saint paul the tentmaker, or, a scumbag’s training manual
Ha. Paul was a tentmaker. This somehow makes the bizarre, creepy interaction between St Paul’s cathedral and the meditating tent-dwellers of the occupation in London seem all the more surreal and, indeed, problematic.
Of course, we all know that Paul was the most despicable liar. Most notably, he turned the communist ideals of a small band of crusties led by a nice guy called Jesus into an institutionalised, world religion, founded capitalism and was often quite nasty about women and homosexuality.
But it’s boring and all too easy to hate Paul for these things. Paul has always been considered a scumbag as he even acknowledges himself: ‘We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.’ (1 Corinthians 4.13) So it seems that now might be the time to think more carefully about Badiou’s recasting of Paul as ‘militant revolutionary.’ Badiou’s little book on Paul was perhaps only ever intended to be an extended example of his theory of the event. Paul, after all, is easier to grasp than pages upon pages of set theory. Nevertheless, the book was jumped on by theologians keen to surf the wave of popularity Paul was suddenly enjoying within continental philosophy whilst remaining deeply suspicious towards the reappropriation of what they perceived to be their intellectual property by a rival academic discipline.
Possibly the best and most accurate (fictional) rendering of Paul. Harry Dean Stanton confronts Willem Defoe’s Jesus in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
But maybe it’s time to put aside the academic pissing contests and see how useful Paul really is in lifting the deadlock of left-wing politics. Forget what Jesus would do - his teaching was largely ineffectual and he still ended up with nails in his wrists. Instead, look properly at Paul as militant revolutionary not for what he says but how he says it - his willingness to stand up to the celebrity apostles (Peter, James etc) who were still trading off the fact they used to hang around with Jesus. His ability to get a wider range of people involved in his cause. His acknowledgment of the importance of different identities within the collective and thinking of ways to prevent these differences paralysing a cause which was supposed to render everyone equal. The emphasis he places on collective organisation and fundraising - everyone works, everyone eats. And, perhaps most importantly, working out how to best evade the authorities without ever kissing ass.
If Paul is going to be rewritten for the twenty-first century then it needs to be in terms of his strategies and tactics. A scumbag’s training manual.