In a comment to my "What Makes a Community a Community" posting, One Small Step writes the following:
Now, yes, many hold to a literal resurrection based on fact. But that is forcing the person to push past the paradigm of natural laws, and as soon as that happens, what standard is used to evaluate the truth of something? All you can do is take it on faith, or one's personal experience with God. It is again an "anything goes." If there aren't limits put on what one is studying, then how do we determine what is and is not something literally true? What basis is used? On the one hand, we'd usually know that if a story contains a man coming back from the dead, people would reject it as a fable, and not be told that they are doing so from a personal "a priori." Yet if they apply the same principle to the Bible, they are? What causes the standard to change?This raises an interesting important point about credulity. Even most of those who believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus are selective about their credulity. If I went up to them and told them that my friend Bob died, was buried, and three days later came back from the dead and walked down the street, most Christians wouldn't believe me. They would categorically reject my claim as ridiculous. This is an example of the "my fairy tale is true; your fairy tale is false" phenomenon.
I'm not normally crazy about quoting from militant atheists, but in this case I think that one individual, who operates the "Why Won't God Heal Amputees" web site, makes a really good point on this score. This individual offers a set of argument that are fairly commonly used by militant atheists against religion, and as the title of the site suggests, the problem of theodicy plays an important role in those arguments. I don't accept those arguments against the existence of God, as I have stated in the past, because I think that they set up a straw man that is based on the faulty assumption that religion necessarily involves a certain kind of patriarchal, supernaturally theistic conception of an interventionist Deity. That being said, I do agree with these critics of religion on their objection to the miraculous claims that many religions often make; it has always been my interest to seek out a rational religion that is consistent with a post-Enlightenment worldview. I don't believe in miracles as they are typically defined, and I don't believe that being religious requires a belief in them. Thus I agree with the point that is being made in the following quote from that web site, namely that many people who are skeptical about the extraordinary and miraculous claims made by other faiths than their own often turn around and exhibit considerable credulity when it comes to extraordinary and miraculous claims made by their own faith:
No one (besides little kids) believes in Santa Claus. No one outside the Mormon church believes Joseph Smith's story. No one outside the Muslim faith believes the story of Mohammed and Gabriel and the winged horse. No one outside the Christian faith believes in Jesus' divinity, miracles, resurrection, etc.I am admittedly being provocative when I adopt that person's term "fairy tale" to describe the story of the resurrection of Jesus. I normally would use the word "myth" (rather than "fairy tale") to describe it, because myths have meaning beyond their literal or factual truth, and I actually think the fanciful stories in Matthew, Luke and John of Jesus walking around after his death have mythic value--that they are ways of articulating through stories and metaphor the fact that, after Jesus died, his followers believed that they experienced his presence in some way. I appreciate and respect that aspect of Christianity--as long as one doesn't fall into the trap of literalizing these myths.
Therefore, the question I would ask you to consider right now is simple: Why is it that human beings can detect fairy tales with complete certainty when those fairy tales come from other faiths, but they cannot detect the fairy tales that underpin their own faith? Why do they believe their chosen fairy tale with unrelenting passion and reject the others as nonsense?
I recently attended a church service where the pastor, who regularly deals with people in a congregation with diverse points of view, reacted to one of the lectionary miracle stories in Matthew (where Jesus walks on water) by saying that whether you believe it really happened or not doesn't really matter--what matters is the deeper truth that the story points to. I appreciate what the pastor was saying in that case--and I'm sure that Marcus Borg would say the same thing. But I am coming to realize how hard it is for me to look the other way on this subject. It is important to my personal faith that these myths not be literalized, and it is hard for me to say that it doesn't matter to me whether those stories are true or not. There are a lot of people of faith in this world who feel disenfranchized by organized religion precisely because they don't believe that these mythical miracle stories are literally true, and I fall into that category mysself. True, the congregation in this instance seems to hold together just fine despite whatever differences of theology exist among its participants. I know that there are some more rationalistically oriented skeptics among the membership, and some who appear to be more traditional in their outlook. So I obviously can't speak for others on this score. Others may have no problem with the "it doesn't matter" approach. But for me, while I certain respect the right of other people to take these stories literally, it is not so easy to just sit back and say that it doesn't matter to me whether Santa Clause is real or not.