Easter Morning, 2017
Immortality or Resurrection
By Peter K Bullock, MDiv, MS
In 399 BC Socrates, the classical philosopher and considered one of the Founders of Western Philosophy, was executed due to his moral and ethical stance that “might does not make right.” The form of execution was to drink poison hemlock. While dying, surrounded by disciples and friends, he spoke of the gradual numbing of his legs and torso due to the poison. Those around him were weeping and grieving and it has been said that he comforted them, for after all, in good Hellenistic theology, he had a “soul” and it was imperishable and immortal and that he “was going to a far better place (ie, eternal life).
Human beings have in all cultures had a notion of life after death. Neanderthals buried their dead with food, weapons and favorite items to accompany them in the life to come. Vikings believed in Valhalla where warriors who died with weapons in hand would drink and be merry in the great hall of Odin. Native Americans did the same, believing one goes to The Great Mystery (eg, Happy Hunting Ground). Muslims believe they go to Paradise and some (the radical variety) believe if martyred they will be greeted by 70 virgins.
Christians influenced by the same Hellenistic philosophy of an imperishable and immortal soul believe, perhaps due to the universal angst about mortality also believe in a Soul. Evangelicals, a relatively new name, brought about to distance from Fundamentalists but not much has changed in their belief system (“you can’t put new wine into old wine skins”). They, like Socrates (not Christian and dead 400 years before Jesus who was also executed for his moral and political stance), believe in having an immortal soul.
The ancient Jews of whom Jesus was one, did not believe in life after death, but they steadfastly believed in a creator God who was the source of all life. The pro life types having to do with abortion don’t seem to be pro life when it comes to the environment (the planet is a living entity) or when it comes to bombing brown people, or capital punishment or the use of guns. They would do well to take the scriptures seriously – “God breathed into Adam (Hebrew for human being) (Genesis 2:77 RSV) . . . the breath of life and he became a living being.” We become human (alive) when we take our first breath – as or shortly after we are born – not before.
Comparing the death of Socrates with the death of Jesus; Socrates was calm and comforted his followers. Jesus prayed, “remove this cup from me” and “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Socrates, like many in the western world of Christianity believed he had within him the capability to survive death (eg, immortality). Jesus, on the other hand, knew he did not. Many Christians believe that if they do the right thing, believe the right thing, the soul will be transported immediately to heaven (paradise). In other words, many believe the power to determine their fate lies within themselves. Jesus believed he had no such power, but was willing to trust in God, who created him in the first place. “We are saved by Grace through Faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God – not of ourselves, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8). Socrates believed in the power of his Soul – Jesus trusted in the power of God.
A final note about mortality, about which I frequently ruminate as I approach my 78th year. Recent research found that the most prominent cause of human death on this planet is not war, violence, poverty, famine or disease etc, but simply obesity. One would think that the “pro lifers” would be deeply influenced by the need to maintain a healthy body weight.