The Prophets Have Fallen

Beth recently showed me this video of Pastor Steven Anderson insisting that Buddhists worship the dead corpse of Buddha. While this guy is particularly nutty, the argument that Jesus is still alive and Muhammad and Buddha (as well as Moses and Zoroaster, I suppose) are dead.

Mind you, we only have Christian tradition to tell us that Jesus didn’t die centuries ago, so this argument is pretty much pointless.

There is somewhat of a difference in that these other religions didn’t claim their founders experienced a bodily resurrection. Moses’ death is described in Deuteronomy, Muhammad is buried in Medina, Zoroaster is said to have been murdered in what is now Afghanistan, and Siddharta Gautama’s body was indeed cremated and the remains distributed to various holy sites. On the other hand, plenty of other religious figures were said to have gone to Heaven without dying, so Jesus is hardly unique in that respect. And really, why is whether someone is alive or not a good indication as to whether their teachings were true?

Another problem with this proposition is that most religions believe in an afterlife anyway, so wouldn’t all of these people have continued living in a non-bodily form? At the time of Jesus, it was a common belief in Judaism that all people would be bodily resurrected at some time in the future, and this heavily influenced Christianity. Jesus is said to have preached it himself in Matthew 22, claiming that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not truly dead.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection was important in that it was miraculous and vindicated a Messiah who died without driving off the Roman occupiers, but it was more of a vanguard than something unique. Judaism did, after all, have other stories of the dead returning to life. Besides, if he ascended to Heaven forty days later, he might still be alive but is no longer present on Earth, so how is that so much better for us now than if he simply went to Heaven after dying normally?

Islamic teaching, by the way, is that Jesus never died at all but was replaced on the cross with a decoy, an idea that might have derived from Gnostic Christianity. As for Buddhism, didn’t Siddharta want to end the cycle of death and rebirth, in which case coming back to earthly life would have been counterproductive? So even if you do think Jesus is technically still alive, how does that promote Christianity over any other religion? Do people who are right about things not die? But then, I guess it isn’t so much about assuring other Christians they’re right, because they already believe they’re right. It’s more a way to put down other religions for totally irrelevant reasons. Also, I hope none of the people who mock the shrines containing Buddha’s ashes visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, because whether or not Jesus’ actual body is there, it’s basically the same thing.

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3 Responses to The Prophets Have Fallen

  1. ubu507 says:

    This gut sure is an expert on world religions — and a darn fine singer, too!

  2. Bryan Babel says:

    I believe an important point about Christianity has been made to you, but made in a rather offensive and confusing manner. I think the point shorn of the grating character of this personality may be stated like this:

    The position of mainstream orthodox Christianity is not that Jesus never died; in fact, it is stated clearly in the Apostles Creed that he was crucified, died, and was buried, and that he descended to the place of the dead.

    The importance of Jesus Christ to Christians is not even held to be in any innovations he might have made in moral teachings; he said himself that he did not come to do away with the Law (and here it can be held that that includes not just Mosaic Law, but the Natural Law that every religion and ethical philosophy holds true) but to fulfill it–something no ordinary human could ever do. The importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus lies not in that it happened, but to whom it happened. And the Christian belief is that it happened to God Himself.

    C. S. Lewis put it this way: “[T]here is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him: ‘Are you the son of Brahma?’ he would have said, ‘My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.’ If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, ‘Are you Heaven?’ I think he would have probably replied, ‘Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.’ ” (‘What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?’ from “God in the Dock”.)

    Dorothy L. Sayers said: “For Jesus Christ is unique – unique among gods and men. There have been incarnate gods a-plenty, and slain-and-resurrected gods not a few; but He is the only God who has a date in history. And plenty of founders of religions have had dates, and some of them have been prophets or avatars of the Divine; but only this one of them was personally God. There is no more astonishing collocation of phrases than that which, in the Nicene Creed, sets these two statements flatly side by side: “Very God of very God. . . . He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” All over the world, thousands of times a day, Christians recite the name of a rather undistinguished Roman pro-consul – not in execration (Judas and Caiaphas, more guilty, get off with fewer reminders of their iniquities), but merely because that name fixes within a few years the date of the death of God.” (from the Introduction to “The Man Born to be King”.)

    More Lewis: “[The earliest Christian writers thought] Something perfectly new in the history of the universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door, which had always been locked, had for the very first time been forced open. …while believing in [spiritual] survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe. Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. …the Christian hypothesis…is that God has come down into the created universe, down to manhood — and come up again, pulling it up with Him.” (Ibid.)

    At the risk of wearying you further, I conclude with a chunk of G. K. Chesterton to consider:

    “Comparative religion is very comparative indeed. That is, it is so much a matter of degree and distance and difference that it is only comparatively successful when it tries to compare. When we come to look at it closely we find it comparing things that are really quite incomparable. We are accustomed to see a table or catalogue of the world’s great religions in parallel columns, until we fancy they are really parallel. We are accustomed to see the names of the great religious founders all in a row: Christ; Mahomet; Buddha; Confucius.

    “But in truth this is only a trick; another of these optical illusions by which any objects may be put into a particular relation by shifting to a particular point of sight. Those religions and religious founders, or rather those whom we choose to lump together as religions and religious founders, do not really show any common character. The illusion is partly produced by Islam coming immediately after Christianity in the list; as Islam did come after Christianity and was largely an imitation of Christianity. But the other eastern religions, or what we call religions, not only do not resemble the Church but do not resemble each other. When we come to Confucianism at the end of the list, we come to something in a totally different world of thought. To compare the Christian and Confucian religions is like comparing a theist with an English squire or asking whether a man is a believer in immortality or a hundred-per-cent American. Confucianism may be a civilization but it is not a religion.

    “In truth the Church is too unique to prove herself unique. For most popular and easy proof is by parallel and here there is no parallel. It is not easy, therefore, to expose the fallacy by which a false classification is created to swamp a unique thing when it really is a unique thing….

    “Now that is the sort of trick that has been tried in the case of comparative religion and the world’s religious founders all standing respectably in a row. It seeks to classify Jesus …by inventing a new class for the purpose and filling up the rest of it with stop-gaps and second-rate copies. I do not mean that these other things are not often great things in their own real character and class. Confucianism and Buddhism are great things, but it is not true to call them Churches…There are some points of resemblance between Christendom and its imitation in Islam;…But after that the lists are made up of anything that comes to hand; of anything that can be put in the same catalogue without being in the same category.” (–‘God and Comparative Religion,’ from “The Everlasting Man.”)

    • Nathan says:

      As far as the mention of Pilate goes, there are plenty of mythical figures who are said to have interacted with historical ones. And other myths have been associated with specific times and places. This isn’t generally the case with death-and-rebirth stories, though; they tend to be either cyclical or to have taken place in an unspecified long-ago time. So Jesus might well be unusual in this case.

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