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What Matters Most, Christ’s Resurrection or His Moral Teaching?

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Walter Albritton, a Methodist minister, tells how, as a boy, he used to go with his parents to see a dramatization of the rising of Jesus as told in Matthew, except, curiously, he has three not two women going to the tomb on the morning after the sabbath—a careless lapse, perhaps. It was sufficient to persuade him that the story was true because he was merely a lad, and naturally believed what he was told by his parents. He writes in the Opelika-Auburn News:

Years later, I began to question. Is it really true? Perhaps, as some say, the resurrection story is a myth. I wondered and struggled with the issue for awhile.

It seems he did not struggle long, for he decided “it is impossible to explain the Christian movement unless Jesus was actually raised from the dead”, and plainly enough ended up as a minister. Needless to say, he did not explain quite why he could not find any other explanation for Christianity starting up other than its foundation myth of a man being brought back to life being a true story. Instead, he poses his readers a few leading questions.

Could a lie about the resurrection be perpetuated for 2,000 years?

If, by a lie, minister Albritton means something that is not true, then the answer is a plain, “yes”! People have believed falsehoods for much longer than 2000 years, though they believed them to be true. A simple example is believing the sun moves around the earth, when the earth itself is actually rotating. By describing an erroneous belief as “a lie”, Albritton is tilting the pin ball machine! He is prejudicing the reader into thinking the first believers were tricked or were themselves doing the tricking, and they are resistant to either thought.

What, though, stops these sincere believers from simply being mistaken in thinking their erstwhile leader had risen when his corpse had simply been removed from the tomb?

The little boy Albritton would have been persuaded by the parade of Roman guards on duty outside the Easter show tomb, but it is a story only Matthew has and he explains that it proves the body could not have been stolen, an admission that people had already, before Matthew wrote a word, been protesting that the corpse of Jesus had been removed. No other gospel has the story about the Roman guards, and it makes the Roman guards the eyewitnesses to the resurrection, a story Matthew then has to refute by saying the guards had been asleep on duty! The corpse therefore could have been stolen anyway because the guards were asleep.

But could the early disciples have stolen his body from the tomb, while the guards were sleeping, and then convinced hundreds of people that Jesus was alive? Saying that it was so surely would not convince anyone.

Albritton leaps to the conclusion that only the disciples would have wanted to steal the corpse, that they wanted to do it deliberately to fool others into thinking Jesus had been resurrected, and had then gone around propagating what they knew was a lie. Again the presentation of an explanation in this tendentious manner can only be to prejudice his readers against a perfectly feasible explanation when presented otherwise. The Romans might have kept the body in case the disciples had tried to persuade his followers that Jesus was actually still alive. Displaying the corpse would have scotched any rumors that started along those lines.

More likely is that Jesus was an Essene leader, and the Essenes had removed his body for a proper burial with the ritual suited to an honoured leader. His simple converts were not aware of this, and they it was who took it for granted that he had been the first of the saints (Essenes) to have been resurrected at the general resurrection of the righteous that they were expecting at the End of the World. These simple converts were the first Christians, and they believed what Christ had told them—that the world was about to end. Then the righteous and the truly repentant Jews would be resurrected into God’s kingdom. They had been sinners, but had repented and sincerely believed they too would be resurrected when the world finally did end. Christians believe this still. The first believers were not liars and were not dishonest. they simply believed what they had been told, and the disappearance of Christ’s body encouraged them to think he had been resurrected. He had not been, but his followers thought he had been. Does Albritton get it now? There had been no resurrection in fact, but the first Christians sincerely thought there had been!

If Jesus had not been resurrected, it is obvious we would never have heard of his apostles. But we did hear about them; they were so convinced that Jesus was alive they were willing to suffer and die for this new faith. The evidence is overwhelming that the early Christians were willing to be martyred rather than renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Would anyone be willing to die in defense of a lie?

Albritton persists in suggesting to his readers that only lying apostles could explain Christian belief without miracles, and naturally no Christian will ever think the first Christians could have lied. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of the twelve apostles died for their faith. Christian belief is based on the same sort of evidence as the resurrection of Christ himself. Christians have been told the stories and they believe them. If a false tale is necessarily a lie, then in some cases at least, it is likely that the stories of the apostles all suffering and dying for their belief are lies. The same argument as that given above applies, however. The followers really believed the general resurrection had begun.

Evidence of this is present in Matthew 27:52-53 where “many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised”. Did Albritton and his own Christian admirers ever notice that Jesus Christ was not the only man in the New Testament at the time to have been raised from the dead? Many were resurrected and they went into the city and appeared to many others! Matthew himself believed the general resurrection had started when Christ rose. Why then would they not sincerely think they could be martyred without any fear? They were convinced they would join Christ in the general resurrection. That is supposed to be the point of Christianity, though these days they all believe in a spiritual resurrection in heaven, not an actual bodily resurrection, even though the raising of Jesus was plainly a resurrection of his physical body into this world, not the raising up of a ghost. John 20:26-29 goes to extremes to show that the resurrection was a real bodily one, not a spiritual resurrection into some other place, such that any quack medium would wish to publicize!

At the end of his brief struggle, Albritton yielded to his childhood indoctrination that the resurrection is “the lynchpin of Christianity”.

If one does not believe in the resurrection, there is little else in Christian faith that makes sense.

What was the purpose then of Christ’s extended acts and teachings? Albritton tells us God’s earthly life as Christ, and the lessons He offered His human creatures were just packaging for the brief but dramatic act of God’s one off self immolation which has to be taken or left not on sound evidence but an incredible story and a confidence trick called faith. If that is so, Christianity is worthless. The moral teaching of Christ does not make sense, Albritton avers, proving that he is a shyster not a moral physician.

If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then Peter’s letters would be a pack of lies.

“Letters” is plural but scholars consider only one of the two letters attributed to Peter in the New Testament has any chance of being genuine, and there is even doubt about that. So, one of “Peter’s letters” is a pack of lies inasmuch as it purports to be written by Peter but was actually written around a century after Peter had died. Indeed everyone except Christians know that there is no contemporary external evidence that any of the gospel stories are true. They are set in some historical setting, but then so too are almost all fictional stories that have been written. Incidental references to historical people and places are no proof of the truth of the stories! Much of it could indeed be a pack of lies mainly composed many years after the events that initiated the myths to explain and justify Christian belief as it had emerged at a later date and in different places.

Had Jesus not been resurrected, we would have never heard of the Apostle Paul, who wrote a great portion of the New Testament.

That is plainly false. Paul, like other early Christians taught that the resurrection had happened either because he believed what he had heard about the supposed disappearance of Christ’s corpse being because the dead man had been resurrected, or because he was the archetypal cynic for whom the story was a great way of earning a good living as a travelling charletan. Paul has been treated as the true founder of Christianity by Christians precisely because he taught an utterly different basis for living from Christ. Christ taught that people should be moral beings. They were moral beings when they loved each other. He taught the Golden Rule that everyone should treat others as they would like others to treat them. He went further teaching that people should love even their enemies, and even further by insisting that the way to love God was by loving other people as if they were God! By so doing, they would be considered for acceptance into the kingdom of God.

Paul taught quite a different outlook. It was that people would enter the Kingdom of God by merely having faith in Christ. Merely professing Christianity made people into Christians and earned them salvation. They had to do nothing. Phenomena like love of others would simply emerge from faith as a symptom of it. This is a much more acceptable belief than Christ’s for the simple reason that people are duped into thinking that salvation requires no effort, or only a little. Priests and pastors, human vampires out to suck mites from widows and orphans, just like Paul, naturally preferred his successful teaching for its benefits to them as a caste. They ignore almost totally the teaching of Christ, supposedly God incarnated as a man of flesh and bone, in favour of Paul’s mystical fusion of Judaism and the Eastern mystery religions centered on Christ as a dying and rising God like Attis, Tammuz and Adonis.

We would not even have a New Testament had not the early disciples believed God had raised Jesus from the dead.

At last Albritton gets something right. The disciples did believe Jesus had risen, and they told others of their belief, and the story has passed down to today. They believed it, but to believe something—like the motion of the sun around the earth—is no proof that it is true. Christians have always believed, but it is quite dishonest to pretend that only a genuine resurrection could have started the myth. People will believe what they have been conditioned to believe, and those Jewish followers of Jesus genuinely believed what Jesus had told them about the coming End of the World. They were not sophisticated people, and they were terribly oppressed by a ferociously ruthless military occupying power, the Romans. They wanted a better world to begin, one in which suffering innocents would be rewarded. There are many in the world today similarly oppressed by modern Romans!

Some say it does not matter whether Jesus was resurrected or not. His great moral teachings are what matter… But this is so much hogwash! Jesus believed that by dying on the cross as the Passover Lamb of God all people could receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Can one value anything else he taught if this teaching is a grand hoax? Surely not!

Why not? The important part of Christ’s teaching, even as recorded in the gospels, was a moral way of living, and particularly, as shown above, the way we should treat each other. These teachings make sense in human terms because we are social animals who depend upon society for our existence. Sociality is precisely what Christ taught. Christians refer to communion and fellowship, ways of living together amicably in society. And these teachings are underlined by discoveries in evolutionary psychology—the fact that we have moral instincts that can only mean something in a community. Solitary animals have no need of morality. Quite the reverse, they benefit from being savage and ruthless.

Christians have abandoned Christ’s moral teaching for Paul’s mystical teaching. As a consequence morality has been lost while selfishness has burgeoned. Morality is concern for others. Faith is concern for self. Christ taught salvation is earned by service to others. Paul taught that a personal and entirely selfish faith guaranteed salvation. The disciples of Paul want to tell their own, supposedly almighty, God how He should judge them. Instead of quoting Paul’s magical and mysterious statements, Christians should get into the habit of quoting Christ’s very plain and understandable principles of personal morality. If they think Christ was God, then it ought to be a no brainer whom they should consider as the more important source in the New Testament, whether Paul wrote most of it or not. Minister Albritton ought to get out of his diapers and read Christ’s moral teaching as an adult, then maybe he would stop propagating lies, for once errors are known to be errors, then to continue propagating them metamorphoses into lying.

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Written by mikemagee

30 April, 2011 at 10:15 pm

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