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Christians are materialists

April 6, 2010

Like the much quoted Updike (cited around the web at this season – here and here and here) Christians are materialists, particularly at Easter. McCabe (God Still Matters, p. 227-8) puts it rather well in a sermon for Easter when he writes:

“If I met you one day, I mean really met you, not a picture of you or a televised three-dimensional hologram, or a truth about you, or a dream about you, but really met you, and you said to me, ‘By the way, it’s a rather interesting thing, my bones are in a cave in Palestine,’ I would be astounded. I would not know what to think, but I would be inclined to say that you or somebody had done a remarkable ‘conjuring trick with bones’. This would be the really tricky and puzzling thing: that I should meet you (you and not a ghost or a dream, but the actual you) without meeting your body.

There is nothing in the least tricky or puzzling or quaint about God giving back life to the dead Jesus… What we might find tricky, though, would be God raising Jesus to glory by doing something for something quite other than Jesus; producing, by sleight of hand, a substitute risen Christ while the body of Jesus is left buried in the grave.”

However, where the logic of this materialism becomes difficult is how it might extend to post-ascension meetings with Jesus. Should we talk about ‘extensions’ of the risen body of Jesus – such that the body is both ‘heavenly’ and ‘earthly’? How would the extension differ from the non-extension? Does ‘extension’ presuppose a center elsewhere? Whatever we say it seems that, in spite of the logic of materialism, it may still be that bodies cannot be biologically defined, even when they include biological elements. After all, with our current biological bodies it is never quite clear where they begin and end. My fingernails (once detached) are no longer my body and my current body is constantly changing its shape and molecular constituency. The distinction between a body and a corpse is a matter of function and not of molecular constituency. Michael Polanyi used to talk of the way a blind-man’s stick functioned as his eyes and thus as an extension of his body – the point of interaction between person and world. Robert Jenson talks of ‘availability’ as almost a definition of body.

Perhaps the logic of materialism remains inasmuch as, however the risen Christ extends his body in the availability of the Spirit, that availability remains an availability within the material and created world. It also remains the salvific availability of the crucified and cruciform Jesus – the incarnate Son of God (or perhaps of the incarnation of the Son of God)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ann permalink
    April 8, 2010 1:04 pm

    This is an extremely obsure area to discuss. I think we can make some very clear observations as were made in the above article about how a blind man’s cane functions as his eyes, but going much farther than that and into the realm of how we are our bodies gets into the territory of the philosophy and physics of consciousness. I’m reading Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind, which I’d recommend to anyone interested in that subject, before saying much else.

    Does the body have to rise? I can make an argument where it doesn’t have to. I can imagine being OK with meeting Jesus resurrected while his bones are still in a cave (but I’m not saying I believe this argument). Let’s say our corpse is the form of physicality which is left behind when God resurrects, because one thing was clear from scripture…the resurrected body is not the pre-resurrection body. It can just appear as well as eat fish and be touched by others. Maybe?

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