Comment Of The Day: “Easter Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2020: Missing The Easter Bunny”

In today’s Warm-Up, I expressed my problems with Mark Tapscott’s blog post, titled “He Is Risen! Eight Reasons To Believe.”

To summarize the thrust of my criticism as I reiterated it in my replies to his comment and others, Mark argues persuasively that the authors of the Gospels were, at least in this case, trying to tell the story as they heard it, and were not trying to embellish or distort it in the telling to make it more credible in its time. Good. That does not mean, however, that the story they heard is in fact true. The post was also aimed in part at debunking conspiracy theories about the Resurrection being a hoax. Taking Mark’s argument as that, and that alone, it is also persuasive. However, proving something was not intentionally false does not prove it is true.

I will do this however: at the end of my discussion, I said that I regarded Mark’s argument as a tautology, where a controversial document is cited to prove the accuracy of the document itself, and that I regarded that device as intellectually dishonest. Mark’s response persuades me that my  assessment was unduly harsh and unfair, and I both retract and apologize to him for it.

Moreover, the fact that he chose to respond in person so quickly reaffirms my original favorable assessment of his professionalism and character.

Here is Mark Tapscott’s Comment of the Day on Item #4 in the post, “Easter Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2020: Missing The Easter Bunny”:

First, thank you for your kind words regarding my secular writing. I hope that my work in that area continues to merit your approbation. We are, as I believe Confucius is reputed to have said, “cursed to live in interesting times.”

Unfortunately, my reaction is not nearly so positive regarding your critique of my post on eight reasons to believe Jesus was literally resurrected from the dead three days after His crucifixion, just as He said He would be.

“Intellectually dishonest” and tautological? With all due respect, your readers deserve more candor than that from you. You accuse me of these two errors because: “All of his reasons are based on New Testament text. If one believes that the New Testament text is true and accurate, then you don’t need any more reasons. His is a self-ratifying argument.”

If my post was simply arguing for the credibility and historical accuracy of the New Testament, your statement might well more accurately represent what I wrote. I did indeed assume the accuracy of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but the eight reasons I offered concerned characteristics of the scriptural accounts and events that point a reasonable reader to their credibility.

For example, the fact women were the first to find the empty tomb and to see the resurrected Christ is significant because in that culture the testimony of two women was required to equal that of one man in order to be credible. That the Gospels rely in part on testimony that was not automatically accepted suggests that the authors were being faithful to the facts in reporting what actually happened rather than inventions of what they hoped would be more persuasive to readers. That’s not a tautology, it’s a reasonable inference based on historical fact.

Merely rejecting the eight reasons because they are drawn from a source you reject has the scent of an ad hominem response and the look of an evasion. Do you agree with me about the significance of the Gospel authors’ reporting women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and resurrected Jesus? Make your argument on that point and we can perhaps then have a productive discussion.

BTW, regarding your grounds for rejecting the New Testament’s credibility, can you name one detail on which two or more of the Gospels “disagree,” as you put it, that relates to the core claim that Jesus was resurrected?

24 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Easter Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/12/2020: Missing The Easter Bunny”

    • I hereby retract my snark, as I missed your statement of reaffirmation, retraction and apology. I apologize even more, as it is that my offense is greater because I failed to read what could not have been more clearly written. And may I add that my sadness at first reading your original dismissal has been far outweighed by your response.

  1. Jack, thank you, sir. I’ve had to concede more than my share of goofs, too. As W.C. Fields said, “all in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia!” Now that we’ve established a standard of civility, perhaps we should continue our discussion of the evidence, sacred and secular, for the proposition that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead three days after being crucified dead and buried.

    I will start by agreeing with you on your point that “proving something was not intentionally false does not thereby prove it to be true.” That said, how do you respond to my closing question: “Can you name one detail on which two or more of the Gospels “disagree,” as you put it, that relates to the core claim that Jesus was resurrected?”

    • This is a duplicate comment from the other page. I was going to post here first, then thought the original column would be the better place, but you brought up the point I wanted to address here. So confusing.

      I think your last point puts the bar a little too high.

      Yes, all four Gospels agree on the resurrection, as well they ought too. However, there are other Gospels that agree on that point. But these 4 have been viewed as divinely inspired. While this does not mean they are literally God’s words*, inconsistencies of any kind should give one pause.

      I did not read your article, but I did like your point about 2 women witnesses. I have heard repeatedly that Mary was the first to see the empty tomb. That seemed like an empty fact; your analysis gives significance to that.


      *Reminds me if a quote from Nietzsche to the effect of “I could never believe in a God that chose to speak Greek [no offense, Jack] and so poorly at that.” (I presume part of that joke being that the Greek of the New Testament is a very simple form of Greek that any speaker would be able to understand.)

      • You mangled that Nietzsche quote and its overall thrust a bit. The quote: “Es ist eine Feinheit, dass Gott griechisch lernte, als er Schriftsteller werden wollte – und dass er es nicht besser lernte.” (Jenseits von Gut und Boese / Beyond Good and Evil section 121). Walter Kaufmann translates “It was subtle of God to learn Greek when he wished to become an author – and not to learn it better.” which is reasonably accurate, although the original is more literally “It is a subtlety that God learned Greek…” In any case, his point does not seem to be that he can’t believe in a God who wrote in Greek. This is Nietzsche, after all, who loved the ancient Greeks (or his idea of who they were, anyway) and who was a philologist whose never submitted but later published doctoral dissertation was on Diogenes Laertius and who thought the Greeks had achieved the highest artistic expression in the form of Tragedy, etc. etc. His point was that the dialect (Koine) and style of the New Testament was in his opinion of low quality, especially compared with the earlier writings of the Classical period, and also was of lower quality than the Old Testament, which he praised in other places, so that there is probably an intended dig at Christian anti-Semites in this aphorism.

    • The answer to that one is no, I can’t. Now, if they were all witnesses or had first hand knowledge, that would be powerful evidence. The agreement on any detail, however important, can also just mean that they took from a single source. But you’re right, the lack of agreement on other matters, by themselves, does not undermine the credibility of the accounts of the Resurrection at all.

      And upon reflection, I regret including that point in the post.

      • One can assume they interviewed witnesses.

        And we’ve basically got 3 general accounts of post-resurrection appearances, one of which is another cluster of 3 accounts.

        Review the 3 main accounts (with the one with 3 subsets):

        1) Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:3-8. This would have likely been the earliest written account of post-resurrection appearances as 1st Corinthians was likely written early to mid 50s AD. Paul lists, in order (using the Greek word “eita” and “epeita” roughly translated as “then”), “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

        One could easily call Paul a con man just making up claims. Paul also is understood to have had a hard time establishing his credibility with the early Church as an Apostle. I think pushing a claim about *that many people who were witnesses* that was a lie is a near impossible gamble for an Apostle to make if he’s already on shaky ground as an authority. So at a minimum the early church believed the 400-450 living people who claimed to have seen a living Jesus after his execution.

        2) The Synoptic Gospel accounts…these are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These are lumped together simply because at some level, these authors explicitly “copy-pasted” each other’s materials. There was a formerly raging debate about which gospel came first and how the other two related to copying the first, though in modern times a commanding portion of scholars think Mark came first, followed by the other two. These should be lumped together because any “discrepancies” in their accounts between the three of them should be especially frustrating…if they were mostly copying each other, there shouldn’t be any so-called contradictions where any are claimed. Details may be added and details may be omitted, but a parallel reading of any of the synoptics shouldn’t cause a reader to think “hey wait a minute, this detail and this detail don’t seem compatible”.

        Their post-resurrection appearances range from NONE in Mark (if you believe that the most reliable manuscripts give us what is called “Shorter Mark”, which ends halfway through verse 8 of Chapter 16 on the Greek word “gar”). I tend to believe this as verses 8b-20 of chapter 16 that give us “Longer Mark” seem to be stylistically different than the rest of the book and seem mostly to be summarized bullet points taken from the other gospels in a later scribe’s frustrated effort to reconcile why Shorter Mark ends in the word “gar”. See, “gar” is an odd word to end with. Greek sentences never end with “gar” which is sort of a preposition. Either Mark had a longer ending, but the earliest scroll was damaged…losing a bottom section of it OR the author of Mark wanted to leave readers with an empty tomb to draw their own conclusions.

        Matthew recounts Jesus’s appearance to Mary Magdalen and “the other Mary” who originally discovered the empty Tomb…either on their way to tell the disciples OR sometime after an implied report about the empty tomb was given to the disciples. Matthew also recounts the 11 disciples in Galilee meeting Jesus on a mountain and receiving what we traditionally call “the Great Commission”.

        Luke (and its sequel Acts of the Apostles) recounts Jesus’s appearance to two disciples, one of whom was named Cleopas, on the road to Emmaus. Apparently the 11 also report that Simon (Peter) had seen Jesus. Then all these together at that meeting reported Jesus standing among them displaying the crucifixion wounds followed eventually by the Ascension. Acts of the Apostles recounts a general series of interactions for *40* days after the Empty Tomb between Jesus and the Apostles followed by the Ascension.

        While harmonizing the 3 synoptic accounts of the post-resurrection appearances can cause some strained chronological sequencing of events, none are contradictory OR impossible.

        3) John’s account. Many scholars try to place this gospel as VERY late in composition, towards 100 AD. But there’s no reason why it *has* to be that late other than interpreting the gospels with a 1st premise that they are just mythology. But that would just be poisoning the well. John, of all of the gospels, stakes the claim to be written by an eye-witness, making this gospel and Paul’s account the only two openly claiming to be eye-witnesses as well as documenting other eye-witness accounts.

        John recounts appearances to Mary Magdalen, also to the disciples (but Thomas was missing), then to the disciples including Thomas. He also recounts Jesus appearing to Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, John and James, and two other disciples in Galilee…one of which would have been the self-declared author of this Gospel.

        As with the Synoptics, harmonizing all 5 accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke-Act, John, and Paul in his Epistle) some order of events may become strained…mostly strained because given a fully “reconstructed” time line, one is led to ask why particular events were left out of particular Gospels, there are no inexplicable “differences” let alone contradictions…certainly not after accounting for the Rashomon effect.

        You ultimately have to ask yourself if you believe the witnesses and those recounting the witness testimony.

        • You ultimately have to ask yourself if you believe the witnesses and those recounting the witness testimony.

          One could fully believe every aspect of the Gospel revelation . . . and yet never become a Christian.

          Mark Tapscott’s general argument is, at least in some senses, a waste of time if the purpose of kerygma is to stimulate conversion. What moves one to the inner point where one makes the decision to choose a different path is, in most senses, independent of the story-line.

          The story itself does not convert. It is something else, acting independently and mysteriously, that produces conversion.

          • I’ve spent years talking at length into the infinite Stygian depths of other people’s ears and must emphatically agree with this. There is no combination of words and no logic so profound as to compel anyone to do anything at all in the absence of a completely mysterious, ineffable something else. It almost seems that the universe itself is a machine designed with the singular intention of dragging me in chains to this one conclusion: it’s not enough to be right.

            It’s freeing, nonetheless. There’s a strange moment during many car accidents which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing twice. There’s a realization of an inevitable result and that the motions of the other bodies could not have been avoided without preternatural foreknowledge. You realize, in that instant, that there was nothing you could have done to avoid your fate and that you can only wait, in a nirvana-like, extended Zen-moment, for the outcome.

            I wonder if that’s the reason older men seem to evoke a detached and fatalistic demeanor. Plotting the trajectory of my own experience, I should definitely wind up seeing my life in the same frame of mind.

            And here we arrive at a cosmological comedy: a common, shared experience of futility at appealing to others’ shared experience.

            Though, in seriousness, it would seem obvious to any honest observer that the single unifying problem was the abandonment of foundational, unifying principle by a sequence of historical philosophical blunders, exacerbating a universal problem of human intellectual evil by setting aside the very ideas which act to curb it. But here I go starting the Wagnerian cycle all over again! The Greeks never wrote so perfect a fusion of tragedy and comedy. Their fiction is tailored to taste, but to What is our taste tailored? Truth persists, and This all men know to be God.

            • Hello. ¡Felices Pascuas! I was looking around for a post of yours in order to be able to share with you what I thought was a very interesting conversation. It is Uncommon Knowledge by Peter Robinson where David Berlinski, David Gelernter, and Stephen Meyer discuss the strange proposal that life-creation requires a planning intelligence. The implication of this goes further of course.

              It is not a theological argument — they couch it within science-view — but it is curious to notice that our ‘so very solid notions about truth’ (materialism, etc.) sometimes get challenged and reversed. I thought you would appreciate it. Meyer seems to tend to theological view though. I need to do a little more research here.

              Thanks for your comment BTW.

              • Sorry, it took a couple of days for me to secure time to watch this. It was very interesting. It follows the same sort of pattern as that Jordan Peterson, in a certain sense. While we were all certain of the notions of Natural Law and virtue from above, in a philosophical/ theological sense, Peterson presented arguments toward these long-abandoned thoughts by observing the behaviors of animals, reasoning up to what before had been abandoned in our clean-slate abandonment of all reasoning down. I’d been passively aware of some elements of this in criticizing the Darwinian model coming from Nagel by way of Feser, but I didn’t realize it was more than just a passing fad. They seem to have carved out a sort of legitimacy, even making that same distinction between reasoning up and reasoning down.

                I’d very much like to see, eventually, someone address the common destinations of these two approaches. Perhaps even with a twist of the dagger, indicating that our zealous materialist/nihilist-springtime wasn’t so interested in the validity of their results as they let on, but rather on the parallel, sleight-of-hand results of abandoning the moral constraints of the contemporary intellectual regime. They argued up from matter to different conclusions than the old theological schools not because the theology was a wishful daydream of old fools but because their nascent sciences hadn’t caught up to the finely-developed metaphysics of their forebears. Religion could not confirm the “discoveries” of the new atheist “science” because the new atheist “science” was simply wrong (“scare quotes”, of course, because their science was stolen from the religious universities). It’s an object lesson which crushes the foundations of modernity’s metaphysic.

                Though, I suppose that was your takeaway as well. I’ll have to think about this some more; I only just finished watching it.

                • That was very nicely put. I understand what you are getting at. I have both fortunate, and unfortunate, speculations and conclusions from what this *new discovery* portends. New: that people who design complex systems, and the coding that stands behind it — and these people need only have been *atheist* in their views, just as materialistic science is — suddenly realized that what they had been doing, nature itself had been doing, but what nature had been doing — does — requires an intelligence and one that acts specifically. That is, intelligent being encoding systems with complex information. Those of us with a religious bent have no problem understanding the necessary existence of this intelligence.

                  But this does not necessarily help the specificity of a theistic position. By *specificity* I mean a precise and rendered story. Because if this *cell* is so unreally complex that it required an intelligent mind — and this is a coherent position — could anything that exists, any particular particle or dynamic, and then *existence itself*, be the product of non-intelligence? If some part is recognized as resulting from determining intelligence, then every part of it must similarly be.

                  But in a sense these notions — what this inspires in the aware mind — leads not to a specific revelation but rather to a kind of new gnosticism. If one started from a theistic frame-of-mind, and let us say a specific one (like traditional Catholicism), this New Knowledge of encoded intelligence will bolster what we already sensed, understood and also *employed* (put to use Through the praxis of Catholic living). But where would it lead an awakening scientist who may have been, and sincerely so, an atheist? To Buddhism? Or back to some pantheistic perspective? It is a curious problem.

                  • I see what you mean. A god of the gaps isn’t even necessarily God, the Unmoved Mover of a basic, minimal naturalist theism, much less certainly the Catholic Triune God.

                    Still, it is quite fun to see the bedrock of the modernist atheist enterprise crumble away in real time – a variation on the theme of Babel. It’s probably fitting that the survivors would scatter every which way rather than unify.

                    The savvy and honest observer might still cast a look back to see what had been rejected on false pretenses in favor of the newly-broken falsehood, too. It might be better to gain just a handful of them than the whole massa damnata, anyway. It might go back to that theme of never convincing the un-convincible, and the divine enterprise in ordinary human affairs reduces to shaking up complacency in false certainty to force (allow?) a definitive decision on the part of the few honest men.

    • Dear Mark,

      Welcome. I hope you come back to comment on other topics here. The difference between morals and ethics is often threaded through posts. I find many of the posts discuss ethical topics that relate to my own faith journey. For example – discernment, truth and lies, offense, right and wrong, laws, bias, and conscience.

      People here are quite diverse and commentors certainly disagree with each other on some topics, then find themselves agreeing on another. We practice civility and tolerance here (mostly) and if you hang out enough, everyone, even Jack, has a bite of humble pie from time to time. In that way EA is unique in that we don’t”cancel” each other, we learn how to apologize and move on.

      Happy Easter to you, Jack, and everyone who celebrates this day.

  2. I am, sad to say, not as able to read and enjoy EA as much as I have in the past. I am glad I came back in time for this.

    I love seeing people who are “called out” come in and comment to defend themselves and their opinions. This blog is the best at giving each and every person a chance at civil discourse. I hope you become a frequent commenter Mark.

    I miss seeing the battle of wills and minds here.

  3. I’m not a believer necessarily in the divinity of Christ. However, I do note that in the Gospels multiple I witnesses reported seeing Christ after the resurrection some of of which spoke with him. It does give one pause. As far as the Easter Bunny, I’m done with him as he comes from pagan roots and nowadays seems to have the sole purpose of selling marginal chocolate.

    • I’m not a believer necessarily in the divinity of Christ. However, I do note that in the Gospels multiple eye witnesses reported seeing Christ after the resurrection some of which spoke with him. It does give one pause. As far as the Easter Bunny, I’m done with him as he comes from pagan roots and nowadays seems to have the sole purpose of selling marginal chocolate.

      Please don’t give up on the Easter Bunny!

      It seems that with many things there is the *superficial surface* and then the *depth interpretation*. Oddly, in our Greek-influenced terms, when we refer to interpretation some say we refer to Hermes (Mercury): as with the word hermeneutic. This fits because of the element of ‘intuitive or mystic reading’:

      From the Ancient Greek ἐρμηνεύς (ermeneus, “translator, interpreter”), from ἑρμηνεύω (ermeneuo, “translate, interpret”), from unknown origin. The term was introduced c.360 BC by Aristotle in his text Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας (Peri Hermēneias, “On Interpretation”). It is often suggested that the Greek word root is etymologically related to the name of the Greek mythological deity Hermes, but cognate to a corrupted composite borrowing from Hebrew Har [ha]Emet (Emes) referring to the Biblical Mount Sinai where Moses interpreted the Jewish Law (known as haEmes (“the Truth”)) to the people.

      CH Dodd in Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel traces the pagan Hermetic influence that runs through this gospel. Oddly here, there is a the *surface* and then there is the *depth*. But the main elements in the Fourth Gospel are:

      a) Sign [semeion]
      b) Faith [pistis]
      c) Life [zóé]

      From a Hermetic perspective, ‘sign’ is especially relevant. It is tightly bound up with the notion that the *world* can communicate, does communicate, with us and to us. It implies, obviously, that there is a surrounding intelligence. The notion of ‘providence’ is largely this idea, though in Christian terms the pagan or pantheistic element is down-played.

      And therefore the notion of a ‘sign provided by Heaven’, or an *omen encountered on the road*, or a series of coincident events that lead to a revelation and the unfolding of meaning is alluded to. Most Christian conversions come through a long series of events which, at the end, are seen and understood: the meaning crystallizes. Meaning then, the very way that meaning comes to us and is received felt interpreted is highlighted.

      These are extremely Greek ideas, and they are also ‘pagan’ ideas: the notion that the *signs given by the world* can be read and interpreted: a very old idea. Sign-reading had always been a very big deal in the ancient world. The interpretation of *big dreams*; the deliberate going out and seeking a *sign* as one was contemplating some important undertaking; going to an oracular site; the observation of the heavenly bodies; and certainly the interpretation of any extraordinary and unusual event that might thrust itself into our awareness: these are all very very *pagan* notions. And they derive from a rather pantheistic view and understanding of both life and *the world*. It is a curious fact that the Hebrews were opposed to ‘sign reading’ yet the Greeks were infused with it. This implies an uneasy contrast between the pantheistic view of the world and the Christian view.

      In no sense did these ideas ‘die’ nor were they superseded by whatever is the opposite of non-pagan notions. In our relatively immediate past — some of the most important documents on the topic of both sign and meaning: that is, Shakespeare — all the traces of ‘The Great Chain of Being’ are there. They are submerged for us (we cannot see them unless they are pointed out and explained), but they were not for those who lived at that time: they were seen and understood directly.

      The Great Chain of Being or scala naturæ is a classical conception of the metaphysical order of the universe in which all beings from the most basic up to the very highest and most perfect being are hierarchically linked to form one interconnected whole. Although this notion was viewed in various ways from antiquity and throughout the medieval period, its philosophical formulation can perhaps best be seen beginning with Aristotle, moving through the Neoplatonists, and culminating in the theological vision of the scholastics.

      The point I wish to make is that we are the *pagan* vessel, or to put it another way we are the pagan lens. It is our very Self with which and through which we interpret. We look out at our world and we are forced to interpret it. But what we are interpreting we cannot ever be absolutely sure. Every viewing lens results in a different picture painted. And yet thee are commonalities between distinct views and these can be compared.

      Finally … there is more to the Easter Bunny than meets the eye. The superficial chocolate coating can be broken-through and the *inner content* brought to the surface! 🙂

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