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 Passion of Easter
by Paul Walker

I have no intention of seeing Mel Gibson�s film. This decision is not theological - it�s human. I�m not a "real man". I can�t face the gore. I think I would find the film even more shocking than Janet Jackson�s breast.

Despite that, it is extraordinary how successful the film is. Its success points to one of the great dilemmas of Christianity.

Many readers of the Christian scriptures conclude that the most important event in them is Easter. However, the passion has always played a much bigger part in Christian art, thought and theology. I suspect the problem is not with the passion. Blood, pain and torture have always fascinated people. No, the real problem is the message of Easter.

Let�s for a moment forget the historical questions about what exactly happened to Jesus after his death and ask, "What on earth is Easter all about? What are we supposed to do with it?"

Traditional Christianity states that three days after his death Jesus appeared bodily to his disciples, did a little teaching and then disappeared into heaven. A quick survey of Christians of my acquaintance concludes that we must believe this as a matter of faith and that if we do, we also will rise from the dead. Really! Really?

I have heard many Christians state that if Jesus� body were to be discovered in the sands of Jerusalem their faith would disappear. It is this one event which is seen as vindicating Jesus� message, as it were proving that he was right all along.

Is that it? Our eternal destiny depends upon whether or not we believe that a historical event happened?

Put like this it�s almost embarrassing. You see, since that event there have been no demonstrable repetitions. It�s not as if many Christians have also been raised from the dead. So we can�t say, "Look and see what happens to followers of Jesus". As far as we can tell, those who believe in the resurrection suffer the same fate as those who do not.

So if the traditional line is followed, the Easter event is nothing more than something that happened to Jesus 2000 years ago and which we have to believe. It seems that God has set us a task of believing something impossible. If we can manage that we�ll be rewarded. And the reward is out of this world.

No wonder Christianity puzzles an increasing number of people. People outside Church circles think that Christianity is concerned with loving one's neighbour, caring for others and telling the truth, that it has something to do with morality and making the world a better place. Insiders think it is about "faith", which they define as belief in certain historical events.

So is there any lasting value in the Easter story?

Well, for me there is. I do not for a moment believe that dead bodies are raised to new life. However, attached to the life of Jesus are these extraordinary legends which are possibly related to Paul�s belief in the resurrection of the dead. Whatever the root of the stories, their significance is that they are attached to the life of Jesus.

This attachment, this belief in Jesus� resurrection, has kept alive his teaching so that long after we have relegated other events of Roman times to the history books, people still try to live a life based upon the teachings of Jesus. His teachings remain revolutionary. In them all human life is valued, the first become last, and the last first. Violence is condemned, power is avoided, wealth is to be shared, and human beings are encouraged to swallow their differences by eating together. Jesus saw God as a person as close to us as a human parent can be, and who always took the side of the under-dog.

I don�t know what reality lies behind the legends that make the Christian Easter. But I do know that the man to whom those legends are attached was clearly a wonderful human being. Occasionally we become very attached to figures in literature. I still remember reading Luke�s Gospel for the first time and falling in love with Jesus. I no longer believe that all the things Luke said about Jesus actually happened. Indeed, sometimes I don�t exactly know what I believe.

But I do know that the man whom Luke, and Matthew and Mark talk about remains deeply appealing to me. I guess I�m still in love, for I have found no other set of teachings on which I would rather build my life.

I reckon that if the story of Easter had not been attached to the teaching of Jesus we would know nothing of what he wanted to say. So very early on Easter morning I still rejoice to sing, with Charles Wesley, �Jesus Christ is ris�n today�. Alleluia!

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