Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Easter

The main event of all of Christianity is celebrated in the spring. I guess Jesus was crucified on a Friday but I’m not sure if it was in the spring time - a time of renewal. (Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox I think) Like Christmas, the early Christians took over pagan holidays that were already there. Christmas time originally celebrated the winter solstice and return of the warming rays of the sun. Sun worship was popular in pagan days so Christianity just jumped on this one and took it over. Lots of spring holidays pre existed and the story of the resurrection of Jesus probably took those over too. The vernal equinox is a measurable event and important for spring planting.

Anyway we have THE event that defines Christianity. God giving up his only son to die for our sins. Now I know I’m not supposed to ask reasonable questions but here we go again. If this is real stuff then it should be ok to ask reasonable questions about it.

  1. Why did God wait so long. If we are now saved from this selfless act from God/Jesus what about all the people that came before the year 36?
  2. What of the proto humans before homosapien?
  3. If God can do anything why did he have to sacrifice his son to forgive us for our sins? Why not just do it?
  4. How does is really work. What is the mechanism by which I am saved via the death of Jesus 2006 years ago?

OK, I could go on and on about the technical difficulties this presents but let’s get down to some tin tacks.

I just read the part of the bible where Jesus gets crucified (absolutely riveting!) and then appears to Mary Magdelan and then days later appears to some of the apostles. He even appears to Doubting Thomas (my favorite apostle) letting him touch his scared (sacred?) hands to confirm for himself that this was in fact the re-incarnation of Jesus. Throughout this part there is a lot of ‘searching of the heavens’, rising up into heaven, cloud references and so forth. Let’s think for a second what the world view was around this time.

Educated people knew the world was round. You can tell. The ancient Greeks even had a rough estimate of the earth’s circumference. What they had little concept of was how really big the universe is! It’s really big. The sun was not 93 million miles away but was a fiery object traveling in our own atmosphere. The clouds were as unreachable then as the center of the galaxy is now. What is different now is that although we would have a tough time reaching the center of the galaxy, we understand what is there. We get that all the stars in the sky are more or less like our sun. Other galaxies are more or less like our galaxy: a collection of stars bound by their mutual gravitational attraction. It was in fact a huge discovery (and a fairly recent one) that the periodic table on earth is the same periodic table everywhere. The laws of physics and chemistry are the same everywhere. No new elements no matter how far you travel.

So, what if Jesus had been ‘sent down’ in 1995 instead of 0? Sent down from where? Upon his electrocution, to where would he have risen up? The whole basis for religion like this is the basic underlying idea that there are unknowable and unapproachable places. In the year 0 that would have been up in the clouds. (The ‘gods live in the clouds’ is borrowed from various Greek and Roman myths.) I can see how you get a religion started when there is so much apparent mystery in the world. With so much lack of understanding many natural phenomena do seem like magic. What I don’t understand is how you keep a religion going in the face of all our understanding.

I notice that reanimated Jesus is not a ghostly apparition. Doubting Thomas is allowed to touch the wounded hands for himself. So, in Acts 1:9…After saying this, he was taken up to heaven as they watched him, and a cloud hid him from their sight…we’re talking a solid human rising up into the clouds. Is this still the view of modern Christians? Do they believe that God/Jesus lives up in the clouds? I doubt that they do but I could be wrong. Where then? If a solid Jesus went up into the sky, where did he go?

Moreover if modern Christians have to drop the idea of the clouds being the location of heaven what else must be dropped due to a modern view of our universe? You see you have a recurring problem of on one hand claiming that you have a book that is by definition ‘the truth’ while on the other hand picking and choosing which parts are REALLY true and which parts are metaphor. I don’t think you can have it both ways.

Another world view that presents problems is that of the place of humans on the earth. People around the year 0 certainly thought of themselves as separate from plants and animals. The last 100 years of research has shown that we are just as natural a part of the earth as a sparrow or a dinosaur. Our ‘special place’ is of our own making because we are so impressed by our own understanding of the phrase “I AM”. So at what point along the evolutionary trail did we become special and need saving from our sins? Was it when the first RNA molecules started to replicate? First cells? First multi-cellular organisms? First mammals? First trick of walking on our hind legs? Juggling?

Let’s say that everything Jesus is purported to have said in the bible he actually said and that the disciples actually believed and bought into the whole thing exactly as reported. I get that people around the time 0 could have this kind of experience based on their narrow world view. What I don’t understand is how a modern man or woman can pretend they are living in the year 0 and buy into the whole thing just like an ignorant Sheppard of 2000 years ago.

So happy Easter everyone. We should all remember to be nice to one another because if you think about it, that is the best for the most people.