By Corbin Croy
The argument for the spiritual resurrection is an easy one. Any argument which affirms the resurrection without affirming the historical model of the resurrection must affirm the spiritual resurrection. This leaves the door wide open for what the resurrection could be, and we have seen that the resurrection could many a variety of things. And we have given the historical model a more then generous critique to evaluate whether or not it can truly hold water. The arguments are weak. The biblical evidence is ambiguous, and the non-biblical evidence is non-specific. There is virtually no piece of evidence which distinguishes historical-physical belief in the resurrection from spiritual belief from a literary point of view. The earliest evidence we have suggests a spiritual resurrection and makes no mention of physical regeneration.
But this only makes a spiritual resurrection the best kind of resurrection belief that should resurrection belief be warranted. If the resurrection were false, or if it were a hallucination then the resurrection would not even seem warranted. And at the current juncture there does not seem to be any reason to think that a spiritual resurrection is any different than a hallucination. Thus a spiritual resurrection may be the most valid form of resurrection belief in in acquiring this status is equally makes itself the least likely form of resurrection to have actually happened. How does one distinguish between a genuine spiritual reality and a figment of the imagination?
There is no easy answer to that question. I could theorize about men receiving vision which exited only in their minds but revealed to them information that the receivers could only believe that such experiences had to have come from God. And when you have a group receiving these visions who collaborate and see in each other a resemblance to their own vision then it would seem to increase the likelihood that such vision did truly come from “beyond.” This is the most basic model which can seek to “prove” that these visions did happen, but it is not sufficient in the slightest. You have the problem of others manufacturing visions to fit in. You have the problem of suggestion, how would two people every really know that they had similar visions. And you have a problem of competing faiths, in order to get your word out, or to make it sound better then someone else’s teaching claiming to have a vision would spur interest in your message over another.
I cannot offer good proof which leads one to believe that these visions most likely happened. So maybe what I have is no case at all, but I do think that I still have good reasons to think that the spiritual resurrection is an authentic spiritual reality. This is why: when I ask myself what Christianity really loses if just in case it was all a hallucination, I find that it does not lose much. The fruit produced by this hallucination led to some of the greatest teaching and literature the West has ever known. You still have the Gospel, the idea that God reaches out to man. You still have the teaching on grace that the law can never truly bring us to God. You still have faith, the idea that our only way to be righteous is to trust God in all things. You still have the Judeo-Christian ethic of reciprocity that we should treat others with intrinsic value and holiness. You still have love as the ultimate purpose to life that love calls us to indiscriminate value for every person. And you still have the salvific message of suffering for others. If the resurrection were simply a hallucination then humanity should count itself lucky that this hallucination caused some of the greatest spiritual teachings of all time.
So if I lose my resurrection belief, I find that I still hold unto some of the most important spiritual teachings that I have heard or read. And when I ask myself if such consequences could possibly come from a hallucination I find myself revolting at such an idea. I revolt not because I find it so implausible. I revolt because I find it so offensive. Revolt has special meaning for me. Just as I am offended by a mechanized and cold universe. I revolt against such lifelessness. In Christianity I have found spiritual life. In Christ’s resurrection I have found new life. This is all I need to know to make the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. He lives in me! Does he cease to live in me, if the resurrection was only prompted by a hallucination? Does my rhetoric become meaningless?
It would, if we could equally verify that it was actually a hallucination over and against a vision. The problem with hallucination is that it is equally difficult to verify. Since we see no negative consequences from the aftermath of the event itself, we have no a posteriori reasons to think that the resurrection was a hallucination, and all the a posteriori evidence suggests that the resurrection created positive mental and emotional changes in people.
But have we not uncovered another problem? If we accept the resurrection on the basis of religious experience then are we not tacitly acknowledging the claims of men like David Koresh, Charles Manson, and other psycho/cult leaders? If Jesus were the only one who has ever said, “I am sent by God.” Then it might be easier to fall on religious experience to guide us, but since religious experience can create things like suicide cults and serial killers is it not best to simply set that piece of theology aside and focus on more objective arguments? While I do not want to lighten the severity of this critique, I think it is important to keep perspective that the basic structure of a posteriori arguments do go both ways, and the negative side effects of the objective arguments can be just as disastrous.
Theology that tends to minimize religious experience, also tends to be more legalistic and hypocritical. So while I may accept the hazard, at the moment, for charismatic zealotry, the one thing which I am most assured of as not wanting to be is a hypocrite or a legalist. If my theology makes it too easy to be a cult leader, I can accept that as long as I am not as likely to be a hypocrite. Now on a prima facie evaluation that seems to be no direct colliery between the likelihood of cultiness for religious experience and an inverse relationship to the likelihood of legalism in a minimized religious experience, but if it can be reasoned that a good fail-safe exists within religious experience that is lacking in more conservative minimized religious experience then we can accept our argument as a good one.
So we can tentatively say that the case for a spiritual resurrection being confirmed to us by religious experience is a good one. It is not compelling, in the sense that I can use this case as a club to bludgeon non-believers with facts and proofs and evidence so that I may win them to my case, and should they not see it my way, wipe the dust from my shoes and say that my duty was fulfilled and now they were fully culpable for their denial of the truth, but it is sufficient to warrant personal devotion for myself. It is acceptable in a defensive posture that my resurrection belief need not be threatened, unless it can be made clear that it actually began with a hallucination. The a posteriori effects are conducive to an authentic religious experience, and my own religious experience confirms for me that Christ is the source of new life.
So to appease the caveat we will have to make a good argument for religious experience and show how a normative safe guard exists that protects us from cult leaders and serial killers. And we will furthermore have to show how minimizing religious experience in theology only raises the risk for legalism and hypocrisy that can be unleashed without safeguards and fail-safes. So while the threat may be more severe with religious experience the safe guards make it a lesser risk then a theology that minimized religious experience.
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