Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who Cares?

I gave an Easter greeting to a non-Christian friend, who replied along the lines of "the resurrection is good for those how believe in it." The statement (not just by implication but confirmed by the speaker) is that the Resurrection is irrelevant unless you believe.

And yet, that's not true. The Resurrection is the reason to believe in the first place. It doesn't become relevant because we believe, but we believe because it is relevant, to all mankind.

Either the Resurrection happened or it didn't. If it did, then the implications are that Christianity is the true faith, and everyone can choose salvation (or not). If the Resurrection did not happen then "we are the most pitiable people of all" (1Cor 15:19).

So to me, the Resurrection is not merely a matter of "I believe" but "did it happen?". Rather than arguing belief, let's argue evidence (or lack thereof). Can we prove that the Resurrection took place? Atheists (and surprisingly most Catholics) will tell you "no, there is no way to prove it - it must be taken on (blind) faith." In a sense, that's true. We have no video of the event (and even if we did, someone would claim it was faked). However, if we go the route of "scientific" proof ew find we live in a very narrow world indeed.

Consider how you "prove" George Washington was our first president. We have oral tradition and written documents, but they could all have been faked. There is no way to "prove" any historical event, and yet be accept that things happened. The "proof" that's accepted is like that which we would use in a court of law. We look at documents by different eyewitnesses, compare their testimony, look for physical evidence that supports or contradicts, even if circumstantial. We examine motive and opportunity, and the character of witnesses.

First on the list would be the Gospels. Some would immediately discount them because the authors were "believers". Yet anybody who witnessed Christ alive after His death would of course be a believer. Non-believers can't offer any eyewitness testimony, so discounting the Gospels on the basis of the author's religion is not reasonable. I find the same sort of nonsense when pro-choicers tell me that they won't believe life starts at conception because the people who wrote are pro-life (e.g. they believe life begins at conception). Well, why would someone advocate a position they don't believe in? The authors' beliefs don't affect the truth of the statement.

The authors' motives and character, however, are important. So let's examine the motives and character of the Gospel authors. Are they bad people? What records do we have of what they did in life? They were recognized as people who helped the poor and downtrodden, who cured the sick and lived in poverty, giving what they had to help others. Hardly the type of person one would expect to pull one of the greatest hoaxes of all time. Motives? There was nothing to be gained on Earth by believing in the Resurrection. It meant a hard life of suffering, and generally ended in prison, torture and execution.

From this any reasonable person would conclude that they honestly believed what they were saying. But they could have been deceived themselves, right? In order to do that we have to suppose there was some group with enough power and influence to get Roman guards to abandon their post at the tomb, roll the heavy stone away, and secretly remove the body of Christ. Then they had to remain and somehow convince the Disciples that they were an angel. After that they had to spend 40 days imitating Christ so perfectly that His closest friends would not know it was an imposter and figure out a way to fake an ascension into heaven.

Who had the motive, let alone the ability, to do that? Certainly not the Romans, who wanted nothing other than to get back to the status quo. The Jewish authorities were the ones who arrested Jesus in the first place. The last thing they would want is for Him to continue to exist. A secret sect among the Disciples? We already examined their motives.

On this alone I would say there was enough evidence to convict Jesus of the Resurrection in a court of law. However, there's more. There's the little matter of an empty tomb. For both the Romans and Jews knew where the tomb was. If it were not empty it would be trivial to point to it and laugh at the Disciples. The lack of anyone claiming that the tomb was not empty is a strong indicator that it was.

Then there are the guards. Pilate had ordered them placed by the tomb. They were known, and could easily have been called upon to refute the Apostles' story and squash the whole nuisance immediately. Even if they fell asleep or were drunk, we still have to suppose the powerful secret society mentioned above. And even if they were asleep or drunk, that testimony would have gone a long way toward destroying the Christians (and I'm sure the Pilate would forgive them their dereliction in exchange for good testimony). We don't know what happened to the guards, but we must assume they either fled and never were found or their testimony was not helpful to the Roman or Jewish cause. Either way makes a case that supports the Resurrection.

Then there are the extrabiblical accounts of Christ and the Resurrection. From Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), court historian for Emperor Vespasian:
"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders." (Arabic translation)
I could go on and on, but I think I'll continue this in another post as it's getting long and it's getting late. Next post will be examining the opposing cases. Can we find evidence that the Resurrection did not happen.


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