Monday, June 11, 2018

On "Personal Foundations of Self-Forming through Auto-Identifications with Otherness" by Nelly Reifler (3041 words) ***

This story discusses philosophical ideas about identity in the form a squirrel who thinks she's a rat, which made me wonder whether I've ever enjoyed a work before written from the point of view of an animal. Read the story here at Barcelona Review

On "Cynics, Paul, and the Pauline Churches" by F. Gerald Downing ***

This is the second volume of Downing's work on early Christians and Greek Cynicism. In the first volume, he did not see much of Cynicism in Paul's works, but here, he corrects himself, now tying Paul to the Cynicism he sees in Jesus himself and his other disciples.

Methinks Downing overplays his hand here a bit, often repeating the same few facts about Paul that he says show he would have been taking for a Cynic: his state of dress, his public preaching, his scars. Downing says he is not claiming that Paul was a Cynic, but he comes very near to saying so, though he also denotes the Paul pulls back from such ideas in his later letters, as his readers claim too much freedom in misinterpreting his Cynical points. Hence, in Galatians Paul can deny the law. The Thessalonians take Cynic freedom to mean they can give up working; the Corinthians take it to mean they can engage in wanton sexual practices. Paul corrects them, and then by the time he writes Romans and Philippians, he focuses more on Stoic ideas.

Downing does draw out some differences between Cynics and Stoics that are useful. The former tend to act on their "virtue," while the latter tend to internalize it. It's okay to be poor or wealthy, the Stoics would believe, so long as one is happy in the former as well as in the latter; the Cynics, by contrast, would actually do something like make themselves poor.

He also shows that there were different types of Cynics. Not all of them were, or looked like, beggars; not all of them lacked for tact--some were gentle. This ability to metamorphose gives Downing the space to lay claim to the existence of Christian Cynicism. So what if they don't appear the stereotypical Cynic? Cynicism came in many varieties.

The basic outline of Downing's argument is this: Paul would have been taken as a Cynic by the Greco-Roman Gentiles, based on his actions and sayings. Paul likely would have known that he was being taken as such. Paul likely did so deliberately. Gentiles likely responded to him as a Cynic. Because Paul did these things with the blessing of Jesus's apostles, the rest of the Christian movement was likely Cynic in some form also.

While I can't bring myself to think of Christianity as a Jewish Cynicism movement, Downing does make a good argument for how some aspects of the Christian movement may have been perceived, at least superficially, as Cynicism in the early going among some people.