Friday, February 09, 2007

Controversial Studies and the Question of Motive: Epilogue

(Prologue to this series here. Part I here. Part II here. Part III here.)
"Motives are rarely simple or pure, and motives that were auxiliary at the beginning can take on greater importance later." (Stephen Carlson, Gospel Hoax, p 80)
From the endpoints and center of the last two millenia, we've looked at three pastoral figures whose legacies have been controversial. Our findings:

Paul was an apocalyptic convert who looked back on his Judaic heritage as relatively worthless, and thought Gentiles were saved as they were no matter how long the kingdom was delayed. The law had to go accordingly, but his theology against it -- that it's impossible to obey satisfactorily, and powerless against the influence of sin -- was derivative and problematic.

Urban was a reformist pope who needed to consolidate his power and curb civil violence. He exploited the Byzantine call for military aid and a chance to take over the holy lands in order to meet these needs, but Christendom was under no real external threat. More immediate threats came from the inside: secular influence and anarchy.

Smith was a gay ex-priest of abundant wit and humor, who thrilled to the idea of rubbing noses in the idea that Jesus approved homosexuality. He wasn't after scholarly prestige or proving a theory per se, because he wasn't taking his forgery seriously.

But as Carlson notes, "auxiliary motives can take on greater importance later" and displace original motives, whether during the individual's lifetime or afterwards. Paul's subsidiary arguments about the law's defects were seized on by Augustine and Protestant Reformers in order to feed western individualism; Gentiles had long been accomodated. Urban's propaganda soon became part of the medieval mission: to defend the holy lands and kill infidels for Christ; warriors had long been reformed. Smith may have originally intended to come clean (as hoaxers often do), but never counted on how seriously his forgery would be taken; he was undoubtedly fascinated by the growing number of theories built on his "discovery" -- and certainly reveled in the spotlight of it all -- and decided to let the train wreck run its course.

Pastors Paul, Urban, and Smith are illuminating examples of how motives interact with and inform one another, and of people who act for reasons that don't make sense to a lot of us. Something to bear in mind when considering the motives of any historical figure.


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