The Problem of Easter

The Easter story is far crazier and more dangerous than a Donald Trump presidency. One is merely an orange insult to humanity’s common sense that might end in WWIII and nuclear apocalypse; but the other is a morbidly pathetic challenge to the entire socio-political status quo. An affirmative answer to the Easter-themed question ‘Risen?’ is dangerous and absurd, though has far more blockbuster potential and international influence than any reality TV fakelebrity. The claims concerning Jesus are massive, and the stakes are high. Are they the foam on an ebbing sea of faith, or else merely mundane events exaggerated through the centuries? What is the empirical reality behind the stories?

The Easter accounts are dangerous. Crucifixion places the subject at the bottom of the socio-economic long-drop. The humiliation involved is comprehensive – the victim is hung by the state, considered cursed and usually denied a proper burial, stripped naked in public, and mocked. The negative overtones are arguably simultaneously political, religious, sexual, and personal. This is the opposite of the comprehensive wellbeing or Hauora I learned about in health class at Lynfield College. But Christians heap highest praises on a crucified man. Surely it’s the death of a slave- criminal rather than a God-man? Jesus claimed to be God, and was soon proclaimed as having been crucified – the juxtaposition would make Nietzsche proud, if he didn’t despise the ensuing “slave morality”. What kind of leader eschews opportunities for power and dines with the outcasts, the political/religious traitors, and prostitutes? And who would centre their worship – their attention to what they consider most worthy – on a crucified God? Someone with little respect for traditional societal norms of self-preservation, and clearly a loser.

The Easter accounts are absurd, for claiming that a perfect transcendent God would choose to die and thereby somehow answer death with the ultimate comeback. Statistically, dead people stay dead, always. The hope of eternal life is easily understood as pie in the sky, clearly fitting people’s expectations and hopes. Okay, the resurrection did not fit with people’s expectations at the time, but that just makes it more ridiculous. The prior probability of God is assumed to be zero, because science (albeit founded on belief in divinely given natural law) doesn’t refer to God. Jesus said that life to the full is only available through him, a similarly demagogic claim to Trump’s promise to Make America Great Again. We know that both claims are equivalently offensive to rationality, for life is meaningless, morality is a sham, art is an illusion entirely explained by naturalistic evolutionary psychology, human nature is a social construct, Earth is a speck in an uncaring universe, and history is just one damned event after another. Right?

How sure are we? That Jesus was crucified is well established, with multiple early sources. The cold nails that went through this man’s wrists and feet were history’s ultimate irony – purported universal king killed by the vote of a provincial mob. Nek minnit (on the third day) the women disciples found the tomb empty. People in the city believed, after many claimed to have seen him alive. His closest followers, mostly devout Jews up to this point, along with former sceptics such as Saul (Paul) and James went to their deaths proclaiming both the crucifixion and divine authority of Jesus. Religious experts were converted, and the movement grew. Many individual items of evidence add to a strong enough cumulative case to persuade many. Western culture – science, law, morality, art, education, has been profoundly influenced by it. The tale is in part ugly, disruptive, and transformative; but perhaps it shows signs of being true.