Monday, April 25, 2011

Some philosophical pondering on the Resurrection

Today (well, yesterday by the time this post is completed), my pastor gave a characteristically articulate and thought-provoking sermon (the man's got a PhD, for crying out loud). It piqued my interest even more than usual, however, b/c it was structured around the thinking of seventeenth-century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal - one of my favorite philosophers since my early college days. 

In note 322 of his Pensees, Pascal considers Jesus' disciples and the resurrection. What strikes me most about note 322 is what has always struck me most about Pascal: his use of rationality to support belief in Christ

I'm not saying he's right or wrong in doing so. I can only say that I think faith is a complicated thing - and that Pascal's method appeals to me b/c I have an extremtly rational mind. (And I would love love love to discuss Pascal's Wager, but that'll have to wait for another time, since I want to post about the resurrection given that it's Easter.) 

If Jesus was not in fact raised from the dead, says Pascal, there exist two options regarding his most committed followers: 

"The apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd." 

As my pastor asked, What could have possibly been gained by anyone by tricking the disciples into asserting that Jesus was risen? That is, why botherThe kingdom and rewards promised by Jesus are not earthly - not material, not political, not social. In other words, no one has anything to gain by tricking the twelve into believing and telling others that the resurrection had indeed occurred. 

Pascal continues on to the second possibility, that of the disciples being themselves deceivers, saying, 

"Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus' death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out." 

Given that 10 of the 12 were martyred b/c of their faith (the exceptions: Judas hanged himself after betraying Jesus, while John most likely died in old age), the whole deceiver thing is a bit more than specious. Further, no one ever confessed that he lied about Jesus' resurrection, that it was fake, a concocted story, a conspiracy. 

There exist a variety of other supports for the deceiver/deceived possibilities (such as - and I try not to laugh here - the idea of mass hallucination), many of which my pastor debunked in his sermon, but what interests me more than this is that Pascal makes a really convincing argument

So many times religion - and it seems Christianity especially - is derided as being irrational and, in our hyper-rational world, therefore worthless. Pascal's logic belies that notion. And while God's complexity and mystery far exceed human understanding, it is not beyond the rational capabilities of the human mind to make reasoned judgements about what happened and what didn't happen based on given evidence. 

I certainly don't have all the answers, nor do I have nearly as strong a faith as I would like, but Pascal makes a pretty convincing case for Christ's resurrection being a reality. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting post! My husband has a B.A. in Theology and I think you are very similar to him because he too has a very rational, logic seeking mindset. For me faith was always more experienced than understood but since he and I got together I have been very fascinated by the rational argument he makes for a belief in Christ. I obviously think that faith should transcend logic but I also believe it can be extremely helpful to believers to understand that there is indeed historical support for Christian beliefs. Happy Easter!