Tell me why

I’ve started going to Mass again, although I am not in communion, and I don’t know that I will be able to take that step. I feel the pull of it again though, and I feel a great deal calmer than I have for some time. The pressure of existence, especially the pressure of time, is not now so unrelenting. The wreckage of the past is not now so intolerably present. These benefits are, for the moment, associated with being present at Mass. They are a mild form of the consolation of prayer.

This development is, of course, causing some puzzlement and amusement around the table. It has led to the odd full-scale rant on the absurdity, or alternatively the flagrant injustice, of the spiritual economy of Christianity, generally fuelled by alcohol or resin. For instance, if the human story is drawn as a particular form of the vast interlocking graph of all human genealogy, then the shock-wave of the Christian experience travels out from Jerusalem on the first Easter and Pentecost forward in time and broadening in space like a cone through the graph. All those who lie outside its reach, including all who preceded the event, are condemned, as are those over whom the wave passed without effecting a change. Where’s the justice of the condemnation of those who lived outside this cone of the Christian narrative? There are many similar complaints, but they come down to a deeply offended sense of justice. If God were as God was claimed to be, He would have done a better job. This particular polemic came from an ex-Catholic (R), and was unimpaired by the fact that the Church does not teach such a thing. (More interesting was the What about the Neanderthals? question. Do they get a Salvation guernsey?)

On earlier occasions, while I was still considering my reconstituted agnostic options, conversation had turned to the Virgin Birth. This article of faith, and consequently the Faith complete, was to be rejected on the following grounds. Leaving aside the reported conception of Jesus and modern scientific interventions, conception has only ever been observed over the millennia to occur in one way. Even our recent tinkering builds on our deeper understanding of this process. It is therefore only reasonable to reject the theory that some completely unrelated phenomenon can be responsible for the conception of a single individual. It’s usually expressed more elaborately than that, but there’s the nub of it; fairly, I think.

The unstated assumption in the argument is that we are considering events within the natural order. Therefore the tests that we have developed for such events are appropriate and applicable. The problem is that the putative virginal conception of Jesus is not such an event; it is, by definition, an event outside the natural order, that is, supernatural. The original argument reduces to: there are no supernatural events. Unfortunately, you can’t say that the apparatus of reason dictates that there are no supernatural events. The commitment to a strictly material universe, or one produced by a hands-off, disinterested creator, or the one assumed by, for instance, Christianity, is philosophical, and independent of the application of scientific methodology to the physical universe. There’s a nice discussion of this distinction by Phillip E. Johnson in First Things.

With that preamble, I can give a start to answering why. You can approach Christianity from many angles, but you come soon to the consideration of another supernatural event – the Resurrection. Belief in the historical reality of the death by crucifixion, and the resurrection to bodily life of Jesus is a necessary condition for becoming a Christian. St Paul puts it like this: But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15; 13,14,19)

The Resurrection is an interesting category of event. While it is, in the nature of faith, unprovable, it is not without reasonable support. The evidence, I consider compelling. Others, with the best will in the world, will not. However, anyone who denies that there is something to be seriously considered here is either acting in bad faith, or is in the grip of a confusion between methodology and philosophy, such as described above. Or so it seems to me.

Accepting the historical reality of the Resurrection will necessarily re-order your thinking about literally everything. It may not lead you to the Church, defined in the broadest possible sense. Indeed, depending on the extent and elaboration of your existing view of the supernatural, it may lead you far away. If, though, you are trapped in a sterile materialism, accepting that this event occurred will be the first step in your liberation.

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