In my sermon this weekend I tried to approach the question of Resurrection by putting the onus on the person who disbelieves the Church’s historic claim.
‘Why is the burden of proof always on the believer?’
It’s a damn good, table-turning question I think.
And it wasn’t originally my question. I thought giving credit where credit is due would not only be appropriate but illuminating.
Back in 2007, I went to the National Cathedral to listen to a panel discussion that the Cathedral was hosting.
The theme of the event was “The Church in the 21st Century” and for the event the Cathedral had gathered well-known speakers and scholars like Tony Jones, Diana Butler Bass, and, someone dear to my own heart, Marcus Borg.
Actually, I think Marcus Borg is a unimaginative, knee-jerk, liberal fundamentalist hack. Bless his heart.
Like Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot, Marcus Borg has made a career out of regurgitating old Aryan arguments and outdated, hackneyed scholarship to make the claim that the Jesus of the Gospels bears little resemblance to the “real” Jesus of history.
The Gospels, Borg argues, are not stories grounded in real history; they are instead myths and metaphors which convey deeper spiritual truths and universal existential principles.
In other words, the “real” Jesus never really said: love your enemies, turn the other cheek, forgive 70 x 7, get rid of all your stuff and give it to the poor, a rich man’s getting into heaven is about as likely as shoving a fully-loaded camel through the eye of a needle.
According to Borg, the “real” Jesus never really said those things and thus the “real” Jesus never really expected us to do them. Not surprisingly, Marcus Borg is wildly popular in denominations like the United Methodist Church.
At the National Cathedral, Marcus Borg was the rock star of the panel, and by the time I arrived there was already a horde of Episcopal priests gathered up front staring at Borg so ecstatically I thought they might start to swoon or throw their bras and clergy collars at him.
Not wanting to be mistaken for one of Borg’s fanboys, I sat in the back with the civilians, scooting into a pew next to a tiny, old man who was wearing a knit suit.
Because the theme was ‘the Church in the 21st Century” and because we were surrounded by Episcopalians, it didn’t take long for the panel to steer the discussion toward which Christian beliefs were outdated and needed to be rethought and reinterpreted for the modern world.
And it didn’t take long for that discussion to get around to the resurrection.
With an air of enlightened self-importance, Marcus Borg droned on about how what matters is not that God raised Jesus from the dead; what matters is that the disciples experienced resurrection in their hearts.
For that matter, Borg continued doling out his koan-like nonsense, it doesn’t really matter if Jesus was never actually crucified. It’s doesn’t matter if Jesus never said or taught any of the words attributed to him by the Gospels. It doesn’t matter if someone named ‘Jesus’ from Nazareth was never born- virgin or not, we can suppose.
It doesn’t matter because what matters is that it’s experienced as true in us.
It struck me then that it’s appropriate Borg deems the Gospels myth since his entire theology revolves around another myth: Narcissus.
The panel continued on that nonsensical line for a while.
Finally, during the Q/A the old man next to me got up and shuffled up to the microphone. He was small and had white hair and must’ve been in his 80’s I guessed.
Softly into the microphone, he said:
‘Tell me, Dr Borg, was the tomb empty? Or not?’
With what sounded like a rehearsed reply, Marcus Borg said:
‘If I had to bet a dollar or my life, I’d bet there was no tomb. And if there was a tomb then it was not empty.’
The old man’s mouth dropped.
And Marcus Borg added: ‘Of course there was no physical, literal resurrection. That’s impossible.’
The old man shuffled back to my pew and sat down.
And then he leaned over and with genuine anger in his voice, he asked me:
“Why is the burden of proof always on the believer?
Shouldn’t someone who doesn’t believe the Resurrection have to come up with a better explanation for everything?”
But that wasn’t all.
While the man whispered in my ear, Borg had resumed his condescension:
‘We all know dead bodies DON’T come back to life. The Resurrection violates everything we know about nature.’
And the old man muttered underneath his breath:
‘But that’s exactly the damn point.’