The Ascension. A quadrillion miles through the vacuum of space. On a cloud. Clothed in a loose fitting jellaba. Not even Monty Python could come up with a skit like this! I amaze myself sometimes at my halcyon disposition in the face of such consummate folderol.
Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) identified two indispensable elements without which no religion can survive: mysterium tremendum et fascinans – (a continuing experience of) awe and wonderment… like gods, readily churned out by believers.
Sitting pretty on a hill near Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly, according to certain wowsers (pecksniffian puritans), was taken away on a fanciful journey we can easily appraise in lumine sicco: he started in the troposhere, the part of the atmosphere that is precious to us hairy bags of salty water because it contains just enough warmth and oxygen to keep us yauld (strong, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed). This band of sustaining air, however, becomes rapidly inimical to life as one rises up through it. Without protection many people become dangerously ill at 4’500 metres; at 7’500 metres, the so-called “Death Zone”, bodily distress is a virtual given – confusion, nausea, exhaustion, frostbite, hypothermia, migraine and the like are near certain afflictions. At about 11 kilometres, given a launch somewhere from Palestine, Jesus would have hit the stratosphere… and the proverbial mud would have hit the fan, in a manner of speaking. Had Jesus been travelling at the speed of, say, a modern high rise elevator, he would have reached the tropopause (the invisible “ceiling” of the troposhere, from the same Greek root as menopause – and not to be messed with!) in about 20 minutes – in dire need of oxygen, shivering at minus 57 degrees Celsius, and suffering debilitating cerebral and pulmonary edemata (swelling from excessive accumulation of serous fluid in tissue). Beyond this diaphanous floor of the stratosphere (yes, I am deliberately attempting to discombobulate you, we’re dealing with Christian dogma here!) the temperature makes like a roller coaster: it rises, due to the absorptive effects of ozone, to around 4 degrees Celsius, only to plunge to minus 90 degrees Celsius in the metosphere and rocket to 1’500 degrees Celsius in the erratic thermosphere, previously known as the ionosphere. No man, not even one allegedly having survived a cursory visit to Hades (a relatively cool maximum 444 degrees Celsius by Revelation 21:.8 – a lake of molten sulphur demands that its temperature must be at or below the boiling point of 444.6 degrees Celsius), antecedent to a supposed resurrection, can possibly survive such a journey and Jesus was, to be sure, so the theologians hold, completely human. Yet, even assuming Jesus’ survival of this break-out into outer space, high-energy solar particles would have gotten him and torn his DNA to tatters.*
This is probably the reason why Jesus, having solemnly promised his followers that he would return expeditiously after a brief visit to dad, had not been back – he had not survived the ascension. He’s dead.
… For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.
(Oscar Wilde, Ballad of Reading Goal)
* This informative, entertaining and prosaic overview of Earth’s atmosphere is taken from Bill Bryson’s terrific “travelogue of science” – A Short History of Nearly Everything, Doubleday, London, 2003: 238-241.