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Disagreeing without being disagreeable

 

(RNS) Once I wrote a column titled “The Resurrection of Jesus: Believing the Impossible Is Possible.” I affirmed the assertion, as have billions through the centuries, from the Apostles Creed: On the third day, Jesus rose again and ascended into heaven.

The column generated more than 1,500 comments on the Huffington Post, the majority dismissing even the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection.

“There is no ‘faith’ involved in science. A question is asked ... either data supports a conclusion about the question, or it does not,” one said.

Many comments centered on the unreliability of the biblical texts.

“Outside of the Bible, there’s no credible evidence that Jesus ... even existed.”

The hostile tone, more than content, caught my attention.

“We have brains,” read one. “Sorry if that’s inconvenient for you.”

Ouch.

“Oh, puleeeeze,” read another. “Resurrections, ascensions, transubstantiations, immaculate conceptions are nothing more than the coins of the realm of psychosis!”

Dismissive quips outnumbered reasonable dialogue.

“Talking logic and reason with a religious person is like talking about discrete mathematics to a poodle.”

Double ouch.

What can we learn from these comments?

First, the scientific method, which is useful for measuring the material, is being used to dismiss the spiritual – a radical position not historically taken by scientists.

Even the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Gould said, “Science simply cannot adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.”

Second, it appears the opinions of the Jesus Seminar and fictional books like “The Da Vinci Code” are trusted more than current textual research on the New Testament.

Most date New Testament manuscripts earlier than later, making them, as liberal scholar John A. T. Robinson agrees, “by far the best-attested text of any writing in the ancient world.”

By comparison, the earliest extant copies of Julius Caesar’s works are dated 1,000 years after his death, those of Plato 1,200 years after his death and those of Aristotle 1,400 years after his death. Yet scholars universally accept the authenticity of these manuscripts.

Third, as online commentary replaces in-person, interactive dialogue, civility and reason have given way to caustic, dismissive one-liners. People are entitled to their own opinions, and my column is an opinion editorial. All of us, however, could benefit from ratcheting down the one-liners and beefing up the substance and relevance of our comments.

Actually caring about people we encounter online would be nice. I picked up that spirit from one post: “This has been an interesting thread. I have enjoyed the exchange and sincerely hope I have not offended any religious folks with my dogged skepticism.”

Finally, there seems to be an almost irrational hostility toward belief on the part of unbelievers. I would simply urge unbelievers to consider the fact that throughout the centuries, many of the best and brightest thinkers – even in the sciences – have believed in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

That’s not to say they are right, but it is to say that all believers can’t be dismissed as brainless, deluded psychotics.

We can disagree without being dismissive.