A reader writes:
I am a Christian because I follow Christ before anyone else (not to say I don't believe that we have a lot to learn from the other faiths!), and there must be a reason for that, in my opinion. If Jesus was little more than a uniquely-adept Jewish mystic with a profound experience of the Divine (God-as-"Daddy," a pretty great idea), then while that is profound, it's no reason for me to follow him uniquely as opposed to the path of the Buddha, the Hindu mystics, or the Kabbalah.
I could follow him as one sage among many, but not as something unique.
This is fine, mind you, but let's not kid ourselves by saying that we (or anyone else of any other faith, for that matter) could keep our special spiritual identity in this way. We fall into an amorphous blob of "Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, and the Gita are all saying the same thing!" philosophy, and while that may be good for the Kumbayah campfire, it's not good for serious scholarship in comparative religion (Protherto is making the rounds with this point, thank God).
This is where the Resurrection comes in, I think. I don't believe the early Christians viewed this as a purely spiritual phenomenon (see research into the Semitic Totality Concept for just one reason why), but something real and physical (one of the earliest Christian creeds that we have on record is a bit crude about it, in fact, saying that, in regards to the Resurrection, "the corpse stood up").
It was the thing that separated Jesus from all the other miracle-working Torah commentators of his day (as stated previously, if one just takes Jesus at face value, he's pretty unremarkable). The Resurrection divinizes Jesus and humanizes God (the most amazing part, I think), and as such, makes Christianity unique. To say that there was a first-century Jew wandering the highways with whores and fisherman and breaking the bureaucracy of his religion and drinking like a fiend and bringing God to the masses is one thing. To say that it was God that was doing all that is quite another.
Therein lies Christianity's real trump card.
It's not that we have a unique experience of God, it's not that we have a monopoly on God, it's not that our ceremonies and rituals are better (they're pretty terrible sometimes). It's that God knows what it's like to be a human being. God eats, drinks, sleeps, cries, gets angry, bleeds, dies, and then shows us that death is not the end. If we're to believe the whole "We are the Body of Christ" bit, too, then that means this mystery is continuing. Our eating, our drinking, our joys, our sufferings, and our deaths are all our participation in the life of God, and God's participation in ours.
If Jesus did not rise, if he really was just chewed up by dogs after the crucifixion, then let's be honest about it, see Christianity for the bankrupt system that it is, and move onward into other faiths of our choosing (I'll probably be bathing in the Ganges.) I can't do this yet, however, because I believe the scholarship doesn't allow it.
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