Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lisa Miller on the resurrection of the body

[The Ascension by Brian Jekel - from Pictures of Jesus]

Lisa Miller has done it again...another "controversial" (more or less) article in Newsweek. This time she takes on a question with an eternal significance.

What happens when we die? That's the question. According to Ms. Miller, about 80 percent of Americans think they're going to heaven. (Gonna be crowded!)

But when you ask these believers what form they will take, "the consensus breaks down. According to a 2005 NEWSWEEK poll, only half of Americans think of resurrection as a physical event, a revivification of flesh after death. More than a third think of it as something spiritual, an ascension of the soul that leaves the corpse behind."

That "spiritual" stuff just isn't good enough for the real God-lovers. Miller says that "a small group of orthodox Christian and Jewish scholars are trying to force the issue" by arguing "that from the beginning, Jews and Christians have understood resurrection as a physical transformation -- a literal reversal of death."

And if you're going to call yourself a "true" believer, you must believe in a physical resurrection!

Miller refers to books by an Anglican bishop and an "evangelical" Christian, both of which insist that the notion of a physical resurrection is "central to Christian faith."

Then there's a Jewish scholar from Harvard who "argues that a Jewish belief in the resurrection has its origins in the Torah (a controversial claim in scholarly circles) and a long tradition in rabbinic Judaism."

Well, I wonder what Torah he's been reading. Resurrection of the body in the Torah? I don't think so!

Fundamentalists of any stripe are interesting creatures. They tend to go backward instead of forward, and become increasingly reliant upon ancient tribal customs and beliefs to nourish their need for spirituality.

Ms. Miller also refers to St. Augustine who wrote "of the real, resurrected body. In heaven, he wrote in 'City of God,' you will be your perfect self: unblemished and 30-something. If you were fat in life, you will become pleasingly thinner; if too thin, you will become robust."

Or, as Paula Fredriksen said in her book about Augustine: "Our bodies will be the very same ones we had in life, but buff and beautiful."

Well, Augustine wrote lots of things and much of it is pure nonsense and utterly stupid from a scientific point of view and worthless so far a modern human beings go. And some of it's evil -- especially his diatribes against the Jews. So, why would anyone believe his delusions about heaven and the resurrection of the body.

Furthermore, all of this resurrection of the body theology is predicated on the belief that God can and does do miracles and should have no problem revivifying our physicality, no matter how decomposed or non-existent it might be.

Which leads one to wonder, of course, why, if God is so good at miracles, we need to go through the process of death in the first place, especially if that process includes incredible physical and mental pain and suffering.

We might also wonder, why, if God is so good at miracles, he couldn't have left us clear instructions or an unambiguous "Manual for Heaven" in which all our questions would be answered without the need for scholars and theologians to dissect materials written by ignorant goat herders living three millennia ago.

Which brings up the last point. Nobody knows anything about any of this! What happens after we die will remain a mystery until we die. The scholars don't know. The theologians don't know. The psychics don't know. The Republicans don't know. Nobody knows!

So, you're quite free to believe anything you wish. And don't worry about "orthodox" Christian or Jewish scholars, 'cause they don't know, either, in spite of their pretensions to the contrary. But, if you choose to believe that your physical body is somehow going to be put back together but in a form that would make Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie envious, you're choosing to believe something for which there is not a shred of evidence anywhere!

There is no evidence for any kind of life after death, much less a physical resurrection.


DB said...

I am not holding my breath waiting for them to come to a consensus on their "universal" truths. Though I am curious, does this chaos not ring any bells for them?

MDL said...

The evidence for a physical resurrection is that a man walked the earth for 33 years, was put to death by the authorities of his time, his tomb guarded by military officers for fear of his disciples "faking" a resurrection and then he was resurrected. Resurrected, he walked the face of the earth for 40 days, cooked fish on the beach for some of his followers and was seen by over 500 witnesses, including those hostile to him and those who doubted his return. That resurrected body ascended in to heaven where he reigns, and where he will return to renew the face of the earth. The hope of this Parousia does not remove individuals and society from culpability as stewards of creation, nor place our hope solely on some faraway time or heaven. Simply, it puts this life in the context of eternity. Your soul, your person is eternal and the intention was for your body to be as such as well. It is written in our beings and any logical person can at least recognize that something about the current world and bodily existence is only a shadow of the full potential and reality of the human person. The universe and stars themselves point toward an infinity to which the realities of this world fall quite short. I respect you for your considerations, as I too once doubted but was boxed out of my persistent skepticism as I deeply questioned the truths of the New Testament as a historical record and considered the risks the disciples took in propagating their claims. All eleven of the disciples that saw this resurrected man and interacted with him went on to suffer a martyr's death in distant places of their time. Who would do that for a lie? Wouldn't at least one deny? Your proof of resurrection walked, died and returned to walk amongst us once again. He lives now and while we wait here using a fraction of our human mind's potential trying to figure out our existence, he serves within an eternity that reaches within our time, making himself available to help us understand a small portion of that reality. Can you risk believing that for a moment and ask him to help you understand? He helped me understand, and I have forever been changed. The hope is worth it.

Jacob said...

Well, what you call "evidence" is nothing of the sort; and if you knew the New Testament at all you'd know the stories about all of this are conflicting and contradictory.

Actually, you're speaking theology, not history. And you're free to believe anything you wish, even if it is horsefeathers.

You really need to do some in depth biblical study. Read a few books not written by fundamentalist christianists with an axe to grind.

Start maybe with Bart Ehrman.

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