Easter … for most any Christian Easter is a central event of the faith. Indeed as a Catholic goes deeper, we often begin to appreciate that most sublime yet shortest of the seasons, the Triduum – the three days – Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Full of meaning, replete with echoes of Heaven, showing the way for our lives, all centering around the death and … Resurrection … of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, our Lord.
Yet for those who are skeptics, who have either never shared any Christian faith, or who have drifted – or even ran – away, Easter is little more than overstuffed bellies, candy drenched bunnies and magical thinking … for these friends and family, could the whole mythos of Easter ever be anything more?
It is this question which we will briefly consider, with Blessed Cardinal Newman as our guide.
Where We are Today
Rarely stated but widely held, in many variations and to different degrees, there is an unstated assumption that underlies much of life today: life is limited to what we see before us, to the material world.
While this unstated premise is hardly new, it has become far more widespread as religious fervor has declined in many formerly Christian societies. First we put the idea of God in a box, handy and convenient when needed, but not intruding into daily life; then gradually even the idea of God becomes a bit unbelievable, then sometime later, as if in a distant and hazy dream, the very thought that there is a part of reality that cannot be touched, that cannot be measured, tested, and quantified, that can not be clearly analyzed seems, well it just seems absurd. With no place beyond our material world there’s clearly no place for God, and our world has become smaller, has settled comfortably into the material world.
Seems quite reasonable, eminently rational.
After all, haven’t the scientific and technological advances of the past few centuries been based on observations, testable ideas, and sound reasoning? Haven’t we learned to believe what it is we can understand, test and measure? Hasn’t the scientific method enabled us to shed the shackles of medieval superstition, enabling us to construct the prosperous, advanced and ever improving lives that are available to so much of the world today?
The short answer is actually “yes”, these approaches have indeed enabled us to advance in so many areas of daily living, to answer so many questions about the world around us, about the material world.
Unfortunately, that is not enough. As good as these ways of thinking have been at answering questions of science and technology, they are actually that bad at answering questions about realities beyond the material, beyond that which we see, beyond the familiar.
Right Questions, Wrong Answers
In a lecture entitled “Christianity and Physical Science” Blessed Cardinal Newman shows that there is no inherent conflict between scientific knowledge and theology.
The one looks at observable data, the other revelation; science develops theories and tests models based on that observable data, theology reasons from the data of revelation; science begins with the world around us and reasons from there, theology begins with the ultimate end (the meaning of life) and reasons towards us; scientific reasoning is primarily inductive and theology primarily deductive.
In short, science and theology start from the opposite ends of almost every question and reason towards each other, applying reasoning techniques particularly suited to each.
Newman observes that understanding both is the most natural way to understand more of reality. Unfortunately for many today – whether as a consequence of the deep seated assumption that reality is all of the material world, or simply thinking that religious ideas are no more real than the Easter Bunny – for many the only facts with any credibility are scientific ones, the only way to reason that’s defensible is as a scientist.
Yet as Cardinal Newman points out, the methods of science are inherently unsuited to reasoning about realities beyond the material world. Most of us suspect something is wrong with this mismatch, but mistakenly conclude that the lack of satisfactory results – that is, reliable religious truths – must show that no such religious truths exist, that the material world is all that truly exists, that religion is nothing more than “magical thinking”.
A First Step
Far more than magical thinking, Easter presents us with astonishing, concrete claims. A man who claimed to be God was killed, and many saw him die, both supporters and enemies. On the third day HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD, and much evidence is presented for this claim. That evidence endures to this day, evidence both historical and living, both concrete (material) and … well, and something more.
Easter presents us with the claims of the most astonishing miraculous act, an act which flies in the face of all natural laws, an act which, if true, is inherently supernatural.
Cardinal Newman observes that “miracles … are of the essence of the idea of Revelation”. In other words, miracles are the best evidence of that which is beyond the material world, that which is beyond nature, the supernatural.
Have we adopted a materialist view of the world, perhaps without even fully deciding to do so? Do we limit our knowledge to the material senses? If we have let our grasp of reality shrink to the merely material, may the miracles of Easter … that endure to this very day … open up the door to the possibilities of more, to the possibilities of a much larger reality, to the possibility of God.