St. Paul and Christianity


Atheists and feminists use St. Paul as argument against Christianity: he said women should not speak in assemblies and ask their husband when they go back home, man is their head while Christ is the man’s head (making them inferior), they should cover their head to prophesy while men don’t have to, they were created from man and not him from them (feminists tell the story of Lilith who was created b4 Eve and later ditched him), he forbade them to teach (no female clergy) etc. How to counter-argue?

—Tina, Lebanon


Dear Tina,

I feel deeply for your questions and anguish. Paramhansa Yogananda said that each culture (and by extension each religion) has its own “misery-making karma.” Hindus have their repressive caste system, for example. (Yogananda explained that the origins of the caste system lay in the recognition of different levels of consciousness, but that recognition was exploited into a rigid system based on birth not on merit.)

Focusing on St. Paul’s remarks about the role of women is like making a fuss over the fact that Jesus probably ate meat. Or, that Krishna had several wives. Rather than pick apart (poor) St. Paul, think of what he actually did to spread the message of Jesus Christ: a message of love and universality. It has been said that St. Paul more or less single-handedly created the foundation for Christianity to expand beyond Judaism.

Now some people, of course, will view that negatively. But then, well, there’s always a negative view of everything. I’m not going to argue the relative merits of the Christian faith, especially in the context of history, what to mention theology! I suggest we accept Jesus Christ as a world spiritual teacher; an avatar, a true son of God [like others such as Buddha, Krishna, etc.] and view his life, death, and resurrection as a blessing whose evidence is demonstrated in the lives and example of great Christian mystics and saints down through the centuries who considered themselves disciples of Christ.

I’ve often heard that, notwithstanding St. Paul’s remarks, the early Christian “churches” were more like communities and were very caring, giving, and more or less egalitarian. The wealthy worshiped along with the slaves and the poor.

I think we just have to accept the limitations of the time, history, and culture into which St. Paul, Jesus Christ and Christianity at large were born. Only those Christians who take every sentence of the bible literally are going to be fixated on taking Paul’s words as “law.” I too have wondered what deeper message may there be in the proscriptions against women in those times. I could make a philosophical case based on the traditional symbolism of male reason and female feeling but I’m afraid these things are both unpopular and simply misunderstood in today’s polarized gender environment. It doesn’t matter, in any case. Let’s not try to reverse-engineer St. Paul! Better to simply say, “It was the culture of the times, and his remarks are peripheral to the teachings of Christ that was his mission to spread.”

In addition to the circumspection of history, St. Paul doesn’t have to be perfect — whether in God’s eyes or in our own rather limited view. He served God and his guru not only to the death but with “blood, sweat, and tears.” He did his part. Let us do ours, as my Catholic Baltimore catechism taught me as a boy, “to know, love and serve God” in this world.

Christianity is one of the great world religions, not because of the institutional religion but because of the vibration and consciousness of Jesus Christ its founder, and, by extension, those true disciples who followed in his footsteps down through the centuries. Yogananda declared that what Jesus taught was a true expression of the universal principles of creation and cosmology known in India since before Hinduism as Sanaatan Dharma: the eternal dharma (religion).

This world is always limited by circumstances of time, place and culture. No expression of Truth can ever be without its limitations, for truth simply is.

I AM symbolizes the only reality there is, and it is beyond all cultural norms, religious dogmas, and rituals. Beneath the outward appearance of the seed lies the oil of Spirit within.

Joy and blessings to you. Be of good cheer.
Nayaswami Hriman