SON: Can we consider resurrection as fact?

Easter is the day that 2.3 billion Christians (32 percent of human population) will declare that two centuries ago, a Galilean rose from the dead three days after he was crucified by Pontius Pilate. Resurrection is the founding faith statement of Christianity. Christmas did not birth Christianity, a naive understanding of that religion, but Easter. Without Easter there is no Christianity. In fact, Christians celebrated Easter from the start on a weekly basis. They went to synagogues on Saturday — first Christians were Jews — then broke bread on Sunday mornings because it was on the dawn of the first day of the week that the first witnesses found the tomb empty.But did the resurrection really happen? We dismiss this conversation from the start because resurrection, we say, is a matter of faith. And isn’t faith a matter of opinion? Isn’t faith in the resurrection more about believing a God can bring something new out of old, and not about whether it actually happened or not? Such misunderstanding on matters of faith stem from confusion on how we know things, epistemology (for the philosophical minded). We match the verb “knowing” with truth and “believe” with opinions: we believed Duke would win but we know UNC won the NCAA finals (I hope this statement doesn’t open old wounds). Isn’t faith, then, merely a matter of opinion? But Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science, says all knowledge requires “believing.” Because “believing” fundamentally means a personal commitment to a claim. No one thinks believing a claim will make it true. We believe a claim because we are confident the claim will be proven true thus worth our commitment. So a person who hears the results of the NCAA finals would say, “I believe UNC won,” basing that commitment on the trustworthiness of his source. If he researches more, he would find corroborating evidences. Then he will conclude and say “I know UNC won,” but it is still an act of “believing.” To be sure, his faith is more confident, but he chooses to continue to organize his life around that truth, i.e. wears a UNC shirt and taunts Duke fans. All truth, no matter the level of proof, requires faith.So is resurrection worth one’s commitment?Our modern science can’t accept resurrection, but we can’t let our worldview execute historical revisions. We can dismiss their claim on the grounds of science but we can’t change what they said, that Jesus rose on a specific date after a specific date of state execution. If we trust the integrity of the witnesses — I see no reason why since the only benefit of their testimony was ostracization, torture and death — then we have to question our assumptions that make us doubt their claim. There is at least one other event science can never explain but simply accepts because it cannot deny its “historical” repercussion: the Big Bang.From the start, there was pressure to drop the historical claim of resurrection because this insistence for historicity — and thus the bodily resurrection of the Galilean worried the Roman Empire. Rome had gods who died and rose every year with winter and spring. Resurrection as recurring myth is totally harmless and acceptable. But resurrection as history opened up a whole new way of living. For belief in resurrection made people fearless before death, and governments lose power when people lose fear against their primary weapon, the threat of death. So the Christians continued worshiping on Sunday mornings and creating communities where all social divisions between masters and slaves and ethnicities were shattered, even as some of them were burnt or fed to lions. For them, to deny the resurrection was to deny that the sun was up in the sky. They believed in the resurrection because it was a fact, and their faith made them courageous.”Easter still matters,” W.S. Di Piero, essayist and poet, says in an interview, “but as a recurrent energy of emergence detached completely from the thought or imagining in mind of Jesus’s intervention in history. That’s shriveled and puny.”I think it’s worth considering this historical claim of resurrection because if it really happened, then it’s no longer just a matter of joining a church or becoming Christian, but a whole new way of organizing our lives and societies.Samuel Son is a teaching pastor in Raleigh.