Christian bigots as well as critics who despise Christian bigotry often use Paul's Curse as set forth in his angry letter to the Galatians in Asia Minor to prove that Christian doctrine provides that everyone who does not believe in Christian dogma will be damned to hell.
Paul repeated the curse for good effect: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be eternally condemned."
Bigots and their critics have taken Paul's Curse out of context; they must look elsewhere for expressions of the hateful By Goddery they love or hate.
First of all, we notice that Paul's Curse is placed on preachers and not on their audience. Paul was a masterful missionary, and given his desire to convert all sorts of peoples to Christianity, he would not curse potential Christians and condemn them forever for not being true Christians - that would have been counter-productive.
Paul had converted Gentiles to Christianity and had founded churches in Galatia. After he left the area, other Jewish Christians - 'Missionaries', 'Judaizers', 'False Teachers' - tried to introduce the laws of the Torah, including the absurd Egyptian practice of circumcision, as necessary to Christian salvation. Paul was aggravated when he received this most unwelcome news, whereupon he wrote his angry letter to the deacons. It differs from his other letters inasmuch as he dispenses with the usual nice formalities. The deacons, in turn, were expected to read Paul's letter aloud in church.
Paul seems conservative today, but he was not as conservative as we might think. In fact he preached liberation. He was formerly a Pharisee indoctrinated by Gamaliel in the Mishna or oral law. The followers of Mishna, in contrast to the legalistic Sadduces, have a long and continuing history of 'avoiding' the law, of the 'casuistic stretching' of the law, of being flexible to changing conditions. The Pharisees have been unfairly derogated by their Christian offspring and competitors. The Pharisees, in turn, were unwilling to accept Jesus as that special prophet who had been expected by the scribes since the revolutionary time of Ezra and Nehemiah, but who was in fact unwanted by the Pharisees when he finally showed up to lead them.
Paul was not the first Pharisee to observe from personal experience that just going through the motions, observing the sabbath, circumcision, and so on, saves no one and inculcates 'hypocrisy.' The point of Paul's Christian mission and message was that the Spirit of Love frees the faithful from the Letter of the Law, for lovers have lost the motive for crime - hate. Love is the source and sum of the highest law.
As for the Galatian controversy, we can now see that the dispute was between Christians and not between Christians and non-Christians or Jews: the Judaizing missionaries were Christians too. We do not have a case of bigotry here, but of heresy on the part of those who think, for example, that the primitive practice of cutting foreskins off penises is a ticket to salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, circumcision was irrelevant.
Paul's reference to an accursed 'angel' in his letter concerns the prophetic practice of claiming to be privy to glad tidings from angels. That practice was inherited by Mohammad and others over the centuries; whereas they claimed they had received gospels from angels. Paul argued in his letter to the Galatians that he had received his gospel directly from the God and the apostles.
As for Paul's mention of "gospel", there was no Christian canon then. The term 'gospel' usually denoted the proclamations of good tidings by the emperor, say on his birthday. The Christian's use of the term was a clever spin on the word, implying that the gospel of their god was greater than that of the emperor.
Finally and most importantly, Paul included himself in his curse. The curse is rhetorical hyperbole, and refers to a hypothetical situation. But the issue was a crucial one. The Christian Judaizers, who were again raising the Letter of the Law over the Spirit of Love, were in effect denying that Jesus' death on the cross had significance or had changed anything at all. Their doctrine was deficient because it did not recognize the power of Spirit over matter. Furthermore, their Judaizing doctrine was unsound because it was exclusionary; whereas Paul's message was Law-free - fully applicable to both those who were and were not circumcised (Gentiles).
In other words, Paul, by including himself in his curse, was saying that, if "we" go along with these false preachers, then we will be repudiating the message of Jesus, the message of Love before the Law, of Faith before Works - the Judaizers would place the cart before the horse.
We might say, more generally, "If we do not Love one another, we will be damned to hell." And hell is hate.
Paraphrasing Paul's Curse, using the form as a rhetorical device, might come in handy to the modern writer. For instance, this crude rendition:
"I brought you the gospel of peace, the gospel of love, the gospel of freedom from the law of war of all against all. And I brought you the gospel of nuclear disarmament. But no sooner did I turn my back, preachers of nuclear war came into your midst to say you may not enter into the kingdom of god without a nuclear bomb! Would ye be of so little faith so soon after my departure? Has the gospel of love fallen on deaf ears? May WE, or even an angel for that matter, be damned forever for having faith in such a false doctrine!"
Of course mere works will not work: merely banning weapons of mass destruction will not guarantee peace, love, and freedom.
The author does not practice religion nor is he a certified spiritual master. The foregoing is not to be construed as spiritual advice. Please consult your bona fide spiritual master on all your spiritual needs.
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