Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Bishop of Durham Affirms Physical Resurrection

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on April 24, 2008 )

Among Web sites that feature the full text of various books,  one of the more interesting is offers a wide collection of theological tracts, mostly from the 19th century,  most of them on the afterlife.   The preface to one of these, John Kent's "Eternal Burning," which is a refutation of the concept of the eternity of suffering in Hell, contains this interesting summation of a fundamental difference in views of the afterlife:   " [A]lthough the intrinsical immortality of man was, even in Bible times, believed and thought by all other nations, the Jews, the people of God, did not believe in the immortality of man, except through the resurrection; and, also, that Christ and His Apostles taught and proved that upon the resurrection only, depended the future existence of those who had passed away."

In other words, the Indo-European peoples, the ancient Aryan Indians, the Greeks, the Celts, all believed that the soul survives death and develops on its own.   Typically, the belief is that the eternal soul will be embodied again in a future earthly life.   This view of the afterlife is totally opposed by that of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which teach that any future life is dependent upon resurrection by the deity. 

A freethinker may well see in this chasm between the Indo-European and the Semitic concepts an evidence of the difference in values of the two great groupings of peoples. The Semites, inured to despotism, beseech a higher being to give them an extension of life.   The Indo-Europeans believe that the soul survives in its own right, needing no deity or god to preserve it.  Most contemporary Christians have forgotten this great difference.   Indeed, it is likely that the primordial Indo-European concept now has primacy among Europeans and European Americans.  The belief in a physical resurrection as essential to human survival has been forgotten except when the creeds are uttered.

The British publication New Statesman, in its April 14, 2008, issue, reports an interview with the Reverend Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, the fourth-ranking among the bishops of the Church of England.   Reverend Wright has given a new emphasis to the resurrection.  Following are a couple of paragraphs from the New Statesman article:

    " The day will come, he says, when Christ will come to join the heavens and the earth in a new creation and the dead will rise. All those who think of heaven as the endpoint are wrong, especially if they're thinking about 'sitting on clouds playing harps'. According to him, heaven is less a location, more a state: a kind of first-class transit lounge whereby our physical bodies sleep while the 'real person' continues in the presence of Christ. What we will be waiting for is what he calls 'life after life after death': the Second Coming and the Day of Judgement, when we will be not only physically re-embodied but transformed, on a new version of this earth with plenty of room for everyone.
    " Wright argues that, over the centuries, the influence of Greek culture and philosophy, in particular the theory of Platonic dualism - that the body is imperfect and destined to decay, whereas the soul is superior and continues after death - led to the language of heaven being 'hijacked'. He mentions a cathedral near Rome where there are frescoes 'quite explicitly about resurrection, skeletons coming up from the earth, being clothed with flesh and becoming human again. Contrast that with the Sistine Chapel, where you have this great heaven and hell scene. It is sort of assumed that heaven is a disembodied state where immortal souls go to live, and then it becomes very difficult for the word resurrection to be anything other than a rather flowery metaphor for that state. But the whole point is that is what the Bible in the first three or four Christian centuries took for granted. We need to recapture that.' "

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