The Curmudgeon


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 25 i-xiii, Mark 2 xvii-xx

Jesus tells a parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to ten young women waiting with their lamps to attend a marriage feast. Despite his omnipotence, the bridegroom is unavoidably detained until midnight, and the girls become drowsy and fall asleep. When the bridegroom finally appears, the five who have taken no thought for the morrow are running low on oil for their lamps, while the five who are destined for the kingdom of heaven virtuously refuse to share. Those who are short of oil have to go and buy more; when they return the bridegroom disowns them and they are barred from the feast.

Jesus explicitly identifies Himself as a bridegroom in the gospel of Mark, when He is asked why His disciples are not fasting like the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus responds by comparing His disciples to wedding guests feasting in the bridegroom's presence, and says that their feasting will end once the bridegroom has left. He continues with the famous analogy of new wine in old wineskins, proclaiming the rupture of accepted custom in the face of His Father's imminent and joyful bonfire of the sinners.

Marriage in Biblical society was essentially a business arrangement between families, and the bridegroom's relationship with the bride was one of legal ownership. The law of Moses (Exodus 20 xvii) lists the wife as an item of property alongside the house, the slaves, the beasts of burden and any other thing that may belong to a neighbour. One cannot covet a neighbour's parents, brother or son, let alone husband; anyone worthy of being loved as oneself is by definition male, heterosexual, and an owner of property whose possessions include his bride. In accordance with the arbitrarily punitive kingdom implied by His parable of the ten young women, the Saviour's identification of Himself as a bridegroom is not the declaration of a lover's commitment, but the assertion of a slave-holder's rights.


  • At 7:01 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This is a disturbingly perspicacious reading of a Bible Story™ that I've mostly seen interpreted as a moderately romantic fable about spiritual preparedness and the intense degree to which Jesus adores his faithful babbies — he loves them so much he wants to marry them!

    It also casts shit sex fantasies like 50 Shades of Grey (and literally every other pathetic middle-American heterosexual sex fantasy), in which women are utterly possessed and unmade by their men, in a chilling and unfeminist light.

    Unbelievers ritually accuse Christianity of being patriarchal and anti-equality in all things, but I don't think anybody really realizes the depths of toxicity inherent in the entire religious worldview. I know I certainly didn't.

    This is Emma, by the way. I'm mobile and I can't remember my Google password.

  • At 3:47 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    I can't say I've ever thought of Fifty Shades in a religious context before (or thought much of it in any context), but given the pre-eminence of Holy Lucre in the prevailing orthodoxy, perhaps I have been guilty of an oversight. The equating of sex with possession is no doubt a reassuring throwback to those heady Victorian days when the two were literally synonymous; but I'm afraid I haven't plumbed the profundities of E L James' prose beyond that.

    Most religious people seem to get around the toxicity either by not reading their Bible (e.g. the Pope) or else by reasoning backwards: "I am a liberal feminist; Jesus loves me; therefore Jesus was a liberal feminist." No doubt the poison in the Gospels (to say nothing of the Apocalypse-that-wasn't) was part of the reason why the Pauline church, growing up in the less rabidly fundamentalist Greek-speaking diaspora, largely threw out the teachings and concentrated on the resurrection.

    Google is a pain in the arse at the moment. I signed in from a different computer a week ago, and I'm still getting warned about it every time I log on to Blogger.

  • At 5:01 pm , Blogger Emma said...

    I tried to read Fifty years ago, because "sex-positive feminism" hooray!, but it was offensively awful and I couldn't do it. I can understand being possessed by the demons of sexual passion, I guess; I cannot grasp why a woman would want to engage (even hypothetically) in a pantomime of violent marital rape and literal, actual, non-political objectification. I think Biblical attitudes about gender and sex are a little more persistent than hysterical Evangelicals realize.

    else by reasoning backwards
    Or else by not reasoning at all, I think. I have actually seen real live Christians talk about this particular Biblical passage, in person, and none of them were any more capable of understanding its contexts or message than a duck is capable of flying the space shuttle. I'd like to say this is because Christians are naturally stupid, but I am not and have never been religious and I probably wouldn't have made a more impressive showing. Unlike most Christians, though, I am capable of grasping the significance of my own intellectual failures and trying to improve my odds in the future.

    Google is a pain in the arse at the moment
    I just switched from macOS to Linux, and Google is treating me like I joined a cult — supportive, but disapproving.

  • At 10:55 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    Those Biblical attitudes probably didn't start with the Bible. One of the non-canonical gospels has Jesus promoting Mary Magdalene to "male" status, and I've seen it argued that the historical Paul (as opposed to the forged, redacted and sock-puppeted Paul of the New Testament) recognised women as legitimate priests and prophets. Presumably it was when one particularly conservative and brutal sect made its devil's bargain with the Roman Empire that the traditional roles were forcibly reasserted.


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