Do you truly believe?
In the August Census, many Australians will tick the box labelled “Christian” in the section about religion. This blog piece is addressed to those people. (Related posts: “Census 2011, why mark No Religion?”)
Next weekend is Easter, the most holy of events on the Christian calendar. This is the 3 day celebration of the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. According to the bible, this is what happened:
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[a]
So the story goes that the people found an empty tomb where Jesus’ body should have been, and therefore assumed that he had literally risen from the dead, and had literally risen to heaven. Sounds like a reputable story, right?
I think anyone with a grain of rationality about them has to bring into question the trustworthiness of this story, and for several reasons. Things like resurrection seemed to only happen in the days before we could explain happenings properly, in days before written language was used by the general populous to record history, and in the days when woo, superstition and the metaphysical were considered as part and parcel with every day life. The only miracle stories we hear these days are of people praying to a particular saint or deity to be cured of an illness, again records of which are sketchy at best.
But I’m not here to deconvert or to disprove the Bible’s trustworthiness, I think it does a good job of doing that itself. What I am interested in here is asking you whether you truly believe. Do you literally believe the words of the bible, and if not, why do you call yourself Christian? The problem with this story in the bible, with any story in the bible, is that the text we now read has been heavily edited and editorialised over time, and it has been subject to repeated additions and omissions from various people along the way. This in itself should be enough to draw the whole New Testament into question. Anyone wanting to know more about what happened to the historically documented First Council at Nicea, should definitely have a read of this article by Australian ex-minister Tony Bushby called “The Forged Origins of The New Testament”. (Note: This article is contentious, and its legitimacy may be in question. I offer it only as an illustration of the questions that can be asked of the Bible, and to sew the seeds of doubt.) The words in the Bible have been carefully crafted to appeal to the part of you that wants to believe in an afterlife. Still call yourself Christian?
There might be those among you who don’t believe the resurrection to be true, but think the story offers some kind of message to us about death and rebirth, and the circle of life, and about hope for an afterlife. The teaching of death and rebirth is not just in the Christian faith, it spreads across all faiths. So what makes this story so important? Probably the fact that you were born into a Christian society has a lot to do with that. If you were born in the middle-east you would probably be a Muslim. Do you see the stories in Islam as being as important as the stories of the Bible? Of course you don’t. If the resurrection story is just a story, then why don’t you hold with the same reverence the resurrection story of Han Solo in the Star Wars series?
If you literally believe in the stories of the resurrection, then does that mean you literally believe in the story of Genesis? Do you follow the rules as set out in Leviticus, or 1 Timothy? I really doubt it. A true Christian should follow the Bible as the word of God, because, well, it says it is. To pick and choose between the bits of Bible you like, and to throw away the parts you don’t see as relevant is like skimming across the newspaper. If you take the contents of your holy book as seriously as you might a magazine in a dentist’s waiting room, should you still call yourself Christian?
If Christianity simply means living by a set of rules as set out by the Bible, then Christianity becomes a lifestyle choice, like veganism or riding your bike to work. If you don’t truly believe in the story of the resurrection, should you go to mass on Easter Sunday?
The resurrection story is the one single most important event in the bible in that it supposedly simultaneously proves all of the claims that Jesus is the son of God, that heaven is real, that god loves us, that we will all be reborn one day, that nobody ever really dies etc. It is the punchline of the most long-winded story ever told, and if you don’t truly believe that it is literally true, then you really should not call yourself Christian.
I’m not trying to shatter any beliefs, nor am I proselytising for atheism (if that’s possible). I am more interested in you actually questioning why you believe, or claim to believe, in the Bible. If you come to realise that you don’t truly believe, even if you don’t change the way you live, there is one thing I ask of you. If you do not truly believe in the resurrection as a literal fact, both historically and factually then I say you should not call yourself Christian. If this is the case then I urge you to tick the box marked “No religion” in the August census.
It is after all, the truth, and isn’t it a sin to lie anyway?
Related posts: “Census 2011, why mark No Religion?”