Dethroning the canonical Paul

Cavan Concannon believes that the apostle’s writings belong in the latrine.

Paul’s shit stinks, argues Cavan Concannon, so much so that “Paul cannot be redeemed.” Concannon draws the scatological language from Paul himself, noting that Paul frequently flings poo at his opponents. Concannon sustains the imagery throughout his book, which aims to dethrone Paul as a moral and spiritual authority. “If we cannot count the souls in heaven who have benefited from Paul’s theological musings, we also cannot count the bodies that have been left behind.”

A wonderfully vivid writer, Con­cannon weighs his argument carefully. He does not exactly blame Paul for holding views shared by most of his contemporaries. Instead, he questions why such a person should hold moral authority today. “Why should anyone looking for resources to challenge neoliberal capitalism or the rising current of racist fascism trust the insight of someone who couldn’t see that the forced bondage of human beings was an unconscionable wrong?”

Concannon also cautions that we are talking not about Paul the historical figure but about Paul as canonically constructed, with all the authority that entails. He thereby avoids labored debates about which letters Paul actually authored. He even concedes the possibility that Paul can be redeemed somehow—but not yet, not before we have sifted through the filth to the point of revulsion.