by Charlie Leck
I have always thought there are two versions of Christianity. I'm not going to get into theological debates about this because those of very fundamentalist faith are not going to accept these notions; however, to me, as one who doesn't approach scripture from a literal perspective, the notion makes sense.
This is more an argument of history and literary analysis than it is one of theology. In technical terms the two versions could be called (1) Pre-Pauline and/or Early Gospel, while the other could be called (2) Pauline or Altered Gospel.
I brought along on this trip to the South a copy of Tom Robbins' book, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I'd read it sometime ago and wrote about it here. The work has fairly haunted me since I finished that first reading. It has a rich, rich vocabulary to which I didn't give fair attention. Many of the creamy, hot-chocolate topped words he uses in the account deserve more consideration than I gave them. More, however, the book also contains some very interesting theological thinking; and one thought was especially interesting to me and bolstered a concept about Christianity I've carried around in my back pocket for a long, long time. Here's how Robbins opens one of his chapters.
"Damascus is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.In fact, the writings of Paul -- a man who had never met the Nazarene named Jesus -- became the backbone and foundation of the early church (though there is pretty clear evidence that some of Paul's original letters and plenty of the gospels were tampered with here and there to provide authority for the standing and importance of the institutional church.
"It was on the road to Damascus (then already six thousand yeas old) that the apostle Paul (formerly Saul) suffered an epileptic seizure. Pounded to his knees by the relentless strobe of the sun, an egg-white mousse of spittle sudsing from his baked lips, Paul imagined he heard the big boom-boom voice of God (formerly Yahweh) admonishing him to scorn sensuality, snub women, and subdue nature, instructions that he subsequently incorporated into the foundation of the early Church (what came to be called Christianity was really Paulinism)."
The notion, for example, that salvation is exclusive only to those who recognize the Great Church and accept the Christ that it represents is a concept invented some years after the death of the kind and loving man who was put to death on the cross.