August 2007 (Edited September 11, 2007)
A conjuring trick with bones…
I have written many contumelious flippants on Christian dogma. The doctrine of The Trinity, for instance, I have called so absurd that it takes on the air of a great truth.
Yet nothing beats the Resurrection for trumpery.
Somebody dies. Somebody dies an agonising death of Hollywood dimensions in the cold light of public view. It takes place over several excruciating hours complete with snarling villains, indifferent bystanders, wailing women, incandescent yet terrified supporters and professional officers and soldiers tasked with ascertaining the execution at the very risk of their own lives.
Finally, subsequent to later unconfirmed yet stubborn reports of climatic anomalies and a yanking tear of the drapery, reminiscent of divine choler of Old Testament proportions in the nearby synagogue, Christ dies.
There exists not a velleity of doubt as to his death. Everybody saw him die. He even called out “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me!?” before his head, bruised and bloodied by a codding crown of thorns – rammed into his skull by what must have been a particularly unpleasant, yet informed member of the execution team recalling the inauspicious habit of the poor man’s followers of calling him king in public – fell limp upon his contusioned chest and with blood and water flowing from a spear inflicted wound to his abdomen, administered to confirm his death.
It was official. Jesus, the Nazarene, son of Josef Carpenter, was dead. He was no longer alive. In Monty Pythonesque cant the man was no more.
At the risk of belabouring the point, the dead body is removed from the cross and carried off for burial in a grot-like tomb, an event closely monitored by the official militia until a heavy bespoke stone is rolled before the entrance and the tomb sealed.
Still the certainty of death is not satisfied! The soldiers keep watch at the tomb, in answer to the perspicacious concern that the dead man’s followers may remove the body and claim him to have risen.
Talk about finicality!
It was a Friday evening of heady excitement.
Then everybody went home.
Friday night became Saturday morning – the local, Jewish, Sabbath and leisurely turned into eventide and darkness on the second day.
Now at this juncture the story enters a phase akin to what later literary fundies, to this day, refer to as the Deus ex machina…
On the third day, that is to say, on Sunday morning, the heavy boulder rolls away from the mouth of the cavern, as if pushed by some unseen, supernatural finger and the deceased resident of 40-odd hours appears, probably levitating for the restrictive death robing, in full sight of the guard, reducing battle hardened men of long standing to emotional ruin as they flee the scene in terror and discombobulation.
It was a quiet scene of well-nigh serene aspect into which three women entered some brief time later, at the rising of the sun. They had brought sweet spices and were fretting about the heavy stone they expected to deny them access to the sepulchre.
But alas, Mary Magdalene, Mary James and one Salome found the tomb open and inviting upon arrival at the abandoned guard.
The women peeked into the grave and saw a young man, dressed in white and sitting to the right of the cavern.
They were “affrighted” to be sure!
“Be not affrighted”, said the comely young lad, “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth”, indicating a surprising grip on the affair, “which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him…”
The risen Christ.
Said Paul, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
The Resurrection. Deny it and the entire Christian construct implodes. Such is the import of this story – the Resurrection, that intelligent, professional scientists who subscribe to the religion are reduced to statements such as this, by Frank Tipler, in his recent book The Physics of Christianity (Doubleday, 2007 ISBN-13: 978-0385514248), commented upon here by Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University Lawrence M. Krauss:
“…he argues that the resurrection of Jesus was accomplished as the atoms in his body spontaneously decayed into neutrinos and antineutrinos, which then later reconverted into atoms again to reconstitute him. He invokes here the fact that within the standard model of particle physics the decay of protons and neutrons is possible, although he recognizes that the mean lifetime for such decay is some 50-100 orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe. Thus, the probability of such an occurrence is essentially zero. However, using a strange “Christian” version of the anthropic principle – a subject he co-authored a book about with John Barrow – he then claims that without Jesus’s resurrection, our universe could not exist, and therefore when one convolves this requirement with the near zero (but not exactly zero) a priori probability, the net result is a near certainty.”
What ineffable bosh!
New York General Theological Seminary Professor of Moral Philosophy and Christian Ethics Bill Danaher, recently promoted a paper delivered at the University of Stellenbosch with an argument I cannot but quote in its entirety here:
“In this paper, I argue that the resurrection, rather than the atonement, provides the proper starting point for theological reflection on reconciliation and restorative justice in post-apartheid South Africa. To frame this discussion, I review studies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and surveys of the racial, social, economic and political issues facing post-apartheid South Africa in order to compare theologies of reconciliation that begin with the atonement, particularly that developed by John de Gruchy (among others), with my own proposal that begins with the resurrection.
“De Gruchy’s theology of atonement avoids penal-substitution’s legitimization of retributive logic and prioritizes the healing of relationships through the common acknowledgment of solidarity in sin and violence. Nonetheless, his account has three weaknesses: First, the overturning of retributive logic erodes the moral ground under which the victims of apartheid and their descendants stand. Second, the stress on solidarity undermines long-term reconciliation efforts that strive for restitution. Third, the portrayal of reconciliation as an already-completed reality cannot account for the frustration, disillusionment and false starts that accompany reconciliation efforts in post-Apartheid South Africa.
“Drawing from Oliver O’Donovan, James Alison, Rowan Williams, and J. Deotis Roberts, I argue that the resurrection envisions a reconciliation that avoids these weaknesses by revealing how victims (and their advocates) can gracefully confront perpetrators and oppressive structures from the standpoint of a future fitfully breaking into the present. Further, as the transformation of creation, the resurrection offers a way for theologians to accommodate retributive intuitions as well as proposals from secular theories of restorative justice that emphasize restitution, so that a more adequate theology of reconciliation becomes possible. Such a theology of reconciliation, I conclude, not only contributes to theological reflection on reconciliation in South Africa, but sheds light on the work of reconciliation in other contexts, in particular to reparations owed to African-Americans in the United States.”
Christians make this spectacular claim of a dead man rising and build their entire belief system around it, yet offers not a single – not a single – shred of evidence for the conviction!
A reverend of the South African Dutch Reformed Church claimed in a recent Internet posting that there are “many very good intellectual reasons to confess the resurrection of Christ“.
A few days later, the reverend altered his stance somewhat and claimed that the problem was not so much the resurrection as such, but rather the belief in a metaphysical or transcendental reality. So, he argued, what end would be served in explaining his understanding of the resurrection to someone who rejected the entire existence of the transcendental in the first place?
Indeed! “I will supply evidence – and piles of evidence at that – if you would simply abandon reason and open your heart (an event that usually closes the mind) to the ‘reality of the transcendental’.”
Subsequent to the unfortunate claim by the good reverend, a strange cadre rose (this is fun) within the Dutch Reformed Church and took a strong public stance on the fundamentals of their faith. Calling themselves the “Evangelic Initiative” they confess, among other, a literal, bodily resurrection. They do, however, object to being referred to as “fundamentalists” to the extend of delaying, for the time being, a proposed discussion with a council of lecturers at the University of Pretoria. Some of the very lecturers on the council are being criticised by the EI as deviating from the traditional teachings of the DRC, and are in turn calling the EI “fundamentalist”.
One of the University of Pretoria theologians – and a house divided they seem to be, despite affirmations to the contrary – Hennie Stander, argues that if a Christian should deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, he has no message to proclaim to the world. Then his theology is bankrupt! The resurrection of Jesus has always been the foundation of the Christian faith and if one draws a line through it, one breaks with the essence of the message of Christianity.
Dr Ben du Toit, author of God? Geloof in ‘n post-moderne tyd, says “If it (the Resurrection) is not historically true, Christianity would not really have a message.”
Prof. Julian Müller, author of Opstanding and frequently accused of rejecting the physical resurrection, says that he stands by both the physical and the metaphorical resurrection.
Frankly, I am discombobulated by the “debate” – they all of them acknowledge the physical, historic Resurrection!
The risen Christ.
There is not a single smidgen of evidence, however vanishingly weensy, to support this preposterous claim of some living dead.
Yet, said Paul, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
I make toothpaste buying decisions on the basis of more evidence than Christians do in accepting the risen Christ as the keystone of their entire panoply of doctrine.
Theology is shown, yet again, as simply an arrant amalgam of Orphic averments. It is but a Rube Goldberg device. Indeed, says Sam Harris, “Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance… it is ignorance with wings.
It need not be. It need not be… but alas.
Christianity is a religion perennially in search of a metaphysic, but never able to rest in one.
~ A. N. Whitehead
All the Gospels, after having run closely together in their accounts of the trial and execution, diverge markedly when they come to the circumstance of the Resurrection. It’s impossible to fit their accounts together into a single coherent scheme.
~ A. E. Harvey
 Reported by Neels Jackson, Kerklike vonke spat oor Jesus, Beeld, September 11, 2007. (“Indien dit histories nie waar is nie, sou die Christendom eintlik nie ‘n boodskap hê nie.”) Jackson. September 11, 2007. “Het hy ooit die liggaamlike opstanding ontken? Müller self sê by navraag nee. Hy staan by die liggaamlike én die metaforiese opstanding.” Reuben Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970) was an American cartoonist who drew intricate diagrams of very complicated and impractical contraptions that accomplished little or nothing. Through his wacky cartoons which depict the most elaborate and ridiculous devices to accomplish the most mundane tasks, Rube Goldberg’s “Inventions” have become synonymous with any maximum effort to achieve minimal results. His ingenious drawings follow their own impeccable logic, demonstrating that the unnecessary can also be the mother of invention – often with hilarious results. Harris, Sam. 2005. The End of Faith. Simon & Schuster. London. 173.