Progressive Christian Easter

Progressive Christian Easter April 22, 2019

It can sometimes seem that Christian and non-Christian perspectives, religious and secular perspectives, academic and devotional perspectives, can find little common ground. Progressive Christian are committed to building bridges and at least listening to other perspectives, while also articulating our own stance with confidence and conviction. There is no one “progressive Christian perspective” on Easter or resurrection. But here is one progressive Christian perspective, in the form of an excerpt from a blog post Jim Burklo wrote:

Jesus’ fan club in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday had to make a choice after Good Friday.  Could they forgive him for not being the Superman Savior who would drive the Romans out of their land?  Could they forgive God for allowing their beloved Rabbi to be murdered?  Could they begin to understand God as Love instead of as an omnipotent Ruler of the Cosmos?  Would they scatter and skulk and whine about the horrible things that happened that week?  Or would they get up, dust themselves off, gather together, forgive without forgetting, remember the divine Love that flowed from Jesus, and redouble their commitment to living it out as a community?
At Easter, progressive Christians celebrate something much more significant than a supernatural miracle.  We celebrate the decision of Jesus’ followers to be the church – to stick together in the community of compassion in which we gather this and every Sunday.  That’s what it means for the Christ to live within us.  That’s what we mean when we repeat the ancient chant:  “Christos anesti! Alithos anesti!” — “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

See also Donna Schaper’s article on “Easter Maybe People” in The Christian Century. Here is an excerpt:

I think pastors like me can be more gentle toward other Easter Maybe people and their yearning. We can stop calling them skimmers and start calling them honest. We can let people know that the biggest story of our faith is based on a small amount of direct testimony. We can tell them that the biblical accounts of the resurrection differ significantly from Gospel to Gospel. We can focus on the Emmaus story or the disciples’ breakfast with Jesus on the beach. It is a right-size claim that people felt a presence while cooking a fish at dawn beside a lake.

And we can shift the focus from belief to trust.

Kyle Greenwood explains what is found (and what is not) in the Hebrew Bible when it comes to expecting an afterlife of some sort. Here is an excerpt from one post in his recent series:

For Job, and the rest of ancient Israel, the grave was literally the final resting place for all humanity. There was no anticipation of an afterlife, and there was no expectation of an ascent to heaven. In fact, the only person to have ascended to heaven in the Old Testament was Elijah, and this happened while he was living.

Of related interest:

The Rationalization Hypothesis: Is a Vision of Jesus Necessary for the Rise of the Resurrection Belief?

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  • Iain Lovejoy

    The “rationalisation” going on seems to be that of progressive Christians. No-one was expecting Easter Sunday. There is nothing to suggest first century followers of Jesus were expecting him to come back from the dead any more than 21st century followers might. All the gospel accounts have them hanging around wondering what to do next after it all went wrong and being totally surprised by the resurrection. Trying to say that the “resurrection” consisted of Jesus’s followers having some kind of realisation about the true meaning of Jesus and carrying on anyway despite his death, or feeling some kind of “presence” that he was still with them somehow in some nebulous way, or that a refusal to believe he was dead somehow magically translated into actually seeing him, are “just so” stories of the silliest kind.
    All the above start from the assumption that the core belief of the entire Christian movement from its inception must necessarily be false, and are weird and wacky ways of nevertheless accounting for what really occurred. They are transparent rationalisations of what is believed to be impossible, rather than anything approaching conclusions from evidence.
    If you believe Christianity is founded on a lie, or some complicated misunderstanding, just say so and live with it: the earliest Christians knew perfectly well they were founding their faith on an absurdity, and said so, and were open that if it wasn’t true, what was the point of it all? Attempts to turn the resurrection into an exercise in post-modern subjectivity are entirely anachronistic.

    • I think you’re absolutely right that some scenarios are completely implausible and anachronistic. The disciples apparently had experiences that surprised them. On the other hand, I’m open to a number of scenarios in which those scenarios may involve processes that we can understand in relation to the workings of the human mind and subconscious. It can’t be something vague and nebulous – it has to be life-changing. On the other hand, there are definitely things that people experience in the present day that change their lives. I’m reluctant to try to pin down the details when history seems to leave much uncertainty, but I wonder whether we can speak confidently nonetheless about the kind of experience in these kinds of terms.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        The trouble is that ghosts, visions, revelations etc are all things that 1st century people fully understood, and understood to be different to seeing a physical person in the flesh. Whatever exactly the resurrection was it must have been more than a psychological experience or vision, because if that is what it was those experiencing it would have described it as such: rather they were at great pains to make it clear that is exactly what the resurrection appearances of Jesus weren’t. Trying to turn the resurrection into such an an experience is simply asserting that the first Christians core beliefs about it were flat out wrong, or they were deliberately lying about what they experienced.
        What the resurrection actually consisted of they were less certain of, but there’s no way of denying it as an objective event taking place in physical reality without starkly denying that the central message preached by the founders of the Christian faith is true.

        • The physicality of it is one of the elements that seems to come into the picture later. Paul says merely that Jesus appeared. Matthew inserts an appearance of Jesus with graspable feet in his effort to improve Mark’s ending, but he does so in a way that Mark’s own narrative doesn’t leave room for. There is a definite oddity about having angels tell women to tell the male disciples to go to Galilee to see Jesus there, only to then have Jesus appear there. And in the later accounts in Luke and John that add eating and touching, there is the additional facet that those who encounter him do not recognize him.

          I agree completely that people had unusual, uncanny experiences that persuaded them to shift their beliefs in ways that they would not have if they had merely thought they had seen a ghost. But I don’t find that I can pin down the nature of those experiences, historically speaking. And I feel I also need to consider the possibility that Jesus had spoken of being vindicated when God raised the dead, and that the disciples’ visions of Jesus vindicated thus led to their belief that he had been raised ahead of everyone else, inaugurating the age to come. At the very least, it seems like a possibility compatible with our earliest evidence.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            Visions of the dead were an understood thing at the time, and no-one claimed those they had a vision of had been raised from the dead. I can agree that the resurrection is difficult to classify, but, fundamentally, I am with Paul on this one. If Jesus did not rise, our faith is worthless: he was a prophet who thought he was something special, and wasn’t, and the Romans killed him, and we are kidding ourselves if we rely on the God who couldn’t save him to save us.

          • Thanks, Iain. I think my main point in response would be that I’m not sure that the nature of Jesus’ vindication beyond death matters as much as the vindication itself. Few people today expect a resurrection that is bodily in the sense that first-century Jews (including early Christians) envisaged it. Insisting that Jesus must have risen in a particular manner that entailed certain things happening to his corpse, that are not things that are hoped for as part of one’s general view about afterlife, makes little sense. In general I advocate leaving such things in the hands of God in an attitude of trust, partly because I expect that Christian thinking about such matters will continue to evolve over the centuries, and partly because I think that there is an emphasis on afterlife in modern American Christianity that actually runs counter to some of the things that it initially represented. For instance, it has gone from an expression of the conviction that God will carry out justice and not even death will prevent God from doing so, to something that can actually undermine any work towards justice because some believe that afterlife is all that really matters.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            It’s not about what happened to Jesus’s corpse, but about what happened to him and thus ultimately us. If the resurrection is put down to psychological visions and feelings his disciples had which made them think Jesus was somehow still with him, when in fact, objectively, he wasn’t, Christianity is founded on self-delusion. There is no “vindication” if the “vindication” consists of perpetuating an entirely false belief that death doesn’t gave the last word, when in fact it does.
            Likewise, if God has no power to act, believing that God or good will ultimately win is simply delusional – there is no reason to suppose he / it will, and “faith” is people who have so far got lucky naively assuming they will always do so, or, for the oppressed and afflicted, as Marx put it, the opiate of the masses, a comforting delusion that justice will ultimately prevail when ultimately there is none.

          • There are two key questions here, and even though I state them often and so can formulate them quickly, I wanted to be sure not to give a hasty reply on such an important topic. One question is how the conviction that God vindicates Jesus relates to history. God could have vindicated Jesus beyond death, or could still do so in the future, and that doesn’t necessarily have to correlate directly either with evidence that God has done so, much less evidence that historians or others have a way of verifying. The other question is whether trust in God is only meaningful and worthwhile if God preserves the individual conscious identity, the ego, the soul, of human individuals, in a form that is recognizable and continuous.

            I also think that there is a third alternative (if not perhaps more than one additional option) omitted from what you describe. In addition to divine action confirmed with proof and delusion seeking comfort in a bleak godless universe, there is also hope, a reasoned and not unreasonable trust and expectation that takes evidence seriously but doesn’t have anything that might legitimately be considered “proof.”

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I’m plainly not expressing myself well here. I get accused of talking about historical proof of the resurrection, but what I am trying to get across is that very word “proof” is completely meaningless in the context. To “prove” something is to eliminate or resolve (to some standard or other) doubt about whether a thing is true or not. The concept of a need to “prove” something requires at the least someone putting forward some reason why it might not be true. If you said you had eggs for breakfast, no-one would start questioning whether you had provided sufficient proof to support the truth of what you were saying, unless someone, somewhere, had some reason for thinking this wasn’t true.
            All the evidence we have for, or even about, the resurrection is from Christian sources, all of whom (obviously) believed in it and asserted its truth. We don’t simply accept this on trust in the same way as we would a statement about someone having had eggs for breakfast because the resurrection is at least an unlikely, if not wildly implausible, story and you have to pit the weight of the evidence available against the intrinsic likelihood of the event occurring in order to form a judgement as to whether you think it true or not. The intrinsic likelihood or otherwise of the event occurring, however, is inevitably a religious, philosophical and theological matter, not a matter for historical assessment.
            I don’t know the resurrection story is true, I merely hope and believe it is. That belief isn’t based on the historical evidence (such that is) which can’t really say much more than some kind of highly unusual event occurred (or appeared to have occurred) at the time. It’s based rather on the faith of the early Christian church as to what that event was (the existence of which church is historically pretty sound) the convincing portrait of God as exemplified by Jesus as found in the gospels, and how I find that understanding or concept of God is reflected in my own experience in worship and prayer. If I didn’t believe in the existence of and believe I (and others) genuinely experience the presence of God then the evidence for the resurrection I would find wholly unconvincing.
            A prosaic example of the same thing: USians have as an old practical joke a “snipe hunt”, where someone is persuaded of the existence of an entirely imaginary animal called a “snipe”, and made to do daft things in a supposed hunt for it. If someone said they had actually seen a snipe, then they probably wouldn’t be believed no matter how coherent their story, or what they backed it up with, or even a whole batch of people said they had. No-one would believe them without “proof”, however defined.
            However, the snipe is actually a small, fairly common wading bird apparently found pretty much everywhere except in North America. To anyone who knew this, a story about seeing a snipe (assuming the bird matched the description) would be taken at face value without any requirement for proof at all, any more than one would require proof of seeing a robin or a pigeon. Just as a story about seeing a snipe can only be evaluated according to what one’s prior understanding of what a snipe is, so one’s evaluation of the resurrection is entirely dependent on one’s prior understanding of God etc. You also can’t use the resurrection as any kind of proof of God, because believing the resurrection entails already believing in (or at least being ready to believe in) God in the first place.
            On the other point, hope in the resurrection entails at least hoping it is a real event – if you decide you actually do believe it was a hallucination, or “noble lie” or whatever (as opposed to merely fearing you are wrong and that it might be) then you have abandoned that hope. I do think that trust in God (or at least God as revealed in Jesus) must include trust in some kind of resurrection or restoration, including for those who have died. That is the faith for which untold numbers of Christians died and if it isn’t true we’ve been had. It’s also very difficult to see how one can love and trust in God if for his own purposes he will simply let people die.

          • I apologize for my delay in replying. Let me start at the end of your comment, with the suggestion that we cannot trust a God who would simply let people die. The ancient Israelites appear to have managed it, and so I want to push back on whether the human desire for immortality is a reliable guide in this regard. Moreover, if this is humans longing for something that is an exclusively divine prerogative (with the possibility that we don’t even really understand what we’re asking for), should we not leave it up to God whether this is an appropriate gift to bestow on us or not? That’s actually one of the points I make in my book The Burial of Jesus. We have become so focused on rewards in an afterlife that it actually contributes to the problem that it was originally intended to resolve, namely the injustice in the world. Trusting God entirely about the matter, and not just trusting God to give us what we think is right, doesn’t seem inappropriate.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            The problem is not that we don’t get immortality, rather that if once you’re dead, you’re dead, God has as a matter of known experience failed the millions of people whose lives ended in suffering and abject failure. It’s the old problem of God achieving his aims on the backs of the suffering of men, women and children who will never see or know his ultimately victory. I can live with or potentially understand a God whose inscrutable purposes cannot be achieved without creating a world in which the suffering we see is permitted if it is ultimately necessary for some greater good, but not if it means using, hurting and then discarding people who never agreed to it and who will never see or know the end reward. My view is that resurrection is necessary not so much that we might live for ever, but because justice demands that those who suffered and died for God’s victory get to share in its joy.

          • And that, of course, appears to be the reason that the doctrine of an afterlife was first developed within Judaism.

          • Nick G

            Well, gMatthew tells us that there was a zombie invasion of Jerusalem immediately after Jesus’s death. Do you believe anyone actually experienced that? If not, how is it that it appears in gMatthew?

      • John MacDonald

        James said:

        The disciples apparently had experiences that surprised them.

        I’m not sure. I wonder if the disciples actually had experiences that surprised them, or if this surprise was just part of a literary theme of the disciples struggling to believe and understand? All the way up to (and even beyond) Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples—who had traveled, studied, and ministered under Jesus for most of his public ministry—seem remarkably confused about what’s happening.

    • John MacDonald

      Hi Iain.

      What do you make of Carrier’s thoughts on the resurrection appearance claims? :

      It’s altogether another to ask how likely it is they were like every other divine appearance experience in the whole history of all religions since the dawn of time: a mystical inner vision. Just as Paul tells us. Our only eyewitness source. Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        Carrier is a Jesus mythicist, so his assertions about the historicity of the resurrection (or anything else) shouldn’t carry much weight. It’s weird that he describes Paul as the “only eyewitness source” when he wasn’t on his own account an eyewitness. Paul’s position is actually the same as ours – he is relying on a tradition passed down to him.
        My thoughts are this: you can’t decide in the historicity of the resurrection without first deciding on your beliefs about God.
        If God does not exist as the real creative force behind and within the universe, the resurrection is impossible, and to a large extent evidence, or indeed what happened is purely a historic curiosity: Christianity necessarily started on a lie (whether the apostles were in on it or not) and attempts to pretend it didn’t through appeals to visions, speculative psychology or “true for me / them” postmodern woo are a futile waste of time. Jesus was a prophet who failed and the inexplicable behaviour of his followers an unknown mystery.
        If, on the other hand, God does exist as the creative force behind and within the universe, such a thing is possible, even probable or necessary as being part of how the universe works. Under those circumstances the most obvious explanation for the existence of the faith founded upon it is that the resurrection was indeed a real event and an instance of the divine acting expressly within the world. Other explanations are unnecessary and unlikely speculation.
        This is why the resurrection is both a historical event and not a matter for history – it’s impossible to determine whether the evidence is for or against without starting from theist or atheist position as to whether such an event is possible at all.

        • Nick G

          Christianity necessarily started on a lie

          An error is not a lie, so “the resurrection happened or Christianity was founded on a lie” is a false dichotomy – one which many Christians seem to be fond of.

        • John MacDonald

          Hi Iain, thanks for responding.

          Sorry it took so long for me to reply.

          I think that we can’t simply dismiss Carrier’s possibility (along with the hallucination possibility) of The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins simply because it is a conspiracy theory. As Dr. Michael Shermer said in a different context:

          Why do people believe conspiracy theories? There are many answers from psychology, sociology, anthropology…but another reason is because there ARE conspiracies! I.e., some conspiracy theories are true, as @joerogan & I discuss in this clip from his show: See (Michael Shermer)

          I think Carrier’s hallucination theory, along with his Noble Lie Theory, are real possibilities along with the possibility that the disciples actually encountered the risen Christ.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            If there was no risen Christ, there are essentially an infinite number of alternative possibilities, most of which probably no-one has thought of yet, and Carrier’s is of course one of them. The trouble is they are all of the same kind of theory as the various mythicist theories about how the myth of Jesus’s existence arose, and various explanations for the evidence that would otherwise indicate Jesus’s existence: they are speculations as to how the evidence might be otherwise explained if you assume that the central story is untrue. Jesus mythicists’ error is to assume a priori there was no Jesus, and then explain how the evidence available might be consistent with this, and the same methodology is seen in theories about the resurrection: the difference being that, unlike the existence of Jesus, there may in fact be perfectly sound reasons for rejecting a priori the possibility of the resurrection beng true, depending on e.g. the truth about the existence and nature of God.
            Dealing specifically with the “noble lie” I think it a particularly weak bit of speculation. People will lie for a cause they believe in, and will die for it, but they don’t die for a cause they know itself to be a lie. A communist who lies (and dies) for communism may know their lies supporting communism may be false, but they will only do so if they still believe in the truth of the cause itself. There doesn’t seem to me to be a plausible way of constructing events whereby the apostles end up promoting the resurrection as the central message of Christianity knowing it never happened.
            Jewish sects and causes (and non-Jewish for that matter) lost lots of leaders to enemy action, infighting and persecution but still carried on inspired by their martyred leaders without making up a (very implausible) lie that they had risen from the dead (or deludedly believing it themselves, for that matter). If the resurrection was some colossal mistake or con (and one cannot rule out it might be) I don’t find any of the theories I have heard thus far about how this could have happened particularly plausible, the “noble lie” included.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s not dying for a lie, but rather dying for a cause, the vehicle of which is a lie.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            But if you know there is no risen Christ to believe in, what cause are you serving, and how does the lie that there is a risen Christ serve the cause?

          • John MacDonald

            As I quoted Carrier above:

            Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for.

            There is nothing particularly implausible about people starting a religion based on lies, as the historical analogy of Joseph Smith and his witnesses lying about discovering golden plates from heaven attests to.

            Justified lying is certainly present in the Judeo Christian tradition:

            1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh. (Exodus 1:18-20)
            2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies. (Joshua 2:4-6); (James 2:25)
            3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah. (1 Samuel 21:2)
            4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die. ( 2 Kings 8:8-10)
            5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.” (Tobit 5:16-18)
            6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but then went “in secret.” (John 7:8-10)
            7. Even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets. (1 Kings 22:21-22)

          • Iain Lovejoy

            That’s the implausibility. The central message of Christianity from its inception was the resurrection of Christ and the conquest of death, not the sayings of Christ the wise teacher, and if what you are trying to spread are the truth of Christ’s teachings then you make up a plausible lie about (or ignore) any of his teachings that might be incompatible with his dying, you don’t lead with those you don’t, in fact, believe. It’s a pointless, stupid lie.
            (That’s not to say that it’s impossible there might be some complex way in which somehow they had to or did make it, only that it doesn’t make sense from the information we actually have.)

          • John MacDonald

            Doing whatever it takes to create a better, more loving world is not, to use your phrase “a pointless, stupid lie.” It was in fact a central topic in Plato’s Republic and Laws, the Republic being the most well known book in the ancient world.

            As Carrier points out, perhaps the real goal was to make a better, more loving, happy world, and the resurrection claims and what effects such claims would have were just the vehicle for the real goal: creating a better world for a people stuck under the Roman Imperial Thumb..

            There are numerous such historical analogies. For instance,

            Regarding Rome’s Legendary Founder,Numa Pompilius, Livy wrote

            “And fearing lest relief from anxiety on the score of foreign perils might lead men who had hitherto been held back by fear of their enemies and by military discipline into extravagance and idleness, he (Numa) thought the very first thing to do, as being the most efficacious with a populace which was ignorant and, in those early days, uncivilized, was to imbue them with the fear of Heaven. As he could not instil this into their hearts without inventing some marvellous story, he pretended to have nocturnal meetings with the goddess Egeria, and that hers was the advice which guided him in the establishment of rites most approved by the gods, and in the appointment of special priests for the service of each.” (Livy 1 19).

            Plutarch also suggests that Numa played on superstition to give himself an aura of awe and divine allure, in order to cultivate more gentle behaviours among the warlike early Romans, such as honoring the gods, abiding by law, behaving humanely to enemies, and living proper, respectable lives. The reference to Plutarch is Plutarch, “The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §VIII”

            So, I would like to argue that the (i) Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins (which I outline here on my blog: ) is a plauisble model for Christian origins, along with the other secular interpretation Carrier offers, (ii) the Hallucination Hypothesis, and (iii) the Traditional Christian Hypothesis that the disciples actually did encounter the risen Jesus.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I don’t know what your religious beliefs are but what seems to be the problem here is a fundamental misconception of Christianity and the role played in it by Jesus.
            The resurrection (whatever it was) completely transformed the Jesus movement from where it was at to where it went, but in the wrong direction for the “noble lie” to make sense.
            Pre-resurrection, the movement focused around Jesus as a prophet and teacher and (latterly) potentially the Davidic Messiah as conventionally understood. On Jesus’s death by crucifixion (absent a resurrection) you could no longer believe that he was the convention Davidic Messiah since he failed, and you would be stuck with either believing there would still be a Davidic Messiah but it wasn’t Jesus, or in no Messiah at all (remember we are talking about those who will be in on the lie and know perfectly well that Jesus stayed dead). Believing the latter would be completely contrary to your passionately held Jewish faith, scarcely inspiring, and contrary to Jesus’s own message of the coming Kingdom which (in this scenario) you still believe are trying to continue. This would leave the insiders believing the true Messiah (however understood) was yet to come, and Jesus as a forerunner (or similar) instead. Inventing the resurrection would then rather stymie your cause, rather than assist it, as everyone would be focusing their belief on Jesus (as Christians actually did) instead of your future Messianic project.
            It’s also completely wrong to say that the resurrection was an aid to evangelism, as the NT letters make it clear that the claim that Jesus rose from the dead was a hindrance, not a help. It was (understandably) a struggle getting people to believe it occurred, a struggle which, in the “noble lie” theory, was completely unnecessary and counterproductive.
            The problem with the “noble lie” theory is that the Christianity actually being promoted bore no resemblance to the kind of Christianity you would expect to see if those promoting it didn’t believe the resurrection themselves and knew it was a lie.

          • John MacDonald

            Hi Iain. Thanks for your response. I do think you are completely wrong. The Christians were promoting an apocalyptic framework, both when Jesus was alive, and after he died. For instance, Paul calls the risen Jesus the “firstfruits” of the general resurrection harvest of souls at the end of the age (see 1 Corinthians 15:23). The difference is that before his death Jesus was preaching the imminent end of the age, and after his death his followers were taking the next step and preaching the end of the age had actually begun, with Jesus’s resurrection being the catalyst (a little convenient – all fits together very nicely). As I said above, consider the efficacy of an apocalyptic threat/lie: “God is going to intervene in history and bring about the End of the Age, so you better get right with God and start loving God and one another with all your hearts and souls!”

          • John MacDonald

            Hi Iain.

            I just wanted to add one other thought to my last one addressing your comment.

            (1) The mythicist and mythicist leaning publications by the academic press Sheffield Phoenix Press began in 2004 with Thomas Brodie’s publication “The Birthing of the New Testament” and later his mythicist autobiography, as well as Carrier’s mythicist “On the Historicity of Jesus,” Carrier’s argument passing peer review despite being wholly dependent on an ambiguity in the word γενομένου in Romans 1:3 and suppositions not found in Paul’s text about God obtaining a sperm sample from David and storing it in a Cosmic Sperm Bank.

            (2) If that is where the bar is for peer review, why can’t I speculate a pseudoism model (Noble Lie) of Christian origins where the disciples, devastated at the loss of their beloved master Jesus and terrified their movement they dedicated their lives to would fizzle out without their leader (as such movements did), invented a story (perhaps justified by 1 Kings 22:21-22) that they encountered the risen Jesus who communicated he was the first fruits of the general resurrection harvest of souls at the end of the age, hence validating the apocalyptic prophet Jesus’s prediction and giving the disciples theological clout to continue the movement? Of course, there are other possible pseudoism models where Jesus was in on the con, but that’s the general idea.

            EDITED twice, lol

          • Iain Lovejoy

            Speculate away, I’m not stopping you! I’ve probably not been clear but my problem with the “noble lie” (and indeed other explanations of the resurrection myth that I have heard) is not that they are impossible or inconceivable, or cannot be made to be compatible with the evidence with a bit of heavy lifting, but that they do not flow naturally or obviously from it, and require a lot of speculation and rationalisation to be made to fit. If the resurrection is not true it seems to me likely that the actual explanation may remain unknown, and be the result of some complicated or unlikely series of events of which we know nothing – I don’t think it’s deducible from the evidence we actually have.

          • John MacDonald

            Well no, it doesn’t require a lot at all. As Carrier said, all minimal pseudoism says is that the apostles were dearly dedicated to the cause of creating a better world, and they thought the lie of experiencing the resurrected Jesus would provide a foundation of furthering that cause.

            And the story worked. Look at a good man such as yourself who bases his whole life on the hope that Jesus was raised from the dead. Where would Christianity as a life/world changing entity be without the resurrection? As Paul said: “17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. (1 Cor 15:17-18).”

          • Gary

            “As Carrier said, all minimal pseudoism says is that the apostles were dearly dedicated to the cause of creating a better world, and they thought the lie of experiencing the resurrected Jesus would provide a foundation of furthering that cause“…

            Don’t want to debate it, but my problem with the “Noble Lie” is two items, human nature and history.
            Human nature – “creating a better world?” These disciples, as most people in those days, were lucky to just be able to scratch out a living to survive. I don’t see too many people in those days be willing to sacrifice their lives to help out other poor, destitute people.

            History – couples with human nature. In occupied territory, Jews being oppressed, Jews (at least some), wanting to rebel, High Priests living in luxury, past Wars (Maccabees), obviously future wars (70AD), crazy Roman Caesar’s, average people just trying to survive. So a group of guys want to make a “better world”? And lie about it, just to accomplish this “better world”?

            I doubt it.

            Usually, in cults, the motivation is power, or “what’s in it for me?”, not I want to make a better world.

            But anything is possible. I guess.

          • John MacDonald

            The problem comes when we start psychologizing why or why not people chose death given certain situations, especially people thousands of years removed from our modern sensibilities. Who, for instance, would have predicted with Josephus in the siege of Yodfat, when he and his 40 soldiers were trapped in a cave by Roman soldiers, they would choose suicide over capture? But more to the ethical point, Plato records Socrates’s last words were “give a rooster to Asclepius,” indicating the pharmakon (poison/cure) he was being sentenced to death with was a blessing for the social reform it would encourage by showing a just man being wrongly executed. Plato argues in the Republic that the impaled, just man is the highest ethical ideal.

            “Ray shields.”
            “Wait a minute. How did this happen? We’re smarter than this.”
            – Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are trapped by ray shields on the Invisible Hand

          • Gary

            “choose suicide over capture?”
            Apples and oranges. Capture means abuse, torture, and probably death anyway. Your “Noble Lie”, suggests doing good for the abstract view of helping people, by lying, or dying yourself, versus doing your own thing. You like to reference Joseph Smith and Mormons. You really thing Joseph Smith or his witnesses to the Golden Plates were doing a “Noble Lie”, to help the poor, downtrodden masses? Or to secure power, money thru tithing, and young women to sleep with? I guess Joseph was giving a “Noble Lie”, when he slept with his 15 year old housekeeper, while writing in the D&C that his current (first wife) should shut up and accept it, as a God given revelation to zip it? His wife should have said, “zip it”!

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe this quote from Carrier might help:

            But it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie—simply because they value something more. If someone believes a lie is essential for persuading the world to morally reform itself for the greater good (or to win a culture war in general: see my discussion in Not the Impossible Faith, Chapter 8), and that person values that greater good more than their own life, they will certainly die for the necessary lie. But even if someone values their own honor or reputation more than their own life, and admitting a lie would destroy that, they, too, will instead die without recanting even though it would save them, merely to preserve their honor and reputation. Even if in fact the whole thing was a financial scam (as rather tantalizingly argued it was, in J. Duncan M. Derrett, “Financial Aspects of the Resurrection, ” TET, Chapter 11, pp. 393-410; see also Robert M. Price, “Explaining the Resurrection without Recourse to Miracle,” TEC, Chapter 9, pp. 219-232). But no matter what their motives. More so if the honor or reputation—or security or emotional or financial or physical wellbeing—of their family (or community or congregation or flock) depends on their not recanting a lie. Then, again, they will die for a lie before recanting it, merely for the good of their family or other in-group. Thus, people will die for even what they know to be a lie, for their cause, their honor, their family, or their community.

            There are so many ways people will die for a lie that the premise that no one does or would is plainly false.

          • Gary

            I still think we are talking about two separate things. You are latching on to “dying for a lie”. I’m talking about perpetuating a lie (resurrection), so, as I said before, “So a group of guys want to make a “better world”? And lie about it, just to accomplish this “better world”?”

            The mission of the apostles was not to “make the world better”. These guys were going around, living off of other people’s hospitality, receiving free food and lodging. If you want anything related to “historical, you have to show that the apostles actually did something good for poor people, besides mooching off them. And if you extrapolate to Paul’s Church, his primary message was the coming apocalypse, so his communal church was hunkering-down, sharing assets, because of necessity, not to “make the world better”.

            So my conclusion – I don’t think the apostles lied about the resurrection, so they could make the world better, because they actually didn’t make the world better. The idea that Christianity made the world better, because all it’s members were so wonderful to the poor, and kind to each other, is more a modern, progressive view of what Christianity should be, not what it has been. If they lied about it, it was hardly for a “noble” cause. The Noble Lie theory doesn’t hold water.

          • John MacDonald

            Oh well, difference of opinion, lol.

          • John MacDonald

            I will add, though, that I do think there is a very strong “ethical/social -transformative component” to the religion, such as Jesus and the temple tantrum/critique, and the emphasis on love over purity in all our earliest sources (Matthew 22:35-40 Mark 12:28-31  Luke 10:25-28  John 13:31-35 Galatians 5:13-14).

          • Gary

            “Mark 12:31 (ASV): Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”…
            But all these scripture references say the apostles were going around spouting philosophy. All talk, no action.
            Simple question. “We’re the apostles giving food and money to the poor, or were the poor giving food and money to the apostles?” If I were the apostles parents, I’d tell them, “Get a real job!” Were they really making the world better? At least with the Essenes, they were communal and all had jobs, and apocalyptic. I’m not trying to be negative about the apostles. This just relates back to the “Noble Lie”, did they lie about the resurrection? Just to make the world better? Don’t see it. More likely, if a person has to reject the actual resurrection, then more likely the apostles were either under a communal delusion about the resurrection, and became fanatic about it. Or they had ulterior motivations about it. No job, other than collecting money from the poor, or a power trip. After all, the evidence lies in the ultimate outcome of the Universal Catholic Church – Vatican Gold, and Vatican Power. Not a communal, perfect society/cult, like the Essenes. Making the world better didn’t exactly happened – ask the Essenes, Jerusalem, Crusades, Native South and North Americans, etc!

          • John MacDonald

            I really don’t think the emphasizing of love of neighbor is, as you say, “merely philosophical.” To address just one aspect of this:

            (1) Jesus says “Mark 10:21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
            21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” And in Luke “any one of you who does not give up everything he owns cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33)

            (2)Acts says that the earliest Christians applied Jesus’s teachings on money in at least three ways:

            (a). They banded together with commitment.

            “All the believers were together and shared their possessions. Every day they continued to meet together. They ate together regularly with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:45-46)

            (b) They shared sacrificially.

            “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:46) “and from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:34)

            (c) They addressed poverty seriously.

            Acts 4:34 says: “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons in their midst.”

            * This is the fuller picture of what Jesus meant when he said open your hand, let everything go, then come join my community of followers. So, it seems that the followers were deeply concerned with making a better world.

          • Gary

            Essenes and Gnostics did the same (and they died out). Considering there were far more poor than rich, once the rich man gave all his possessions away, then he became dependent upon everyone else. So Acts is a nice fantasy, but I doubt either realistic or historic. How ‘bout the couple that said they gave up their property to the church community, but held some back. God killed them! Sounds like some noble lies are fatal. Again – if all the apostles did was spread the gospel, they were on the receiving end of giving, not on the giving end. And soon after the church was established, all the Bishops were living high on the hog. So I personally think (no offense), that the “Noble Lie” is pretty naive.

          • John MacDonald

            No offence taken, lol. It’s all in good fun!

            The irony is delicious. On the one hand, we have one party putting on a skepticism hat to impeach those first disciples’ motives by pointing to a strong ethical/social theme in the writing. On the other hand we have you trying to defend those first Christian’s honor against the noble lie thesis by rejecting the presence of a strong moral/social element! So, the more likely it is that they were moral (not lying) the less moral they were!

            The charge that the disciples were involved in some mischief to account for the resurrection appearance claims seems as old as the religion itself. Matthew deals with the issue apologetically when he writes:

            …some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

            — Matthew 28:11-15 (NRSV)

          • Gary

            Tell me something. You can’t get 12 people to even agree on the theology contained in the Bible. So you think you could get 12 people to agree on a “Noble Lie”, and keep quiet about it their entire life? More likely they had a common delusion, which they all believed, and became fanatical about it. If you read “Why Religion”, by Pagels, you’ll discover that she had multiple visions of her dead child and husband. On the one hand she new they were probably just mental visions. But on the other hand, she rather leaves the question open. So I say your apostle’s “Noble Lie” was actually a “Noble Vision”, bordering on delusion. This is in contrast to the Golden Plate witnesses of Joseph Smith. They were “Motivated Lies”. For self gratification or self advancement.

            But “defend those first Christian’s honor against the noble lie thesis by rejecting the presence of a strong moral/social element! ”

            You are defending those first Christian’s honor FOR the noble lie, by saying they lie for a strong moral element. Sounds like an oxymoron to me!

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, as I said, Carrier’s position in OHJ and elsewhere is that the hallucination option is a good option, but that a case can also be made for the Noble Lie theory.

            As I said was implied in Matthew’s Noble Lie apologetic in Matthew 28:11-15, we can infer the original opponents of Christianity thought it perfectly reasonable to impute a “Noble Lie” interpretation to the Christian’s resurrection appearance claims.

            Anyway, I think we’ve both argued our positions, so it probably isn’t fair to hijack Dr. McGrath’s blog on this topic any further (he actually has to read all these comments!). So, I’ll bow out and let you have the last word. If anyone wants to further hear my thoughts on the topic my blog post is here: . We can talk over at “Palpatine’s Way.”

          • John MacDonald

            And I mean, really, since the beginning of history people (both religious and secular; those that believed in a pleasant afterlife and those that didn’t) have willingly died in the name of preserving, or improving, a way of life: soldiers, for instance.

          • John MacDonald

            Consider the efficacy of an apocalyptic threat/lie: “God is going to intervene in history and bring about the End of the Age, so you better get right with God and start loving God and one another with all your hearts and souls!”

    • Nick G

      Actually, we don’t know what the earliest Christians believed or thought, because the earliest Christian texts date from around 20 years after Jesus’ death, and the earliest actual account of the resurrection from perhaps 20 years after that. Way more than enough time for normal psycho-social processes to distort the record of the days and weeks immediately after his death quite radically.

      or that a refusal to believe he was dead somehow magically translated into actually seeing him

      Hallucinations of the recently dead are common, so much more likely it it was the other way round. And we do know from more recent examples that apocalyptic cults frequently survive the “great disappointment” of having their beliefs refuted by events, generally by making some adjustment to those beliefs while maintaining as much as possible of their core. In Jesus’ case, his followers did presumably believe him to be the Messiah. Since he clearly had not achieved what the Messiah was supposed to achieve, the only way of maintaining that core belief was to decide he was going to return, and indeed there is evidence that early Christians believed this would be relatively soon – probably essential if the belief was to serve its psycho-social functions of reassuring his followers and keeping them together (of course, we have no idea how many in effect shrugged their shoulders and took up their lives, or transfered their allegiance to another Messianic candidate). To return, he must in some way of other have survived death, so they convinced themselves he had, probably aided by post-mortem hallucinations of him.

      Nothing very complicated about any of that.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        You are free to believe whatever rationalisation makes you feel better.

        • Nick G

          I note that you don’t make any actual response to my arguments.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            There isn’t any point responding. As I point out I think in one of my earlier comments, any arguments over evidence are basically irrelevant. The only evidence or argument against the resurrection having happened is that it is impossible for it to have in fact occurred, because people don’t rise from the dead. All other evidence we have (such as it is, and for what it’s worth) is completely consistent with it occurring. (Pointing out that the NT as a whole isn’t completely consistent or accurate is quite true, but by-the-by: if anything utter consistency amongst documents which were written in their final form after everyone who witnessed the events they describe was probably dead would be a sign that they were, rather than weren’t, faked up afterwards.)
            Until you determine the question of what life and death are, the fundamental nature of existence itself and the existence (if any) and nature of the divine, you can’t in fact assess whether the resurrection is impossible, improbable, probable or indeed inevitable, and until you do that, weighing up the likelihood of such a thing occurring at all against the quality of the evidence that it occurred is impossible to do in any meaningful fashion.
            Your “arguments” aren’t arguments at all, they are simply speculation as to what may have in fact happened, premised on the resurrection having in fact happened being impossible.

          • Nick G

            they are simply speculation as to what may have in fact happened,
            premised on the resurrection having in fact happened being impossible.

            No, they are not. It could be the case that resurrection is possible, indeed has happened on numerous occasions, but Jesus was not one of those resurrected. The evidence for his resurrection is so utterly feeble that it can only be found convincing by someone emotionally committed to it, as you so clearly are. As James McGrath points out, the “evidence” appears to have developed over a period of decades, with Paul saying only that Jesus appeared, Mark (as originally written according to most relevant experts) having the “empty tomb” story (with what looks like a convenient excuse for readers not having heard of it, i.e. that the witnesses “told no-one”) but no post-mortem appearances, and only the later gospels including the latter, with multiple inconsistencies, and oddities like Jesus only being recognised in retrospect. This is evidence that the supposed event did not occur, quite independent of whether such a thing is impossible. But on that topic, if the resurrection is possible, so is every other miracle story from every religion, such as the zombie invasion of Jerusalem, the sun standing still, Mohammed flying to heaven on a horse, yogis living for years without food, and so on. Do you take the same attitude to them? My attitude to all of them is consistent: I remain open to the possibility that we really do live in a universe where such things can happen, but so far, there is no good evidence for them.