Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Is Christianity A Crutch? Part Three - Like Torchwood Only Not Horrible

Welcome back, gentle readers, for part three of our investigation into this age-old question: Is Christianity real, or is it just a psychological crutch used by sad little people who can't otherwise cope with the harsh realities of a Godless, pointless, aleatorically-created universe?

Or, to put it more succinctly, Christianity: Truth or crutch?

It's been a while since I managed to crowbar a Disney illustration into this
blog, but I hereby proudly present the feathery crutch of the flying elephant.

But as you will know, if you have read parts one and two, this is a specious question - presupposing, as it does, that a thing must be one or the other, and cannot be both truthful and crutchy. This is a fairly absurd position to take. A few weeks ago I watched a man on a genuine literal crutch struggling to climb onto a tube train. This being London, no one bothered to help him, but no one actively tried to take his crutch away from him either. Despite being, quite evidently, just a crutch, it was not treated with the least disdain by either him or his fellow passengers. Obviously. Because he clearly needed it, and it was working.

A crutch, I think we can agree, is a Good Thing, when there is a need for it and it works.
The important questions about Christianity, therefore, are: Do we need it? Does it work?

In part two, we looked at the need. And lo, I sayeth unto you that the need is great*. We face death, and we face judgement, and by ourselves we are powerless to avoid either. It's not the weak who need it, it's everyone. And if you were remotely convinced by the answer to that question, then the second question should now be of paramount concern to you: does it work?

Well, it's interesting you should ask that. Because, in the passage of the Bible we've been scrutinising, the answer to that question depends squarely on another.

Here's our passage:

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:17-26)

And here's the question:

About two thousand years ago a carpenter's son who claimed to be God got violently, brutally executed.
Did he stay dead... or did he rise?

It happened a long time ago, a long way away from the bean-bag I'm currently sitting in, but it remains the fulcrum on which this whole debate rests. There are no middle options - he either rose or he didn't. If he did, says Paul, Christianity works. If he didn't, it doesn't. For Paul, there is no such thing as a psychological crutch. It's real or it is nothing.

If you are a Christian, you don't have to look all that far to find someone who thinks you are an idiot. For example:

"Faith means not wanting to know what is true." - Friedrich Nietzsche
"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence." - Richard Dawkins
"So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence." - Bertrand Russell
"Christian faith is futile, and those who hope in it are idiots who should be pitied more than anyone else in the world." - The Apostle Paul.

Yay, surprise. Good old wrote-most-of-the-New-Testament Paul totally agrees with Nietzsche, Dawkins, Russell, and all that crowd - if, that is, Christ wasn't raised.

You would think Dawkins would have a more open mind, what
with marrying a Time Lord and everything. Shame on them both.

Let me just pause and hammer a point home here:

This is about something that either happened, or didn't happen.
If we could hop into the TARDIS and get the Doctor to take us to Jerusalem 2000 years ago, we would be able to camp outside Jesus' tomb and watch to see what happened next. We'd either see a dead man stay dead, or we'd see a dead man get up and walk around.

There is nothing subjective about this. If it happened, then it happened, whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we need a psychological crutch or not. If it's true, then it's true for everyone.

How often have you heard people say something like "I don't believe it myself, but if it works for her, then that's great."?
Or "It's true for you, but it's not true for me."?
Or, as Jodi Picoult put it: "My feeling is that everyone should be able to believe what they want or need to believe."?**

Well, with all due respect: twaddle, pish and fiddlesticks. It's either true for everyone, or it's rubbish for everyone.

Christianity is either the solution to death and sin for everyone who turns to it...
Or it is a ridiculous, tragic waste of time for everyone.

Can I say that again?

Christianity is either the solution to death and sin for everyone who turns to it...
Or it is a ridiculous, tragic waste of time for everyone.
Apparently I can. Good.

"You know, Romana, Christianity is either the solution to death and sin for
everyone who turns to it, or it is a ridiculous, tragic waste of time for everyone."

So: which is it?

Well, Paul seems pretty certain about this:
Verse 20 - "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

Right, well, that's a pretty absurd claim. It's probably why most people dismiss Christianity as myth. But Dawkins is wrong when he talks about lack of evidence. There are four gospel accounts - written by, or taken from interviews with, people who saw it happen - which testify that it is true. There's the whole of the Old Testament, which points forward to the event, through hundreds of prophecies and foreshadowings - all fulfilled in Jesus. There are the New Testament letters, which point back to the event - which are the writings of intelligent, literate men, who continued to claim it was true in the face of persecution and death. All of this would be remarkably difficult to fake, even if there was the slightest reason to do so. It is hard to come up with a more plausible explanation for the rise of Christianity than this: the rising of Christ.***

Christ was raised, and what that means is this:
Christianity is a real crutch, founded on real events, that offers a real solution to the real problems that are faced by everyone.

Do we need it? Yes!
Does it work?

Just look at the passage - look at what it says about death:

Verse 20a: Christ has been raised from the dead. Death is no longer a one-way door!
Verse 20b: He's the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep - that means he's like the first bluebell in spring - when he appears, you know there are going to be millions more!
Verse 21: As by a man came death, by a man - Jesus - has come the resurrection of the dead. The dead are going to rise!
Verse 22: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive!
Most amazing, verse 26: When God destroys his enemies, death itself will be on the list. What happens when death is destroyed? No more death, is what. Nothing can die! It'll be like the last series of Torchwood, only good. And hopefully without John Barrowman getting naked all the time. We don't need to see that again.

It won't be like this.

So we're not talking zombie movies here - reanimated corpses shuffling around eating brains. We're talking about the dead coming back to life, and death itself being destroyed. And the proof that this will happen is that Jesus was raised.

And it won't be like this.

That's the problem of death. What about the problem of sin, which we talked about in part two? We'll only look at this very very briefly, but here's a question: why did Christ need raising anyway? Obviously because he died, but why did he die?

The Bible tells us that he died to save us from our sins. Remember all the post-it notes we were carrying around? The ones that marked us out as God's enemies, destined for destruction? There was no way we could get rid of them ourselves. There was no way we could get rid of each others'. Well, in an act that renders any number of stationary-based analogies utterly inadequate, Jesus took them from us at the cost of his own life. Now, it would take someone uniquely qualified to do such a thing. No one who isn't the perfect son of God is going to be able to pull it off. Was Christ the perfect son of God, who therefore dealt with the problem of sin, or was he just some nutter who got killed for upsetting the Jews? Let me ask you this: how many nutters can you think of who came back to life after getting themselves killed? His resurrection proves his identity, and his identity proves that he did what he said he did.

Christ's resurrection proves that the problems of death and sin are dealt with.

Do we need it? Yes.
Does it work? Yes.

And that's pretty much it. But there's one final question I need to ask...


You see, we've glossed over a few words in this passage:

Verse 18: Those who have fallen asleep in Christ...
Verse 19If in Christ we have hope...
Verse 22: In Christ shall all be made alive...
Verse 23: Those who belong to Christ...

If you are in Adam - which is the Bible's way of saying if you are human - then you face the problems we talked about. Everyone faces the problems.

If you are in Christ, you have the solution.
So... who is "in Christ"?

And there's our cliffhanger. Come back next time for the answer, and bring your friends.

"Goodbye now! See you next time! And don't forget that Christianity
is the solution to death and sin for everyone who turns to it!"

* So great, in fact, that it hath temporarily made me talk all olde-worlde.
** I want to believe that I've correctly positioned all the full stops, question marks and quote marks in those last three lines, but the nagging fingers of doubt are clawing at my mind.
*** There is a great deal to say on this, of course. If you can stomach the infuriating writing style (and you've stomached mine so far, so you might be okay) then this is a reasonably good place to start.


  1. Religion the cause of more grief and pain than anything else in this world, there is no historical proof of99% of those featured in the bible outside of that tomb which is itself a collection of books that were decided to be included.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It's a commonly held viewpoint that religion is the greatest cause of grief in the world, but I don't think it stands up to scrutiny. I'd argue that death is. After all, not everyone has religion, but everyone dies. As for religion being the number one cause of death, that's simply not true. World War I was not fought for religious reasons, nor was World War II, The Falklands War, the Vietnam War, or the Croatian War of Independence. The Rwandan genocide was ethnically, not religiously, motivated. A quick glance at this wikipedia article of the most common causes of death - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate - shows that war is actually quite a long way down the list. Heart disease is at the top.

      I'm not sure where you get your statistic about the historical accuracy of the Bible, but I think you've been misled. I'd suggest reading something like the Lee Strobel book I mentioned in the post. It's annoyingly one-sided (obviously, because he's a Christian out to convert his readers) but it does provide at least a good starting point for a discussion about the authenticity of the Bible.