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ACE Weekly Coverstory: Risen, Redux; The community responds

© ACE Weekly 4. April 2002



Last week's cover story sparked such a voluminous response - and dialogue - that we've elected to provide space for this week's cover story to address the commentary. The content does not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Ace (any more than last week's cover), and is not intended to represent the entirety of the extensive reader response. It is intended to constitute a representative sampling.

...Submitted by David Fitts

Did Jesus really "resurrect" from the dead? Did Jesus really exist?

For some, the answers are a matter of faith. For others, it is a question of scientific/historic investigation. Without a doubt, the Christian religion has been tinkered with over these past 2 millennia. The enduring question of who or what we are still remains. Is it possible to answer these questions?

Great teachers and philosophers have attempted to answer these questions, with religions sometimes formed in the wake of the legacy. Sidhartha Gatauma, commonly referred to as "the Buddha," may have been more of a philosopher than a prophet, as his teachings decidedly veered out of what is commonly accepted as the basis of religion. Take, for instance, the following quote: "Believe nothing, o monks, merely because you have been told it...or because it is traditional, or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings-that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide."

So, apparently, we are left to our own devices, our own experience in determining the nature of reality. One of the greatest Catholic minds of modern times, Thomas Merton, recognized that the dynamic of faith crossed the religious lines of belief.

He explored Buddhism, meeting with the Dalai Lama in an effort to understand a different faith. He did so while rooted firmly in the strength of his own faith.

Medical science has begun to acknowledge the power of faith and prayer in healing. This dynamic doesn't seem to operate on ideological lines at all. It doesn't matter if you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or Pagan, if one's faith is sufficient, even a terminal disease can be reversed.

The Buddha also said that the mind was the source of both happiness and suffering. And, as "miracle" healing demonstrates, the mind (or simply 'mind') is far more powerful than we have here to fore recognized. The renowned Polish psychic, Wolf Messing, discovered under duress that he had the ability to cast his thoughts into the minds of others. This realization allowed Messing to escape his Gestapo interrogators and make his way into the Soviet Union. Scientists there verified this amazing ability, as well as others. Messing would have gone to Siberia with the rest of the war refugees of Europe, but he was able to demonstrate his ability to Stalin personally.

What does this power of mind have to do with religious teachings? Recognition of 'mind' is the basis of many teachings and religions. Created in the image of God, does this make us small 'creators?' Certainly we hold that art/music can be held up as examples of our ability to create. But many of the teachings also draw a stark distinction between 'mind' and ego.

While it is recognized that we can have uniqueness as individuals, our egos can reek havoc on our experience of life and how we relate to others. Hence, many of the teachings were designed to have followers recognize the difference between ego based motivation and that of 'higher mind' or God.

It seems that many of the great teachers have admonished their followers to not turn the teachings into a personality cult. If we do this, we have missed the point. Alas, the work to be done is first and foremost an "inside job." We must "know ourselves." And as the great Zen writer, Alan Watts said: "When you confer spiritual authority on another person, you must realize that you are allowing them to pick your pocket and sell you your own watch."

So, in looking at the question: "Did Jesus resurrect?" really matter? Or does the message of love and peace, prevalent in the New Testament, matter more? The message (or symbolism) of the resurrection may be a message of life eternal and that what is apparently so (death) is not as it may seem. The notion of practice of peace and love, however, can be verified in the here and now by how we relate to others. It's an inside job, with verification through our relatedness to others.

Clearly, the ego is much more comfortable operating in the "domination and control" paradigm that is the cornerstone of many cultures, including ours. It seems apparent that the Christian message of peace and love is in direct conflict with the paradigm of "dominate and control." If you are truly "Christian," how do you resist playing the game of "dominate and control?" This question certainly plays out in other religions too, with differences in interpretation, but with the common thread of the ego based "dominate and control" paradigm. This may explain why, when the prophets, avatars, wise ones, come and impart information, this information is soon distorted/co-opted to fit the existing paradigm. In effect, the words of wisdom are twisted into a logic used to justify the existing dominant paradigm. The focus moves decidedly toward belief (making it about the 'personality' of the bringer) and away from the original practice (we individuals getting a handle on who we are as egos and how this effects our relatedness to one another).

A large component of faith is the belief in something that can't be verified through rational means. Hence belief in the "Resurrection." I have noticed that people claiming to be "Christian" find it fairly easy to diverge from the message of love, peace and non-violence. As long as you believe in the Resurrection, it's okay to "smite thy neighbor." Is this 'human nature' or simply a dynamic of the "domination and control" paradigm?

The ultimate actions of a human being are recognizing who we are in the here and now; to demonstrate the willingness to question and investigate our beliefs; and, after due diligence, changing what doesn't work. Anything short of this might be termed "insanity" or certainly less than fully human.

How do we as people, find a way to honor who we are as individuals, to allow for individual differences without wounding, maiming, or killing in the process? I'll leave you with the words of the 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz:

"The great religions are the ships, poets the lifeboats.

Every sane person I know is jumping overboard.

This is good for business, Hafiz!"

Submitted by Jim Gorham:

I can distinctly remember hearing for the first time such theories regarding the Resurrection of Jesus as espoused by the distinguished professor Gerd Lüdemann. Being a man of faith I must admit I found them somewhat unnerving and a bit intimidating as they seemed to come from men of great learning and distinction. Was my faith in Jesus and the Resurrection something akin to belief in the tooth fairy? If I were exposed to all the relevant data would I reluctantly be forced to admit that skeptics such as Lüdemann were right? Does the institutional church attempt to silence such men, knowing full well that traditional beliefs have no answer to these learned critical thinkers? For me these were all serious questions for which I needed serious answers. And after years of study and a masters degree in theology, I can say with confidence that I've gotten solid answers to those questions. Allow me to summarize my conclusions:

There's nothing new about these learned critical theories; they've been around for centuries. The reason they've not caught on has nothing to do with a conspiracy of silence by church authorities who know the critics have a point. On the contrary, once one is aware of the relevant facts, these critical theories are decisively refuted. There's a core of details surrounding the Resurrection story that theologians of all philosophical persuasion consider to be knowable history, far beyond any reasonable doubt. To suggest as Mr. Lüdemann has, that the disciples suffered from some hallucination of the risen Christ flies in the face of such core historical knowledge. Consider the scholarly consensus that Jesus was buried in a tomb, and the tomb was in fact empty on that first Easter morning. This simple fact renders the hallucination theory impotent and the reason is fairly simple. If the hallucination theory were correct, then the body of Jesus was still lying in a tomb, the location of which was well known to the authorities and the disciples. Thus the authorities' refutation of the disciples alleged hallucination would be as simple as removing Jesus' body and publicly displaying it. The fact they didn't is compelling evidence the body was missing. So maybe the disciples stole the body? Not likely. Why would the disciples risk life and limb preaching the resurrection of Jesus, when all the while they possessed his rotting corpse? Is it possible that some third party stole the body? Again not likely, given the white hot atmosphere surrounding the execution of Jesus, and his public prediction of his own resurrection. The gospel story of the Roman seal and guards being placed at the tomb has to be regarded as very credible. No uninterested third party is going to risk his life over what would amount to a prank. Additionally, it takes no small stretch of the imagination to believe the witnesses had the same hallucination over a 40 day period! Until Mr. Lüdemann comes up with a credible explanation for what happened to the body of Jesus, his theory will forever be consigned to the ash heap with the other implausible theories which collapse under critical examination.

Elsewhere, Lüdemann argues that much of what the New Testament proposes was not the original message, but may have been tagged on by later generations of believers. Again the facts refute him. A study of early church history reveals a tenacious adherence to the undefiled message of Christ. Any hint of innovation was rebuked by the leaders in the strongest possible terms. To suggest that all kinds of pious legends regarding what Jesus said and did could easily make their way into the accepted message of the early church is naive at best. Additionally, scholars have conclusively shown the major tenets of the faith had already been cemented within two to five years of the crucifixion. This is deduced from Paul's letter to the Corinthians about the year 50 AD. Here and elsewhere the apostle gives us the basic tenets of the Christian faith in creedal form (I Corinthians 15:3 - 8). Thus, as scholars assure us, these early creeds enshrine beliefs that would obviously have to be dated much earlier, going back to within a couple of years of the Resurrection itself. Creeds simply don't develop overnight!

To those who hold to a belief in the traditional message of Christianity, you can rest assured your beliefs are well-founded and utterly rational. There's no need to feel intimidated by the views of men such as Lüdemann. In fact I would urge you to confront the issues he raises by your own historical research. It will only tend to strengthen your faith. To those who are persuaded by the scholarship of Lüdemann and others like him such as the Jesus Seminar, I would counsel you to read a good critique of their work by other competent scholars. You may then well understand why their work is not considered credible by the majority of biblical scholars.

Submitted by Chaplain Christopher Platt

This is almost too much fun!

I penned a "Counterpoint" critical of Gerd (the Absurd) Lüdemann and was accused of "betraying the liberal agenda." My agenda is NOT that easily classified. Does it get any better than this? I submit that it does not.

Lüdeman, back in the 90s, acknowledged that the Resurrection of Jesus is essential to the Christian faith. He came to refer to the Resurrection as the "Great Deception" and read the Last Rites not only over the dead-as-a-doornail body of Jesus but over the entirety of Christianity as well.

Why in the world does he want to teach in a Protestant seminary?

Lüdemann the historian apparently does not understand that his views are nothing new. The Gnostics agreed with him 2,000 years ago. The 150 year old "Quest for the Historical Jesus" is "raging against the dying of the light" as it undergoes its own death throes. Lüdemann, the "Jesus Seminar," and millions of undergraduate philosophy majors notwithstanding, nothing new is being written in this field.

Six years ago a cover story entitled 'Rethinking the Resurrection' appeared in Newsweek. It concluded that "...apart from what is found in Scripture, there is little that one can say about the identity of Jesus. Like Socrates, Jesus is inscribed in the words of those who wrote about him. And all of them proclaimed his Resurrection from the dead."

As a person who applauds freedom of speech and the separation of church and state, I defend Lüdemann's right to write whatever he pleases. I am not forced to read it. If I do read it, I am not forced to agree with it. This stance is peculiar to just a few nations, including the United States of America. Lüdemann, of the University of Gottingen in Germany, is attempting to apply this nation's standards to another nation. The Lutheran Church is the Church of Germany. The church-state consortium does not approve of Lüdemann as a seminary teacher.

The German courts have twice declared that this is their right.

One last point: From a literary and academic perspective, this brouhaha has elevated Lüdemann to a position of prominence which he does not deserve. Both John Shelby Spong (an Episcopal bishop) and John Dominic Crossan are much better writers than Lüdemann and all three are writing about the same things.

© ACE Weekly 4. April 2002


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