Hope For The Future

Column by Rev. Deshna Charron Shine on 17 February 2022 0 Comments

“We belong to each other,” as indigenous teachers have said. So, how do we create a bigger table with every voice in mind and make sure every one is there when we start to wrestle with solutions?

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I have been researching Paul's mental and physical ailments, and it seems that he fits exactly the profile of someone suffering from Geschwind syndrome, as well as bipolar disorder and some degree of dissociative disorders. My question has always been, since it is evident that Paul's "Visions" from Jesus were probably nothing more than hallucinations, brought on by temporal Lobe epilepsy, and influenced by postictal events including perhaps being prayed over by Christians, then WHY should people today misinterpret Paul's writings as divine in nature? In Paul's time it was commonplace to accept hallucinations and altered mental states as Divine prophecy, example the Oracle at Delphi. So why can't we see Paul for who he really was, which was a sufferer of neuro-psychiatric disorders to whom no treatment was available, instead of some great prophet, of which he should not be?


Dear S J,

Thank you for submitting a fascinating question to ponder. I’ll begin by saying that many people have speculated about “the thorn in Paul’s side” – as well as about his general psychology. I’ve seen people (frequently homosexual persons) suggest - or even flat out claim - that Paul (or Jesus) was a homosexual and that this was “the thorn” he struggled with. He wasn’t married that we know of, and he chose to be celibate, but that isn’t exactly much evidence to work with.

I’m reminded of two things. First, an emphasis of the liberal Christianity of the modern era (1880s-1900s) was embracing science – to a fault. Many liberal theologians sought to explain (away) miracles described in the Bible by saying things like, “Well, we know there are certain weather patterns that take place where the Red Sea could have parted by known winds that can take place; or that Jesus could’ve used certain medicinal herbs to heal people; or that, …, etc. The progressive Christianity that evolved from liberal Christianity fully embraces stories of the Bible, as story. Not something that we need to explain as fact or history, but rather, to read ourselves into so that they might speak to us and invite personal and collective transformation. [For discussion about the shift from liberal Christianity to progressive Christianity see these articles: “Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity& Progressive Christianity isn’t Progressive Politics” ]

Second, Anaïs Nin invited us to realize that “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Essentially, we often engage in eisegesis, rather than true exegesis. Eisegesis is the process of interpreting texts colored by one's own presuppositions, biases, experiences, and agendas. As an example, how wealthy, straight, white men interpret scripture can be quite different from how poor, lesbian, brown women experience the same texts. Similarly, how psychiatrists, lawyers, social workers, and migrant workers read the Bible may differ rather markedly.

I, and quite a few other people I know, have had mystical experiences with the Divine, including God “talking to me” in my call experience. People will interpret what I just stated via their own biases, experiences, and prejudices, yet I highly doubt if many would suggest that I suffer from “neuro-psychiatric disorders.” Paul didn’t claim to be a prophet and neither do I. I do feel called to promote the way, teaching, and example of Jesus and to help the Church be the best it can be.

I wrote an essay for Progressing Spirit a few months ago that I think will help many progressive Christians who currently have less than glowing views of the apostle Paul soften their take on him and perhaps come around to embracing him as a valid and needed voice within the Christian lineage. See: Paul: Friend or Foe?

I hope these reflections have been helpful.

~ Rev. Roger Wolsey




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