Replicants and Life Without God

Joi-Agent-K

It didn’t make much dollar at the box office. And neither did its predecessor. There are complaints that its too long. But then people complained the original was too slow.

Blade Runner 2049 is not short of critics…and plain old-fashioned apathy amongst the movie going public.

 

Full disclosure – I went to see this movie FOUR times at the cinema. Why? Because box office and buzz are not always good measures of an important movie. Sometimes the important movies come and go unnoticed…because their significance isn’t generally recognised. (e.g. Blade Runner…The Shawshank Redemption…etc)

 

So – why do I think the sequel to the original Blade Runner movie is significant? There are many reasons. I’m going to put my finger on one. And I will give some PLOT SPOILERS in the process.

 

Spoiler-Alert

 

 

Still here? Good.

 

The original Blade Runner focussed its narrative on REPLICANTS, artificial humans. Blade Runner 2049 continues this narrative. Only more so. In fact, the film’s protagonist – Agent K – is himself a replicant – there’s no mystery here…its revealed within the opening minutes of the movie. The story does this…partly because the healthy humans in this universe live in the off-world colonies…and this story is set on earth. But the deeper reason is because replicants help us – the viewing audience – understand ourselves.

What are replicants? They are sophisticated androids that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for to spot a replicant. That’s why skilled Blade Runner units are required to track down the replicants of interest in society. It’s also why we in the audience can find ourselves empathising with these characters and their experiences.

I’ll go further than that. We don’t just empathise with the replicants. We recognize ourselves in them – not just in the choices they make, but in their ontology – what makes them “them”.

Replicants are material constructs…sophisticated biological mechanisms that serve a purpose amongst other sophisticated biological mechanisms. Yet they long to be more. Some long to live longer. Others long for their “lives” to be filled with deeper significance in fulfilling relationships.

Is this any different from the way so many people live their lives today?

People’s world view often has no place for God. Their naturalistic assumption is they are only physical, complex biological computers lacking an essence or soul. There were constructed in line with the physical laws laid down in our Universe. But they don’t transcend them in any way. This life is all there is. There’s no purpose or significance beyond it. Craig puts his finger on the inevitable consequences of such a world view:

“There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.”[1]

That’s why I find Blade Runner 2049 such a profoundly moving experience to watch. Because it shows “people” coming to terms with the reality of a meaningless, absurd life. And I think so many of us in the real world today are facing that same dark and hopeless discovery.

 

Longing for Meaningful Relationships:

Agent K’s treasures his girlfriend, Joi. She too is an artificial person. Yet she’s not physical – just a portable hologram that speaks encouraging and loving words to him. Perhaps there’s more to Joi because we see her devotion to K in her desire to experience a physical relationship with him. And also – to name K. There’s nothing so intimate with another person – than to share a special name. She names him Joe.

K tragically loses his precious Joi, that meaningful relationship comes to an abrupt end. In one truly heart-breaking moment, while reflecting on his loss, K watches an advert selling the Joi hologram product to prospective customers. And he suddenly realises that Joi’s special name for him – Joe – is just simply part of the standard package. All the Joi’s do it. There’s nothing special or unique after all about his Joi, and also his time with her because in reality he was simply using a mass produced product.

Here’s the reality for us today – if we view people as biological products – then I don’t think there’s any ultimate meaning to our existence. No ultimate meaning in relationships with other products. We just exist – interact. Anything that does occur – might seem important at the time. But because reality has no meaning – these experiences will therefore also have no ultimate meaning.

Yet there’s a drama in Blade Runner 2049…that mirrors the real world. K intuitively knows there’s more to it than that. K gives voice to the inner sense within us – the audience – that human beings are MORE than just biological products. We are people with potential – our lives have meaning – and that’s why we spend our lives looking for meaning. Outrage builds within us…no, there is more than this. I am more valuable than that!

 

Longing for a Purpose Greater than Ourselves:

The movie presents some grand and overarching concepts. Yet its final act suddenly narrows in and focusses down on a very personal mission.

Agent K tracks down Rick Deckard, who had been in exile since the events of the original movie. K finds an opportunity to achieve a bigger more important purpose with the rest of his “life”. Deckard has a child that he’s never met and known. Agent K decides he’s going to allow Deckard to finally meet and know his child…to build the real and meaningful relationship with them that he’s been longing for himself.

K essentially sacrifices his life – to allow Deckard to know his child. In a scene poignantly reminiscent of Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in Rain,” K saves and lifts Deckard to safety. But not just safety…to meaning and a future with the child he’s never met.

The significance of this task is unquestioned by K. That’s probably one reason why he’s willing to die to achieve it. In his last moments…do we see him praying in the snow? Or are his lips just moving as his system breaks down?

As an audience – we’re left reflecting on K’s selfless, heroic act. And we know that the outcome is worth the sacrifice. We intuitively know that there are some things in the world that are truly noble, some purposes that are greater than us. Reuniting families, restoring broken relationships is one of them.

 

Meaning and Purpose Because there’s a God:

In his press tour, I heard Harrison Ford describe the Blade Runner 2049 story as, “the triumph of the human spirit.” Personally, I’m more struck by its rage against the meaningless…the sense that ultimate value and meaning does exist in the universe, even though life seems to try and convince us otherwise.

And if that’s true – and I think it is – it’s only because there’s a transcendent person who is responsible for everything, who gives it meaning. A loving God who crafted us, who chooses to give the ultimate purpose and meaning that transcends our seemingly absurd lives.

I’d suggest that – if there are resonances within us that question, and rage against the seeming meaningless and absurdities of life…its because actually life isn’t absurd. There is a God with a purpose and plan for our own good. We aren’t biological products. We’re much loved children.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, (), 72.

Advertisements

Christianity Causes CONFLICT?

blood handsOften I hear people reject Christianity because of the violence that Christians have wrought throughout human history.

 

But what if conflict is not actually caused by “religion” at all? People start wars (hello President Trump and Kim Jong-un). Violence is a human problem that inflicts both the religious and the irreligious.

 

My focus in this blog…is specifically Christianity. Why? Because I’m a Christian. And because I view it as a unique faith system. Only Christianity reveals the God who is seeking people out personally to save them. I won’t speak for other religious belief systems…I will speak for Christianity.

 

At the outset, I’m convinced that no violence is acceptable for a Christian. I am NOT going to attempt to justify or defend past atrocities committed by Christians. I will say that I think Christian people suffer the same tendency TOWARDS violence as other human beings. We all have hearts that need changing. BUT – there is hope.

 

What’s my argument proposing that conflict is not particularly caused by Christianity?

First – Christianity’s Critics Exaggerate Past Christian Violence

Christianity’s critics exaggerate the past in order to misrepresent the behaviour of violent, misguided Christians from the past.

John Dickson has researched two sad but specific examples of Christian violence over the last 600 years.

1 The Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition)

Setup to coerce people into Catholicism, it began in the 15th century and lasted for 350 years. It is commonly claimed that hundreds of thousands of heretics were killed during this period. The facts paint a different picture.

“in its 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year.”[1]

That’s 18 deaths a year too many…I agree! But a lot less than the hundreds of thousands that are often claimed.

2 The Crusades

A popular notion blames the crusades during the Middle Ages on the Christian church. Someone who was alive around that time – Martin Luther – had this to say about that notion:

“there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”[2]

In other words, the exaggeration here is on the level of genuine, believing Christians who were actually involved in this violence.

3 The Northern Ireland Troubles

This thirty year conflict, beginning in 1968, was sectarian and claimed the lives of less than 4,000 people…though many more were injured physically and psychologically over this time. The BBC history website reports, “During the Troubles, the scale of the killings perpetrated by all sides – republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces – eventually exceeded 3,600.”[3]

Having personally lived through this time, and known people caught up in it, it was terrible in so many senses. And 133 deaths a year were too many.

 

 

Second – Secular Conflict is Worse than Religious Violence Yet this Fact is Downplayed

Let’s bring a bit of perspective here.

1 The French Revolution

The secular French Revolution between September 1793 and July 1794 happened in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

“As many people were executed…in a single year of the Revolution…as were killed in the entire three decades of the [Northern Ireland] ‘troubles’”[4].

The French Revolution was a bloodbath.

 

2 Secular 20th Century Wars

World War 1 (the war to end all wars) caused an estimated 8,000,000 deaths.

World War 2 was much worse; 35,000,000 deaths.

Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic regime killed at least 20,000,000 people. This means more people died under Stalin each and every week…than died as a result of the entire 350 year history of the Spanish Inquisition.

Atheist Paul Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge, “led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. Some estimates place the death toll even higher. One detention centre, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived.”[5]

 

I would suggest that the results of purely secular conflicts are downplayed because they are so much MORE bloodthirsty than the historical religious ones.

 

Third – Violence is Not Particular to Christianity. It is a common Human Problem

These figures are both tragic and mind boggling. But they paint an obvious picture.

BOTH religion and irreligion can inspire violence. Yet the irreligious violence tends to be MUCH MORE SEVERE than the violence from Christians.

Christian violence is a sad historical fact. So is secular violence – which is much worse than the Christian violence.

This points to my thesis that – I don’t think conflict is particularly caused by Christianity. Violence is a human problem; we all are affected.  The problem is the human heart….not Christianity or Christian belief.

 

 

 

YET – there is STILL HOPE for Humankind

The hope will not appear if mankind succeeds in stamping out Christianity (as some have suggested). The hope comes when we become more true to the life and teachings of Jesus. Why?

Imagine a committed atheist who is convinced that there’s no God and we live in a cold merciless universe… the product of the blind forces of physics..

If I [as a Christian] try to put myself in that position, then I make an interesting observation. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, the atheist’s decision to love is nothing more than a personal preference. Surely because there is no God, and therefore no ultimate accountability for our actions, then ANY kind of life is logically compatible with the atheist worldview?

While the atheist can live how he pleases, no such free choice lies before the Christian. We are commanded to love like Jesus loves. “when Christians love, they do so in full accordance with their worldview that begins with the love of God and the inherent value of his much loved creatures.”[6] A hate filled Christian is indeed a historical fact…but it is also a clear logical DEFIANCE of the Christian worldview. A hate filled Christian makes no logical sense.

 

So where is the hope I referred to earlier?

Christianity doesn’t provoke war; it brings peace to all people. Eternal peace between us and God.

The solution for violent Christianity is REAL Christianity.

The solution for a violent world is not no religion…where love is logically nothing more than a lifestyle choice. The solution is REAL Christianity; loving and following Jesus Christ in a fuller and more devoted way.

 

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Jesus Christ (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)

 

“The cure is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion…The more Christian faith matters to its adherents as faith and the more they practice it as an ongoing tradition with strong ties to its origins and with clear cognitive and moral content, the better off we will be.”            – Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian)

 

“But why so many words when I can say it in one sentence, and in a sentence very appropriate for a Jew. Honour your master, Jesus Christ, not only in words and songs but, rather, foremost in your deeds.” – Albert Einstein (deist)

[1] John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 68.

[2] Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, available from http://www.lutherdansk.dk/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror1.htm, accessed 4th January 2018.

[3] BBC History, “The Troubles 1968 – 1998”, BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles, accessed May 5th 2015.

[4] John Dickson, 69.

[5] History, Pol Pot, History, http://www.history.com/topics/pol-pot, accessed May 5th 2015.

[6] John Dickson, 70.

Getting to the Good Place

frozen

Eleanor wakes up in the afterlife.

After inquiring about how she died, she quickly fires the question, “Who was right about all this?” In other words, which religion correctly described the afterlife? How do we make sure we get to the good place rather than the bad place?

The response:

“Hindus were a little bit right…Muslims a little bit…Jews, Christians, Buddhists…every religion guessed about five percent.” In other words – all the religions got some things right and a lot of things wrong about heaven and hell.

This is all according to Netflix’s “The Good Place” (which is a hilariously funny show – go and watch it).

In the reality of your life – maybe you reject all religions. But then, your religion is humanity; you’re already in the good place, but its not actually very good and you’re not here to stay. The afterlife’s going to be a real, unplanned for bummer when you arrive there.

But maybe there’s part of you that’s open to seeking the truth about life in religions? Whether or not the Netflix show’s assessment of religion turns out to be correct…my personal advice to you is…always start with Christianity first.

Why?

First – Christianity has EVIDENCE that’s open to scrutiny.

Historical evidence can be verified or disproved. The great thing about this is, you can test the evidence and if it doesn’t hold up then you can quickly drop Christianity and move on in your spiritual quest.

“Christ died for our sins … was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day…was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers”.[1]

The New Testament’s claims can be assessed. So – start there.

That’s not true of Islam, which is a long-term experiment. Surah 21 says “We try you with evil and good as a test; then unto Us you will be returned.”[2] So, I don’t know Islam’s right till after I die. Buddhism? “You’d better get a Zen Master…you’re going to be working at that thing for a long time till you experience enlightenment.”[3]

However, Christianity is an evidential belief system. So, start there first.

Second – Christianity is the only religion with a true notion of GRACE.

This means God shares the riches of his love based on nothing we’ve done (or not done) but instead based on Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Christianity is the only religion that has “freely shared forgiveness” at its core. This means qualification to enter the good place after death is based on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, not our final score.

Islam doesn’t work this way. Cannon Andrew White led a church in Iraq for years and is an expert on the Qur’an. “The trouble is a lack of forgiveness in Islam. I’ve looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness…there isn’t any. If you find it, tell me.”[4] What about Eastern religions? They point you towards demands involving hot coals and meditation.

Why do all that…without checking something that’s free first? Christianity.

Third – Christianity is a complete WORLD VIEW FIT.

Christianity makes sense of all aspects of our lives – everything fits together. That’s not the case elsewhere.

Chan Buddhism urges the cleansing of the mind…leading to natural illumination (tun-wu). This is sometimes provoked by riddles (koans) or questions like, “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?”[5] and “Suffering exists, but there’s no-one who suffers.”[6] Buddhists deny logic in their religious life, yet in their financial dealings and caring for their family, logic is essential. Abandon logic in the real world, you risk going bankrupt or putting your family at risk.

Yet a Christian remains a Christian in every area of life. We look the world in the face – study the exquisite complexity of nature from our limbs to our cells. Life looks designed, and there’s a good reason for that.

Christianity applies to the whole of my life – everything fits.

My final reason for trying Christianity first is…

Fourth – Jesus Christ.

Start with Christianity because of who Jesus is. Everyone wants Jesus on board with their religion. The Qur’an elevates him above Mohammad[7], Hindus have him as an avatar incarnation of Vishnu and Buddhists call him the enlightened one.[8]

If all the religions mention Jesus in some way…then doesn’t it make sense to start with Christianity? Which has Jesus at the very centre of everything it believes? After all, if everyone wants Jesus on board their train…there must be something about him. Right?

In summary, I have a strong suspicion that we only get one go at life (prove me wrong). So…doesn’t it make sense to start with the religion that’s easily disproved first? The one that’s built around the free gift of salvation and makes sense of life and the universe?

Image courtesy of Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/berries-berry-blur-close-up-275706/.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:4-6, NLT.

[2] John R. Hinnells, The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions Second Edition, (Penguin Books, 1997), 176.

[3] Craig J. Hazen, PH.D., Christianity and the Challenge of World Religions, CD, (Biola University, 2015), disc 2.

[4] The Vicar of Baghdad: ‘I’ve looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness…there isn’t any’, The Spectator, accessed November 24th, 2015, http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/isis-bombs-have-exiled-the-vicar-of-baghdad-to-surrey-but-hes-itching-to-go-back-to-the-middle-east/.

[5] Spurgeon’s 9.4.

[6] Spurgeon’s College, Exploring Other Faiths, (Spurgeon’s College, 2003), 8.5.

[7] Arthur J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, (Oxford University Press, 1991), 53

[8] Hazen, disc 2.

EVOLUTION and the Gap

pexels-photo-356040

I’ve spent my life unconvinced by Neo-Darwinian claims that life arose on this planet over a long time by purely natural means – random genetic mutations combined with the observed process of natural selection.

I’m clearly swimming against the tide of opinion here.

Sometimes, people will react in horror or amusement when I question Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy. After all – this is the science we learned as kids at school. We remember the pictures from the science textbooks. Routinely – the response I get from people is:

  • Evolution is a fact. It describes how life arose.
  • Anyone who questions evolution …is living in the dark ages of human knowledge.

This might be a common assumption. What I find fascinating is – there’s a massive gap between society’s widely held beliefs about the capabilities of “evolution” …and scientists’ beliefs on the effectiveness of the modern synthesis (textbook Darwinism) to explain life’s origin. It seems that the general public have greater confidence in Darwin…than an increasingly large number of scientists do.

In November 2016, there was a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” During this meeting, evolutionary biologists clearly laid their cards on the table. Their admissions may surprise you.

Gerd Müller (Austrian evolutionary theorist) said that the modern synthesis (Neo-Darwinism) fails to account for:

  • The origins of the anatomy of living creatures (eyes, ears and body plans).
  • The origins of new forms of life throughout the history of life.
  • Abrupt discontinuities in the fossil record, when complex new life forms appear suddenly.[1]

Müller referred to the gap in understanding between scientists and the public. Even tho Neo-Darwinism continues to be “presented to the public via textbooks as the canonical understanding of how new living forms arose,”[2] the theory lacks the creative power to generate novel anatomical traits and forms. He was simply saying that – contrary to popular belief – evolution does not currently account for the origins of life.

Jim Shapiro (professor of microbiology) went on to show evidence that evolution does not progress slowly and randomly. Rather, cells adjust themselves rapidly and in real-time:

  • Many mutational processes in life aren’t random at all. They seem to operate under “algorithmic control.”
  • Life seems to possess a pre-programmed adaptive capacity.[3]
  • These adaptions can occur in very short periods of time.[4]

I found a great example of this behaviour from microbiologists in the University of Reading in the UK: [5]

Today’s experimental biology is showing that, “cells perform adaptions of astonishing sophistication in real time, but these events are emphatically non-random. This means that evolution has goals, and so too do organisms.”[6]

Yet no one asks the question, “where do the non-random, sophisticated pre-programmed real-time capacities originate from?” Life just finds a way. Why?

 

 

There’s a gap between the popular understanding and the honest, scientific assessment.  There’s no working theory that explains how life arose by purely random naturalistic processes. As paleontologist Graham Budd has observed, “When the public thinks about evolution, they think about [things like] the origin of wings…But these are things that evolutionary theory has told us little about.”[7]  Further – life can adapt at a staggering speed and level of sophistication.

 

The history of science is littered with theories that worked for a while, but were abandoned when we learned that, while they were successful in predicting some observations, the theory turned out to be false. It seems like scientific thinking on “evolution” must evolve to let go of the old ideas about gradual, naturalistic random change. We need to move forward now. The increasing evidence pointing towards purpose, intention and design in life needs to be better understood.

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-biology-chemical-chemist-356040/

 

[1] Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell, Evolution News & Science Today, https://evolutionnews.org/2016/12/why_the_royal_s/, accessed 2nd January 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Landmark conference puts Neo-Darwinism and its atheist evangelists on thin ice, Premier Christianity, https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Landmark-conference-puts-Neo-Darwinism-and-its-atheist-evangelists-on-thin-ice, accessed 2nd January 2018.

[5] Bacteria evolve over a weekend, UniofReading, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE8fKOozG40&feature=youtu.be, accessed 2nd January, 2018.

[6] Landmark conference.

[7] Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell.

RESPONDblogs: The Hero Who Never Fired a Bullet

hacksaw ridge

 

From the opening frames, you can see this isn’t going to be an easy watch.

It took me a while to work up to watching this movie. I find images of war profoundly disturbing, and I know Mel Gibson’s talent at portraying horror and man’s inhumanity to man. In this movie – he did nothing less. He’s a master at it.

But – incredibly – this is not a war movie at its heart.

I’m going to give some important plot details now…go watch the movie if you don’t want to be spoiled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss. Raised by a Christian mother, Desmond grew into a devout young man who decided to shun violence. When war broke out – the patriot within him longed to fight for America’s freedom. But – he could not bear to take up arms himself. Rather – he dreamed of entering the Army in a non-combat role – as a Medic.

This got him into all sorts of trouble during his Army training. His refusal to use a rifle almost landed him in an Army prison for the rest of the war. Yet through some profoundly moving circumstances – Desmond was spared Court Marshall. And instead – he was sent with the 77th Infantry Division to the bloodiest theatre of war…Okinawa in the South Pacific…unarmed. The army men who had labelled him a coward for refusing to fight…began to see saw his bravery as Desmond faced the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge carrying nothing but medical supplies, and a willing heart to bring comfort to the wounded and the dying on the battlefield.

That any of Desmond’s Detachment survived Hacksaw was pretty miraculous. The Japanese counter attack was fierce. Gibson’s movie portrays events as follows. After the first day of fighting, the 77th seem to have survived and dug in on Hacksaw Ridge. They survive the night – yet at first light, the Japanese counter attack pushes them back to the edge of the cliff again. Those who can, scramble down the cliff face to safety, leaving dead and dying friends remaining on the ridge with scores of Japanese soldiers who wander the battlefield, finishing off the wounded men that remain.

The movie shows this as the pivotal moment in Desmond’s story.

As his buddies flee for their lives…he stands at the cliff edge…feeling he could have done more. He prays to God – “speak to me. Show me what to do.” And through the confusion…the cries of wounded men reach his ears. Desmond knows his next step.

Instead of climbing down the cliff face to safety, he heads unarmed…back onto the battlefield…carefully dodging Japanese soldiers on the grotesque, body strewn battlefield. One by one, Desmond drags wounded soldiers towards the cliff edge…lowering them down the ridge cliff face to safety. He even rescues some enemy soldiers that way. The movie shows him lowering each life down to safety…and returning to the horrors of the battlefield with a single prayer – “Lord, just one more…let me save one more.” In total – he saves 75 wounded soldiers who faced certain death on Hacksaw Ridge.

Actor Andrey Garfield was interviewed about his role, and he shakes his head at Doss’s heroic actions. “Whatever it was that gave him the power to do that…it was just incredible…” Some of the Hacksaw Ridge filmmakers were quick to point out two interesting things about this true story.

First – that Desmond Doss shows that there’s a different thing between Religion and Faith. While religion is often seen as a defining demarcation line between people – often resulting in tensions and conflicts – faith is something different. It’s the power to trust, to look beyond yourself – and do incredibly acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. Whatever Desmond’s religious persuasion – he was a conservative Christian – Desmond showed how powerful faith in God can really be. I think there’s some truth to this.

The second point the filmmakers make – is that even though Desmond was a Christian, this principle he showed is not confined to Christianity alone. It simply shows the positive impact that spirituality in general can have in this world.

I am quite sure that people of all religious persuasion are capable of acts of bravery, self-sacrifice and honour. It’s happening around the world right now during terrible conflict. I’m in awe of every sacrificial person – whatever their religious background. And from my current place of comfort and security – I cheer each of these people on for their actions.

But – I’d like to point something out about Christianity. It seems to me that – there’s something uniquely Christian about Desmond Doss’s story. Why?

We consistently read that Jesus spent time with those in his Jewish society that were the lowest of the low. The religious establishment looked down their noses at Jesus for doing this. Yet Jesus made a point of explaining his actions. You can read his reply to them in Luke chapter 15 in the New Testament. He takes three instances where something of great value had gotten lost – and someone decided to go looking for that thing, even though it cost them greatly. The lost sheep…the lost coin…the lost son. There is something about Jesus that is just not content to stop when there’s even one lost person in our world…Doss echo’s the heart cry of Jesus Christ – ”give me one more…let me save one more.”

I’m suggesting – there’s something distinctively Christian about putting oneself in harms way to have the opportunity to rescue someone who is lost. We all reflect Jesus when we do it – whether we like that or not.

I’m grateful to the Hacksaw Ridge filmmakers who have helped me learn about how Desmond Doss modelled Jesus Christ in a moving and awe-inspiring way during the World War 2 battles in the Pacific.

RESPONDblogs: Did the First Followers of Jesus Believe in an Empty Tomb?

empty_tomb_1

People sometimes look sceptically at the New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection, suggesting the original Christians didn’t claim Jesus tomb was empty. Rather, the idea of Jesus’ physical resurrection evolved over time.

Richard Carrier says the earliest Christian thinking on post-crucifixion Jesus is in Paul’s letters, but Paul doesn’t talk physical resurrection, instead he says Jesus returned to heaven as a spirit. This portrays the empty tomb as a legend from Christians who misunderstood Paul’s teaching. The story “that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century.”[1] The Gospels, written after Paul’s death, contain these legends.

Everybody LOVES a good conspiracy theory. But what does Carrier base his proposed conspiracy theory on? Is his foundation secure? If not, then his theory won’t be any good.

Carrier’s foundation is the idea the earliest Christians didn’t believe Jesus was raised physically, but spiritually. There was no empty tomb; resurrection was just a clever idea to build a movement on. Let’s look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to see whether Carrier’s right.

Paul’s Argument for Resurrection

“They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”[2] Paul’s talking about two types of body, contrasting natural and spiritual bodies. So, is he contrasting a physical body with a ghost-like spirit? Or are our western minds reading this into the text?

Paul’s original greek contrasts soma psychikon (translated natural) and soma pneumatikon (translated spiritual). The word psychikon refers to something as soulish, while the word pneumatikon refers to something as spiritual. Paul’s contrasting soulish and spiritual bodies.

There’s no reference to physical body here. The ancients had ways of contrasting physical and non-physical things, but they didn’t use these words. Ironically, if a 1st century reader saw the phrase soma psychikon and was looking for a physical/non-physical contrast, they would think soma psychikon referred to the non-physical side![3]

If Paul’s not talking in terms of physical vs ghostly non-physical resurrection body, what is he doing? He’s contrasting soulish and spirit empowered bodies.

Here’s another interesting point about Paul’s choice of language. Adjectives with the ending -ikos have ethical meanings, they don’t refer to material composition.[4] So Paul’s not thinking about the resurrection body’s composition, rather he’s talking about its power source.

Carrier thinks Paul’s speaking about a “ship made of steel or wood,” but actually Paul’s talking about a ship “driven by steam or wind.”[5]

Let’s look at Paul’s argument for the resurrection body.

1 –Bodies are Physical

Some Corinthians believed the body was unspiritual and something to escape from. The idea of a physical resurrection body wouldn’t be good news.

Paul responds by teaching a right understanding of the resurrection from the dead, and he appeals to God’s original creative work. Adam and the garden were physical things, and Adam relates to Christ. “The first man, Adam, became a living person. But the last Adam – that is Christ – is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.”[6] He’s saying, we all know soulish bodies exist (soma psychikon), but bodies animated by God’s spirit are also real (soma pneumatikon). Jesus’ resurrection body is an example of pneumatikon.[7]

If Paul didn’t think Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical thing, then why would he bother to link Christ with his original physical creation?

2 – Jesus’ Resurrection Body is Like Our Future Body

He goes on to say that, “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[8] Our own resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s. Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, so ours will be too.

3 – Our Soulish Lives will be Swallowed Up in Spirit Empowered Lives

The aim isn’t to leave our bodies for spiritual existence, the aim is “to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthy reality”[9] and look for a future where God’s intended “pneumatikos state…swallow(s) up and replace(s) [a] merely psychikos life.”[10]

Our current, corruptible soulish bodies can’t inherit God’s kingdom, but our future non-corruptible spirit empowered bodies will.

 

Conclusion

Carrier thinks Paul taught a non-physical resurrection body, and his letter to Corinth “discourses on metaphysical minutiae…resolving some misunderstanding about the nature of the resurrection body.”[11] Yes, but Paul’s not discoursing on the body’s nature, but on what empowers it; soul or spirit? Based on Christ’s resurrection, Paul assumes Christians will have a future body that will be “animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God.”[12]

Carrier misrepresents Paul’s argument, claiming he didn’t believe in physical resurrection bodies. No, Paul assumed Jesus’ physical resurrection and likened it to the Christian’s future, Spirit empowered body.

Carrier’s conspiracy theory about the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection accounts isn’t therefore grounded; the earliest Christians did believe both that Christ was physically raised, and in the future, we will be too.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, eds. Robert M. Price, and Jeffery Jay Lowder (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), Loc. 1259, Kindle.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:44, NLT.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 350.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 1 Cor 15:45, NLT.

[7] Wright, 354.

[8] 1 Cor 15:49, NLT.

[9] Wright, 355.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Carrier, Loc., 1486.

[12] Wright, 354.

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

RESPONDblogs Is Jesus’ Resurrection Supported by the Accounts of Apostolic Martyrdom?

the fate of the apostles

Modern Christians often point to the martyrdom of the apostles to support the New Testament claim that Jesus rose from the dead. If he didn’t, and his resurrection was a hoax or an honest mistake, why did these men go to their deaths proclaiming the significance of this event? Who would die for a lie they themselves concocted? Further, why would this group of men die for an honest mistake, when recanting this belief would lead them home to their families? Surely the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is the answer?

Professor Candida Moss is sceptical of claims that the early Church was persecuted. She dismisses Tacitus’s account of Neronian persecution, doubting the “Christians were well known and disliked enough that Nero could single them out as scapegoats.”[1] Further, later Christian martyr stories read like fictions written to emulate Greek stories; she suggests that no surviving apostolic martyrdom accounts “can be dated any earlier than the second century,”[2] so are like these later Christian martyr fictions. Worse, there’s no evidence in these accounts the Apostles were given the opportunity to recant; “this is the key element that’s missing if we’re to argue that they died for Christ.”[3] How do we know that they weren’t just executed for social offences, like disturbing the peace?[4]

McDowell strongly challenges Moss’s hermeneutic of suspicion, observing:

1 – Not all apostolic martyrdom accounts are reported in legendary documents.

Josephus reports the martyrdom of James, and Clement of Rome accounts for Peter and Paul’s deaths;[5] both are dated from the first century and lack embellishment.

2 – The twelve apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection appearances.

The New Testament accounts define an apostle as someone who had been with Christ from his baptism to his ascension,[6] so personally witnessed a resurrection appearance. This is consistent with ancient Greco-Roman culture, where “best evidence was believed to come from eyewitnesses, and reports further removed from the events were considered weaker.”[7]

3 – There is a historical core supporting early Christian martyrdom.

McDowell observes much of the New Testament was written to encourage suffering Christians; 1 Thessalonians lays out Christian post-mortem hope for the grieving,[8] James encourages patience in suffering, Hebrews helps Christians undergoing trials, Revelation has Christians preparing to face death for Christ’s honor, and so on.[9]

Christians refused Roman pantheon worship, and instead paid homage to Christ himself; they were often known as unpatriotic atheists.[10] Worse, it was believed their atheism “alienate[d] the goodwill of the gods and disturb[ed] the pax deorum,”[11] and so Christians were blamed and punished for natural disasters. Further, both Christian and early Roman sources specifically report Christian persecution under Emperor Nero; Moss appears to ignore the preponderance of this evidence.[12] No wonder then, the New Testament encourages suffering Christians.

McDowell has evaluated the martyrdom accounts, and concluded with high probabilities that six apostles were martyred; it’s plausible that others joined them.[13]

If Christian martyrdom is well documented, and the apostles actively preached against the Roman pantheon, wouldn’t that place them directly in the firing line? Given the historical record, martyrdom for Christ seems more likely than a natural death, or execution for disturbing the peace; in positing this, Moss is arguing from silence.

4 – Just because some martyrdom stories appear to contain legendary and apologetic material, does not mean they do not contain historical core.

If Moss is right that Christians wrote legendary accounts from the fourth century, doesn’t that mean they engaged in historical reporting before then? Further, why isn’t it reasonable to assume that the historical core persisted? McDowell challenges Moss’s general suspicion, proposing “we must examine each account individually, not…sweep them aside collectively.”[14]

What of the observation that the writers had apologetic intentions? If they had a point, then they could equally intend to make that point truthfully. If truth was unimportant, then why don’t more legendary accounts of apostolic martyrdom exist?[15]

5 – Moss is right the apostles aren’t documented as choosing not to recant, but that aligns them with other Jewish martyrs.

McDowell reminds us first these men actively ministered in an environment hostile to their preaching, and second that earlier Biblical martyrs could equally have withdrawn their beliefs to avoid death; that no account describes this option does not harm the historical likelihood of their earlier martyrdom. The same can be said of the apostles.[16]

Conclusion

Given the general evidence of first century cultural hostility to Christianity, and specific early accounts of apostolic martyrdom, a more reasonable approach would be to assess the martyrdom accounts individually, rather than sweep them all aside. The claim that many apostles were martyred does not strain reason or the historical record. Therefore, the apostolic martyrdom claim, and its evidential support of Christ’s resurrection, stands.

[1] Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2014), kindle edition, loc. 2166.

[2] Moss, loc. 2125.

[3] Moss, loc. 2139.

[4] Moss, loc. 2136.

[5] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (New York: Routledge, 2016), 11.

[6] Acts 1:22.

[7] McDowell, 29.

[8] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

[9] McDowell, 41-43, summarized.

[10] McDowell, 51.

[11] McDowell, 52.

[12] McDowell, 51.

[13] McDowell, 264.

[14] McDowell, 11.

[15] McDowell, 13.

[16] Sean McDowell, “Do the Apostles of Jesus Qualify as Martyrs?,” December 30, 2015, accessed November 07, 2017, http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/do-the-apostles-of-jesus-qualify-as-martyrs.