DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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The Interface
 Richard DeRemee

Being a Christian implies belief in the historical flesh and blood of Christ, who died, as well as in the transcendental living Christ who permeates all our earthly experience in present time. It is a problem to get Christ across the interface of physical to spiritual reality. Trying to make sense of the crucifixion, death and resurrection has been a perennial challenge to lay people and theologians alike. As it is impossible to know the exact nature of the transition, all who accept the story do so as a matter of faith. After all, that is what religion is, an accommodation of the unknowable to the present based on conviction without verification, i.e. faith. To the believer the total message of Christ makes such intuitive sense that most or all ambiguities are accepted as true.

Given that faith is an imperative in Christianity, does it make any sense to attempt some rational explanation of the miraculous stories about Christ, in particular His resurrection? Is there any harm caused by attempting to dispel some of the mystery? This is also an old question. Many would say, leave the issue alone; faith can only be weakened where it is not needed. I disagree. I start from the position of completely accepting the Christian message. It is so strong that nothing can shake me from it. But I need at least to attempt to find a possible link between the physical and metaphysical aspects of Christ. Whereas I realize that to discuss religion in terms of physical laws may be inappropriate, the discussion of the interface between the physical and spiritual can provide the basis of an even firmer religious faith.

The death and resurrection provides a poignant focus for this discussion. A literal interpretation leads to some absurd possibilities. If Christ was reconstituted as a real physical being and is living among us, subject to all the physicals laws of his age, He would be 2000 years old and likely in a most decrepit state. Moreover, where does He reside? Who supplies his food and other sustenance? Surely someone must see Him and be able to report on Him.

But you will counter, He is no longer on earth but in heaven with God the Father. If his physical body was transported where did it go, up, down, out one million miles to some remote celestial body? Quite obviously we cannot rationally accept a physical resurrection and current presence of Christ. We are talking about a spiritual being, not subject to physical laws.

How can we reconcile the Biblical account? How could we explain the record of apparent coming back to life and then ostensibly disappearing into thin air to be with God? Schonfield, in his book The Passover Plot suggests that Christ, when taken down from the cross, was in an inanimate state simulating death due to a potion he was given. Thus, his physical resurrection appeared real as He became reanimated from the death-like sleep. What happened after His brief post-resurrection sojourn on earth? Could he possibly have wandered off into the wilderness, dying of natural causes? If so His physical body could have decayed or been consumed leaving no earthly trace? It seems to me all these possibilities can still leave us with an unsullied Christ. This construction is simply an attempt to elucidate possible metaphorical mechanisms that can aid our human understanding of the closeness of physical to metaphysical realities.

The following illustration is offered in support of the assertion that our metaphysical nature is more imminent than we are consciously aware. It is said by scientists that our physical bodies turn over approximately every seven years. That is to say all molecules in our bodies are exchanged (with the possible exception of bone which has a longer turnover period) gradually over seven years, in a real sense, we are new people. Still we are recognized as the same old person by our friends and family. Our personalities just have a new house or facade. Similarly, any physical structure could theoretically undergo a similar transformation. For example, all the bricks in a brick building could be sequentially and gradually replaced to imperceptibly create a new structure without affecting its appearance. Or an automobile could undergo a complete renewal without altering its original features. What is important is the maintenance of the original personality, structure or function rather than the original physical building blocks. Though the physical structures disappear, their plans remain. In reality we are abstract plan or idea rendered in physical materials. Even our genes are physically mutable by the turnover of its component DNA but the blueprint persists.

By this argument it is apparent that intangible, non-palpable plan, idea or concept, i.e. the metaphysical element in our reality, subordinates our physical substance. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we live at once in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. When Christ crossed the interface from the physical to the metaphysical world he was simply shucking the husk of humanity to reveal the mystical seed that was and is of primary importance. Certainly we will all do the same some day. How this may have occurred in physical terms in no way disquiets me. In fact it strengthens me and makes me more aware of the mystery of my existence each day.

I would seek no conclusive earthly explanation for religious faith although there is a large body of empirical evidence for its validity. Faith will only be unnecessary when we are face to face with our creator. However, we should not discard our intellects in approaching the question of faith. In the physical world there are abundant clues to the mystery of our being and to the soundness of faith.

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