Paul’s Revolutionary Soul-centred Individualism
St Paul’s believed that Jesus was not only the perfect example of a righteous man in the Jewish tradition, but the incarnation of the Jewish God. His subtle theological interpretation of the meaning of the life and teachings of Jesus was so innovative that he has been called “the greatest revolutionary in human history”. It could be said that Paul invented a form of individualism based on a purely personal conscience which was rewarded by immortality after death. Until Pauline Christianity most human beings found both their social status and individual meaning through their location in traditional tribes, clans, extended family hierarchies or urban combinations of such communities. Jesus’ doctrine was that any Jew who loved his heavenly father and all other people as much as one loved oneself would be rewarded by going to Heaven after death. Paul universalised Jesus’ teachings.
Paul initiated a radically new world religion based on reciprocal individualism which depended on freedom of the individual will. Each human being regardless of race, gender, nationality or family status was a moral agent of potentially equal worth. Paul’s new religion began dissolving the traditional family bonds like a strong solvent and led to the appearance of a completely new form of civilisation.
Before this, Buddhism had already affected millions of people in India. Buddha too lived an exemplary life but he emphasised calm detachment from dangerous animal passions which resulted from a false perception of the world. Buddhism is a similar radical departure from race, community and family-dependant forms of immortality and like Christianity was adopted by a powerful innovative secular leader as a radically new over-arching form of social integration. In China personalities like Lao Tzu introduced Daoism or the Way, another belief system emphasising individualism. Through internal and external magical techniques of purification some Daoists believed they might be able to live forever, others were more concerned with harmonious right living so that they could become immortal after death.
In the West the dynamic new Christian civilisation reached its peak at the end of the Thirteenth Century. At this time the Papacy began to assume political powers that ran counter to the individualistic moral freedom which the Church, through canon law, was supposed to support against the intrusion of the secular powers. All organisations tend to forget their original aims and instead make maintaining and expanding their organisation itself their new goal. Dominicans and Franciscan mendicant friars did their best to keep the separation of individual moral freedom from being subjugated to the increasing political, ecclesiastical and mercantile domination of social life.