The historicity of Christ, including his death by crucifixion, is a fact that about as well attested as any in the ancient world. The evidence for Christ's existence is much stronger than that for Socrates, Alexander the Great, and numerous figures of ancient times whose historicity no one doubts. Historians are unanimous that Christ was born, that he developed a following, that he antagonized the Jewish and Roman authorities, and that he was put to death. But what about the resurrection?
"If Christ had not been raised," Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, "our preaching is useless and so is your faith." The resurrection is the most important event in Christianity. (For this reason, Easter is actually a more important holiday for Christians than Christmas.) Other religions such as Judaism and Islam may feature miracles but miracles are not central to their theology. Christianity, by contrast, is based on the miracle of the resurrection.
Since the nineteenth century, some biblical scholars have refused to accept the biblical account of the Resurrection because it was produced by people obviously biased in Christ's favor. Interestingly Christ's followers, by their own admission, did not expect the resurrection. Arriving three days after his death, the women brought spices to his tomb to anoint and preserve his body. Only then did they observe that the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty.
The fact of the empty tomb was admitted by the Roman guards and also by the Jewish magistrates, who told the Roman authorities that Christ's followers must have stolen the body. In Jewish polemic against Christianity, this has been the standard explanation for the empty tomb. Yet it is prima facie implausible, since how could a handful of female disciples have subdued Roman guards and moved the stone blocking access to the tomb?
The apostles were deeply skeptical about reports of a resurrection, and Christ had to appear to them several times before these doubts were dispelled. Paul writes that Christ "appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, although some have passed away." Paul here appeals to direct empirical evidence: the testimony of multiple witnesses who actually saw Jesus alive after his execution. Of this group, Paul says that many are still alive, which means they are in a position to refute him if what he is claiming is wrong. In the history of hallucinations, is there a single instance in which five hundred people all saw the same person--a figure known to them--and were all equally mistaken?
But is the testimony of the early Christians reliable? Well, let us see. The disciples became so convinced of what they had seen that their dirges of lamentation were replaced with cries of joy. Proclaiming Christ crucified and Christ risen, they launched the greatest wave of religious conversion in history. Historians tell us that the number of Christians increased from around 100 at the time of Christ's death to around 30 million by the early fourth century, when the Roman emperor himself converted to Christianity.
These conversions occurred in the teeth of fierce political opposition and the persecution of the greatest empire in the ancient world, the empire of Rome. The early Christians did not hesitate to identify themselves with a man who had been branded a traitor and a criminal. They endured imprisonment, torture, exile, and death rather than renounce their commitment to a resurrected Christ.
Imagine a disputed event in court where numerous eyewitnesses gave evidence of the same fact and stood by their testimony so firmly that they would be willing to endure life imprisonment or even the death penalty rather than say the contrary. Would any jury doubt that such people, who would have little to gain and everything to lose, were telling the truth?
"Yes," an atheist friend of mine conceded. "But aren't the radical Muslims also willing to die in order to get the virgins in heaven?" Perhaps so, but the two cases are not comparable. The radical Muslims are taking on faith that their actions will take them to an Elysian place where the virgins will be waiting. By contrast, the Christians who went to their deaths at the hands of the Romans did so because they refused to renounce an event in their own experience. Why would someone be willing to die for something that he knew to be a lie?
Even from a secular point of view, the evidence for Christ's resurrection is surprisingly strong. It might even be sufficient to convince an impartial jury in a court of law. The big question surrounding Good Friday and Easter is not: did all this happen? It did. The big question is whether we will let Christ into our hearts, so that he can raise us up on the day of judgment.
This Easter reflection is adapted from my book What's So Great About Christianity.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
Just to listen to these luny's talk is just hilarious. These people live in another universe. They are out of touch with reality. And people wonder why I'm conservative.
Sociologist Stefan Timmerman has observed that “Humans in every society studied to date are more likely to be murdered on the day they are born than on any other day of their lives.” Timmerman was quoted recently by bioethicist Wesley J. Smith in the online publication To the Source.
Smith rightly claims that while infanticide was commonly accepted in ancient times, only the Jews and the Christians actively opposed it. The strength of their opposition paid off “when infanticide was outlawed by Emperor Valentinian, a Christian, in the 4th century.”
So, as Western culture abandons its Christian roots, we ought not to be surprised that infanticide is making a comeback.
Take a look at what is already happening in the Netherlands. In 2004, doctors from Groningen University Medical Center admitted to killing, or “euthanizing,” to use the euphemism, dying or profoundly disabled babies. That practice came to be known as the Groningen Protocol.
Under those guidelines, not only are dying infants killed, but so are disabled infants who do not even require intensive care. The criteria for euthanizing a baby are subjective: Either the baby is judged to have no chance of survival; may survive after intensive treatment but with a grim future; or endures “suffering [that] is severe, sustained, and cannot be alleviated.” These criteria depend on the doctor’s whim.
So much for the Hippocratic Oath.
By judging which life is valuable or not, doctors are doing precisely what the Nazis did over 60 years ago. The Nazis even had a phrase for this, which translated means “life not worth living”—and not because of the individuals’ suffering, but because of their burden and cost to society.
“As the West loses some of its Biblical moral footing,” writes Smith, “there is a new effort to decriminalize infanticide.” In fact, he asserts, “the notion is ‘positively trendy’.” Most notably, of course, is Princeton Professor Peter Singer who has advocated for some time killing disabled infants. But he is not the only one. When the Groningen Protocol was revealed, others began—not condemning it—but, sadly enough, defending it.
Smith noted a New York Times feature and a New England Journal of Medicine report, both giving credence and sympathy to Dutch infanticide proponents. And now the Hastings Center Report, the most respected journal on bioethics, has published another pro-Groningen Protocol article in which the authors not only “support lethally injecting dying babies, but also those who are disabled.”
“The article assumes that guidelines will protect against abuse,” writes Smith, but, as he points out, “infanticide is by definition abuse.” And, as Smith reminds readers, Dutch euthanasia guidelines for adults and teens have been “violated for decades,” so why should we expect anything different with infanticide guidelines?
“[W]e are moving toward a medical system,” says Smith, “in which babies are put down like dogs and killing is redefined as a caring act.”
But this can happen only in a society that has forgotten that every human life is made in the image of God—and, therefore, worthy of protection.
Think worldviews do not matter? Think our Christian heritage is irrelevant? Too bad we cannot ask the infants of Groningen what they think.