Ep 19: Universally Bad with Amaryah Shaye Armstrong

I think you have to go through a kind of problematizing of figures like Paul in Christian theology in order to get to a place where you can, then, look at what else is happening in the text, and who from the underside is not being attended to…. So I think one of the things that gets highlighted when you attend to these kinds of stories from the underside is actually a lot of things become more politically explicit in some ways, more politically relevant, so I think a lot of the spiritualizing tendencies of a figure like Paul– a lot of people try to read him as a materialist but I just don’t find that super convincing, and I think these other figures provide a way more materialist kind of in to connecting Scripture to politics.

–Amaryah Armstrong

Amaryah Shaye Armstrong, a graduate student in theology at Vanderbilt University, talked with us about an article she wrote at the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory called “Of Flesh and Spirit: Race, Reproduction, and Sexual Difference in the Turn to Paul.” If the title sounds a little heady that’s because it is–well, for us anyway, because we’re not theologians, strictly speaking. Amaryah gives a really solid elevator pitch for the article up front, though, and we get right into talking about the dangers of some of the discourse around St. Paul and his famous universalizing passage in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

A favorite passage among everyone from Methodists to Marxists, Amaryah calls our attention to how Paul’s argument in Galatians strangely, or not so strangely, goes on to use an allegory that encourages us to be free like Sarah and reject the position of Hagar, her slave (Galatians 4). Through her reading, Amaryah calls our attention to how slaves, in the Bible and in a world largely built by Christians and by slave labor, are turned into property in order to underwrite the perverse universalization argued for by Paul. As a result, Amaryah provides a critical intervention into contemporary readings of Paul, not least by prominent communist theorists like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, challenging a universality that ignores and is even built on the exclusion of others.

We go on to talk about problems with racial reconciliation, intersectionality, what thinking about Hagar could mean for theologians and the left, and more! We also have a brief argument about the ecclesiology of pizza and close by going back into the basement to talk about everybody’s favorite American conservative.

Amaryah also mentioned a series of posts she made at Women in Theology called Refusing to Reconcile. Check out part one, two, and three!

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