The New Testament has been the most influential collection of documents in history. Taken by both commoners and those in power as the inspired and infallible “Word of God,” and interpreted ofttimes outside its historical context, its fateful influence has often emerged from single passages with far-ranging consequences:
This rather striking quasi-Platonic sounding admonition of the apostle Paul seems innocent enough on the surface, especially given the deeply embedded “dualism” in our Western philosophical and religious culture, but it has surely had fateful consequences. As with so many of Paul’s admonitions–regarding women, slavery, honoring the Emperor, or “Jerusalem above” rather than “Jerusalem below”–the element of apocalypticism is dominant. For Paul the end of all things is at hand, so in this case, anything “seen” or “earthly” is in the process of passing away–including all social, gender, ethnic, religious, political, or gender categories and distinctions. Why would it matter if one is slave or master, male or female, oppressor or subject, rich or poor? All these things are temporal and passing with no enduring consequence. His world view is not strictly Platonic, but effectively so, in that nothing temporal has enduring importance since the heavenly Christ will soon appear in glory:
Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:2-4).
Paul and his successors became the conduit for this kind of Platonic dualism spreading into every nook and cranny of our cultural heritage. The disastrous results for the countless disenfranchised ones of our social and political order, or those on the wrong side doctrinally of the Christian imperialism that emerged, enforced by emperors and councils of bishops, are incalculable.