Tuesday, April 22, 2014

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At Religion News Service, Kimberly Winston wonders if you can be a Christian if you don’t believe that Jesus physically walked out of the tomb:

“On the third day, he rose again.”

That line, from the Nicene Creed, is the foundational statement of Christian belief. It declares that three days after Jesus died on the cross, he was resurrected, a glimmer of the eternal life promised to believers. It’s the heart of the Easter story in seven little words.

But how that statement is interpreted is the source of some of the deepest rifts in Christianity — and a stumbling block for some Christians and more than a few skeptics.

Did Jesus literally rise from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one, a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?

To James Martin SJ, if you don’t believe in the actual, physical Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, you might as well stop wasting your time and start sleeping in on Sunday mornings. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 and all that.

“More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of the new book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”

“But believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter without the Resurrection is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all.”

Scott Korb, on the other hand, goes the Episcopalian route and invents a “resurrection” with which he’s comfortable.

Scott Korb, 37, has a different take. Though he now describes himself as a non-practicing Catholic, he once wanted to become a priest. At that time, he believed Jesus literally rose from the dead, but now finds himself accepting the story only symbolically.

“The miracle of a bodily resurrection is something I rejected without moving away from its basic idea,” Korb, a New York University professor, said. “What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again — that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others.”

And that change — from a literal to a metaphorical approach — has given the story more power, he said.

“There is only one story to be told of a single man who dies and then rises,” Korb said. “But if we think about the metaphor of the Resurrection, that allows us to return to the story year after year and find new meaning in it.”

So a metaphor is more powerful than a dead guy rising to life again?  To you, maybe, Scottie.  But not to anybody else with a functional intellect.

Personally, I don’t find your view of the Resurrection the least bit powerful, moving, significant, interesting or worth any of my time.  And what would a piece like this be without a contribution from this megalomaniacal old fraud?

Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, best known for his famously liberal interpretation of Christianity, does not adhere to Rivett’s literal view of the Resurrection. His 1994 book, “Resurrection: Myth or Reality?” caused a dust-up when it asked, “Does Christianity fall unless a supernatural miracle can be established?”

For Spong, 82, the answer is an emphatic no.

“I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation,” he said. “I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence” — not his body — “was manifested to certain witnesses.”

Like Rivett, he too thinks the Resurrection must be placed in context to be interpreted and understood — something he tried to do as a young priest in the Bible Belt through yearlong Bible study classes culminating in the Easter story, he said.

“I tried to help people get out of that literalism,” he said. “But you don’t do it in a single sermon. You need time to lay the groundwork and for people to process it, ask questions. You have to begin to build it.”

Spong’s Bible studies were enormously popular, attracting 300 people to each session, he said. His congregations grew as a result.

“When people hear it, they grab on to it,” Spong said. “They could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literally they could not be a Christian.”

A Christian, Spong said, is one who accepts the reality of God without the requirement of a literal belief in miracles.

Sure your congregations grew, John.  Because who isn’t attracted to a religion defined by assumed theological superiority and arrogant intellectual condescension?

Whatever that religion happens to be.

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