Recently over at Nine Moons, there was some discussion of what a person might do if he found out Joseph Smith was a fraud. I think a similar question for a person from a traditional Christian faith is, what would you do if the resurrection never happened? What if a crucified body were found which could be almost positively identified as the body of Christ? Obviously this question would have serious ramifications for Mormonism as well.
The question was discussed a bit in a thread at Mormon Matters last week. The subject also formed the plot of a 2001 movie starring Antonio Banderas (whom I love) and Olivia Williams (whom I also love) called The Body. While the movie was generally panned by critics, I actually kind of enjoyed it, and not in a “this is so terrible it’s good” way. I thought it was a decent attempt at treating a thought-provoking topic—up until a bunch of terrorists got involved and Antonio Banderas inevitably became embroiled in gun fights and explosions. Guess it would be kind of a waste to put Antonio Banderas in your cast and not have some gun fights and explosions.
The dialogue in the movie makes the point that even if Christians were presented with fairly sound proof that the resurrection didn’t happen, they would find other ways of believing. For example, here’s a dialogue between two politicians:
MOSHE: A faint heart never won a battle, Avi, or a seat in the cabinet.
AVI: Even if it means destroying a religion?
MOSHE: Oh come on, don’t be an idiot Avi, this isn’t going to be the end of Christianity or the Catholic Church.
AVI: How can you know that?
MOSHE: Look, religion is not based on a rational system of proofs. It survives because of human need. We offer proof that Christ has not risen, those who believe are not gonna believe us. Some may fall away, but you know what? I think Christianity’s gonna survive.
The scene cuts to two Catholic officials who are discussing the situation:
MONSIGNOR: The body. Do you really believe it is He in that tomb?
CARDINAL PESCI: I don’t concern myself with that very much. My concerns are for the Church and her real problems.
As more and more evidence is amassed pointing to an identification of the body as the actual bones of Christ, the only Christians who seem truly concerned that the resurrection might not be real are Father Matt Gutierrez (Banderas) and an archaeologist who is also a priest named Father Lavelle (Derek Jacobi). [SPOILER] Gutierrez begins frantically looking for anything he can use to dismiss the body as Christ’s, including claiming that it can’t be so because the height of the body (5’5″) doesn’t match the height of the image of Christ on the Shroud of Turn (5’10″). He’s desperate by that point and it’s obvious. Lavelle eventually slips into catatonia, ranting that the body is that of the false Christ spoken of in Mark 13:21-22, then commits suicide.
Off-topic, but the best line in the entire movie by far comes after Gutierrez tells Sharon Goldban (Williams) that her insistence that her discovery has nothing to do with religion is “bullshit.” “‘Bullshit’ is the language of the new ecumenical church, is it?” she snarks back.
In any case, I don’t think I could ever buy an alternative explanation for the resurrection if reasonable evidence could be presented that it did not happen. The Gospels make it fairly clear that (1) the resurrection was a physical one, and (2) the tomb was empty. No body was there. Paul says in Corinthians that if the resurrection did not happen, then our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:14).
I could really only see three possibilities for myself if belief in a resurrected, deific Jesus Christ was out of the picture:
Judaism ~ I don’t doubt that it would be hard for me to consider Judaism since the Jewish concept of God is quite drastically different from the Christian one. However, another part of me cries that it is logically inconsistent for me to believe in things like the parting of the Red Sea and the plagues on Egypt as a Christian and then abandon those beliefs if Christianity is proven false. If the God of the תַּנַ”ךְ (Tanakh) is real, is it really His fault that Christians came along and distorted His person and message? I think I would have to go with Reform or Conservative Judaism though; Orthodox Judaism with its restrictive gender rules would be out. The fact that I already know Hebrew is definitely a plus.
Liberal Protestantism ~ We’re talking John Shelby Spong liberal. It would allow me to affirm some of the good tenets of Christianity that I love free from a disproven resurrection. This would probably mean joining a fairly liberal or mainline denomination such as the Episcopalian Church (USA).
Unitarian Universalism ~ A religious community focused on humanitarian service free from specific creeds, attending a UU church would allow me to pursue an eclectic approach to my theism and embrace different parts of the religions and philosophies I love and admire: Christianity, Judaism, feminist Confucianism, humanism, and even Mormonism. I’m also a wannabe vegan; while I don’t care for the welfare of the little fuzzy animals, I do believe in the health benefits of veganism and would like to make the switch someday, when I have the money and discipline for a special vegan diet. The UU is also the first major religious movement to obtain a majority of female clergy, and interfaith couples often feel it is a good home due to its inclusivism.
Anyways, that’s where I think I would wind up if my faith system were proven untrue. What about you?