Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 8/11 Post

I am curious about the idea that resurrection is beyond science. If we say Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, we are speaking biologically rather than metaphorically or mythically or symbolically. We are making a scientific claim that is absolutely within the realm of biology.

Just how did that happen? Did Jesus’ cells regenerate? What would have happened to his brain function after three days without oxygen? I’m not being factious here. I am taking this quite seriously. Even if it was a unique event, though I am unsure as to the criteria we would use to credit the Christian story and while simultaneously discrediting the other resurrection stories, even then we are still making a claim about a physical body, and that puts it clearly in the realm of science.

Given that all we know about biology makes the resurrection of the dead after three days physically impossible, the only answer I can come up with is this, “It was a miraculous act of God.” But all that really says is, “Given the nature of human biology, I don’t know how it could happen, but since I want to believe it happened I will take refuge in God.” God doesn’t answer the question, but only allows us to stop asking it.

I guess this is what you mean by it all boiling down to “individual decision.” I think I understand that idea, but, since you and I clearly decide differently, I wonder by what criteria we each make our respective decisions. My criteria are a blend of reason, science, and the fact that my formative years were steeped in denial of Jesus as anything but a Jew like myself. I am willing to question this last element of my conditioned thinking, but I am having a hard time with the first two.

When you opt to speak in theological language, however, I am right there with you. The story of the resurrection is a narrative affirming that the Powers then and now can not defeat the way of God, the way of nonviolent confrontation in the pursuit of justice, compassion, humility, love, and peace. This is deep magic, requiring an alchemical transformation of the human ego from fear to love. And that to me is what religion is: not science but alchemy. Not the literal transformation of lead into gold which, like the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus violate the laws of physics, but the psycho-spiritual transformation of the alienated and fearful ego into the integrated, loving, and courageous Self.

As for the resurrection being a delusion, hoax, or mistake, I did not mean to imply this at all. I find these options offensive, reductionist, and shallow. This is like people who say to me, as one who does not believe Jesus is the Christ, “Then you must believe he was a liar.” How shallow that thinking is. Either Jesus is a literalist or a liar? Are these really the only options people of faith are offered? When these people read “I and the Father are one,” they read it as if Jesus were a mathematician rather than a prophet and a poet. That is so sad, and speaks poorly of their religious education.

What I intended to ask you was this, Why do we need the resurrection to hallow anything? Why aren’t the life, teaching, and forgiveness-filled death of Jesus enough? Why isn’t the mythic understanding of the resurrection, the notion that the Way of the Jesus transcends the death of Jesus and any who follow him, enough?

I realize this is taking us very far off topic, and you may choose to ignore all this and get back to our text, but I find your answers so interesting that I just want to hear more.


Patti said...

So Rami asked Mike the question; What would your faith look like if Jesus was not resurrected? ARGH!! That is just what I have been afraid to ask myself. Mike’s answer and the subsequent posting were interesting. Albeit, words spoken at a hesitant distance. At least it seemed so to me. I am living it; and had so hoped for something to keep me from falling off the faith ledge. Don’t get me wrong, the back and forth about resuscitation and resurrection were not what I expected, but still compelling. And I don’t know myth from yo momma, so all that left me looking more like Munch’s “The Scream”. As if I wasn’t silently screaming before.

This topic can remain fodder for polite chipmunks or it can have meat. So let me, if I may, put on flesh and bone. It hurts to even think about the hoaxiness of the resurrection. Interesting, I can let go of the need to prove its occurrence. But to actually entertain the possibility of it not happening and all; this past 2000 years being based on a “myth” - pisses me off! I feel duped, cheated and worst of all managed. Sure I think Christianity today is a hot mess. But whom do I blame for that? Christianity’s promises are muses for nut-jobs, present company included. Maybe it is just a pride thing. Maybe I don’t want to be thought a fool. Maybe I don’t want to have wasted my life on BigFoot.

But here is the problem. I hold on to Jesus with the same faith that I hold on to God. If I let go of one, I feel the other slipping away too. And I wonder after all this no-jesus exploration will I be able to resurrect enough faith in God to not splat somewhere … an atheist. What good is that? Hear the fear in my writing? Feel the pain with me, will you? For this conversation is real and heartbreaking.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

Hi Patti, this is Rami. I think I am hearing the passion in your post, and I would like to comment on some of what you said.

First, while I have no interest in you loosing your faith, it is not fair to say that the only choice is between believing in the resurrection and atheism. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism (to name just four religions) neither believe in the resurrection nor advocate atheism.

Second, my use of the word "myth" in no way implies "hoax." A hoax is a deliberate tricking of people into believing something that is false. A myth is a way of articulating truth in narrative form because that form is best able to carry that truth.

While I have no doubt that there is much in religion that is hoax, I do not believe the authors of the Gospels were hucksters. They were trying to tell us something vital and important, and could find no better way then the narrative they offered us.

When we read the Bible as myth we don't ask, "Did this event really happen just as the text says it happened?" We ask, "Given what the text says, what meaning can we derived from what it says?" To me the question of meaning is the more important and spiritually transformative question.

Much of what you wrote speaks to your personal wrestlings with faith. I won't pretend to speak to that, and hopefully Mike will read you comment and find the time to respond. No guarantees, of course. But I would like to say that asking these kinds of questions and learning to wrestle with doubt is at the core of what Judaism is all about. Our faith is not in the answers one may give to the questions, but in the value of asking questions in the first place.


AaronHerschel said...

I don't know if this will help you any, but I had a similar expereince reading Melvin Konner's book Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews. Konner points out, much to my surprise at the time, that there is no archeological evidence whatsoever for the Exodus from Egypt, the desert wandering, or the conquest of Canaan. The Exodus story is as formative a tale for Jews as the resurrection is for Christians, and though I'd long ago accepted that the miracles (like the parting of Red Sea) may have been more metaphor than fact, it had never occured to me that the whole mass enslavement, escape, and return were themselves fiction. As you may imagine I took the news a bit hard. But.

But what I came to realize was: it didn't matter. What mattered was the story. I could, and do, believe in the truth of the story without needing to believe in its historical accuracy. Why? Because truth is not fact. I believe in the truths revealed by King Arthur, Frodo Baggins, Hamlet, Seymour Glass, Gregor Samsa, Harry Potter--knowing all the while that they never existed.

The story, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is the thing. Whatever history the Bible contains (and it may contain a fair share), its purpose was never to record events dispassiaonately--as a modern scientificly biased historian might--but rather to shape those events, to give them coherence, and, above all, meaning.

To shape the world through storytelling, through mythmaking, is intrinscially human, and is as necessary now as it ever was. The power and truth of those stories does not hinge on their factuality; it hinges on their story-ness.

Does the story make me laugh? Does it break my heart? Does it take hold of my soul? If so, than it speaks to a truth beyond fact. Does the story shock me into new awareness? Does it reward rereading and reinterpretation with new perspectives ? If so, than it is alive with meanings that cannot be reduced.

Myth is not a lie or a hoax. It is the way we humans engage the world imaginatively. If the Resurrection speaks to you as the Exodus speaks to me, if (as Emily Dickinson said) it "blows the top of your head off," than why worry if it actually happened in 1AD or not? It's happening. Now, in 2008. As you read it. It's happening to you.

Patti said...

Thanks Aaron and Rami.
Your comments were helpful and enlightening. I appreciate you both being willing to help me think more clearly about this issue that just chews at me.

You are right, this rant is all my personal experience. I in no way am criticizing your ideas. Your writing is provocative. It stirs thoughts and feelings in me that are neither pretty nor fair. I do see the struggle as positive. Sorry if I stepped on your toes.

My atheist statement was in direct relation to my having Jesus and God bound together like bulk items at Costco. There is simply no easy way to separate them. It had nothing to do with other's faith systems. But thanks for showing me where a bias lies unaware. Argh...that is a battle for another day.

Your comments are on point. Taking the time to explain the theory behind myth was very thoughtful. Thanks. If you feel comfortable, will you tell me; How you felt about God after your discovery about the Exodus and the Red Sea etc.?