"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Resurrection Of The Body At The Last Judgment - Who On Earth Would Ever Agree To A Heaven Of Misshapen Misfits?

God could have created Man in his image – divinely endowed, rich of spirit, faithfulness, righteousness and compassion – and given him divine looks as well.

As everyone knows, Creation did not work out the way God intended.  Eve tempted Adam, Adam took a bite of the apple, and both were exiled from Paradise.  Not only that, all their descendants were to suffer the same divine exile.  Moreover, if one believes Christian mythology, only after the arrival, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ did they have some hope of salvation.

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No matter what the God of Creation did, things turned out badly. Despite Abraham’s imprecations, God was determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, so far had these cities strayed from righteousness.  Why exterminate the good with the bad, Abraham asked God, when in your infinite power and wisdom you can sort the wheat from the chaff?  No, replied the vindictive, vengeful, and righteous God of the Old Testament.  Such universal condemnation was necessary to send a lesson to the people of Israel that defying the covenant was not acceptable. 

The Israelites however paid little mind to God’s warning and continued to sin, deny righteousness, and pursue venal ignorant ambitions; and so God destroyed the world in The Flood.  While God was open to discussion and listened to Moses about strategy and purpose in the exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt, he decided that extermination was always the better way.  Not only would the seven plagues decimate Egypt and deprive them of their firstborns, it would show Israelites and Egyptians alike his power and glory.

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till nothing went right, and God sent his son to earth to once and for all settle the affairs of the unjust and the sinful.  This time, he didn’t bother with physical destruction and mayhem – the death of his son would be enough to redeem the sins of a sinful world and to offer a divine paradise to which the justified would ascend. 

That too hasn’t worked very well.  Sin and death might have been challenged by Jesus, offering at least a way out of the era of evil which preceded him; but to even the casual secular observer, no improvement in God’s Creation could be seen.  In fact, as Dostoevsky noted in The Brothers Karamazov, Jesus’ replies to the Devil in his Temptation in the desert, offering the mighty and everlasting kingdom of God to all, did more to perpetuate evil than if he had said nothing.   The Church, acknowledging the faithful’s need for ‘mystery, miracle, and authority’ took over, anointed itself as the only descendant of Christ, and went on for centuries to distort Christ’s word and meaning. 

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So not only are we scuffling for a place beside the heavenly throne, a place reserved for us only through God’s grace; not only do we, thanks to Jesus, pay less attention to bread, livelihood, and sustenance and more to divine salvation; but we suffer through an interminably brutish and ugly life.
If God is so powerful, why was it at all necessary for him to create this earthly mess and to devise spectacular but immeasurably ineffective ways to deal with it?  At least he could have had the insight to use metaphor.  Why shouldn't a beautiful body be given to all his people, reflecting as it would, the spiritual beauty within?

It gets more complicated.  St. Paul the Apostle, in his letters to the Romans and Galatians laid out his vision of ordinary resurrection.  The souls of the righteous would at death join Jesus in heaven; but their bodies would be resurrected only at the Last Judgment. The best academic theologians have been unable to justify this very strange idea.  Why wouldn’t a conference of saved souls be enough?  Why must our ugly, wasted, unattractive bodies which we have wished for our entire lives that we never had, join our beautiful souls? The received wisdom is that if Jesus, both divine and human, had both an eternal soul and human body then why shouldn’t we?  Yet in all this careful parsing, meticulous exegesis, and logical deconstruction, these experts have never given a thought to the reality of an ugly heaven.

There is one good thing about the current trend of ‘diversity’.  It focuses on socio-cultural identity rather than individual, personal traits.  One is first and foremost gay, female, black, Latino or ‘othered’ and only later smart, dumb, beautiful, alluring, sexy, manly, compassionate, courageous, etc. The ugliest person can subsume his physical misfortune within these larger, more important, more telling categories of being.  There is no shame in being physically unattractive, without grace or charm, and with no trace of allure or sexual invitation; for it is the social purpose which matters.
This is all well and good; and the ranks of social movements are certainly increased by those with little physical charm but who want to do good.  Social justice is a safe haven for sure.  Social workers did not sign up for the homeless because they were beautiful but because it was the right place for them.

Even the most cursory glance at popular women’s and men’s magazines show that the beautiful people are not social workers or soup kitchen attendants.  They are in Hollywood, on the arms of successful politicians, on yachts or beside Palm Beach swimming pools, at country clubs, on tropical islands, and in Carmel, on Park Avenue, or Rodeo Drive.

If we are honest, then if there really must be a heaven with resurrected bodies, let it please be an assembly of these people, not the pipe-fitters, assembly-line worker, bus drivers, garbage men,  or DMV clerks.   Most of us wonder why Paul couldn’t have left well enough alone and taken Jesus at his word.  A community of the souls of the righteous should be enough to satisfy the new covenant and perhaps even God’s desire to make Creation right.

After one look at one of the most faithful, devout, and obedient members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Plains, Virginia, the first thought of even the most accommodating, compassionate, and tolerant friends is that he looks like a Bassett Hound – great drooping jowls, hangdog look, scurrying, waddling walk, and oversized, teary eyes.  The beauty of his soul does not get through his doggy, obedient wagging.  Why should anyone have to look at this body in heaven when his spiritual, evanescent, beautiful soul would be quite enough?

God’s Creation, for better or worse has always been and always will be stratified.  The beautiful, the attractive, and the elegant are featured in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Persian art.   They are depicted on the frescoes of Pompeii, in marble and bronze.  There are and have always been universal standards of beauty, no matter how deconstructionists debunk the theory.  The women of Ancient Rome, Roman Egypt, Persia, Europe, and Asia have all shared common traits – symmetry, regularity, and above all style.  The classic modern beauty is no different.

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For all the dismissal of beauty as an insignificant, irrelevant characteristic of the human character, it remains essential and undeniable.  It is no accident that the rich and famous, the wealthy, and the favored are more often than not beautiful.  The future DNA marketplace where consumers can purchase bits of the smartest, most talented, most intelligent, and most beautiful people who have gone before will be swamped with e-Bay offers for Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Hedy Lamar, Paul Newman, and Errol Flynn.  Everyone knows that heads turn when a beautiful woman walks through the door – whatever follows is icing on the cake.

Jesus himself is always depicted as a male model – beautiful, perfectly proportioned, emotive, alluring, and ultimately attractive.  For all we know – the Bible does not bother with physical descriptions given the enormity of his mission – he could have been an ugly cretin; but because he was so influential, so dominant, and so important, he must have been beautiful, as attractive as a movie star.

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All of which is to say, what was Paul thinking when he proposed the physical resurrection of the dead at the Last Judgment?  Could anything be less appealing than a heaven crowded with goat-herders, postal clerks, transit workers, and hairdressers?

No one said that faith is ever logical; and one can perhaps forgive Paul – an obvious zealot and true believer – for interpreting Christ’s teachings to suit his particularly curious views on sex, marriage, and fidelity.  Perhaps he found attractive the idea of a heaven populated by billions of bodies of the unwashed faithful, but many good Christians suspend disbelief at this juncture.  Paul could not have possibly meant that they would have to share a heavenly carrel with dark, acned, wall-eyed Carol from Accounting, perhaps the most worthy Christian in all of the K Street secretarial pool, but the ugliest woman in finance.

None of this is to second guess the Bible or to question God’s infinite wisdom.  For all Paul’s devotees and devout evangelical Christians it all makes sense; but to any one slightly more skeptical, one inclined to view both Testaments as myth and not received divine wisdom, the idea of universal bodily resurrection seems fanciful at best.

So, we know both from the Bible and common observation that Creation did not turn out the way Yahweh wanted.  He made a mess of things, decided after eons to try at a final rectification; but as Dostoevsky suggested, he made a mess of that too.  He offered salvation, redemption, and celestial perpetuity, but everyone got only misery, penury, and only the one-in-a-million chance of salvation. 
Worst of all was this weird promise of bodily unification.  Why would anyone who had suffered childbirth, injury, deformity, paralysis, ugliness, and a life without beauty, ever want to be reborn with the same ugly, scarred, pitted body they had unwillingly carried throughout their lives.
Paul thought he he was speaking in hopeful terms when he talked of human resurrection, but he should have looked around the room before he wrote his epistles.

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