A blessed Easter to all you Western Christians celebrating the Resurrection (we Orthodox have another week to go). Weirdly enough, this Nicholas Kristof interview with the Rev. Serene Jones, who heads the progressive Union Theological Seminary in New York City, made me realize that theologically liberal Christians (as distinct from politically liberal Christians) observe a different religion. Excerpts:
Isn’t a Christianity without a physical resurrection less powerful and awesome? When the message is about love, that’s less religion, more philosophy.
For me, the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death. That’s a much more awesome claim than that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there. For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith. What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.
Nope, it would be a total lie. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
What about other miracles of the New Testament? Say, the virgin birth?
I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.
Prayer is efficacious in the sense of making us feel better, but do you believe it is efficacious in curing cancer?
I don’t believe in a God who, because of prayer, would decide to cure your mother’s cancer but not cure the mother of your nonpraying neighbor. We can’t manipulate God like that.
What happens when we die?
I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife. …
What is the point of any of this? Seriously, why bother? I don’t believe in Islam, for example, but I can see why one would. I don’t believe in Pentecostal Christianity, but it’s no mystery to me why many people do. And so forth.
But a Christianity that doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection? There’s more substance in a piece of lemon icebox pie, and certainly more joy. A person earns her M.Div (summa cum laude) from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Yale University … for this? Not only is this credo completely and utterly divorced from Christianity, there is also no power in it. At all. It’s a bourgeois Manhattan version of the prayer of the old waiter in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”:
“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
You want to see the power of the Christian faith made manifest? Look at this clip from a bow-legged black woman born into poverty in New Orleans, the daughter of a dock worker and a house maid. She was baptized in the Mississippi River, and though she never went to college to study theology, she was a true theologian, because she knew God. Look and listen. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then Mahalia Jackson’s witness is a lie, and her faith was in vain. If Mahalia Jackson was deceived, and the Rev. Serene Jones has it right, then to hell with the Christian faith. If the witness of Mahalia Jackson’s life and art was true, then hallelujah, the Son of the Virgin who died on a cross is risen indeed!