliation.

In a paper titled, “Crucifixion, State Terror and Sexual Abuse,” he explained why

“In a patriarchal society in which men competed against each other to display virility in terms of sexual power over others, the public display of the naked victim by the ‘victors’ in front of onlookers and passers-by carries the message of sexual domination.

Yet again, you are reading modern ideas into an ancient setting, mixed up with a lot of silly nonsense about ‘patriarchal societies’ blended with Freudian stupidity. You are simply reading your own prejudices and assumptions in barely-understood accounts of a world you lack the humility to begin to understand.

“The cross held up the victim for display as someone who had been — at least metaphorically — emasculated.”

While the idea of seeing Jesus as a victim of sexual humiliation is “deeply distressing” to many Christians, Tombs says, it’s important at least during Easter to remember the historical reality.

Your personal interpretation, reading contemporary notions onto the ancient past, is not the ‘historical reality.’

Your whole point is ‘Christ was crucified and scourged naked, ergo He was sexually assaulted.’ In the first place, your notion that this fact is somehow a revelation shows that you have not made any kind of a study of this subject. In the second, you imposing a category – sexual humiliation – that probably wouldn’t have been present in the minds of the ancient world. They did not have our view of sexuality as a distinct subject, and certainly not our idea of sexual assault as a distinct crime. Christ’s nakedness would not have struck the people present under the category.

This is another aspect of modernity; the assumption that the categories by which we group ideas are somehow objective reality that we have found out scientifically, rather than modes of speaking. Thus this man is trying to make the case that being stripped naked prior to execution is objectively a form of sexual assault, without consideration of how the ancient world would have seen it or whether our own categories of the subject could be understood differently.

Doing so could even deepen the meaning of the Easter message, he says.

Making a shallow and dubious connection to present preoccupations would ‘deepen’ the meaning of the Resurrection of Christ. Yet again we have the insufferable arrogance of the modern mind on display.

It would show a God who could identify with victims of sexual abuse and torture. It would reveal a God “who is in real solidarity with the powerless and suffers the worst evils of the world.”

Are you really suggesting that if Christ’s Passion and Death didn’t directly involve a certain kind of suffering, that means He’s not in sympathy with those who undergo it?

Honestly, though, if someone who suffered sexual assault found it helpful to think of Christ’s nakedness in this light, that’d be fine. There are no coincidences in revelation, so viewing it through that light isn’t necessarily wrong. Claiming it as part of the historical record and trying to hold it up as a means to make the Passion of Christ somehow more relevant to the modern world is.

As for the ‘worst evils in the world:’ again, not downplaying what they went through, but ask one of the ‘MeToo’ women whether they’d rather go through their assault a second time or be scourged and crucified. This implication that God is not “in real solidarity with the powerless” unless we identify Him as a victim of sexual abuse by assuming contemporary standards when examining the ancient world is…well, typical of this piece. Shallow, ignorant, and ridiculously parochial.

“This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record,” Tombs says.

            The historical record doesn’t need to be corrected as to the fact that crucifixion was done naked. If you think it does, that indicates that your idea of the ‘historical record’ consists of vague collections of religious art and movies.

“If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse, it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo and how they promote change in wider society.”

Here we have the common progressive tactic of thinking that if we can somehow claim X figure as fitting this designation, that will pressure people to come around to our point of view on the subject. Because that is obviously the main point, and ‘promoting change in wider society’ is the chief good. It could be called ‘parasite advocacy.’

You think the Church doesn’t know anything about sexual abuse? You think she doesn’t have saints, martyrs, and historical figures who were victims of it, that she has no notion of what it entails and the wrongness of it? You’re not at all familiar with The City of God, St. Maria Goretti, the story of Susannah in Daniel or any other such things? You think your Twitter advocacy movement is the first time this sort of thing has come to light?

If linking the Easter story with the #MeToo movement is offensive and bewildering to some, perhaps that is fitting.

 The Easter stories in the Gospels have a jarring, unexpected quality about them as well. Some end abruptly; in others, Jesus appears next to disciples who somehow can’t recognize him. One ends with two men saying their hearts “were burning within” after talking to the risen Jesus.     

            So, your claim is that ‘the story of Christ’s resurrection is often strange and unexpected; therefore any nonsense I want to say about it must be equally true and meaningful.’

 The stories are enigmatic and elusive. They continue to yield surprises even 2,000 years later. They are, in some ways, much like the figure of Jesus himself.

Wow, this was an incredibly bad piece. I didn’t expect much from CNN, but this didn’t even attempt a coherent argument. It started with the ‘Easter is like #MeToo’ and then threw down anything and everything that might possibly link the two subjects, even when they contradicted one another (how many times did the author go back and forth whether the New Testament was sexist or not?).

Far from offering an insight into Christian belief, the author, as well as the ‘scholars’ he quoted, seemed to not even understand the most basic tenets of the faith, such as the nature of sin and repentance. They appeared to be so wrapped up in their own favorite causes as to be incapable of understanding anything outside of them, so they see everything through that lens in the most shallow and ignorant way, while talking disparagingly about Saints and men of genius.

The thing is, you could read accounts of sexual assault in light of the Passion of Christ, and people have. Christ on the cross suffering in pain and humiliation along with women who have suffered and been humiliated by assault. But that would require a degree of abstract thought, the ability to set parochial concerns aside and address universal ideas, and the author and the scholars he cites seem incapable of doing so. Even the guy who attempted to make the connection could only come up with the blunt and obvious fact of nakedness, as if that were the key connecting factor. Instead, they just threw out a lot of ridiculous feminist talking points relating to a subject they clearly have no knowledge or understanding of.

The premise was extraordinarily weak and the ‘evidence’ given to support it was either cherry-picked (e.g. the claim that women weren’t often named in the New Testament, requiring us to ignore all the ones who were) or simply made up out of nothing (e.g. the repeated assumption that Mary Magdalene was a charismatic leader of the Early Church). Even then, the author kept undermining it by either citing conflicting examples (again, after claiming few women were named in the New Testament he brings up various the women cited by name as proof that they were major figures in the early Church) or by using the very sources he claims to be discrediting as evidence. Add in a dose of pro-Gnostic silliness, the ‘I don’t like this so it wasn’t real’ brand of Biblical scholarship, and a touch of amateur Freudianism, all presented without the smallest attempt to understand any kind of pre-modern mindset, and you have an essay that is quite simply waste paper.

It was so stupid that is was kind of surreal; the assumption that the Apostles only doubted the reports of the Resurrection because of sexism, the idea that Mary Magdalene has been looked down upon and attacked by the Church, or that her having been a prostitute was somehow incompatible with her having been the first witness of the Resurrection. Major portions of this essay only make sense if you literally have no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever.

CNN, ladies and gentlemen! The people you get your news from thought this was insightful commentary.

Columbus Day

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now we must pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Adm’r’l speak: what shall I say?”
“Why, say: ‘Sail on, sail on, and on!'”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly, wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Adm’r’l, say,
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day:
‘Sail on, sail on, sail on, and on!”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
For God from those dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Adm’r’l, speak and say—
He said: “Sail on, sail on, and on!”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
He lifts his teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Adm’r’l, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on, sail on, sail on, and on!”

Then pale and worn, he paced the deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
A light! A light! At last a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: On! sail on!”

-Columbus, Joaquin Miller

 

I’m a little late on this, but oh, well.

There are actually very few people in history who can be said to have ‘changed the world.’ Most of the time great achievements are not as singular as we think looking back. If the Wright Brothers, for instance, had never lived, mankind still would have discovered flight; there were other inventors working on the problem at the time. They were just the first ones to crack it.

On the other hand, Columbus is a man who genuinely changed the world, in that, as far as I know, there was no one else at the time who was even considering doing what he did. It required a special combination of brilliance, selective ignorance, zeal, and unbounded courage to pull off. Brilliance because he had to have the navigational knowledge and understanding to chart the fastest possible course across the unknown ocean (he made the voyage in five weeks). Ignorance because he had to think he could actually reach Asia, an idea he only had based on miscalculating the size of the globe, as many of his contemporary critics tried to point out to him. Zeal because he had to spend most of his life trying to find backing for his voyage. He was over forty when he finally made it. And courage because he had to venture into the unknown, with no guarantee that he would find anything. His ships could only carry so much supplies, and if there was nothing to find it was entirely in the cards that by the time they turned back they wouldn’t have enough to make it home.

As for his accused crimes, I personally don’t know enough about him to say one way or another, except that accusations of genocide are obviously grotesquely exaggerated (‘genocide,’ like ‘homicide’ implies intent, and it’d take a lot to convince me Columbus or really any of the old explorers intended to exterminate the native races. Christianizing them would have been more fitting to their views). Nor can Columbus be blamed for introducing slavery to the New World; not only was he not personally responsible for the slave trade, but slavery already existed as a flourishing trade among the native peoples.

In any case, an important thing to remember about history is that most people are horrible in one way or another; you can’t expect real people living in distant ages to act in ways entirely pleasing to the modern mind. Besides which, even if the worst said about him is true, that doesn’t take away his accomplishment. He discovered the New World and opened it up to European civilization, leading to the settling, civilizing, and Christianizing of two continents. That’s a unique achievement and those of us who benefit from it (i.e. everyone on those said continents) owe him a debt.

By the way, some people try to pull the ‘he didn’t discover it; there were people there.’ For the purposes of human history, it was undiscovered. The pre-columbian American continents are black holes with flashes of light, mostly in the form of artifacts (i.e. unreadable to any but a civilized mind). As far as human civilization was concerned, they went nowhere and did nothing. I’m sure someone will call this ‘Euro-centrism,’ but it isn’t; the existence of the American continents was equally unknown and irrelevant to China, Japan, India, and the Islamic world before 1492. Historically speaking, Columbus shone a spotlight on about a third of the planet that had spent the whole of the preceding story of mankind in darkness.

In short, Columbus is a towering figure in history and, despite his failings and cruelties, deserves to be honored for the great contribution he made to human knowledge and civilization, and for the example of perseverance, courage, and magnanimity he displayed.

It is true [The Church] reserves her special and greatest honours for virtues that most signally proclaim a high morality, for these are directly associated with the salvation of souls; but she does not, therefore, despise or lightly estimate virtues of other kinds. On the contrary, she has ever highly favoured and held in honour those who have deserved well of men in civil society, and have thus attained a lasting name among posterity. 

-Pope Leo XIII

My Imperialism

I like to describe myself as an imperialist, or at least as having imperialist sympathies. That’s admittedly a bit of an exaggeration, but is certainly true relative to most of my contemporaries, if only because I don’t automatically equate ‘colonialism’ and ’empire-building’ with ‘evil.’ My admittedly-limited knowledge of history tells me that the world is at its safest and most prosperous when one or two large ruling powers of high culture exert dominance over most of the world. Nor am I much moved by talk about it not being ‘their land.’ For the vast majority of mankind, who is ruling them matters much less than how they are ruled, and, especially, how much they’re left alone. If an imperial power rules a certain region, and in so doing largely leaves the locals to manage their own affairs while shielding them from invaders, preventing local rivalries from boiling over into violence, and linking them up with a prosperous economic system, I don’t see how that can be considered a worse state of affairs as far as the local populace is concerned than that region being left to govern itself, fight off its own enemies, deal with its own inner rivalries, and sift for itself in the global economy.

(On the subject of this kind of benign neglect, I remember reading about a survey conducted after the British departure from India where some people travelled around to see what the rural villages and farming communities thought of the British departure. The most common response was ‘who are the British?’).

Now, I’m not discounting the great evils done by the various colonial empires, but we should note that in most cases the alternative was not ‘brutal dominance by Western powers’ and ‘free and happy independence.’ The alternative is more ‘brutal dominance by Western powers’ and ‘brutal dominance by the nearest powerful neighbor’ or ‘brutal dominance by local ruler, with accompanying sectarian violence, probably soon to be followed by dominance by nearest powerful neighbor.’ Whatever the flaws of the Western powers, they at least had the temporizing influence of civilized and Christian values that might conceivably restrain them.

I also note that, at least as far as the British Empire is concerned, the two main counter-arguments to British rule – Ireland and America – were instances where they did not practice the kind of benign neglect that they generally employed elsewhere. And there are other issues there (i.e. the religious question in Ireland), but that’s for another time.

In any case, I think there are serious arguments in favor of western imperialism. Actually, I think it would be more justified today than it was in its heyday (since today, unrest in one region can lead to violence and humanitarian crises on the other side of the world), but that hardly matters, since it’s not coming back any time soon. Mostly this was all just a long intro to the following video, which is a summation of the positive effects of the British Empire. It’s a little over-sunny, but since most people today tend towards the opposite extreme I’m not going to knock it for that. Enjoy!