Thursday, June 21, 2012

Christianity Part 2

This post continues my discussion of Christianity, which will undoubtely require more posts to cover the history of Christianity.  In this post I plan to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ.  As I noted in my previous post this event will be interpreted by the worldview one brings to understanding it. Therefore, we need to consider the interpretive presuppositions used to think about the resurrection of Jesus.

For the naturalist, the idea of a person rising from the dead does not make sense.  The odds of a person coming back to life after death are 0.  Therefore, any such story can be dismissed as myth.  However, from another perspective the odds are completely open in that the naturalist must admit that we know very little about life in general, and history more specifically.  There are insects that can be cut in half, and then each half regrows the other side.  For all we know, something strange did happen in the case of Jesus.  Nevertheless, even if this is so it doesn't establish the truth of Christianity or give us any meaning to why Jesus needed to die and then be raised from the dead.  Our textbook (Hopfe/Woodward) seems to take this approach.

Similar kinds of interpretations can be given for this even by Hinduism (Jesus was an avatar of Krishna), Buddhism (Jesus was a Buddha), someone who looked like Jesus, not Jesus, died on the cross (Islam), polytheism (Jesus was a divine being but not the creator), and any other worldview we might consider.  In each case the death and resurrection of Jesus can be granted without giving the meaning to it that Christianity does.

Christian apologists have often relied on "evidences" to prove the truth of Christianity.  One of these is that there is a significant amount of historical and textual evidence that Jesus did rise from the dead.  Even so, as I've shown above, this does not prove that the Biblical interpretation of this event is the true one, or the Jesus is the Son of God who created all things.  It merely shows that something strange happened in the case of Jesus.

In order to understand this event it must be contextualized in the Christian worldview.  This is the worldview of creation, fall, and redemption.  Christianity affirms that only God is eternal, that God is the creator of all else.  It also affirms the reality of sin and the need for redemption.  Sin involves the failure to know God and keep the moral law.  Other theistic religions might also affirm the reality of creation and sin.  Therefore, what sets Christianity apart as different is how it understands God's justice and mercy.  Because Christ overcame moral evil, he also overcame natural evil (death).

Christianity argues that the justice of God requires payment for sin.  On the other hand, the mercy of God says that sin can be forgiven.  For both of these qualities to be reconciled involves both a payment and forgiveness.  Christianity claims that Jesus, who existed as the eternal son of God (not a son in the sense of a temporal being that is born to parents, but a son in the sense of the one who makes the father known) became incarnate, and then died as the atonement for sin which then satisfies the justice of God and provides a basis for mercy and forgiveness.  The very death of Christ is itself an example of God's mercy in that he provided the means for atonement himself.

I'm using this event as a case in point to remind us how experiences are interpreted in relation to our presuppositions.  Within the context of the Christian worldview, the death and resurrection should not be a surprise, but indeed should be what we expect.  To argue backwards from these events to Christianity is fallacious.

Hopefully this highlights how many assumptions we bring to the study of religion.  In order to successfully study a religion we need to first "know ourselves," know the presuppositions about basic questions which we bring to interpretation.