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Friday, March 23, 2012

Is it Reasonable to Believe in the Resurrection?

Easter is approaching, so I've decided to write a number of posts about Jesus' resurrection. For me, it was the central issue during the process of my conversion.
I will start with a few considerations regarding how atheists look at this huge Christian belief. For them it's just a fantasy, based on airy notions. They claim to be truth-seekers, but what is theological reflection if not a search for truth? An ultimate truth that belongs to a different dimension, therefore can't be within our grasp.

I must admit that I'm baffled by those atheists who are also scientists. To me, modern physics has given us a glimpse into a world so mysterious that it's impossible not to feel awe, at some level the same awe that religious people feel in the presence of the mystery of God. Introducing his lectures on quantum mechanics, Feynman wrote:
"Because atomic behavior is so unlike ordinary experience, it is very difficult to get used to, and it appears peculiar and mysterious to everyone…We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way…We cannot make the mystery go away by 'explaining' how it works. We will just tell you how it works."
The very same words could be used to describe Jesus' resurrection, especially in light of the last studies of the Shroud of Turin. Any attempt to replicate the image impressed on the linen has failed, except for by means of radiations, which by the way should be so conspicuous that cannot be obtained in a laboratory.

Christians believe in the resurrection also because they find the historical data convincing. In my opinion, if atheists took the time to examine this data with an open mind, namely abandoning the prejudice that "it couldn't have happened", they would look at Christianity with more respect. The physicist John Polkinghorne expressed what I'm clumsily trying to say with these insightful words:
"Scientists who are carefully reflective about their activity do not instinctively ask the question 'Is it reasonable?' as if they were confident beforehand what shape rationality had to take…Instead, for the scientist the proper phrasing of the truth seeking question takes form 'What makes you think this might be the case?"
This is exactly the type of inquiry an open minded secular person should ask to the Christian. The latter, on the other hand, should resist the temptation to answer, but should instead present the non-believer with a number of volumes it may very well take a year to read! Unfortunately, an atheist would never waste so much time to investigate the resurrection, for he would take for granted that is not even a possibility. Countless times I've presented my son with the books I was reading, but he never allowed himself more than a distracted glimpse. His argument is that sociology argues that there are always plausible explanations for the birth of a religion. To me, this is a generalization. Nobody denies that religions are born in similar circumstances, namely in a socio-cultural context where people need to gather around a charismatic leader to find their spiritual dimension. However, this doesn't mean that the difficulties for the religious movement to establish itself are always the same, or that the leaders are all inspired by God.

I'm a Christian because I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that the historical context in which Christianity developed is revealing of divine intervention. Of course the atheist doesn't see it that way. In his flat world, exceptionality has no place, and Christ becomes just one of many.