12 April 2008

Walking Copses?

The Militant Atheists are finally getting to the heart of the argument. They are questioning Christian beliefs, such as virgin birth and resurrection from the dead, head-on. This is due to some Christians’ insistence that Atheists should study theology first to really know what Christians believe. The Atheist's response is that the Nicene Creed gives all that is necessary to critique.

They say that the creed is irrational dogma that cannot be proven. It is said that Christians have been dodging this point in all the Atheist-Theist/Deist debates. I would like to address this.

All Christianity is grounded in the belief that Jesus the Christ came back to life, or “rose from the dead”, after His crucifixion and burial. This point is in the creed. However, after this point, Atheists need to study some theology that is beyond the creed to understand what this really means. This point in Christian theology is crucial in understanding Christianity.

St. Paul summarizes the necessity of this belief in the best way. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, ”your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (1 Corr 15: 17b-19)

Atheists say that Christians believe in “walking corpses”. In fact, the above small dive into the Christian Bible reveals that Christians actually do not believe that Christ became a “walking corpse”, but that he became a changed man. A few more Bible passages give the backdrop.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. (John 20: 19-23)

But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?" You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. … So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. (1 Corr 15: 35-38, 42-44)

In the Gospel of John, Jesus came to his Apostles even though the doors to the room in which they were was locked, and he breathed on them. In 1 Corr, St. Paul describes the resurrected body as incorruptible in contrast to our current corruptible body, or “seed”. Christ was the first person to experience this transformation. Christians believe that on the last day of this corruptible world, or Judgment Day, the faithful dead will rise to incorruptibility on the New Earth.

So, in judging Christianity, its most fundamental tenet must be examined more closely by Atheists. Christians actually don’t believe that “rising from the dead” brings about zombies or half-dead persons. By looking at the Christian Bible, it can be seen that Christians actually believe that people can come back after death changed in the best possible way (“incorruptible”).

Atheists as well as Christians realize that the rising of Jesus approximately 2000 years ago in history and the future rising of the world’s dead cannot be proven. However, these events have taken or will take place outside our empirical domain, i.e., not in our testable, or empirical time and space. One must take it on informed faith through the Bible and Church Tradition from the Apostles, or first-hand witnesses that these events did and will happen.

Further, one can arrive at Christian belief in other ways. Since many historical Christian tenets are not provable directly, one must look indirectly at the available historical data. As described in Your God is Too Small, by J.B. Phillips, it stands to wonder how a cowering group of Jews (the Apostles) in the ancient Middle East went onto become boisterous and vociferous spreaders of “The Way” (of Christ). “Nor was this a short-lived spirit of defiant courage, but a steady flame of conviction which baffled, embarrassed, and infuriated the authorities for years as the [Christian] movement began to spread throughout the then-known world.” (Part 2, Section VIII, subsection 1)

Also note Part I, Section X, “Perennial Grievance”, or “God is a Disappointment”: “God will inevitably appear to disappoint the man who is attempting to use Him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort, for his own plans. God has never been known to disappoint the man who is sincerely wanting to co-operate with His own [God’s] purposes. … But they [the former men] misunderstand the conditions of this present temporary life in which God withholds His Hand, in order, so to speak, to allow room for His plan of free-will to work itself out. Justice will be fully vindicated when the curtain falls on the present stage, the house-lights go on, and we go out into the Real World.”)

Yes, I admit that I don’t know with 100% certainty that a Jew from ancient Palestine rose from the dead, but I have faith and hope that he will prove me right when the time is right for His return in Glory.

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