I love literature. At one time, I wanted to teach literature. I wanted to be a poet, too. Then I noticed that there was a dearth of jobs for poet listed in the want ads. I might have been a professor of literature, however, had I not become addicted to teaching young children. It’s much easier to subvert young minds as opposed to those already set in their ways. One of the things I learned while in university about literature is that poetry doesn’t, and I repeat here, doesn’t mean whatever you want it to mean. The poet had something in mind when he or she wrote the poem. That’s what the poem means, not what it means to you. So, whether you are in Arizona or not, Shakespeare did NOT have coyotes in mind when he wrote about the “bark of the moon”. To believe that poems mean whatever you want is just intellectual laziness. The reader simply does not wish to do the work necessary to find out what, exactly, the poet is trying to say. The same can be said of any art form.
You may love a painting because it reminds you of certain memories, but it is nearly certain that the artist did not have your memories in mind while making that particular painting. Paintings mean something. So do photographs. So does music. I don’t begin to know what most paintings mean because I never studied art in school. I gained an appreciation of art from my parents who took us to the art museum regularly and had cheap supermarket prints of famous paintings all around the house (wherever the bookshelves weren’t), but I never learned how to interpret them. I know there are rules, rules of shape and perspective, light and dark, color, all of which help to decipher the message of the painting, but I don’t know them, and as such, would never claim to understand what a painting means. I know enough to know that the painting does not mean what I want it to mean. I don’t mind. I can enjoy things I don’t understand. I love women. I don’t claim to understand them.
All this brings me to the subject of God, as you might expect, it being Easter Sunday. This is going to get rough, so please forgive me. This is a blog about bullshit. But I am a little tired of atheists and agnostics throwing stones at religious people claiming that our beliefs are irrational and ridiculous in the light of twenty-first knowledge and science. Bill Mahar, whom I love and enjoy, mind you, as made a big deal of poking fun at religious people claiming that we believe in a magic guy who lives in the sky. Well, we don’t believe in a guy who lives in the sky, okay, Bill? We don’t think God lives in the sky. God lives in the space between the freaking atoms that make up your freaking body! So shut your freaking mouth, Bill, and God bless you. And moreover, Bill, Mormons don’t wear magic underwear. I am not a Mormon, and I certainly don’t believe in what the Mormon faith claims or even preaches, but I am rational enough to know that that “magic underwear” is a sign and symbol of Mormon faith and belief. So shut the hell up, Bill, and quit making fun of things you don’t understand. That is the sign of a fool.
There are, I will admit, plenty of things irrational about religious thought, no matter what the faith. That’s because people are irrational. Irrational beliefs are what happen when you arrive at your beliefs without rational thought. Certainly, religion is something of which most people have some kind of opinion. And opinions are good things. But opinions that are reached without some kind of logical, rational thought, are simply bullshit, plain and simple. Now you can have any opinion you want on any subject you want, but without some kind of logical reasoning, that opinion is just bullshit. You can claim that Shakespeare was talking about coyotes if you want, but then you better come forth with some evidence that Shakespeare knew something about coyotes, or had coyotes on his mind.
Opinions without justification, rational justification mind you, are bullshit. Now there is a world of difference between, for example, “I didn’t like that movie,” and “that movie is bad”. The latter describes the intrinsic value of the movie, while the former describes the viewer’s reaction to the movie. I, personally, don’t care for the work of Charles Dickens, but I would be the last person to claim that it wasn’t any good. I acknowledge that Dickens was a brilliant writer, and I can even tell you why. But I don’t particularly enjoy reading his books.
Most of us reach our opinions by gut reactions. We just have a feeling about something and we form our opinion based on that gut feeling. An optimist might tell you that he or she believes that the economy is strong and things will get better soon, but when pushed as to why he or she believes so, cannot give you one clear indicator. That optimists believes the economy is going to get better because he or she WANTS it to be better, not for any rational reason. There are many people who don’t believe in global warming despite all the science because they don’t WANT there to be a global crisis that would require them to give up their SUVs and their polluting lifestyles. And when those people are pushed, they give you some sort of nonsense about how there have always been climate changes on earth, which is true, but to claim that man has had no impact on the recent reasons for climate change right now, is to fly in the face of reason.
Again, I fall back on that word “reason”. Any reasonable person needs to come to terms, at some point or another, with the existence or lack of existence of God. Why? Because it is a quintessential part of world culture and a definitive turning point of our own relationship with our own identities, that’s why. A topic of such importance needs to be addressed for any rational, reasonable human being. Such a belief guides how we respond to any event in our own lives and in the lives of the people we love, as well as how we respond to the events that shape the world and our place in it. Is there a God, or is there not? This singular question demands some kind of opinion from each one of us, a considered, rational opinion, not a gut feeling, one way or the other.
And again, there are some died in the wool secular humanists who would say, “I cannot believe in a God that would allow all the injustice and misery in the world.” Well, thank you very much. What would make any rational person say that God does not exist because you don’t like the way that deity might behave? That would be like saying you don’t believe in television because there is nothing good on it to watch. Whether or not television has anything of merit to offer has nothing to do with the existence of television. The only God that behaves in a way of which we completely approve is a God of our own creation, which is certainly true for all those religionists who claim to speak for God and claim to understand the reasons for all the suffering in the world rather than admit that they don’t know shit about God in the first place. Whether or not God is has nothing to do with our opinions of the deity.
Those who hold such opinions seem to me to be trying to define the nature of the deity according to a set of standards that change with time. This is just as unwieldy as the opinions of those who try to define God by the dogma of any given religion. Lao Tzu told us in the Tao Te Ching that as soon as we try to define God, we lose “the way”. God, by definition, is beyond definition. We either accept the existence of God, or not, based on the evidence. Well, that is a matter of faith some would offer, but I would say that it isn’t. Faith is something you hold based upon your belief after considering the evidence.
Our entire justice system is based on evidence, and aren’t we glad? I can’t imagine any of us seriously considering a trial in which the prosecution and the defense ask the jury, “Well, is the accused guilty or innocent, what’s your feeling on the matter?” No, we would expect both sides to present evidence which the jury would hear, and then consider, and then and only then would render a judgment of some kind. I think God deserves at least that much consideration. And so my belief in God is not some irrational wish or gut feeling, but an informed opinion based on the evidence.
I won’t argue, as some have, that we can deduce the existence of God (much as we deduced the existence of atoms, based on their behavior) based on certain moral arguments about long held human beliefs and traditions, such as mercy and self-sacrifice. Instead, and here’s where the Easter part comes in, I suggest the existence of God based on the resurrection of Jesus. That is, did he rise from the dead or not? That is the core belief of Christianity. And that leads me to the story of Easter.
We don’t have to take the Bible’s word for anything, and shouldn’t, if we are to be objective. Either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t. It’s just that simple. If he did, then there is a God, or at least an eternal life energy of some kind. So we start with that premise.
There is very little doubt that Jesus existed. I know that there are some avid atheists that deny the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but that view is very far-fetched. Both Tacitus and Josephus, non-Christians, wrote about Jesus and John the Baptist. Moreover, although Jesus is not accepted as their messiah, various Jewish theologians seem to agree that Jesus did, in fact, exist. Moreover, you have all these followers who persisted throughout the first century, who left copious documents, who say they saw him, heard him. So it would seem highly unlikely and improbable that Jesus himself was a myth. He may not bear much resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible, but it seems safe to make the assumption that he existed. The question is, does he still exist?
Well, we know something happened. Even in the early years of the first century, there were plenty of people who believed in the teachings of Jesus. Today, his followers number in the billions. 32% of the world’s population claims to follow the teachings of Jesus. There is no doubt that Mohammed existed. His life is well documented outside the Quran. Those who follow Mohammed number in the billions as well, 1.2 billion, to be exact. Clearly something happened 2000 years ago, something so profound, that large numbers of people changed the way they saw the world and one another. The Christians claim that what happened was that this Jesus fellow died, and then rose up from the dead.
This is hard for some people to accept. After all, none of us has ever known anybody who has died and then come back to life. However, simply the lack of personal experience fails to negate the fact of whether or not something may have happened. I never knew anybody who climbed Everest either, but they exist. According to the principles of aerodynamics, bees should be unable to fly-but they do. One thing is an accepted precept of science, whenever everything else that could be so is ruled out, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true. So did he rise or not?
Well, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then those who followed him, whose writings we do have, would have to be lying. And we must ask ourselves why would anybody teach, preach, a belief in someone who claimed to rise from the dead if that person did not, in fact, do so? What possible motivation could they have? To continue the teachings of Jesus after his death certainly did not make those followers of the Nazarene any more popular with the temple officials or the Romans. Indeed, to teach that Jesus was the Christ was a singularly unhealthy thing to do in the first century. Why would someone take such a risk? Was there money in it? From what we know of the early church, none of those people had any money. There was no prestige in being a Christian. It was usually a quick and easy way to shuffle off this mortal coil. How could you get such a large number of people to carry on a lie? It seems to me most logical to conclude that those close followers of Jesus had to believe in what they were proclaiming.
To claim that people chose to be followers of a false Christ is like the ridiculous claim of the religious right that homosexuals choose the gay lifestyle. Why would anybody voluntarily choose a life that fairly guarantees persecutions and hatred? No sane person would do so. So I have to conclude that those followers close to Jesus, whoever they were (again, not taking the Bible’s word for anything), must have believed that Jesus did rise from the dead. They must have had some reason to believe this. What would it take to make YOU believe that? Would you believe in something so astonishing and unlikely simply on the word of another? Something made them believe, and believe to such a degree that they took those teachings to the far corners of the known world at the time. They believed to such a degree that many chose to accept a cruel and painful death rather than to deny the experience. They must have seen something, experienced something so profound that it changed their lives.
Certainly this belief in Jesus was quite vexing to both the Romans and to the Jews. Yet all either had to do to destroy the movement and stop the spread of this heretical belief was to produce the body. But they didn’t. It could be argued that the body was stolen. But who would steal it? Certainly not the Jews or the Romans. That is the last thing they would want to do. It could be asserted that his followers took the body, but to what end? This only leads to the argument above. Why would anybody carry on the teachings of a false messiah if you knew that he was false? That just doesn’t make sense. The only thing that does make sense is that Jesus must have survived the cross one way or another.
Some suggest that Jesus did not die on the cross, but rather survived the ordeal. This is to suggest that a person of average health of the first century survived a Roman crucifixion, including the preliminaries, such as flogging, spending hours nailed up on a cross with nothing to eat or drink, and then being removed, spending three days wrapped up in a tomb in rock without food or water. And then, after that ordeal, showed himself to his followers in such apparent good health as to convince them that he had risen from the dead. That also seems highly unlikely. The only thing that makes any sense is that Jesus must have survived death in some way and in such manner as to convince his followers that he had, indeed, risen from the dead. That is, Jesus rose from the dead.
Now maybe he was the messiah, or maybe he was just one of many messiahs, but there is little doubt that he was something pretty special, all teachings aside, which in their own right, mark him as a unique and enlightened individual. So, because of this body of evidence, I believe that Jesus must have done what his followers claim he did. He must have left that tomb, and if he did leave that tomb, then there must be a God-in some form or another. Jesus conquered death. Nothing else makes sense. That is the message of Easter. There is a God, a creative spirit of life. The spirit of life, the spirit of Christ, dwells in each of us.
Now I am ready to listen to any argument to the contrary, so long as that argument is based upon evidence at least as reasonable as the evidence that, at least to me, proves the existence of a creator. Now as to the nature of that creator…that is anybody’s guess. None of us doubts the existence of atoms, yet a great many learned people argue as to the nature of atoms. And so many argue as to the nature of God. That is why there are so many different religions and faiths. But as to the existence of a God, I have no doubts. And this is no irrational gut feeling. So I’m not fucking crazy for believing in God, Bill (and all the other atheists out there). I might ask if you’ve reasoned out your belief in the non-existence of God as well.
Once we accept that there is a divine spirit, then faith can begin. After we find faith, we can begin to find ways to connect to that spirit. Jesus showed us one way. But there have been others who found their way to God. There are many paths to God. Each has something to teach us. Some have found God by retreating from the world. But Jesus showed a way to God by reaching out to others in the world.
Does Jesus still exist? Jesus still exists in each one of us. We have become the hands of Christ in the world. And when we reach out to others with those hands, we connect with the divine, the divine that is as close to you as the person next to you. To accept God is to accept the journey from fear to freedom, from death to life, and life more abundant. That is the message of the empty tomb. That is Easter.