Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

If Jesus did not exist, the Church would not invent him

If Jesus did not exist, the Church would not invent him

Many readers will have read The Spectator Easter survey — ‘Did Jesus really rise from the dead?’ — with intense interest. I did. The results of a survey posing the simple question, ‘Do you believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead?’ were sharply different from what I expected. Just one avowed atheist was interviewed, plus 22 believers. Yet between almost all of them, including the atheist, a most arresting consensus arose: one which only Charles Moore and perhaps Fergal Keane seemed reluctant to join.

The atheist, Richard Dawkins, put it like this: ‘If the Resurrection is not true, Christianity becomes null and void and [Christians’] life, [Christians think], meaningless.’ St Paul (quoted by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor) put it like this: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.’

Three cheers, then, for both Dawkins and Paul. For, given how difficult it is for most people today to believe that though all other humans die, there is one, Jesus, who rose from the dead, you would expect modern Christians to duck or fudge this extraordinary claim. You would expect them to seek ways of maintaining their faith in the absence of certainty about the literal truth of the Resurrection. But with a rigour which I found admirable, The Spectator’s believers were not ducking or fudging.

One by one, Christian respondents followed the Dawkinian/Pauline line. ‘If it’s not true, what’s the point?’ remarked Edward Stourton. ‘There is no other way I can make sense of what has been written in the New Testament,’ was the response of Father Michael Holman, SJ. ‘Remove the Resurrection and you remove the heart of Christianity,’ said the Reverend Nicky Gumbel. Christopher Howse thinks that ‘otherwise, we are all sunk’. Cliff Richard is sure that ‘the validity of the Christian faith stands or falls by the Resurrection’.

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