And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
—1 Corinthians 15:14 (King James version)
The quote above is one I use in Faith Versus Fact to help demonstrate that truth does matter to many believers—that factual claims of religion are often vitally important to sustaining the faith. If it were all just a made-up story, or a long metaphor, people wouldn’t be nearly as religious. And this holds for many faiths. If John Frum didn’t exist, and his followers knew it, there wouldn’t be cargo cults.
This point is demonstrated by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren’s new Easter column in the NYT. In fact, she takes the exact opposite stand of Tim DeRoche described in my previous post. DeRoche argued that there’s no compelling evidence that Jesus was resurrected, but it didn’t matter anyway. In contrast, as you can tell from Warren’s title, it’s crucial for Christians to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Such are the conundrums in a world where science is increasingly putting the lie to religious claims.
Click to read:
Warren uses two poems to argue for the importance of Jesus’s bodily resurrection: Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The first argues that the Resurrection really happened; the second that its truth transforms the world, offering the possibility of redemption. And Hopkins tells us why the first is so vital for Harrison: for if Christ be not risen, then is Harrison’s preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. That is, the resurrection has to be true because if it isn’t, Harrison is wasting her life, as are the many Christians, who like her (and unlike DeRoche) depend on the literality of the Crucifixion/Resurrection tale.
Now I’m not being completely fair to Warren. She has one other reason why she thinks the Resurrection happened:
I believe, in part, because I doubt my doubts and I doubt my doubt about my doubts. I can keep going. Round and round, round and round.
But at the end of the day, there’s this unflinching claim to reality: an empty tomb, as Updike says, a stone rolled back, “not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story.” And I, like every person who encounters this claim, have to decide if Jesus’ earliest followers died for something they knew to be a lie.
The first sentence is pilpul: you don’t believe something because you doubt it and then don’t doubt it and go back and forth. That proves nothing.
But what about the second argument? After all, people wouldn’t die for something if it wasn’t true, would they? But of course Jesus’s followers could have died even if he hadn’t been Resurrected. They could have died simply because he was a charismatic leader with a message they fervently believed in. After all, Jim Jones, who was not resurrected, persuaded over 900 people to die in Jonestown. Further, what about all those Christians who died and never saw the Resurrection, or all those Muslims or Hindus or Jews who died without believing in a Resurrection? To say that if people die for a belief then that belief must be true is the height of self-deception. And that’s all the evidence that Harrison has.
Here Harrison is accepting one of the many bogus arguments apologists make for the truth of the Resurrection story (another is that it was reported by women, and people wouldn’t believe women back then if they weren’t speaking the truth). Here’s evidence that a main reason for her self-forced belief is because it offers her what she wants:
Jesus promises a future when everything is made new. But the only real evidence that that is any more than wishful thinking is rooted in history, as solid as a stone rolled away. The Resurrection happening in truth, in real time, is the only evidence that that love in fact outlasts the grave, that what is broken can be mended, and that death and pain do not have the final word.
Not everything will be redeemed in our lifetime but, even now, we see newness breaking in, we see glimpses of the healing to come. We believe that, because “He is risen indeed,” we can know God and our lives can participate in the life of God, that our own biographies and mundane days collide with eternity.
If Jesus defeated death one morning in Jerusalem, then suddenly every revitalization, every new birth, every repaired relationship, every ascent from despair, every joy after grief, every recovery from addiction, every coral reef regeneration, every achievement of justice, every rediscovery of beauty, every miracle, every found hope becomes a sign of what Jesus did in history and of a promised future where all things will be made new.
I don’t see any “glimpses of the healing to come”. Do you?
In other words, If Christ be not risen, then is her preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. To make a syllogism again (I’m not good at that!), because Harrison knows that her preaching and faith are not in vain, yet they would be in vain if Christ hadn’t risen, then he must have risen. This is what’s known as confirmation bias.
Of course the Passover story is equally bogus, and I’ll criticize that, too—when the NYT starts presenting it as if it were fact.