SPidge Tales

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thoughts on the Supposed Tomb of Jesus

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra comes down from the mountains and scolds the people for acting happy and frivolous. “God is dead,” he sternly tells them. “And it is you, all of you, who have killed him.” Zarathustra’s words shocked the people. These people were not Christians. They were atheists, having long since given up faith in God. Why would Zarathustra scold them? Shouldn’t he be scolding the few remaining Christians scattered around? He scolds the atheists because they are not willing to really let go of God. They say they no longer believe, but they still live as if there is a God, acting as if their lives have meaning and as if the moral rules they attempt to follow still apply. “You have killed God,” Zarathustra implores. “You can’t hold onto your old ways of life. If you are going to give up God, you must go all the way, and accept a world without meaning, purpose, or virtue.”

Nietzsche was one of the few honest atheists. Unlike the Richard Dawkins’s, Daniel Dennett’s, and Sam Harris’s of the world who rejoice in the supposed death of God, thinking themselves truly free to shape their own lives, Nietzsche sees the Enlightenment all the way through to its logical conclusion in a postmodern world devoid of meaning. Without God, life is ultimately pointless. You can’t let go of God and hold onto a view of life inexorably tied into a world with a God.

Recently, Titanic director James Cameron teamed up with scientists and archeologists to do a documentary on the discovered tomb of a man named Jesus who lived in first century Palestine. The goal of the documentary is to show that this might be the tomb of THE Jesus and his family. Other names encrypted on the tomb include Joseph, James (the supposed brother of Jesus), two Mary’s, and a Judah. The great hypothetical secret is that this tomb contains the bones of Jesus Christ, his parents Mary and Joseph, another Mary who was his wife, and his son Judah.

If these really are the bones of Jesus Christ, there are vast implications. Some theologians would say it doesn’t really matter. They say our faith is in the person of Jesus, the example he set, his revolutionary teachings, and the faith in the hearts of the early disciples. But that is baloney. Christian faith is a faith in the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a faith that Jesus of Nazareth really is God made Man, and that Jesus, after his crucifixion, really did rise, body and soul, from the dead and ascended into heaven. Christian faith is a faith in the empty tomb. If those really are Jesus’ bones, then Jesus never rose from the dead and 2000 years of Christian history are meaningless. I’m not mincing words. There is no way around this. If those really are the bones of Jesus, the entire Christian religion is a giant fraud. The faith of every Christian who has ever lived is in vain. The faith of the two billion Christians alive today is meaningless.

If those really are the bones of Jesus, then the four summers I spent working at a Catholic summer camp are a waste of time. The friendships I made are still valuable, but the mission of the camp that I believed, the spiritual service we were providing to the campers, is a lie if the bones of Jesus are really still on earth. The friendships and experiences I had at Catholic University I hold dear, but the courses I studied and the degree I earned would be rendered obsolete if that tomb really has Jesus’ bones.

If those bones really are the remains of Jesus Christ, then life is meaningless. People can throw out all the vague sentimentalism they want. They can say what really mattered is that the disciples had faith in the message of Jesus, and that is how we can say Jesus is risen. We can say that Jesus’ command to love gives meaning to life, since what is greater than love? But, that is not enough. The whole point of the Resurrection is that love is stronger than death. If Jesus stayed dead after the crucifixion, love does not win; death does. Some would say that we can live on in the memories of our loved ones, who will in turn live on in the memories of their loved ones. But, eventually the sun will explode, the solar system will die, and the universe, scientists say, will either expand until everything cools to absolute zero and all elements will die, or the universe will collapse in on itself until there is nothing again, just like before the Big Bang. Besides, as Woody Allen said, no one wants to have eternal life by living on in the memory of others; we want eternal life by continuing to live after we die. The Resurrection tells us that love is stronger than death, that after we die, we will be raised to new life. Not a metaphorical sort of life, but a real living and breathing eternal life.

Most scholars have weighed in, saying that the possibility of the tomb really containing THE Jesus’ bones is a fantasy. Those of us with Christian faith have nothing to be worried about. But, if it really were Jesus’ bones, the implication would be that Nietzsche is the greatest prophet in world history. Considering Nietzsche was Hitler’s favorite philosopher, that is a scary thought. In a world with no meaning or purpose, ‘scary thought’ would just be an opinion, anyway.


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