by Nicola Hoggard Creegan
It is Easter, and He is risen!
We hear very little if anything about the religious meaning of Easter in the New Zealand media. This central core of Christian teaching, is, however, of immense importance in our dialogue with science. In a world that demands evidence of a certain kind, a two-thousand year-old event is treated with suspicion. How can we verify it? How could we possibly falsify this historical contingency from an age before photographs, data or modern notions of evidence?
One response to this dilemma is that the risen-ness of the Christ is evident in our personal and collective religious life in the Body of Christ; giving hope where there is only despair and longing where there has been only dread; it is evident whenever life comes out of death. It is verified by experience, but this experience is referred to by Christians as the witness of the Spirit, the same spirit that is Creator, life-giver, meaning maker. Evidence is there, but within a larger paradigm or story.
Religious experience, however, can often be no more than a soft whisper in today’s distracted world. But for those who do have religious experience it can still be very powerful. I recently attended a conference on non-materialism and well-being. These were not Christians; rather they were mostly scientists and clinicians who had had a near-death or drug induced experience, a numinous experience in meditation or had an experience of ESP or a precognitive dream or vision. The experience changed their lives. They certainly did not end up believing that the material world was inferior; rather they became convinced that the evolution of life on earth was purposeful, that consciousness was primary, that life was meaningful, but extended after death of the body.
Experience, then, is still a very powerful motivator to a life of resistance to the mainstream. But what of Christians. Aren’t we also non-materialists, in the sense that we believe there is a lot more than we can see, touch, hear, taste or smell, even in the extended technical capacity of science? Don’t we also believe in love, as the universal life-giver? Don’t we also believe in resurrection and life after death?
We do. And we also live within a narrative that believes that whatever happened two thousand years ago is relevant and powerful now, that God passed over into human life, into the life of the material world, and in humanity suffered. The material world is good and is blessed, but is not all there is. Where I found these non-materialists puzzling is in the lack of any narrative about suffering or the cost of salvation. And yet, why do people leave the faith, especially the young? In my experience in teaching theology it is almost always some version of the problem of evil which alienates them in the end.
It is important then for all people, especially those troubled and searching, and especially scientists, that we do not forget the Christian narrative of the God who comes to us, suffers, is ridiculed, tormented, tortured and marginalized, dies and is risen. And although our scientific lives are important as is the evidence and the technology they achieve, nevertheless it is religious experience that sends out to follow the Great Shepherd, and to ponder the mysteries of Incarnation, the limits of the material world, and the meaning of
We may not see much evidence of this narrative this Easter. But I did come across a very powerful retelling of the story in the New York Times by Peter Wehner on What it means to Worship a Man Crucified as a Criminal. Join us as we ponder these questions together.