Sunday, 31 March 2013

Habeas Corpus Christi - The Logic That Led Me To Christ

Today is Easter Day, when we remember the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this was a major factor in my conversion.

I need to explain the background. I did not grow up in a Christian home. My exposure to Christianity was through a brief membership of the Scouts - so I associated church with the St George's Day and Remembrance Day parades and it was all about looking neat and smart.

At secondary school we did have Religious Education. In my first year our teacher was an evangelical (and also took us for one PE lesson). He seemed different to other teachers, in a positive way, and it was only later that I realised what an influence he had. He gave us all Gideons New Testaments. I would read it, but be confused.

He left - we were told in assembly he was becoming a monk (he was actually becoming a pastor) - and another teacher took over RE. His approach was different. As he would remind us, when we aay "Jesus is alive", we don't mean that Jesus rose from the grave or that even a ghost of Jesus appeared to people. His example was that we might say that George Gershwin is alive, but by that we don't mean you can meet Gershwin, but just that when his music is played, he lives on in that. And in the same way, when Jesus's teachings are followed, he lives on in the teachings. Nothing more than that. Good people might earn their place in Heaven, and Jesus would be there, but just as a good man. Nothing more to Jesus than that.

And after school was sixth form college, where everything happened. I got bullied badly - the worst was what was called the "Ham-hoist"* which involved grabbing my legs unexpectedly and throwing me to the ground. I put my back out being Ham-hoisted once.

[* To annoy me, some people called me "Ham", which I now know is a Biblical name]

Some bullying was - with hindsight - funny. Like the "Wanted: Dead or Alive. Preferably Dead" posters of me that were put up one day.

And the only friends I made were in the CU. I thought they were nice people, even if they believed weird things.

At the same time my great-uncle, whom I was close to, was dying from lung cancer caused by years of exposure to asbestos. And he ended up becoming part of an evangelical Baptist church which was run by the dad of one of the men in the CU. One moment stood out in all this.

My great-uncle was an orchid expert, and built up an impressive collection. One day, he set the heating in his greenhouse wrong and the orchids all died. Years of work gone to waste, with no time to build up a new collection. I was upset by this and mentioned this to the people in the CU.

A few days later, his pastor turned up with an orchid for him!

I also joined Mensa. And there was a little article about how quantum physics can prove life after death. Intrigued - I was into physics after all, and enjoyed reading about quantum physics - I wrote off for details, unaware it was the spiritualists.

I absorbed what I read, encouraged by seeing teachings from beyond the grave by Silver Birch, and moved by the knowledge that everyone lives forever.

Christianity? Pah! As it was explained, the Gospels were written in the fourth century by the Catholic Church to back their teachings.

Something didn't ring true. I inquired about judgment, whether someone like Adolf Hitler would be punished for his actions in his life, and was informed that no, there is no-one to do the judging. No God there to do any judging.

And then there was a thing about spirits coming from beyond the grave, and how they can read the minds of living people. And if a religious person encountered one of these spirits it would tell them what they wanted to hear - that God exists.

Hang on a sec! If a spirit tells a religious person what they want to hear, rather than the truth, what is the evidence that these spirits are telling everyone what they want to hear? Why believe anything they say if they give one message to one person, one to another?

Is that all the world beyond can do? Send us disembodied politicians??!!

And then there was the bit about Jesus' resurrection, which blew it all apart. One of the booklets I received was informing me that Jesus did appear as a spirit, and all that was needed was for one of the disciples to go inside the tomb and see Jesus' body lying there. If only, if only, that had happened then all this stuff about Jesus being physically resurrected would have been knocked on the head, and we would have another moral teacher, but no Church - especially not the Roman Catholic church.

Going to local libraries and reading books in the religion section made me realise that the New Testament was not written in the fourth century but was much older. Something must have happened.

Reading the New Testament accounts I learned that people did find the tomb empty - Peter (Luke 24:12) along with John (John 20:5-8). What had happened?

Maybe they went to the wrong tomb. But Joseph of Arimathea owned the tomb (Luke 23:53-46) and Ms Magdalene observed the location (Mark 15:47). Hmm, but surely she would remember which one? And even if she didn't, she could go to Joseph and say "I can't find the tomb". In addition, wouldn't it be an odd coincidence if you go to the wrong tomb and find it empty with just some linen cloths that had been used for a burial there?

And even then, supposing the disciples did make an awful mix up, considering that Pilate put a guard on the tomb (Matt 27:62-66). Pilate knew where the tomb was, and if the disciples did start going around declaring Jesus had risen from the dead, all he needed to do was produce the body.

Also note that the guards were still there when the Maries went to the tomb (Matt 28:1-4) which made finding the right tomb easy.

Maybe the disciples - who didn't believe Jesus would rise - stole the body. The interesting thing about this is that the Pharisees were aware of Jesus's prediction that He would rise and suspected a ruse by the disciples. Faced with a group of simple peasants, should we really think that a group of tough Roman soldiers would wet their tunics and run away?

The other factor for me was the growth of the church. It is hard to keep a conspiracy secret. I am amazed by those who believe that the Moon landings were a conspiracy. Someone would squeal. And conspiracy theories draw in a cast of thousands who have to act against their best motives.

The Moon landings provide an example. A couple of years ago I chatted with a man who believed they were a hoax. And I noted that Russian craft have observed the landers from lunar orbit. Ah yes, but the Russians were in on it as well.

Really? There was a space race between the USA and the USSR, and the USSR knew that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never stepped foot on the Moon but - for some unfathomable reason - chose to let the USA take the glory. Why, for crying out loud?

If the disciples had stolen the body, one of them would have spoken out under the persecution that followed. There would be a record of a Jewish sect, and one of them saying "It was all a practical joke that got out of hand" or "It was all Peter's idea. He's the ringleader". If the evidence existed that would have stopped the early Church in its tracks, why wasn't it produced?

While I was coming to my conclusion, my great-uncle died in the week before my 18th birthday, unaware that I was about to be converted. It happens like that. The pastor's son who was such a huge influence on me didn't see me come to faith as we had finished college and it would be 20 years before we met again.

By that October I was about to start at Oxford University - at Corpus Christi College - and knew I had to act on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. It cannot be just an interesting pub quiz answer. It has to be more. And it was the current Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones', appendicitis which pushed me to my final step of converting.

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