I don’t get into religious things too much around here. Mostly there’s no point. This is not really a good forum for it. At least, I don’t think so. Today is just the exception that proves the rule.
So on to it.
People might be Christian or not, believe in Christianity or not, and of course let’s stipulate that there are Christians of this and that denomination and there are lots of differences and so on.
God bless ’em all, I say. I don’t want any arguments on that score.
But it really should be annoying not just to Christians, but to anyone who is fair minded, that the media routinely conjure up material during what some Christians refer to as “holy week” to subtly challenge – which is to say, surreptitiously undermine – core Christian beliefs. And what is doubly annoying to me is the ignorance – willful or otherwise – that is often revealed in this material.
One of this year’s truly annoying installments comes from CNN, under the banner “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” authored by some guy named Parini from Middlebury College which, you know, because it is a “college” you would think there would be some scholarship involved.
Of course, Easter is the central Christian holiday commemorating the central Christian event, and most people calling themselves Christian* regard that event – the resurrection – as a real, physical event and not some made up story or allegory. And Parini takes a little half knowledge that most people are not aware of or haven’t thought about and uses it to undermine the idea that the resurrection was a real occurrence; rather it is a parable, an allegory, a story written about later as a “symbol” of some larger truth:
Questions arise, of course. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What would that look like? Many Christians imagine some literal wakening from the dead and refuse to accept the slightest hint that the Resurrection might be regarded as symbolic without denigrating it.
The strongest argument he then makes in favor of this position, which to the ignorant probably appears to be convincing when in fact it is about as routine and pedestrian a bit of sophistry as any first year college student would be capable of, is that there’s all this magic going on in the gospel stories that are fanciful and couldn’t really have happened:
The post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus vary wildly. For the most part, those who meet him fail to recognize him, as in the story of the Road to Emmaus, where Jesus appears beside two of his followers. They don’t recognize him, which suggests that he has not reappeared in a familiar form. Even when he joins them for dinner, they don’t know who sits beside them. Only when he prays over the bread before eating do they recognize him, and he immediately disappears — poof.
Even his closest disciples don’t know Jesus when they see him, as in John’s Gospel, where he appears by the Sea of Galilee to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael and two other disciples. It takes quite a while for Peter, alone among them, to recognize this mysterious figure on the shore who advises them where to catch the fish.
Gee, like no one ever noticed any of this before and had any thoughts about it. Except for oh, say, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, probably every priest or bishop since the first century.
I mean seriously.
In other words, these very passages of scripture, like almost all scripture, have been picked apart, dissected, studied, pondered, analyzed and whatnot by both lesser and greater minds for centuries, though of course for our purposes here it’s the greater minds that count. They form part of the basis for an elaborate and, if I might say so, well thought out (albeit at present quite obscure, for reasons I won’t go into here) theology of the resurrected body. You can find out a little bit about it in this article.
Briefly, though, it is believed – in a somewhat speculative way but nevertheless believed – that the resurrected body will have a number of notable qualities:
1. Identity – it will still be recognizably you, although maybe not immediately recognizable to everyone.
2. Integrity – all the parts will still be there. All of them. Don’t ask. Ugh.
3. Quality – sort of an improved version, at the ideal age and of the same gender.
4. Impassability – the resurrected body won’t die and can’t get injured.
5. Subtlety – I think this is kind of related to the next quality, that is
6. Agility – the resurrected body can be anyplace it wants to be, any time it wants to be there, and maybe two or more places at once, pass through walls, other solid objects and so on. I’m not real clear about this but it sounds cool. And speaking of clear, the last quality is:
7. Clarity – Radiance and luminescence
Now, I’m not saying you have to believe any of this. Indeed, I see significant barriers to belief in any of it. That’s not the point.
The point is just that the Parini/CNN article is either disingenuous or pathetically ignorant of Christian belief to behave as if Parini was the first person, ever, in history, to notice these sort of weird aspects of the post-resurrection gospel stories and to have inferred some meaning from them. Others – many others – have done precisely that.
And of course among Christians that meaning was entirely consistent with the belief in an actual, physical resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, so firm was the conviction that the resurrection was an actual physical event that the whole theology of the “resurrection of the body” is mainly derived from that.
Parini is free to have an entirely different take on it all, of course. But what he is not free to do – at least not while retaining any scholarly legitimacy – is to posit his own meaning as if it’s a brand new, unique insight on problematic scripture passages, without confronting or even mentioning that Christian tradition has already accounted for, and ascribed specific meaning to, these same passages.
That’s intellectually dishonest, if it isn’t appallingly ignorant. And we don’t go for either of those around here at Lawyers on Strike.
There’s an argument that anyone who doesn’t believe in an actual resurrection cannot possibly be a Christian in any meaningful sense, but that’s a side issue. At least this morning.