Resurrection (Discussion 2)

Although the presenter for the group used some of my expressions on a few occasions, my paper was not used directly. I know that he was reading it carefully. He presented Karen Armstrong's experience of writing a fully compliant essay of the resurrection, to yet say to the nun teaching that it was not true. She said yes but do not tell anyone. He also referred to John Spong's view that the Easter week narrative cannot be historical: if it was the passover time then there would not have been palm leaves available, and is a reason why gospel writers after Mark alter his Palm Sunday account to some extent: rather it reflects harvest time celebrations right through to Jesus being the lamb. So some of this was not about the resurrection at all but what came before it.
As my points had not been raised, I raised them: that if the resurrection is spiritual then it can be subjective or objective, and if bodily then can only be objective. I said whatever, there is this Star Trek analogy, of the captain and crew beaming down and that the ones who go into the transporter die, whereas the ones after are perfect copies and memories. I said thus, whatever happens afterwards, if the one who died really did die, the relationship is backwards only. Reminded that it is a transformed body, I said it doesn't matter as the one who died was human and so it is still a backwards way only relationship. Someone said Jesus was divine. I said well not in the synoptics, where he is a prophet and his status rises and for which the resurrection is a proof. In John's gospel he is the first of creation, and so the resurrection is not such a dramatic proof, as there is already incarnation. So I was asked about Luke, and I said the virgin birth is only that he was a chosen prophet. I received support for this, and indeed the text supported me. I later said about people who read the Bible with preset filters; and that early in the Reformation there were biblical literalists who did not see certain doctrines in the texts.
A point was made about dismissing the gospel record and I said I don't dismiss it. It is the best evidence though only secondary source material, as it is reflecting the concerns of the early Churches. It just does not say perhaps what it is said to say. In my view Jesus was expecting a coming of the end, and the reason Persian views of resurrection stuck anew in Judaism was because they longed for liberation, and yet what Paul did, sharing the rapid end view, for a time, was turn this into a salvation religion.
Asked about Messiah I said in Judaism this did not assume divinity: the one God remained undivided. After Jesus's death his status rose rapidly including to divinity, and hundreds of years later his divinity was said to be equal and eternal.
There was strong argument when one had apparently said at an earlier meeting that a line should be drawn, and another took him to task for this, asking him to nail colours to the mast as he had apparently said. He had not meant this, but had meant that the pursuit of doubt for its own sake could get you nowhere. I said when people talk about doubt I'll talk about affirmations, but there is a justification for using doubt and again, and it is the via negativa. The more you use a critical approach in faith, the more the clutter is removed, the closer one gets to a purer transcendence. This received some support. One also thought personalities led to authoritarian views and liberal views. Some extremists might go from extreme liberalism to extreme fundamentalism. Paul himself was an example of one who had pursued one view and then another. I raised myself as a possible example, and that I could never see myself being other than liberal. It was thought I hadn't that extremist flip-flop personality. Someone referred to my "chequered history" (of between Anglicans and Unitarians and other faith groups). I did say that if Lambeth Conference produces demands on people to conform, then "I'm off." One said it won't; the very essence of Anglicanism is toleration. Some chat happened about what GAFCON was doing and not doing, including its pilgrimage that was more a conference itself (said another, not me).
One said about traditional beliefs being acceptable until the Enlightenment but then views and beliefs changed, and the same tradition would no longer do. I described what a paradigm shift means, how evolution for example was a paradigm shift. We contrasted a past culture that inducted knowledge to one that deducted, and even experiments to falsify. One said that this means truth is only truth until is is falsified by the one experiment. When facts change they are joined together in a changed explanation and this is a paradigm shift, I said. One said that some views were challenged before the Enlightenment, and here was another use of my reference to the early left wing of the Reformation in central Europe.
One recalled his time as a youngster in an evangelical Boys Brigade meeting and now he does not know what he believes. I said I can give an account of my views. The person asked to nail his colours to the mast did not, nor the asker. In India out of mischief one dropped a Ganesh in front of a Christian who wanted it removed as satanic - it showed that deep down he was frightened and indeed still Hindu. Another said how the culture of the area made Muslims in India different from other Muslims.
So the meeting discussed more than resurrection, but rather some fundamentals of faith. Indeed we even discussed a person who once told one in the room that he had no faith, because he was a fundamentalist. I said he means beliefs not faith.
The conversation was vigorous at times and highly participatory. The next topic was yet to be decided.



This is a paper to prepare for a discussion of the In Depth Group at its March 11 2008 meeting, given to the discussion leader ahead of the meeting.

Objective, Subjective, Postmodern

To some extent the issue of whether the resurrection of Christ is spiritual or bodily is a red herring. Of course it matters to many whether the stories of the empty tomb are later and insertions to an existing tradition of appearances - appearances that were about Christ meeting those in authority (plus congregation of 500 or 120) and underlining the message of the common meal and the Church as legitimate bridge to the Kingdom of God: a Christ who did return as resurrected but also has to return again. The crucifixion-resurrection-ascension chain is one of unfinished business.
The main issue rather is whether resurrection is objective, or subjective, or whether these guides to truth or impression are no longer applicable.
To be objective, the resurrection, no matter how interdependent it may be with belief, has to stand independently as a truth. It has to have existed. It then is real, something that happened, whatever we think about it.
If resurrection is subjective, then it is purely in the minds and imaginations of the disciples and apostles as they go around telling one another of the resurrection. It is in the minds of the believers. It is no more than a belief we act upon, but has no objective, real, existence outside of us.
Now it is possible for something to be objective and spiritual, and objective and bodily. However, it is not possible for something to be subjective and bodily whereas it can be subjective and spiritual.
To be objective, and to stand as something independent, the resurrected Christ after his death must be continuous with the Jesus of Nazareth who died. Now it may be that aspects of Jesus have changed and that he is transformed. However, the same person has to be involved. That transformed person, to be an independent, resurrected Christ, however much related to "the resurrection life" of believers, has to be of that person who went before, and to the cross, whatever may be his new features. If not then such is either not the resurrection or it is only subjectively of resurrection.
Now there is a problem huge here, and it is the Star Trek problem. This Star Trek problem concerns the transporter. When the captain and crew members go into the transporter to be energised, they so indeed turn into energy, and enrgy is rematerialised on the planet surface (or wherever they go). The problem has always been that in being turned into energy, these people are annihilated. The people who re-form at the other end have all the memories of those who went into the transporter and their past lives, because they are perfect recreations of their brains and bodies, but of course they are but perfect copies. The persons who went in have lost everything - they were killed. They have sacrificed themselves in the line of duty. The people as copies, who then come back to the ship, are also then killed in order than new copies can form on the ship.
Indeed there is no need for them even to go into the transporter. They could be scanned, and like in a holodeck copies are created. However, so that there remains only one Captain Kirk and one Captain Picard, they usually do the decent thing and die in the transporter. They are finished. The copies are not them.
The problem then is that Jesus who is killed on the cross, even if he is continuous with the Christ who is resurrected, still has died. The Christ reconstituted and transformed is but a partial copy of the Jesus who died, and really did die. In other words, the continuation only works backwards. The Jesus who died never ever sees the world again. He cannot do so, but the one resurrected does have continuation with the original. Either this, or resurrection is a form of resuscitation, which of course Christianity has always denied - because Christ died.
I don't think Christianity has ever tackled this problem, and it is only the error of Star Trek and the energising transporter that has brought this into sharp focus in my own thinking. Even if God is involved, and resurrects the dead Jesus, it is still a one way - backwards memories only - that the Christ has.
There is, however, one way out of this dilemma, and it is another objectivity. This time it is a spiritual one of the Near Death Experience. NDEs might just be narratives in images and symbols that the brain throws up when the brain is starved of oxygen. There has never quite been enough evidence of enough quality to defy a naturalistic and materialistic brain dependent argument about consciousness. However, we might have a situation where consciousness is able to go on when the brain is dead. There is a way this could be so, When the brain chemical electricity operates down and jumps the synapses the complexity of the brain network doing this is said to lead to us being aware that we are aware. That's consciousness - we know that we know. It is self-referential. Some think that consciousness involves quantum effects produced by this activity. Well if it does, then the quantum particles and waves could just continue after a brain has died - the effect is effective and ongoing. If quantum effects are behind everything, then why not this?
In the Star Trek case, then, this would happen. The captain and crew enter the transporter. When they energise, and because they are dying, they see the white tunnel and the significant religious figure at the end if they have one, and they even have a bird's eye view of the transporter room as the body mashes into energy. They then, floating, realise that they can carry on, and just as a person "goes back" to their recovering body, because it is not time to die, they then awake in the new body formed on the planet or to wherever they have energised. In other words, there is then a continuation. The person who really died and was really annihilated has a consciousness that hops over and then reappears in the reenergised copy. If so, they have continued.
Thus a Jesus could have died on the cross, and because the spiritual Near Death Experience allows consciousness to continue, with all its quantum effects, it then reconstitutes and wakes up in the resurrected body.
Note that this is different from Buddhist reincarnation. In Buddhism the essence that we make that is karma related also hops over to a new life. But the death that took place is real and absolute, and reincarnation does not necessarily carry over memories from the past. This hop over from a really dead to a new body does carry and must carry the full package of memories and personality.
So we see that even a resurrected body relies on the spiritual to get it across one state to another, even to a transformed body. Now we see the shift here: that actually the body is a material base for quantum effects, but the quantum effects are what matters. Quantum effects are what transcend both the material and the spiritual.
Nevertheless it has to be said that it is brain activity and the complexity of the neural network that generates what are any dynamic and changing quantum effects - if indeed these impacts and effects are what generate consciousness. How the quantum consciousness can continue when there is no material engine is unclear. Consciousness, even if it can continue, might just freeze: the seeing from above, the tunnel of light, the warm feeling of the oxygen deprived brain, may be all that there is - and it soon stops. A static consciousness is no consciousness at all.
These thoughts are, of course, our thoughts: our critical thoughts that can examine that death really must mean lack of continuation, or a quantum world that is a wierd world that defies space, time and common sense. It is not how the ancients thought, of course. They thought in big story themes, in big messages coming from small incidents, in linking what the big God wants to do, and what God might do, and a people carrying out ways to do it or not doing it.
Now beyond the quantum argument, materiality is the one guarantee of objectivity. materiality is precisely defined. It is stuff and stuff is sticky and gooey and is there. Spirituality is - well anything from the mind to demons to ghosts.
No doubt, then, in the battle with the Gnostics, a need to preserve objectivity - the death-beating nature - of the resurrection led to an emphasis on body in the proto-orthodox groups against the Gnostic groups' emphasis on spirit.
However, the spiritual can indeed be objective. Consider after bereavement the experience many people have had down the ages of seeing the loved one - say at the end of the bed. It is more than a waking dream. Is that person just in their heads, or does it have an existence of its own? If the latter, then it is objective. People describe this as spiritual, but a culture that reveres the body - like the Jews' - can call it transformed body. Also take another spiritual example - of spirits of the dead that can just appear and also go through walls. They, apparently, give their messages and disappear, once the message is given. They do not hang around. Again this can be objective - but it might be many people making it up and charlatans and the easily persuaded are everywhere. But the spiritual can be objective.
On the other hand spirituality can be personal feeling and the narrative power of the brain - playing tricks when in stress, or in bereavement, and the incredible narrative power of the brain links directly into the ongoing culture of the day.
The body, though, being stuff, must be objective. If the accounts of women as first witnesses at the tomb suggest, perversely, that the tomb accounts are not late additions but rather original and historical, then the resurrection of the body is nothing but objective. How can a body be subjective? It exists on its own.
Well Paul spoke of a spiritual body, he was using the language of the Jew - and a modified one for a spiritual experience. Such an experience could be subjective or objective. As a last days Jew he would expect a resurrected body, but not only was his experience spiritual but he knew nothing of an empty tomb. He lacks an appropriate means to relate his experience to his own tradition. Calling something a spiritual body is a bit like saying this is a square circle - it is a conceptual muddle and he is left with a conceptual muddle.
Indeed, all the vital, message giving, religious impacting, transforming, resurrection events are visitations and these seem to be spiritual.
So the bodily seems to be a proto-orthodox doctrinal add-on, stories that made it into the later writings of the gospels, and were embellished quite quickly too. In a charismatic and formative period things change quickly, and this is what we see.
So whether resurrection is objective or subjective would depend on your own preference. However, there is more recently in this postmodern period a claimed collapse of the objective and the subjective.
Everything is cultural, sifted, retold: even science itself goes through paradigm shifts so that anything meaningful in science is culture driven - in what is selectively looked for, found, ignored and, more importantly, how simple discovered facts are understood as modern day connections of meaning. These are the paradigms. So we have simple facts - objective bits. These might combine with simple subjective flashes of thought - but what really matters is that everything explanatory is mediated through the symbolic and linguistic. Everything is therefore subjected to semiotics - signs made up of the signifier and the signified.
Now, objectivity used to reside in the signified, the world out there to which our linguistic and artistic (including musical) signifiers pointed. However, in postmodernism, the signified become increasingly cut-off in a riot of self-referential signifiers. The stuff of stuff that is signified is but nothing until stuff gets described, and this needs signifiers. Everything is into interpretation.
Then we have the really riotous postmodernism of the interpretive arts and religion - and the narratives of the social scientist.
Now this postmodern condition in its narrative character has some parallel with the ancient world.
The ancient world, when it "investigated", did not do so in a reductionist and sifting manner like we do. It did not deduce - it induced. It added, and built great towers of meaning. It almost made a world by writing about it. There was no clear historical method as we now know historiography, even if it had historians, nor did it have scientific method as we do - for us things have to be falsified and are never true for all time: and an experiment should always set out to falsify and not build up. We gain through critical methods in every subject area.
The ancient world was not like this: it had fantastical explanations and expectations and a world inhabited by demons and spirits. It had circular time or linear time. It had a God or Gods and all kinds of angels and divine beings. Humans were sometimes chosen. Jewish culture had linear time and demons, and time that would end. In the Inter-Testament period it absorbed borrowed Zoroastrian beliefs coming down the Silk and Spice roads of resurrection and applied these last days ideas to the stress of occupation and the hope that Israel would be fulfilled. Those of modernising belief at the time - like the Pharisees, like Qumran, like Jesus, like John, like Paul - believed that the world's time was finite, that the heavens (above where those starry lights could be seen) was coming to change the world below, and that bodies would rise on the last day in a cataclysm of events, and actual persons would be judged. Jesus healed people to rid them of their demons and their sin, so they would be ready: the rich and healthier could look after themselves and they'd better not think they were so well off. Jesus believed, as they all did, in the history of the scriptures, not because such could be proven or falsified, as nothing could be (nor did they ever expect to attempt proof). Why not? Because their world just was. It was their world. When the Jews were in Babylon, in exile, they drew on some folk memories and created a history of themselves.
So they create reality and we with postmodernism have a kind of creation of reality - though we are post the modern. That means we still have these methods of modernism but that we are aware of the limits of modernism. We are not like them: cannot simply create our own bubbles of meaning and ignore other bubbles, even if we have our own preferred bubbles.
Thus Jesus in his bubble of Jewish meaning knew that the Romans had theirs, but each were so powerful, and so overwhelming, their bubbles, that it did not strike them as bubble-like. Of course over time they took new messages, something formed that made sense in their world view. That's how Persian resurrection made sense to the Jews. But we know that bubbles can go pop; we know that we are creators of meaning. We live on a knife-edge of loss of meaning rather than ,meaning overwheming us.
So then in a much more sceptical way, more critical, we can see resurrection as neither objective nor subjective. It is not quite the same as how they saw resurrection, in that they were far more swamped within their world view - theirs was much more total. We are still critics and sceptics, but nevertheless we can make worlds of meaning that are rather thin bubbles that might go pop.
We know that we cannot get back to the resurrection event. There are no primary sources except of the early Churches themselves (and even then later copying rather makes that claim awkward). Paul's claims are ambiguous at best and that of the other leaders very second hand. Resurrection itself has no scientific base, though it can be examined from a scientific perspective as thought games - I have done this here. It can also be examined philosophically, again as here. There are several objections to dying and continuing, such as the analogy of energised transporting, and there are potential rescues.
Resurrection is more than just an examination of past events of either the early Churches and or Jesus Christ. Theologically it is a transformative event. Thus as critics and postmoderns, we can have it as a meaning event, a meaning story that injects into our own personal story - our own biography. So it goes from the communal to the personal - and biographies are always biological. Our biographies - the personal story - is there in the material brain and part of our consciousness. As such resurrection is ritualistic - the body transforming, the theatrical, the changing what we as body people do; it is a world of embodied meaning, one that is post modern.




Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful