Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saintly Zombies?

Saturday morning before I left for work I was online reading about the death of theologian Marcus Borg.

The comments section is usually more informative for me than the actual articles. There one reader praised Borg for having released him from the restraints of biblical literalism.

Just then one of the "difficult to deal with" atheists, that is, a former Christian-turned-atheist, popped up to take issue, and - in my humble opinion - in the most disingenuous way.

One problem which occurred to said atheist was that Matthew 27:52 "has to be taken literally." And he offered this:

ZOMBIES walked around Jerusalem laughing and joking with everyone and buying rounds of beer at the local pool halls for a whole week after Jesus died

And then pithily added, "Only a little child would fall for this nonsense." (Or, I will pithily add, a former-Christian-turned-atheist.)

I think the zombie comment qualifies as a straw man argument. The atheist interlocutor then helpfully added his definition of zombie: "A completely dead corpse which walks."

One wouldn't read Matthew's gospel and get that, but obviously the intent is to shock and offend. Totally unproductive, as that former Christian should know.

But there is more.

The Christian-turned-atheist writes:


1. It is impossible for a person to rise from the dead.

2. If they do rise from the dead after being dead for a long time they would have no skin or eyeballs.

3. So the dead people would have to not only rise from the dead but they would have to eat and drink to maintain their normal functions.

4. Even if a miracle happened and all the dead zombies were able to function without food and water they would still need to talk and use energy – and there is absolutely no way to explain this.

Ah, so there lies the problem. Proposition 1 must be taken as indisputable fact for the zombie smear to begin to make sense.

The problem is, conservative Christians don't operate from that mindset.

Allow God the power to miraculous create or recreate and the difficulty disappears.

Likewise, proposition 2 falls with 1. Proposition 3 is a supposition not required by those who take Matthew 27 as factual history if the resurrected dead saints arose in their glorified, perfected bodies. Proposition 4 would have no force whatsoever for a supernatural-minded Christian. The miracle is the explanation.

Now above I characterized this attack as disingenuous, and I did so because, obviously, a former Christian should understand the above.

Even so, conservative Christians are not forced to interpret the incident as crudely as our atheist friend does. In proof of this statement I will bring up the long late Methodist Bible scholar and commentator, Adam Clarke, who wrote concerning this matter:

Some have thought that these two verses have been introduced into the text of Matthew from the gospel of the Nazarenes; others think that the simple meaning is this: - by the earthquake several bodies that had been buried were thrown up and exposed to view, and continued above ground till after Christ's resurrection, and were seen by many persons in the city. Why the graves should be opened on Friday, and the bodies not be raised to life till the following Sunday, is difficult to be conceived. The place is extremely obscure.

A later conservative theologian , Charles Ellicott, in his still useful commentary wrote this on the passage in question:

It is scarcely, perhaps, surprising that a narrative so exceptional in its marvellousness, and standing, as it does, without any collateral testimony in any other part of the New Testament, should have presented to many minds difficulties which have seemed almost insuperable. They have accordingly either viewed it as a mythical addition, or, where they shrank from that extreme conclusion, have explained it as meaning simply that the bodies of the dead were exposed to view by the earthquake mentioned in the preceding verse, or have seen in it only the honest report of an over-excited imagination.

Both of the above Bible scholars were believers in the miraculous. Yet they felt it necessary to give what others thought about this difficulty. Yes, even conservative Christians can and often do admit that the books of the Bible have suffered at the hands of copyists and editors.

When I was a young Christian this passage troubled me greatly. I tended to lean towards a corruption of the original text. As I became more liberal in my outlook, I started leaning towards the mythical (but symbolically significant) view. Either way, I didn't allow such difficulties to shake my faith. Nor should they shake one's faith.

My main point in this long post is that such crude attacks are pointless. The only generate ill feelings. Further, biblical literalism is no less silly coming from an atheist than a fundamentalist Christian. 


  1. The insistence that all Christians take the bible literally and therefore may be rebutted is a frustrating position of many atheists (myself, in the past, included). Fundamental atheists and fundamental christians are both groups that share far more in common that they would like to admit, I feel. If I see a straw man argument then I respectfully withdraw myself from the conversation; no good ever comes from it!

    1. Hey, thanks for your comment. I've long thought that fundamentalism appeals chiefly to a certain personality type. When these folks do throw off the chains of one set of beliefs they carry those same personality traits into their new mindset - thus we have fundamentalist atheists.