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An article donated by Alton C. Thompson:

Paul Had the Answer!

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The “Paul” to whom I’m referring here was Paul of Tarsus [circa 5 CE - 64/57 CE].  Given that Paul lived centuries ago, he could not have known the question to which he provided an answer -- for my question pertains to the present.  Be that as it may, though, a statement made by Paul centuries ago has relevance for today -- and my goal here is to argue that point.

What is the question addressed by this essay?

Given the “climate disruption1 now occurring (with the global mean temperature increasing, sea level rising, droughts and consequent wildfires occurring, severe storms and flooding taking place, etc. 2) -- for which humans are primarily responsible; and given that 1,000,000 species are now in danger of going extinct -- with our species quite possibly being one of those species (!) -- is there at least a “theoretical” solution to the problem of climate disruption -- a solution that might “save” many species, including ours?

I apologize for the verbosity of my question!  But it states, as succinctly as I can, what can very well be regarded as the principal problem facing our species at present.

And, I believe that Paul of Tarsus may have provided at least a “theoretical” answer to our problems -- in I Corinthians 12 verses 4 - 7 specifically:

4: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  

5: There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  

6: There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

7: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Anyone familiar with the Christian Bible will know that the Bible is filled with commands -- some stated explicitly (e.g., Leviticus 19:18), some implicitly (e.g., Matthew 25:35 - 40). What needs to be added regarding commands is that they are directed at individuals as individuals.  That is, one -- as an individual -- is directed either to engage in certain activities, or refrain from doing so.

The above-quoted passage from I Corinthians 12 is the only passage in the Bible that -- to my knowledge -- lends itself to a societal interpretation.  Here’s how I would so interpret the passage:

  1. Each of us individuals has certain abilities -- Paul, tellingly, uses the word “gifts” instead.  Now if one perceives one’s abilities as gifts, this will, I believe, affect one’s view as to how they should be used.

  2. Paul assumes that one will use one’s gifts for the common good -- rather than for the advancement of oneself.  I would suggest that if one perceives one’s abilities as “gifts,” one will find it easy -- natural! -- to assume that one should use those “gifts” to advance the common good.

One may agree with what I’ve just written, but then ask:  How am I to know what the common good is?  Don’t I need to begin with a clear concept of “common good,” so that after assessing myself to determine what my abilities/gifts are, I can then make a determination of what to do that will advance the common good?

My answer to this question is that rather than trying to visualize what “common good” might look like, one should simply proceed to the matters of:

  1. Identifying one’s abilities/gifts.

  2. Work at developing them.

  3. Use them in a manner that one -- and others -- perceive(s) as “good.”

Ironically, another Jew -- Karl Marx [1818 - 1883] -- had much the same message, in his slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to need”!

That’s no reason to ignore the I Corinthians 12 passage, however!

What’s needed, rather, is recognition of the facts that:

  1. A strong feeling of security is a precondition for embracing my “take” on the I Corinthians 12 passage.

  2. Our society is unlike a typical tribal one in not providing its “inmates” (!) with a strong sense of security!  (A point that will be commented on later.)

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As to tribal societies, here’s how noted cultural anthropologist Paul Radin [1883 - 1959] opened Chapter One (“Aboriginal Civilizations:  Their Nature and Distribution”) of his book The World of Primitive Man (1953, p. 11): 3

“If one were asked to state briefly and succinctly what are the outstanding positive features of aboriginal civilizations, I, for one, would have no hesitation in answering that there are three”:

  1. The “respect for the individual, irrespective of age or sex;”

  2. The “amazing degree of social and political integration achieved by them;”

  3. The existence in them of “a concept of personal security which transcends all governmental forms and all tribal and group interests and conflicts.”

He then added:

"At first blush this sounds very much like the description of a semi-ideal society.  And, indeed, societies which have effectively solved these fundamental problems of social and economic adjustment might well be called semi-perfect."

In short, security was a fundamental feature of the “aboriginal” societies of which he was aware.  Security, however, was one of the losses that occurred in societies beginning with the Agricultural Revolution that began about 12,000 years ago.  As Jared Diamond noted in 1987, the development of agriculture was “the worst mistake in the history of the human race”!

The adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered.  With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.

Diamond didn’t mention insecurity as a consequequence, but insecurity is implicit in his discussion.

The root cause of the problems that have developed with the Agricultural Revolution is that, prior to that Revolution, humans had become “designed” -- physically, psychologically, and sociologically -- for a way of life centered on foraging.  As agriculture began to displace foraging in some groups, there developed in those groups a Discrepancy between:

  • The way of life for which they had become “designed;” and

  • The new ways of life that were developing in response to the adoption of agriculture as a source of sustenance.

The impact of that Discrepancy 4 has not been well-researched -- although students of human health and disease are now giving it attention. See this lengthy article.  However, given that our distant ancestors lived in (small!) societies that provided them with security, and it’s the Agricultural Revolution of millennia ago that separates us from them, it’s reasonable to conclude that it’s the Discrepancy brought about by that Revolution that’s the ultimate cause of the insecurity/anxiety that exists in our society at present.  As this article states:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the adult population every year.

  • Anxiety and insecurity are related, as this article notes.

How to make our society more like an aboriginal one from a security/anxiety standpoint?  How to get a situation close to what Paul envisioned? I believe that if my idea in this paper (A Road to Survival?), our society would be moved in the right direction.  However, much thought must be given to this matter, and I don’t see that occurring!

There are at least two reasons why reducing feelings of anxiety/insecurity would be important: Both mental and physical health would be improved.

If one feels insecure/anxious, one response is to seek (if but unconsciously) status and power, and doing so often involves purchasing consumer goods -- a tendency further encouraged by advertisers.  Consumption creates a demand for production, and that (along with associated transportation) involves -- in the modern world -- the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation activities.  Those activities, in turn, are responsible for our current climate disruption problem!

Therefore, solving the anxiety/insecurity problem might “kill two birds with one stone”!

Because Paul’s vision of a society within which the common good is served could (possibly!), if realized, solve many of our social problems, while permitting our species to continue on, it should be taken seriously!

That is, serious thought needs to be given to the passage in I Corinthians 12 quoted earlier:

  • How best to interpret it?

  • How best to implement that interpretation?
But will be do so?  That’s the big question!

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. A number of relevant articles are located here.  I should add that the terms “climate change” and “global warming” are more commonly used for this phenomenon.

  2. This article gives a thorough discussion.
  3. Radin is most known for his The Winnebago Tribe (1923).  Here in Wisconsin there is a Winnebago County (in which Oshkosh, named for Menominee Chief Oshkosh, is located), and a Lake Winnebago  The Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe is now known as the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.
  4. See my article The Discrepancy:  Concept and Consequences for a discussion of the concept.

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Original posting: 2019-JUN-25
Author: Alton C. Thompson

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