How Easter Won the West and is Still Winning the World
Easter 2014 is less than two weeks away and there’s the temptation to just let it pass without giving it much thought. For most of us Easter takes a back seat to Christmas and is definitely behind Thanksgiving as a family gathering holiday. But most people forget that Easter shines the light on an event that changed world history – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Without the historical resurrection of Jesus there would be no Christianity – perhaps the most influential shaping force in the development of the Western world.
Where did the Western world develop its ideas of freedom of choice and human equality? In his book A Brief History of Thought Luc Ferry, French philosopher and notable proponent of secular humanism, describes the victory of Christianity over Greek philosophy – the dominant worldview during the time of Jesus. Ferry reminds us that the Greek world was fundamentally an aristocratic world, a universe organized as a hierarchy in which the naturally talented and gifted should in principle be ‘at the top,’ while those who weren’t saw themselves occupying inferior ranks. Each person had their lot. (These ideas sound repulsive to a Western modern world.) Ferry then writes:
In direct contradiction, Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men were equal in dignity – an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.
What’s important to note here is that Ferry is not a Christian and is writing from an objective perspective only to explain why we no longer live in a world dominated by Greek philosophy. So what’s Ferry saying? In the Greek world human value was based on knowledge, natural ability, or birth right, but then Christianity came on the scene and said human dignity was intrinsic to all. Ferry is admitting that our modern notions of freedom and human equality came from Christianity.
With an estimated 2.1 billion adherents in the world – it’s hard to say that Jesus and the Church hasn’t impacted the development of the world and isn’t a major factor in the world today. Jesus lived a peasant’s life and never traveled more than 100 miles from his home. He wasn’t rich and in his lifetime his peasant movement may have numbered in the hundreds at most. No one argues that Jesus lived and died. But it was his resurrection that birthed a movement of followers who persevered through the cruel torture and martyrdom of Roman emperor Nero and later emperors. In just three hundred years Jesus’ followers went from a small band of rejects being fed to lions to the dominant population of the Roman Empire.
Two thousand years later we should ask how and why?
Something happened to the body of Jesus that convinced his followers that giving up wasn’t an option. Jesus died? Yes. His body missing? Some have theories. Some historians and scholars hypothesize scenarios where his body was stolen, eaten by dogs, or even misplaced. The New Testament documents Jesus appearing to his disciples and at least five hundred others. Some historians and scholars suggest mass hallucination or an apparent death or cognitive dissonance where the disciples reinterpret events to make sense of their dead leader and his failed movement. Everyone accepts Jesus’ life and death. But it’s the burden of proof for historians and scholars to account for the explosive growth of Christianity and its overwhelming positive influence on the world without the resurrection of Christ.
If Jesus is who he said he was and he did rise again from the dead with a new body illustrating to the disciples a glorious future for mankind and not one of death and evil – then their commitment to spread this message even in the face of death and evil makes great sense. Then the idea that human value is God given and not based on knowledge and natural ability must also spread at all cost.
Their message was that Jesus is alive – he has conquered evil and death and God is doing something new in the world which includes EVERYONE – rich AND poor, Jew AND Gentile, male AND female, cultured AND barbaric.
But if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then it wouldn’t make much sense for his followers to die merely trying to venerate a dead cult leader. And if Christianity died with Jesus – then perhaps our ideas of freedom and human dignity dies with Jesus as well.
But these ideas are not dead – just like Jesus isn’t dead.
He really did rise from the dead and Easter is a reminder that the love of God through Jesus really is winning world.