Superiority: the Terrible Stumbling Stone.


By: JC Mitchell

Paul knew there was only one God.  He understood that meat bought from a pagan temple, and thus the animal, was offered to a made-up god.  Paul was clear in a letter to the Corinthians (specifically 1 Corinthians 8:1-13) that it would be confusing to those who grew up associating the sacrifices to the worship of these gods.  Paul even claims it wiser if he kept a vegetarian diet so no one could possibly be confused.

Today our meat is found in the supermarket wrapped in plastic and it is not associated with worship.  However, we in the mainline church ignore Paul’s profound warning.  It is not during the potlucks this problem occurs, but when those have an attitude of superiority.  
Paul wrote about how he knew he could enjoy meat from the pagan temples (and probably even pork), for he knew it had nothing to do with worship of any god.  Paul knew very well that these temples were no more than a butcher’s shop, but instead of insisting a new follower learn this fact, he was quite aware it could be easily misunderstood and thus become a stumbling stone to new followers.

So what does it mean?  I turn to Marcus Borg, who sadly passed away last week, to remind us that when we read Paul’s epistles, it is our own understanding that is in question, not Paul’s:

When we read Paul, we are reading somebody else’s mail—and unless we know the situation being addressed, his letters can be quite opaque...It is wise to remember that when we are reading letters never intended for us, any problems of understanding are ours and not theirs. (Marcus J. Borg, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon)

Oh right, we should be careful applying the knowledge of Paul’s words for today.  There is no longer a problem of a world order that Christianity is in competition, for Christianity is a dominate force in this contemporary world.  There is no risk of one’s dinner having been slaughtered in honor of a god or Caesar.   I am therefore writing about the feeling of superiority, and not any specific theological dogma.  Both so called progressive and conservative Christians seem to yell out they know the answer, with superiority.  
We need to be avoiding all possible stumbling stones, but more importantly that air of superiority, for it only suggests a right and wrong way to believe.  For as Borg points out, “Christianity's goal is not escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better” (Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored), and we know that will be best achieved with questions and love over smugness and superiority: the terrible stumbling stone.