A Reflection on the
Resurrection Accounts of Mark and John
April 5, 2015
by David Somerville
It may not be a good idea to write much about fundamentalism when making a reflection on the mystery of Easter. Are there not better ways to reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Yes, probably… If we are looking for an easy beginning. But we have something to learn from folks who are victimized by fundamentalism. God may be calling us to be missionaries in some form to them also. But bear in mind that what we learn from this spiritual blindness is not what fundamentalists intend to teach.
Literal inerrancy types of believers are among the first to affirm with vigor that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is exactly what happened, and that the accounts of it are not metaphorical. Metaphors and symbols, fundamentalists assume, are inferior to the reporting of events of the supernatural that must be held literally to have really happened. For them the bodily resurrection was a real event just as the dead Lazarus was brought out of his foul smelling tomb— alive and ready to enjoy a reunion with his family members and to continue being his beloved self, but in a new and different sort of way— released from his death shrouds. Do the fundamentalists get this? Do we? What could such a release be? Does it suggest that Lazarus’ life with his family members after the reunion was somehow very different? I would think that there was a great difference, and that the difference is the real point of the event. The reason why the calling of Lazarus from his tomb was remembered by the community that wrote the story, was that Jesus wanted him to be truly unbound and free of hopelessness. Do fundamentalists really get the significance of the command, “Lazarus, come out!” or do they merely value the establishment of “just the facts” assuming that the dirty rags in the tomb are a minor detail, and not symbols of a serious problem with what otherwise would have been a wholesome passage for Lazarus into the mystery of eternal life?
In addition to fundamentalism among Christians, we in this millennium have been made aware of how this compulsive literalism can thoroughly obscure the rich spiritualities of the other two Abramic traditions, Judaism and Islam. Fundamentalism insists that righteousness must be defended by the violence of war, that murder is an effective means to the achievement of good, and that justice and revenge are the same thing. They are among the believers in the right of every man to bear arms. They are inclined to regard negotiation and discussion as temptations to question and betray their principles, and that tolerance and compromise are signs of moral weakness. Furthermore, fundamentalists suspect that all things new or unusual are evil. They are inclined to support legislation that they hold to be in the name of the free exercise of religion, but in actuality is intended to control, persecute, and limit the pursuit of happiness by people whom they do not understand, and, therefore, do not like. Christian fundamentalists are a little strange, because after all that, they appear to support the traditions of American democracy.
Is fundamentalism always religious? Apparently not. I found one man who does not believe in God. And yet he exhibits at least some of the behaviors of a fundamentalist. Evolutionary biologist, and emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, Richard Dawkins was Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. He is well known for his hostility toward creationism and intelligent design, ideas preferred by many conscientious Christians to be in their children’s science curricula. He wrote recently, “Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk”.
Does the quote anger you, fellow reader and friend? I hope not because we, as Christians of the Resurrection, have better things to do than to get in a stew over Professor Dawkins’ rather adolescent contempt for the convictions of his neighbors with whom he disagrees. I suspect that Dawkins’ hostility to those who confuse science with those wonderful bible stories that convey important truths, albeit ones of a non-scientific nature, is the product of the violence he has seen fundamentalist religion do to others including himself. But what Dawkins has done in his remark is argue for a new doctrine, a gospel of “scientism”. It offers a “Dawkinian” style of salvation, an exodus story from all superstitious, religious myths with a teaching that all truth that is real truth is scientific truth, and by following this yellow brick road of natural science alone, all questions will have their answers, and one will truly find the way to the good life of health, wholeness, peace, and contentment.
So what good is my continuing to ridicule fundamentalism in any form going to do? Dawkins talked of the beanstalk, so I threw in the bit about the yellow brick road. Tit for tat! What a waste! I am being as judgmental and mean-spirited as the scientistic fundamentalist is— which makes me into another kind of fundamentalist, an anti-fundamentalist! Anti-fundamentalists run the risk of getting too busy ranting and raving about what they are against, rather than submitting their concerns to the thoughtful discernment of group discussion to see what our differences might suggest as we explore the unturned pages of life with its continuing revelations, which can be an exhausting process. Such discussions aggravate us with perplexity as we confront life in a creation larger than our minds – causing us to make mistakes like Mary Magdalene’s confusion of her risen savior for a gardener.
Easter is a day of profound transformation of every level of our thinking and attitudes. It is about how God, the Son of God, the Word who is of the same essence as the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, may, at a careless glance by grief-stricken eyes, be mistaken for a gardener. It is the story of the end of one paradigm with a new principle of how we and God relate to each other, It has torn the curtain that separates us from our fellow human beings that creates the delusion that the differences of others are signs that the others are less valued by God, and that God calls us to make them somehow more like us.
We, the Easter People of God, are pioneers in a new territory. We are learning that our repugnance at the behavior of others (who can in all fairness be very repugnant) can make us as repugnant and sinful as the others are if we loose perspective through our outrage at what they have done. How shall we repent of all this now that the Great Fifty Days have arrived?
Ironically the answer may begin with our recapturing of some fundamentals — which of course, is certainly not to go back to the Egypt of fundamentalism. New Testament scholar, and retired Bishop of Durham, England, N. T. Wright has something to say about all this which is, as they say in his neighborhood of the Durham Cathedral, “spot on”. I close with this quote from Wright with just one caveat afterwards.
“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.” [Italics mine]
Let’s just be real careful with the word, “colonize”. Can you think of some of the unfortunate associations with this word?
Fundamentalists of many kinds have done a lot of aggressive “colonizing” in the history of civilization. It would be helpful to stay in touch with an idea that in this world, to quote the beloved hymn of Bland Tucker, The Great Creator of the Worlds, based on the Epistle of Diognetus, “Force is not of God”.
Note to the reader: I use two excellent sources without which, I could not do this series with some accurate sources of information:
- SermonWriter – Resources for Lectionary Preaching http://www.sermonwriter.com/
2 Oxford Biblical Studies http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/