Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

With the release of a movie based on Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, I thought a little repost of some things I wrote before might go well for today, with a few minor edits.
(Source here)
Back in 2011, author Lee Strobel wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal called "How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism".  It's short, only about "a page", but behind a pay wall.  If you're a subscriber, it's worth your while to RTWT.  His book is worth reading if you're the kind of person with any questions about faith, or can't understand "how can an intelligent person believe in God?", a common idea.  A good place to hang out is Sense of Events.  Ever noticed how when the average comedian does a parody of a dumb person, it's always someone with a southern accent?  If they're going to make fun of Christians, it's always a dumb southerner who pronounces "Jesus" with three or more syllables?  I'll leave the topic of perceived intelligence of southerners vs. northerners for another day (well... except for this).

In a way, his story starts the same way mine does:
It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. Two words shot through my mind. The first was an expletive; the second was “divorce.”
This was me in the mid 1980s.  In Lee's case he goes on to say,
I thought she was going to turn into a self-righteous holy roller. But over the following months, I was intrigued by the positive changes in her character and values. Finally, I decided to take my journalism and legal training (I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune) and systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity.
My wife didn't show any of those "positive changes in her character and values" - she really didn't need any - (no disrespect to Mrs. Strobel intended).  And although I didn't have "journalism and legal training", I had studied biochemistry and microbiology in college through my third year before eventually getting my degree and starting to ply my trade as an engineer.  In addition, my wife had started a subscription to Bibical Archaeology Review and the constant refrain from archaeologists, not religiously motivated, along the lines of "we thought this was folklore, but here it is" got me thinking "maybe there's something to this."  Strobel's book, played a role in filling in the gaps in my historical knowledge. 

Easter is the most important day in Christianity and far more important than Christmas because of the resurrection.  Everyone has a birthday, but only one man in history has been resurrected.  So since virtually everyone, including honest atheists, agrees Jesus was a real man in history and died on the cross, the question becomes whether or not it can be verified that Christ was seen after the resurrection by someone other than the closest circle of disciples. Strobel says:
Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them.
Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!
In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.
The other religions of the world are about ritual and ultimately about self, about proving yourself worthy; Christianity is about grace.  You're not good enough on your best day; you are saved by Grace.  No other religion teaches Grace.  Islam teaches that Allah is unknowable.  Christianity teaches that not only is God knowable, he wants us to know him.  Islam doesn't teach salvation, it teaches servitude to a fickle, arbitrary, distant Allah.  Christianity teaches forgiveness by Grace; that you're given a gift you don't deserve by a God who wants a close personal relationship with us.  I like the way the Message translation does this verse (Ephesians 2: 8)
It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. 
Evolution vs. creation? I believe people pay way too much attention to this.  There's no mention of evolution in the bible, but there's no mention of the laws of thermodynamics, Avogadro's number, or relativity.  The bible isn't a science book.  Look at it this way: the creation story, how we got here, takes up a page.  The next thousand pages (or more, depending on font size, paper size, and so on) are concerned with how we treat each other while we're here.  Creation is clearly not the emphasis of the book, the other 99.999% is.  And saying nothingness or a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum exploded into light ("Let there be light") sounds like as good a picture of the standard model of cosmology for non-physicists 2000 years ago as I can think of.

Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your families.  I have a whole turkey and a dozen chicken drumsticks in the smoker as I type.  Enjoy things while we can.


  1. I enjoyed this article but one question re: "only one man in history has been resurrected" (perhaps a question better suited to Rev Paul or BRM)

    Could not Lazarus also be considered resurrected?


    1. Believe it or not, I thought about that and stuck with the text you see because Lazarus was brought back to life, but died a second time. The difference is Jesus was brought back to life and stayed alive.

      I don't claim to be an expert, so sorry if I came across that way.

  2. Outstanding post. My only quibble is that in Christianity there is no need (indeed, no capacity) to know God. But Grace is a gift that, as you say, comes despite everything. That is quite a view into the mystery that this the mind of God

  3. Would you mind if I used a few sentences from your paragraph beginning with "The other religions of the world..." for my communion meditation next Sunday? Our denomination takes communion every Sunday with a layman offering a brief meditation beforehand and my turn is up. My theme is 'Are you worthy of God's love? A trick question'. The scripture I'll use is Romans 5:8. You expressed several thoughts far better than I can and I would love to use them. Thank you for the fine post and for your consideration of my request.

  4. There is a difference between "religion" and the positive message it puts forth and the belief in a supreme being. Of course the positive aspects of religion is good and it is important to point out that you can have/enjoy all of these positive aspects without any religion at all.
    I was raised in the church and enjoyed church every Sunday. I never remember actually believing in god or any of the far out things the bible and the true believers say. I assumed that even the elders and priests in church didn't believe that strange stuff and simply understood that was what was handed down to us from a very superstitious and ignorant people of 2000 years ago and not true. I do sometimes run into people who believe in something/somebody sitting up there on a cloud or something looking down and judging our every action. Or for that matter in the after life or hell or whatever the religious leaders of 2000 years ago thought they could tell us to secure more power and control over us. I can't reconcile those beliefs with good common sense and intelligence and find it difficult to have any faith in someone who believes these things blindly. I still today (I'm 73) truly believe that most religious leaders do not believe in an actual god or an actual heaven/hell but must follow the meme as written to keep their position and do what they believe is "good things".

  5. Thanks for writing this piece...much appreciated. indyjonesouthere

  6. People historically adjacent to and overlapping the early Christians were convinced Zeus, Apollo, etc. were real. Why should I trust their written first person reports of miraculous happenings less than the early Christian reports? Similarly for any of the major world religions, one large group of humans is as able write about first person observations as accurately as any other. Muslim first person writings about supernatural events have as much evidence value as Christian ones. If the people believing their alien abductions and unplanned pregnancies happen via gray extraterrestrial-devils in round silver flying saucer ancient astronaut chariots ever increase to 100 million headcount, that will be equally valid evidence.

    One vital aspect of the truth-finding system called science is that the experiments can be reproduced by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and get the same results. No faith required, just do the experiment right now and observe the predicted result. But religions can't meet that standard.