First Appeared on ABC Online: 10/4/09: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/10/2540571.htm
Many years ago, my daughter asked me to tell her the truth about the Easter Bunny. It was a pivotal point in life for both of us, and the topic of conversation soon shifted to Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. What I hadn’t anticipated was a deeper discussion with a nine year old on the religious significance of the resurrection.
‘Why do adults spend so much time making us believe things that aren’t true? Maybe Jesus didn’t really get out of the tomb at all. It’s pretty funny after all isn’t it?’
According to my daughter, that question is on the lips of nearly every child who has ever attended a scripture lesson. It’s a question though, that is largely confined to adult theological discussion …as if children don’t ponder such ‘miracles’. I remember asking the same question of Mr Parker during scripture in 1966. I was soundly reprimanded for it.
These days of course, there would hopefully be no such reprimands.Teachers would take the time to listen, explain and understand, rather than attack. Our focus on creating children with a passion for enquiry and an independent mind would surely override the need to implant doctrine without discussion. Surely.
Yet the question remains pivotal in explaining the decline in Christian belief over the past 30 years in Australia.
Church leaders are largely adamant on the actuality of the resurrection. Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell is consistent with most of his fellow leaders when he states “If Christ isn’t truly risen then we’ve backed the wrong horse.” Only the Quakers have the vulnerability to view the resurrection as a matter of interpretation. It’s a vulnerability the rest could well learn from.
Perhaps there are many ‘lapsed’ believers who would gladly return to the fold if the acceptance of miracles wasn’t so pivotal to the ‘Christian’ label. The contradiction between our contemporary focus on logical world understanding, and the Christian insistence that not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but was a virgin birth, divided loaves and changed water to wine is surely too much for the rational human mind to seriously contemplate. From my daughter’s summary of what children really discuss after scripture, it could well be doing more to damage our children’s trust in the Christian faith than maintain it.
I realise fully that to Christian believers, faith in miracles immerses them in a different world. That by suspending the need for rational order they create an environment for deeper belief and spirituality. That unquestioning ‘faith’, is a fundamental hallmark of Christianity.
I also understand that by accepting the resurrection as fact, it makes it so much easier to accept without question the other miracles so pivotal to fundamental Christian faith. In 2009, as the number of practicing Christians in the western world declines, surely our relationship with God need no longer hinge on the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ acceptance of miracles?
Unlike our often-tardy European ancestors, our educated society doesn’t need the threat of damnation or the lure of heaven as a form of social control. The idea that some supernatural entity was capable of ecstatic or damning miracles may have done the trick during the reformation. In struggling, oppressed and uneducated populations, fear of the unknowable is always a prime method of social control. This explains the Christian churches’ powerful drive into oppressed African and South American countries. In wealthier, educated societies however, the threat of supernatural intervention commands far less leverage.
In our society that is controlled more by its access to wealth than lack of it, we are more likely to be persuaded by feet on the ground logic than legendary miracles…by evolutionary proof rather than ‘intelligent design’. It’s also true that in ordinary secular life, any remotely dubious promise is likely to be scrutinised by a consumer watchdog or the ACCC. For the sake of miracles, the separation of church and state is indeed a necessity.
If the important life of Jesus is going to be questioned alongside Santa and the Easter Bunny, perhaps it’s time our religious leaders took a more flexible view of the Bible and those who read it differently. Perhaps it’s time they embraced the resurrection not as literal fact, but as a metaphor for the incredible resilience of humans and nations in the face of catastrophic events. Events we have seen all too much of lately.
The literal and the metaphoric could stand alone or together, yet both views could be honoured by religious leaders as valid expressions of ‘a’ relationship with God,…a relationship meaningful for all in modern society and one not contingent on, nor defined by our acceptance of miracles.