John Haught on the resurrection

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From an interview in Salon.com:

What do you make of the miracles in the Bible -- most importantly, the Resurrection? Do you think that happened in the literal sense?

I don't think theology is being responsible if it ever takes anything with completely literal understanding. What we have in the New Testament is a story that's trying to awaken us to trust that our lives make sense, that in the end, everything works out for the best. In a pre-scientific age, this is done in a way in which unlettered and scientifically illiterate people can be challenged by this Resurrection. But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

So if a camera was at the Resurrection, it would have recorded nothing?

If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it. I'm not the only one to say this. Even conservative Catholic theologians say that. Faith means taking the risk of being vulnerable and opening your heart to that which is most important. We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable? Science is simply not equipped to deal with the dimensions of purposefulness, love, compassion, forgiveness -- all the feelings and experiences that accompanied the early community's belief that Jesus is still alive. Science is simply not equipped to deal with that. We have to learn to read the universe at different levels. That means we have to overcome literalism not just in the Christian or Jewish or Islamic interpretations of scripture but also in the scientific exploration of the universe. There are levels of depth in the cosmos that science simply cannot reach by itself.

7 comments:

Scott F said...

"...such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning."

Thank goodness we don't live in an actual theocracy (just a virtual one?) It would be Galileo all over again.

"If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it."

Is he saying that God would interfere with the equipment? i would have to disagree with his argument here. If I were standing in the upper room, I would almost certainly see the love, compassion and forgiveness. The human being is an instrument designed to detect such things. An instrument such as a video camera would allow the humans who view its 'reading' to perceive many of the same things.

Haught's attitude strikes me as not merely anti-scientific but anti-intellectual. I just happen to fear where the later leads a society.

Mystical Seeker said...

Scott, I don't think he is saying that God would have interfered with the equipment. He is saying that the resurrection was not a literal, physical event that could be captured by a video camera. You would have not have actually seen Jesus walking around as a resuscitated corpse.

Haught is anything but anti-scientific or anti-intellectual. In one sense, he is taking a very rationalist stance towards the idea of the resurrection, since he (apparently) denies that Jesus was literally raised from the dead in a physical sense. But in another sense, he is denying that everything boils down to purely literalistic interpretations, that in fact humans are infused with values and meaning that are informed by myth.

Frank said...

resuscitated corpse

I remember my Eschatology prof going to great lengths to empahsize that there is quite a big difference between resuscitation and resurrection.

Even early Patristics (Origen, etc) talk about the resurrected body as not being the same earthly body brought back to life. It is an "ideal" body, in the fullness of health and vigor.

The way I understand it, since we are body, mind and spirit, it would make sense that as our life carries on after this one that we would continue to be body, mind and spirit in a way that is real but not our earthly cells reforming from the grave to re-assemble a body. That is a little closer to what resurrection is about.

I mean, would you have all of the fingernails you chopped off, or just use the body at the moment of death itself or in the prime of life? What if some cells of your ancestors' bodies decayed back into the earth and got used by some corn that you ate and is now part of your body? Would you get those cells in the resurrection or would they?

Thanksfully, those are not a worry since resurrection is not about rescusitation in the first place. The resurrected body is based on some physical principle of who you are, to which maybe DNA comes close to helping us understand.

Now you can argue whether this Patristic theology is really in line with the gospel narratives that talk about an empty tomb--in teh case of Jesus, it looks like the earthly body was the body of the resurrection. Well, I have those questions, too.

Mystical Seeker said...

Frank, It does seem that Paul believed that a resurrected body was of a new nature (such as what he describes in 1 Corinthians 15). On the other hand, as you point out, the gospel narratives had Jesus showing Thomas the holes in his body from the crucifixion, thus indicating that in his case it was basically a bodily resuscitation. Personally, I think that the whole story of Jesus doing that was essentially conceived by the author as a narrative device. I think a person can go too crazy trying to make coherent sense out of the resurrection narratives. Luke has Jesus eating food, for example, which is something that an earthly body would need, but are we to infer from this that resurrected bodies will also need to eat?

The mistake, I think, would be to literalize these accounts. They are not consistent with one another anyway. Instead, I think it makes more sense to look beyond the literal stories and consider their mythological power.

Or, as Dominic Crossan puts it, "Emmaus never happened; Emmaus always happens."

Frank said...

Yeah, I think the case of Jesus is where theologians get tripped up.

The idea that there is some sense of physical-ness in the afterlife can be compelling, but there is always this major exception given toward Jesus (and Mary for some traditions) being assumed into heaven as-is.

Saying "they are different" doesn't cut it as their resurrections are supposedly a model for us.

What I think is amazing is how little the gospels actually say about the resurrection. You would think the most mind-blowing, earth-shattering event in the history of the universe would get more attention than a few scant and obscure lines at the end of the gospels. They are suggesting something but leaving a lot open, as well. It has kept the imaginations of Christians engaged ever since, so I think that is a good thing, but I'm still surprised it didn't get more detail or attention.

Mystical Seeker said...

Well, when you think about it, Paul, the first NT author, basically had nothing to say about any supposed incidents involving a resurrected Jesus walking around. He makes no difference between his own visionary experience of the risen Christ with what Peter or "the twelve" saw. Mark, the first gospel to be written, ends with an empty tomb--again, no resurrection stories of Jesus walking around. It wasn't until the 80s or 90s AD, when Luke and Matthew were written, that we see literal stories about Jesus walking around after a physical resurrection first appearing.

Cynthia said...

And by then, the church, the Body of Christ, was indeed walking and talking and eating and feeding and touching wounds, etc. Christ's body was indeed alive again, doing the work of Christ in community. Makes total sense to me.