Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Paradox Surrounding Conception

“This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.”
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat 1/3/11 (1)
This quotation is a pretty concise observation of what is so very disturbing about the attitude of mainstream culture toward the conception of human life. In mainstream society we observe not only a rejection of the sanctity of human life, but also a rejection of the sanctity of the covenant of marriage (which in turn causes a distortion of sexuality’s proper context as well as a degradation of the value of the family) and most of all, a rejection of God.
Rejecting God inherently becomes a rejection of at least some aspect of human dignity. Fulton Sheen has said, “…a person is a person only when seen in an image of God” (2). If God does not exist, then man cannot possess His image. The connection between sexuality and the sanctity of life exists because of that image of God, the imago Dei, which we all not only possess but are also called to uphold in our own lives (3). The revelation of the imago Dei, as Anderson and Granados explain in Called to Love, begins in the family (4). The basis of the family is the covenant of marriage, which itself is the vocation to having a family. What has been happening in recent decades though, has been the separation of sexuality from marriage, and the rejection of God from human love.
Mainstream culture has become a culture of using our bodies to suit personal desire, especially where sexuality and conception are concerned. The way conception is viewed in society is often very distorted by personal desire, and that desire is usually toward one of two extremes. The more obvious extreme is the view of the conception of children as a burden to be avoided, in favor of engaging in non-marital and contracepted sex (A previous topic of mine). At the other extreme, the mindset seems quite the opposite. Once a couple has decided that they want to conceive children, they may develop a sense of entitlement that they believe allows them to pursue conception as an instrinsic right and by any means necessary (or desired). The general attitude seems to view the conception (or contraception) of children as some sort commodity, which can merely be either acquired or rejected upon desire. It is insisted that children are something that can be avoided at will through an abuse of sexuality, and also insisted that children may also be produced at will by an imitation of sexual function. Thus, medical science has developed a myriad of technologies that offer us both the ability to falsify the correct reproductive aspects of our bodies, and to imitate the biological function of sexuality.
I have been casually following a series of articles on NPR entitled “Making Babies: 21st Century Families” (Found here). The articles are about various situations surrounding the use of IVF. These articles show a human sexuality that is becoming increasingly consumerized, an attitude partly permitted by advances in technology. The scenarios show the mindset that conception is primarily something for parents to procure for themselves. These behaviors are not symbolic of how God calls us to love, but are a sign of the misunderstanding of His call, which results in a distortion of the means of following it. Marriage is the vocation to family, and it is right that married couples should wish to become parents. The problem arises when the means by which they try to fulfill that vocation becomes an inappropriate one. IVF is immoral is not just because it is something artificial, but because of what it is specifically an artificial simulation of. It is an artificial simulation of the very means by which a husband and wife are called within their love to be co-creators with God of the human person (which bears the imago Dei).
The "cafeteria style" set of sexual ethics that has developed is based upon want, desire, gratification, selfishness, use, and most of all, subjectivity. People are quick to take from sexuality whichever of its single aspects that suits their purposes at the moment, but are strikingly hesitant to recognize sexuality as the whole of all its facets and to accept it in its proper context: as a physical expression of the vows of matrimony, being together “free, total, faithful and fruitful” (5).

(1) A good quotation printed in one of the parish bulletins for "Respect Life Month." I tried, but can’t find the actual article.
(2) Fulton Sheen. Three to Get Married. (New York: Scepter Publishers, 1996), 7
(3) Cf. The explanation of the imago Dei: the imago Dei includes not only the image of God, but also the likeness. The “likeness” is the dynamic part of the imago Dei, which man is called to continuously perfect: “man is born as God’s image, but he has to complete the imago Dei through his free yes to God.”
Carl Anderson and Jose Granados. Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 85.
(4) ibid., 86.
(5) Christopher West. Theology of the Body for Beginners. (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2009), 89.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Light of the “Dark” Ages, the Dark of the “Enlightened” Age

William Manchester’s book, A World Lit only by Fire, well exemplifies the general modern attitude to the “Dark” Middle Ages. The Dark Ages represented only a brief and regrettable period in the world’s inevitable march to change, progress, and the Enlightenment of the modern world. Under influence of the light of reason, modern man learned, or at least believed he learned, that God was dead, that man was only a cosmic accident (or according to Loren Eiseley, a cosmic orphan) in a random universe. Enlightened as he became, he cast off the chains of traditional morality and his silly, quaint ideas of good and evil. He learned to be tolerant, that truth and ethics were relative, and that what was true for him need not be true for someone else. The history of his most enlightened century, the twentieth, showed the effects of these beliefs, with two world wars, several genocides, rampant abortion, and its use in culling the weak from society by killing unborn children likely to be handicapped later in life. If this is the world lit by the sun of science and progress, one cannot but wonder at the darkness of a world “lit only by fire.”
When one asks why the Middle Ages were dark, one is typically told of their dreariness, of the fasts and vigils, the fire and brimstone, the intolerance, oppression of the human spirit all combined with narrow dogmatism of a faith unenlightened by science and reason.
Yet, when I look at the Medieval Christian world, I find that this picture is simply not true. As Chesterton said, the modern world was right to go by the facts, it was simply not considering the facts. Turning to the Middle Ages, I found a world lit, maybe by fire, but it was fire of a certain kind. I found a world of epic and romance, troubadours, tales, religion and ritual, chivalry, soaring cathedrals, faith, and reason. In brief, I find the world of Sts. Francis and Thomas Aquinas. In Francis, one had the fasts and vigils, but also a joy and gaiety almost too big for the world to hold. But the world could hold it, because it was a bigger world. Moderns, little understanding Francis, will insist on seeing him as a proto nature worshiper, and his Christianity as little more than an unfortunate and unnecessary tag-on. But in reality he loved the world because to him it was a sign-book of the love of its Maker. It was a larger world. A tree was not only a tree, but something that showed the spiritual value of suffering (since when pruned, it grew back even better the next year). Likewise to St. Patrick, a clover was not just a cover, but a sign of the Trinity, while to thousands of medieval preachers, sex was not only sex, but a sign of Christ’s union with His Church.
In Thomas Aquinas too, one sees the fasts and vigils, but also a mind thoroughly willing to consider the most modern science and philosophy. Willing to tell the conservatives that they need not fear reason, to tell the liberals that they need not fear faith, and to tell them both with a courtesy and reason with which they could hardly argue.
The modern secular humanist boasts of his love of humanity, but St. Francis really loved humanity. He embraced both the poor and the leper and all men who came to him. The modern secular humanist boasts of being on the side of science and reason (at least until science and reason are no longer on his side ). Thomas really was on the side of science and reason, but he was on the side of something else too. Like Francis, Bonaventure, Dominic, and others he saw the world as lit by a kind of fire, the same fire that lit him. That was the love of his divine master, for love of whom Francis was permitted to receive his wounds, and for love of whom, Aquinas, when offered by his Lord a reward for his writings, replied only, “I will have Thyself.” That was the world of medieval Christianity; it is the world Christianity today offers, if only we are enough “lit by fire” to see it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Marriage (or just Weddings) in Mainstream Culture

My husband’s recent post, “materialism, materialism and marriage,” and my own experience shopping for a wedding dress, make me think back to our general experience in planning for the wedding. I have contemplated all of the effort and money that is too commonly put into the wedding itself, and how typically disproportionate it is to the time and preparation put into the marriage. I think many people forget that there is a distinct difference between planning a wedding and preparing to be married, and it frequently looks like too many people put too much emphasis on the former and not enough on the latter.

Sometimes the two seem to become connected in rather inappropriate ways. One example of such a connection is exhibited in the NPR article, “Why are Wedding Dresses So Expensive” (1). I showed it to Matthias who mentioned it in his previous post, before I posted it on facebook with sarcastic remarks on how our priest failed to properly assess my fittingness and disposition to marry by inquiring the amount I spent on the wedding gown. My husband should probably know about this, since the gown was on clearance and the veil bought off ebay. Joking aside now. The things that are pointed out in that article point to a societal separation between weddings and sacramental marriage, and a focus on weddings as events of great (monetary) value in their own right. Christine, in her comment on Matthias’s post, puts it pretty well. Weddings have become a ritual in “self-realization” and “adulthood,” and mark an entrance into another stage of life (but not necessarily the rest of your life together).

The term, “wedding” unfortunately, seems automatically to mean the reception in many people’s minds, not the ceremony in which you actually become married. A number of the people who asked me where the wedding was going to be, after my response indicating the particular church, indicated that what they meant by “wedding” was actually where the reception was going to be held. As if where we were actually getting married to begin with hardly mattered. As if the sacrament were only a brief prelude to the “real” wedding. Likewise, the questions about how the wedding planning was going also revolved around things related to the reception or other extra things. Did we choose the menu, the cake (we did cupcakes, actually), get a photographer, get a DJ, is the dress done? No one (except our priest and music director) in these “wedding-planning” conversations asked if we had chosen the readings for the Mass, or the music for the Mass, or anything about the Mass.

The popular ideal for a wedding seems to be about making it a perfectly designed and choreographed production that will amaze your guests. One of the biggest wow-factors of a wedding is the gown, so we end up with articles like the one mentioned above, and we observe a culture of glamour, rather than sanctity, surrounding weddings and their preparation in mainstream culture.

(1) http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/08/05/138760908/why-are-wedding-dresses-so-expensive?sc=fb&cc=fp

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Materialism, Materialism, and Marriage

When my wife was searching for a wedding dress, she spent some time shopping before finding a discontinued dress on clearance. The dress looked lovely and the saleswoman told my then fianceé, "and you don't even have to tell anyone it was on clearance!" As if spending an insufficient amount on a wedding dress were a piece of moral turpitude best hidden from friend and foe alike. To some people, it is. Today wedding dresses not uncommonly cost thousands of dollars. Salespeople and friends ask if a bride is certain she has found “the” dress. Each bride a special snowflake to be matched only to the perfect dress.

What is true of the search for the modern wedding dress is true of modern weddings in general. . Flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses, photography, music, the reception all combine to make the average spectacle of a wedding today cost about $22,000. A recent article suggested various reasons for this particularly: showing of social status and, showing off how seriously a bride takes her marriage.

And yet as the costs of the wedding get higher and higher, the length of the marriages get shorter and shorter and the divorce rates ever higher. How is a society that values marriage so much more than it ever has (at least by the measure of mammon) unable to prevent marriages shorter from when they ever have been? Might the measure have gone wrong?

In the Christian tradition and the Christian ages, marriage stood as a channel of divine grace and a symbol of the union between Christ and his Church. The spouses were to mirror the self-giving, self-sacrificing, love of God. As God’s love was creative and led to the creation of the world (as well as the Incarnation and crucifixion), so a husband and wife are called to a procreative love in children. As the love of Father and Son eternally binds them together and leads to the Holy Spirit, so human love is to be open to the third in children. Fulton Sheen says that love is always triune. When the entire world can be a symbol of the divine, as it was to St. Francis, Augustine, and the entire Christian tradition, the world is a larger and richer place. When marriage can be a symbol of God, marriage is better off for it.

The modern world, however, is a material world. God is dead, or at least widely proclaimed to be so. Life, as life without God must be, is devoid of any real purpose, meaning, or objective value (2). In such a world, marriage can hardly be a symbol of the divine. It can be little more than (as it has become) a temporary contract entered into and broken at the whim of either party. NT Wright wrote, “sex used to be a sacrament, but in the modern world, it has become a toy” (3).

Still, by a basic and wild instinct, man still knows that sex and marriage ought to be something more than mere contract or animal instinct. Unable to value marriage as a sign of God’s love for His Church, however, (since God is dead), he shows his appreciation for marriage the only way a material world can, through money. A philosophically materialist world inevitably becomes materialist in another sense and so the cost of weddings goes ever higher. But so do the divorce rates.

Fulton Sheen wrote that two empty cups cannot fill each other; two sticks cannot be tied together save by something outside themselves, and the modern world has found materialism (in both senses of the word) a poor cord. The Christian Ages of the world had an answer, and to them we turn for ours. There, love could be love because it could be triune. Spouses could love each other because Love Himself was involved. Chesterton called Christianity the answer to a long riddle. If only the modern world cares to see it.

(1) http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/08/05/138760908/why-are-wedding-dresses-so-expensive?sc=fb&cc=fp

(2) For one assessment of this see, William Lane Craig’s essay, “The Absurdity of Life Without God.”

(3) from Simply Christian.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Modern Individualism, Modern Narcissism

One young college woman, on being asked why she liked to consider herself "spiritual but not religious," replied that she began to consider herself so when she realized, "I bow to no one." Unfortunately, this sort of stomach-turning nonsense is simple part and parcel of a whole range of cliches that are based in a outlook common in the modern world. That outlook is a radical individualism typically supported by little rational thought but many irrational cliches. The individualist will speak how he "bows to no one," how it is "my body and my choice," or "my life," or his need to "look out for number one," or "believe in himself," or, perhaps worst of all, "be true to himself."

All harmless and even positive sounding on the surface, one could write an article on the sinister meaning each one takes when understood. The person who believes himself typically believes in little else; the person being true to himself is typically being true to little else, and the person concerned with his own choice is often little concerned with anyone else's. But of these various phrases generated by an individualistic culture, the one that concerns us the most here is the idea of bowing to no one.

Sounding wonderfully, and even heroically, individualistic this nonsense, carried to its logical conclusion, leads to a place, I think no sensible person ought wish to go. What is more, a real refusal to bow to others even deprives one of one of the greatest pleasures in this life, the pleasure of admiration. CS Lewis, I think, said that a world where I could not look up to and admire others as better than myself, and honor them for it, would be an insufferable world. Not only would it be an insufferable world, it would be a lie. For if we really imagine that "I am just as good as you are" then we delude ourselves. I have ordinary human vanity (indeed, as an academic, more than ordinary), and typically fancy myself a rather wonderful person. But when forced to think seriously on the issue, we know better.

Even worse, a world where we really refused to bow to no one would be an ugly world, full of conflict. For it is only by making the little bows to each other on a daily basis that we are able to get along at all. Two people who reach for the same last item on a store shelf, or who reach a door simultaneously only big enough for one to pass at a time. If one does not bow to the other, nothing is left than to fight like animals. Some occasions may require a greater bow. Fulton Sheen may have had this in mind when he spoke of crises in marriage that could only be solved by a willingness to crush the ego. A refusal to do so, and the marriage, or life, becomes hell.

Hell, if we are not careful, if precisely what it will be. Where might makes right and we bow to no one save when by necessity we bow to one stronger than we. The conflict, resentment, and bitterness occasioned by a real refusal to bow to anyone will in the end be precisely hell. Milton's Satan declared that it is "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." Not demons in red leotards with pitchforks poking the well-roasted damned, who rotate on fiery barbecues, but every unrepentant individualist and narcissist shut up for all eternity refusing to bow to each other will be hell.

Fulton Sheen suggested the solution to such a problem. He suggested that we should simply assume that everyone else was better than we. We know, he said, the worst about ourselves. We know it only too well. We can only guess at the worst in others. With this assumption we can hold no hesitation or concern about bowing to others and will, I suspect, find, that Chesterton was right when he remarked, "we become taller when we bow."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Modern Man and the Ugliness of Modern Art

I recently made an album of some pictures I took on my recent research trip to several Italian cities. While I would work during the week, I spent the weekends playing the tourist at various historic sites, especially many of the old Churches. When I returned, I made an album of a selection of the photographs that I had taken and was showing them to some relatives at a recent family gathering. They were suitably impressed by the photos, especially many of the Churches, and some remarked that one did not see artwork and architecture like that today. I was forced to agree.

This exchange reminded me of a couple remarks made by the Archbishop Fulton Sheen. In the first, he speculated on why modern art and architecture was so ugly. He suggested that in religious ages, art and architecture was more beautiful because men believed in a spiritual world that they could represent materially. The material was used to represent the spiritual, and the former was dignified by the comparison. In the modern age (or rather, the second pagan age), artwork and architecture is often so ugly because there is nothing to represent materially. All that is left is the weird, and so much modern art has given up on the search for beauty and simply tries for the strange and unfamiliar.

Many of the Churches that I saw and photographs I took inclined me to agree with the late archbishop. The first image here is of the Florence Duomo. The second is of the world trade center in New York City.
If a picture is typically worth a thousand words, then these are worth far more. The former twin towers were little more than large concrete rectangles, The Florence Duomo far more.

It may be protested that this consists of a remarkably small sample size. Very well, the reader is invited to consider on his own whether there might be something to this, and whether myself and my relatives, untrained artists all of us, are right in agreeing that modern art and architecture is far worse than medieval. One wonders then why "medieval" has become almost a synonym for "backward" in the modern world.

If so, then surely this represents an indictment of the modern world. A material world that cannot believe in the spiritual is a far poorer world. And human sense rightly revolts against it.

Some do not. While traveling Italy, I met a young Scandinavian woman on a bus trying to find her way to a hostel. We began talking about our travels and I mentioned my fascination with all of the old Churches. She responded dismissively, "oh, when you've seen one Church, you've seen them all."

First of all, this is hardly true. It is the ugly buildings of the modern city that all look alike. The sheer variety all the all old Churches makes me think of the remark by C.S Lewis, "how monotonously alike all the tyrants of the world, how gloriously different all the saints." Second, it reminded me of a story told by Fulton Sheen. He told of a tourist at the Louvre who, on exiting commented contemptuously to a security guard who was standing by that he (the tourist) saw nothing to admire in those paintings. The security guard responded, "Listen! These pictures are not on trial; you are!"

It was not only that art has become ugly; it is that the modern materialist, like my Scandinavian acquaintance, also gradually loses his ability to appreciate beauty where it may be found. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, that right or wrong, materialism gradually destroyed the modern man's humanity.

What was true of that tourist is true of the modern world-- and of us. The modern world is on trial and the case for the prosecution, the ugly artistic consequences of our materialism alone, is a strong one indeed. The judge is just, the verdict coming. If the modern world does not reject its materialism, it will find, not only will it have lost the ability to produce beauty, but, it will also have lost the ability to appreciate it, with devastating consequences for its ability to enjoy heaven and the new creation that began with Easter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Resurrection: Surprised by Hope

This week are only a few brief reflections on one of the reasons the Resurrection matters, based largely on NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope.
The other day, while reading through NT Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven and the Resurrection, a few pages he wrote stood out. The book itself is a marvelous reflection on what Christians ought to think about life after death and why, and why what we think about the next life matters so much in this one. After spending a couple early chapters discussing the historical basis of Christian beliefs on life after death (or as he says more appropriately, life after life after death), Wright turns to drawing out the meaning and importance of those beliefs in the rest of the book. Before he gets there, however, he offers a few brief reflections on why people do not want to believe in the Resurrection.

By way of example, he offers the following scene from Oscar Wilde's play, Salome, when King Herod hears reports about Jesus of Nazareth raising the dead. Herod is furious. "I do not wish him to do that... I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead" (Wright 75).

This, Wright says, is the bluster of a tyrant who knows his power is threatened. Who, he continues, was it who do not want the dead to be raised? The tyrants and bullies, whether, social, political, or intellectual. "The Ceasars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrants last weapon, death itself... And this is the point where believing in the resurrection... becomes of matter of rediscovering hope in the 21st century. Hope is what you get when you realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview where the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word (Wright 75).

The tyrants who would insist that "dead men don't rise" are of various sorts, they take the form of people or places like Stalin or China who would ban religion. They might take the form of some intellectual bully (college professors are a common one) who insists that no "modern" person could possible believe Resurrection (though this belief is not modern at all, but very old and outdated, Homer and pagan Greece and Rome thought as much). All such and others would try to deny to the modern world the sort of hope the resurrection provides, because people without hope, are people who are easier to control. People with hope can transform the world.

But the hope of the Resurrection cannot be brushed aside. This hope is not optimism or a warm, fuzzy feeling of the sort that may be provided by a smooth talking politician or a sufficiently large alcoholic libation. Hope is the determination in a future world, with death defeated, a future world that begins here and that we are called to begin here. It is not "going to heaven when you die;" It is bringing the Resurrection and the new creation to the present world. To paraphrase Fulton Sheen, the Resurrection is not something that has happened, it is something that is happening, and something for us to participate in.

Happy Easter

No, they're not "special"

Contrary to greeting card sentiments, I do not think that the Eucharist is meant to make us "special."

Last week, we were going to a First Communion, and I wanted to give a card. And of course I wanted to find a good one. So we (yes, I made him come look with me) went to look for a card. The first place we looked only had one left that I didn't like very much. So the next day we tried another place, which had a bunch to choose from, and one annoying thing in common. There is a very great over-use of the word "special" in these cards. "For a special boy" dominated the fronts of many of the cards, or sometimes something about "your special day" or, to really overdo it: "For a special boy on his special day." Yes, some cards did actually have an otherwise meaningful sentiment inside, and I found a couple that I really liked. I give extra points to cards that actually use the words "Eucharist" or "Sacrament" as well.

I know that I should not place too much importance on how greeting card sentiments are written, or have too high an expectation of knowledge on the part of those who write them. Some of the sentiments in the cards, though, did seem to have been written by someone with at least some understanding of the doctrines around the sacrament of the Eucharist. Some even sounded as if they may have been written to be Catholic, with reference (or at least implication) to the Real Presence of Jesus. The people who write these cards seem to know that a) receiving the Eucharist for the first time is a big deal and b) it's a big deal because of what it has to do with Jesus/ God's Grace, etc. They must know at least that.

So why this apparent need to assign "special"ness to the recipient? Why cloud the meaning of an otherwise meaningful sentiment about receiving the Grace of the sacrament with a "you're special" statement stamped first and foremost? The main problems I see with this are a dislocation of the significance from the sacrament itself to the recipient, and also an invention of personal achievement on the part of the recipient.

There seems to be a strong need to emphasize individual specialness in our culture, as in, being inherently and independently "special"n in one way or another, or just in a general sense. If we are "special," whatever that is supposed to mean, we are such because that is the way God has created us, but it does not come from the reception of a sacrament itself, as if it's a personal achievement of some sort; that's not what the sacraments are for. We do gain something from every sacrament that was not there before we received it, but to use an over-applied term like "special" really cheapens the value of the sacrament. To use it in the context of conveying a message to a child, it is particularly misleading to him. A child will not realize that in this context, "special" is (hopefully) meant to imply being imparted with God's grace, but to him it means "I am special, I have achieved something because of how special I am on my own, all by myself." I don't think this is what we should be teaching our children when they receive the Eucharist. Instead of saying "You're so special you get to have communion with everyone else now," we should be saying, "This is God and his grace you are receiving, this is why you need it, and why it will now help make you a better person."

So I guess what I am getting at is that we seem to think that we are already inherently great persons, and do not need God in order to achieve this personal greatness which we already assign to ourselves. This error we convey to our children when we emphasize specialness over God.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Resurrection and History

We continue to celebrate the Easter Season by considering the Resurrection. Last week’s post was some simple reflections on Updike’s famous poem on the Resurrection; this week briefly considers some historical evidence for the Resurrection; the next couple weeks will consider other aspects of it and why it matters.

St. Paul famously wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is in vain,” while centuries later John Updike echoed him saying if He did not rise in His body, “the Church will fall.” Unlike every other religion and mythology, Christianity is unique in being based on a single historical event, without which it cannot survive (1); here then, I will consider briefly some evidence for that event sketching an argument developed by modern scholars such as N.T. Wright and William Lane Craig.

A good sketch of evidence for the Resurrection will have two parts, 1. Establish 3 facts (the empty tomb, appearances of the risen Christ, and the origin of Christian belief, and 2. Establishing that the best explanation of those facts is that the Resurrection really occurred.

I. The Three facts:

A). Jesus’ Burial and discovery of his empty tomb three days later.

1. The discovery of the empty tomb in multiply attested in early, independent sources. The pre-marken passion source, Paul’s letter to Corinthians mentions it, Matthew is an independent source since he includes the guard at the tomb, which is not in Mark.

2. Mark’s story is simple and lacks significant legendary development. (esp. compared to later Gnostic gospels which are real legends.

3. The empty tomb was discovered by women. Women were not regarded as reliable witnesses, so their presence indicates the account is probably legit, since no one would invent women as discovers of the empty tomb.

4. The earliest Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (Matt. 28.15) shows that the body was in fact missing from the tomb. The only reason to put that story there was if the Jews were really claiming that Jesus’s followers stole his body, by which they admitted the tomb was empty.

5. The disciples could never have preached the Resurrection unless the tomb were really empty. No one would have believed them

- For these and at least 3 other reasons, Gary Habermas found in a survey that 75% of scholars admit the empty tomb. “Experience of the Risen Jesus” Dialog 45 (2006):292.

B. Appearances of the risen Christ on multiples occasions to multiples individuals.

1. “The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.”

2. The gospels account for multiples appearances, including to the women. The latter are probably reliable for the reason given above. They would not have been made up.

3. The appearances were physical. Paul in Corinthians implies this, Jesus invites Thomas to touch his side, Jesus eats a fish. If the appearances were not physical, the disciples would not have said Jesus was raised, they’d say they saw his ghost.

- Even the radical skeptic Ludemann agrees that these appearances happened. He simply disagrees on the best explanation of them, by arguing that they are simply hallucinations.

C. The Origin of Christian Belief: The Disciples Came to Believe, in Spite of Every Reason Not to, That Jesus Was Really Raised From the Dead (This section is largely from NT Wright).

1. The ancient world always used the word “Resurrection” to mean a physical bodily resurrection. And they universally, from Plato, to Homer, through ancient Greece and Rome, agreed that Resurrection in this sense did not happen.

2. The sole exception was the Jews, who came to believe there would be a Resurrection of all the just, at the end of time.

3. Among the early Christians, however, this belief underwent some remarkable changes: a. Resurrection moves from the periphery to the center, b. Early Christians came to believe one man has been raised ahead of time, c. Early Christians came to believe that the Messiah has been raised, d. Resurrection becomes something Jesus’ followers could contribute to in the present life.

4. Finally, in early Christianity, as opposed to Judaism and paganism, there was virtually no spectrum of belief of life after death.

5. Beliefs in life after death, being very important and precious to people, tend to be very conservative. For Christians to 1). show such changes and 2). agree almost completely, this demands explanation

Part II- The explanation of these three facts.

The most probable explanation of these three facts is that Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead leaving behind an empty tomb. It easily exceeds other explanations in explanatory scope, power, and other criteria for best explanation.

Please Note- none of these arguments assume the Bible was written early or that it was written by the first generation. I only claim that it is sufficient, when treated as a historical source, to establish the facts listed above.

Further Reading:

- Beginner/Popular Level:

NT Wright, Surprised By Hope Rethinking Heaven and the Resurrection, chap. 3-4.

NT. Wright, http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

William Lane Craig, The Son Rises

Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, chap. 8.

- Academic

NT. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

(1). Of course, we cannot confuse the existence of the event with evidence for the event. If the Resurrection were shown not to have occurred, then Christianity would fall, but it might have occurred and there could simply be little evidence for it (though I think the evidence remarkably good).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Cross of Christ: Embarassment or Reason to Boast?

The Cross of Christ: Embarrassment or Reason to Boast?

Here begins the first a several blogs posts for the Easter season on the Resurrection. This is simply some brief reflections on a favorite John Updike poem.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

—John Updike, “Seven Stanzas At Easter,” 1964

In Galatians 6:14, St. Paul said, “may I boast in nothing but the cross of Christ.” For a Christian the cross is a tremendous source of pride and cause for awe, as we boast in a God who took on human flesh and became man, thereby committing the greatest act of humility the world had ever seen. Similarly, He took the full force of all the world’s evil onto himself, defeating sin and death in the greatest act of love the world had ever seen.

Though St. Paul boasted in the cross, for much of modern society and many people, even some claiming the name of Christian, the cross is not a source of pride, but a source of embarrassment. It was of those that John Updike wrote warning lest they be embarrassed by the miracle.

Modern embarrassment with the idea of a God who took on flesh, died, and then rose in glorified flesh essentially dates to the so-called Enlightenment and rise of materialism toward the end of the eighteenth century. Modern people “knew” that dead men did not rise as their silly unenlightened ancestors, bless their fruit of the looms, had believed. This change affected even theology as 20th century theologians began to reject the reality of the Resurrection. Rudolph Bultmann, (I think) remarked that no one who had seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope could be expected to believe in the literal Resurrection. Consequently, he turned the Resurrection into a metaphor, a sign of the call to authentic existence in the face of death.

A modern material mind cannot believe in the Resurrection, it believes that dead men do not rise. Yet, the modern mind, still does not become wholly irreligious. Like Bultmann, it may try to retain some “spiritual” (though the belief is really very unspiritual) metaphorical meaning, thereby “mocking God with metaphor.” The modern mind, like the pagan antique mind, cannot accept a literal, physical Resurrection. God as matter is repellent to it.

It is a strange thing that the more materialist the word becomes, the more disgusted with matter it becomes. A literal resurrection is foolishness to the gentiles, but a “spiritual” religion such as Buddhism or the eastern paganisms are perfectly acceptable. This disgust with matter may come from the fact that in a material universe, the universe is simply, as one writer put it, the random product of time plus chance. There is nothing to give it purpose or meaning, and hence nothing to dignify it. And so matter and the material world becomes a prison.

This embarrassment with the crucifixion, however, is nothing new; rather it goes back to the beginning. Paul in Corinthians wrote that ‘we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” Peter himself confessed Our Lord as Messiah, but then objected to the Crucifixion and was denounced as Satan. Indeed, disgust with a God become man who suffered, died, and rose, goes back further still. One of the speculations about Satan’s fall, was that God revealed to him the episode of the cross and Satan objected. Satan refused to adore a God who would so humble himself and become man. He was too enlightened.

To the Christian, however, the cross is not an embarrassment. Rather, the love and humility of God become man, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are not a cause for embarrassment, but a source of pride, and indeed, the only real source of pride in the whole universe. Children boast on the playground that “my daddy can beat your daddy.” The Christian can similarly boast, with St. Paul, that Our Father, the God become man in Jesus, has fought and beaten the entire forces of evil, sin, and death, and Resurrexit.

Happy Easter