At Easter, Christians bear witness to the Resurrection. But, as The Spectator has discovered, some are more robust than others in their belief — and some prefer not talk about it at all
Easter is the most important feast in the Christian calendar. ‘If Christ be not risen,’ wrote St Paul, ‘then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.’ The Spectator approached politicians, churchmen, media folk and entertainers — and members of its own staff — and asked them a simple question: ‘Do you believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead?’ Some did not answer the question: Tony Blair, Ruth Kelly, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell. Those who did reply gave some surprising answers. The results of our inquiry reveal a remarkable mix of faith, doubt and evasion.
The Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Thursday. Archishop’s assistant: ‘He’s very busy but I’ll see what I can do.’
Friday. Archbishop’s assistant: ‘I’m afraid we don’t take part in compare-and-contrast surveys.’
The Spectator: ‘But we’re not comparing or contrasting anything. Please at least ask him.’
Monday. The Spectator: ‘Any luck with the Archbishop?’
Archbishop’s assistant: ‘Archbishop Rowan said to put him firmly in the “yes” camp. What were the follow-up questions?’
The Spectator: ‘No follow-up questions. Just the one about the Resurrection.’
Tuesday. Another assistant: ‘I’m afraid there won’t be a [further] quote from the Archbishop. Sorry to let you know so close to the deadline!’
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster
‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile’ (I Corinthians xv,17). The Christian message stands or falls by this truth. Both the empty tomb and the witness of those first disciples who saw, ate and conversed with the Risen Christ highlight this. This is not only the core of my faith but it is also the faith of the Church, namely, of those countless millions who since that first Easter Sunday have believed and proclaimed that Jesus is Risen. Therefore, his life and what he promised bring meaning and hope for everyone. What I do at Easter as Bishop is proclaim this truth on behalf of that believing community.
No. 10:‘I doubt we’ll be able to assist.’
The Spectator: ‘It’s a simple enough question.’
No. 10:‘It is a simple question, but that does not mean we’ll be able to help you, but if we are I’ll come back to you.’ Final answer: ‘I am afraid the Prime Minister does not take part in surveys.’
Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald
Yes, of course I believe in the physical resurrection of Christ.
Peter Oborne, political editor, The Spectator
There’s a great deal of compelling evidence that something astonishing happened. The Resurrection caused the apostles to take the path they did after Jesus’s death. The gospel writers were convinced. But you can’t prove it and one is bound to have doubts. You are choosing to believe the unbelievable. That is what faith is about.
Press office: ‘I am not going to be able to help you. I’ll have to get a colleague to call you back.’ The colleague did not call back.
Spokesperson: ‘Ruth Kelly will not be able to take part in this survey.’
George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow
Yes, I believe in the Resurrection. I believe God restored the life of Jesus of Nazareth and took him to his bosom. The example of suffering and sacrifice followed by vindication is central to my religious belief.
The Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
His assistant: ‘The Archbishop is away today, I don’t know if I’ll see him at all today. Maybe not tomorrow either. I understand that you’ve got a statement from the Bishop of Oxford. I don’t know what he said, but I’m sure he speaks for all of us. Goodbye.’
The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford
Yes. I believe that the tomb was discovered empty and that Jesus was raised as what St Paul calls “a spiritual body” (I Corinthians xv,44). This is not a miracle like any other but comparable only to the creation of the world ex nihilo and its transmutation into glory at the end of time. It can only be depicted in symbolic terms, hence the unsatisfactory nature of so much over-literalistic Western painting and the spiritual power of the Orthodox icon of the Anastasis.
I like to believe it. No, I do believe it, and I believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I was brought up as a very strict Greek Orthodox. I don’t think about it much. I don’t intellectualise it. I am very pagan that way.
PA: ‘I’m afraid it’s a no comment. He’s not going to do this.’
Edward Stourton, broadcaster and author, most recently, of John Paul II: Man of History
Yes. I am pretty liberal in most Catholic matters, but I am old-fashioned about the Resurrection, because if it’s not true, what’s the point? Actually, it’s a non-controversial belief. If God intervenes in human history, there is absolutely nothing peculiar about his raising his son from the dead.
Fr Michael Holman, SJ, Provincial of the British Jesuits
The Church believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and I do too. There is no other way I can make sense of what has been written in the New Testament by those who encountered the Risen Jesus themselves. Every bit as important for my faith, though, is the faith of countless men and women from those earliest times to the present who have lived the life of love that Jesus taught to the very limit, and who have even been prepared to look death in the face rather than give up on the Risen Jesus and the Gospel he came to teach.
Nicky Gumbel, parish priest of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Road, London
The Resurrection is the great miracle upon which the whole of Christian faith is founded. Remove the Resurrection and you remove the heart of Christianity.
Fergal Keane, broadcaster
I believe the question is in danger of missing the point. Faith is a mystery and at the heart of it all — for me — is the Resurrection. Did Christ rise from the dead? He did. Do I feel the need to seek the impossible, namely physical evidence? I do not.
Yes. He rose bodily, so you won’t find any bones around. I don’t suppose many people would take ‘physically’ to mean ‘naturally’. The point was rather that, unlike the revivification of the mythical phoenix, Jesus’s resurrection was not just a wonderful thing but was completely above any natural power to perform. Jesus Christ dies and takes up his own life, in union with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Resurrection demonstrates that Jesus has told the truth and has the ability to keep his promises. Otherwise we are all sunk.
Clifford Longley, broadcaster and regular guest on The Moral Maze
The evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ which is recorded in the New Testament, and which the Catholic Church bears witness to, is overwhelming. If God is active in history, then nothing is impossible for him. But I do not know how, and I am still trying to work out why. If everything is possible to God, then couldn’t the redemption of hu
manity have been achieved without the agony, torture and cruel death of Christ in his Passion? I hope one day to understand that mystery a little better, but I do not doubt that it is true.
Keith Ward, Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London, and emeritus student of Christ Church, Oxford
I am certain the apostles had visionary experiences of Jesus after his death. I think these were genuine. But though Jesus appeared in physical form, his mode of existence after death was not in physical space-time as we know it.
Yes. For me the validity of the Christian faith stands or falls by the Resurrection. If it didn’t happen, then all we’ve got is a code of ethics. Good ones certainly, but we need more than ethics to change lives.
Fr Allan White, OP, Prior Provincial of English Dominican Friars
I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection is the fulfilment of the journey the Son of God takes into the alien land of our broken humanity. He enters into the totality of that experience, breaking it open and transforming it from within so that we may share the life he lives from eternity. On the Cross, God shows he loves us, in the Spirit he draws us into that self-giving love, and in the risen body of Jesus he reveals the destiny to which we are called: a true humanity springing from communion with God and free from the wounds and failings which mark us now.
No. People believe in the Resurrection not because of good evidence (there isn’t any) but because, if the Resurrection is not true, Christianity becomes null and void, and their life, they think, meaningless. From this it is grotesquely false logic to conclude that therefore the Resurrection must be true. The alternative — that their religion is indeed null and void — may be unpleasant for Christians to contemplate, but there is no law that says the truth has to be pleasant. And nature does not owe us a meaningful life. It is up to us to make it so.
I believe that the Resurrection was an historical and physical event. The eye-witnesses’ accounts are compelling and so were the authentic reactions to it of the people in Jerusalem and the wider communities. The idea that it could all have been a mendacious conspiracy invented by the disciples seems to me to be an impossibility both spiritually and in the political and judicial setting of that time.’
Yes: he overcame death, body and soul. However, this is a statement of belief, not science. If archaeologists could prove (which they won’t) that they had found the bones of Jesus in Jerusalem, Christianity would still be true. This sounds like a contradictory statement, but I do not think it is.
Stuart Reid, deputy editor, The Spectator
Yes. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, if the Resurrection is not an historical fact, then Christianity is nonsense. As a Catholic, I accept the Church’s teachings on faith and morals. As a sceptic, I fall back on the old prayer: Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.
I believe Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and later appeared to St Peter, the other apostles and over 500 of the brethren, as recorded in St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. This triumph over death is an adumbration of our own entrance into eternal life.
Fraser Nelson, associate editor, The Spectator
It’s what makes a Christian: belief in a stone rolled away, body vanished, death conquered and mankind emancipated. If the verifiable bones of Christ were discovered, you’d have to admit that the Muslims were right, Jesus was a prophet and Christianity was a 2,006-year hoax.
Mary Wakefield, assistant editor, The Spectator
Yes. It’s much easier to imagine that Christ rose from the dead in just a spiritual or metaphorical sense, but it’s also cowardly.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated April 15, 2006