The archetype of Romans 1 : 20-32

In response to a comment I made a Strange Notions, a commenter referred to Romans 1: 20-32 as a “homophobic rant”. While I’d concede this so far as Paul’s language is polemical, I think Paul is describing an archetype which, if it were simply described another way, would be agreed to by more or less everyone.

Paul describes a four-step process:

1.) The wise stop seeing the universe as a sign or indication of God’s eternal power and divinity.

2.) Men practice idolatry.

3.) There is a loosening of sexual mores, culminating in an approval of homosexuality.

4.) All vices become widespread.

Since idolatry is imputing divine characteristics to nature and to human art, we can replace this definition with the word. Put this way, the first three steps are well known:

1.) Secularization/ humanism / disenchantment.

2.) Naturalism and Mechanism.  (i.e. only the universe and its “laws” exist of themselves and are eternal, but the universe is at the same time a machine that is capable of being perfectly re-created by human art.)

3.) The Sexual Revolution.

We have no general name for the last stage, but it would manifest itself in the glorification of gangsters, in tales of heroes who can’t be tied down by moral codes, in a widespread belief that all claims to living a holy or moral life are hypocrisy and sanctimony, in the gradual replacement of moral criteria with other ways of evaluating actions (is it healthy? is it American? this is just business, right?) in a widespread malaise over the idea that any sort of moral progress is possible, etc. Again, we have no general name for this, but if we did it would be no more polemical or offensive than the names in the first three steps. In fact, many would take pride in the name, and see it as describing something true to the point of being obvious.

Though I concretized the archetype with examples that would be familiar, this is an archetype, and so has played out in different ways in all societies.* If one doesn’t see the universe as existing for God, he starts seeing it as existing both for itself and for human use. But this idea will get quickly and inevitably extended to that part of nature which concerns what we most desire, i.e. the objects of erotic desire. These desires then become the paradigm cases of what is both divine-eternal and yet merely for human use, thus making sexual imperatives simultaneously the voice of God and yet only the commands of “my body”. Like anything tied up with the reward system of the brain, however, if we try to make it infinite it leads to a ratcheting-up effect that demands greater and greater novelty, though this novelty becomes difficult to find without transgression of the boundaries of behaviors that were once kept off limits. At this point, the human person becomes simply a transgression machine, seeing in the infinite possibility of spirit only limitless boundaries to destroy.

*For example, once one isolates the elements in Paul’s account, the fact that he is alluding to the apostasy of Israel is unmistakable: in the face of the eternal power of God (the theophany of Mt. Zion) the wise (Aaron) create idols; the people consecrate the idol with an orgy to Baal; and the whole action culminates with the destruction of the whole of the law (Moses breaking the tablets).

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