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The Resurrection

The Resurrection refers to the alleged coming back to life of Jesus of Nazareth (or was it Bethlehem?) after he had been executed by crucifixion about 2,000 years ago. It is the keystone of Christianity.

As a child, I was taught the story that an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good creator kindly sent his son, who was one with the creator and with the holy ghost, to redeem mankind for the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. This god/man was crucified by the Romans in order to save mankind from eternity without the creator. Three days after he was buried, the story goes, Jesus rose from the dead.

As a child, I believed this story and many others like it. All the adults I came in contact with seemed to think it was true and that believing it was essential to my salvation. I didn't really understand what "my salvation" was but even as a child I knew it was better than "the eternal torments of hellfire."

I grew up and studied these and many other philosophical and religious matters in a context where I was not required to believe in order to avoid being ostracized. I eventually even taught courses in world religions, where one should learn that stories of supernatural feats like rising from the dead are rather mundane.1 I now consider these stories to be preposterous propaganda. Gods and holy men who die and rise after being crucified or drowning in a river or whatever are fabrications. That people make up such stories is easy to understand and forgive. That people believe them and take them as literal truths is harder to forgive. That parents indoctrinate their children with such stories and punish their children with threats of damnation and isolation if they question their parents' beliefs is unforgivable.

I wouldn't bother with posting an entry on this subject had I not been challenged to do so by someone who probably thinks of himself as a good Christian on the road to salvation and who thinks of me as being on the road to perdition. (I confess that in my youth I thought of myself as saved and felt pity for those who were not as fortunate as I was, having been born into a Catholic family. Eventually, I met Protestants, Jews, atheists, and other non-Catholics and discovered things were not exactly as I had been taught.) Here is the missive from "Tim":

I find it cowardly to overlook the resurrection in your otherwise complete outline of skepticism on everything else skeptical, But without it, you've completely wasted your time. Which is a shame because to you, after you're dead, you believe you have none.

There is no other skeptical topic that succeeds the greatness of the Resurrection. Perhaps it is the 500 + witnesses or the many documents, the historical evidence or you're just afraid of battling Christian scholars. Personally, I think you're just another fake atheist...true skeptics search until they find belief, because there is no other answer.

Actually, the reason I haven't posted this entry before now is that I didn't see any need to. The Resurrection is just one of thousands of religious myths that deserve to be covered in a comprehensive take-down of religions. Though I am an atheist, I don't consider The Skeptic's Dictionary to be an anti-religious website. As far as I'm concerned, if you and a billion other people want to believe in crucified gods and resurrected deities or prophets, go ahead. There are billions who believe in other gods and other resurrections and equally preposterous stories. Let them. As long as they don't try to force their beliefs on the rest of us or try to harm us or their children, let them believe in peace.

The idea that there were more than 500 witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus is pure propaganda. Where are the accounts of these witnesses? Where is the historical evidence? How could there be any such evidence except for the claims of people to have seen it happen or heard from another that he or she saw it happen? There are no eyewitness accounts. Had any Roman soldiers or Jewish rabbis seen such an event, you can be assured it would have been noted and caused a great stir. (Read Soren Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript for a Christian's view that faith, not observation or reason, must be the basis for resurrection claims.)

The stories of Jesus as a miracle worker, healer, crucified god, savior of mankind, resurrected being, etc., were all written long after his death and after other stories were quashed by the church at Rome. The main propagandist, Paul of Tarsus, never met Jesus and didn't witness any resurrections, but he did more to spread the Jesus is Christ myth than anyone then or since. The Resurrection is considered the key spiritual feature of the Christian religion, but stories of resurrected gods have a long history. Likewise for stories of miracle workers and magical healers.

Many scholars have noted what is called the "copycat thesis." It seems strangely coincidental that there are a number of key parallel lines in the stories of Horus, Mithra, and Jesus. Each story involves a virgin birth to a savior who was a son of a god, each performed miracles such as healing the sick, and each died and was resurrected.

Mithra's birthday was celebrated on December 25th. "Mithraism was a degenerate form of Zoroastrianism, the national religion of the Persian-Iranian people, this in turn having stemmed from the more primitive Mazdaism..."* Mithraism flourished in the Roman Empire from the 1st through the 4th centuries CE. (Yes, Mithraism was a competitor with Christianity for several centuries.) Zoroastrianism is still practiced by a few adherents and has a strong belief in salvation and immortality.

In his classic work Man and His Gods, Homer Smith writes:

The doctrine of the virgin birth was thoroughly familiar to the pagans. A supernatural origin had been ascribed to Egyptian Pharaohs centuries before, and Attis-Adonis had been born of the virgin Myrrha. In the disguise of a serpent, the god Aesculapius had fathered Aratus of Sicyon, Apollo had fathered Julius Caesar and Augustus, and other gods had fathered Aristomenes, Alexander the Great, Cyrus, the elder Scipio, Mithra, Hermes, Perseus and Buddha. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, was supposed to become a virgin again each year, and as a virgin was said by the Romans to have born Cybele, Demeter, Leo, and Vulcan.*

I'm not going to try to understand what it might mean to "become a virgin again." In any case, Egyptians, of course, believed in life after death, which was one of the key claims of early Christianity. It was also a central feature of Mithraism and the cult of Dionysus.

Why won't believers like Tim just admit that they accept Christianity on faith and accept that atheists reject it because it does not resonate with anything resembling the truth? If he, or anyone else, believes in the resurrection because of alleged eyewitnesses or other historical testimony, they are not using their critical thinking skills (whether these are a gift from some god or a blessing of nature).

To those who say "a billion Christians can't be wrong," I remind them that they think a billion Muslims are wrong and a billion Hindus and Buddhists are wrong. Each of these religions thinks the others are deluded. I think they're all deluded. To paraphrase Stephen F. Roberts: as an atheist I reject one more god than you do; both of us, atheist and theist, believe billions of people are deluded about gods and religion; we just disagree over who is deluded.

See also communal reinforcement.


1 One of my favorite stories is the Sikh legend of Guru Nanak Dev:

Each day before sunrise, Guru Nanak Dev Ji would go to the river to bathe in the cold water and sing God's praises. But one day, after bathing, he disappeared into the nearby forest and could not be found. His clothes were still lying next to the riverbank, but there was no sign of Guru ji. His friends walked up and down calling, "Nanak, Nanak," hoping against hope that they would find him. They grew afraid that he had drowned.

But Guru ji was far from the reach of any of them. He was in a divine trance in which he was sitting in God's own presence. God gave him a cup of nectar and said, "I am with you. I have made you happy and those who shall take thy name. Go and repeat My Name, and teach others to do the same. Remain uncontaminated by the world. Practice the repetition of My name, charity, adulations, worship and meditation. I have given you this cup of Nectar, a pledge of My regard."

Children still find the stories of the Greek gods entertaining, no matter how preposterous. Another favorite of mine is the Egyptian myth of Set, Isis, and Osiris. Set chops Osiris to pieces. Isis puts him back together except for his reproductive organ, which she couldn't find. Still, she manages to conceive Horus by Osiris. Nice trick.

further reading

Doing god's Work (a day in the life of the Lord) by Robert T. Carroll

Resurrection - Infidels.org

The Case Against Immortality by Keith Augustine

Last updated 24-Mar-2016

Last updated 24-Mar-2016

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