On March 4th the Discovery channel will premiere James Cameron’s new documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” Purportedly, James Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, provide textual and DNA evidence that Jesus’ tomb not only exists, but that his bones are in it, which definitely throws a kink in the whole ascending to Heaven thing. Cameron also claims that not only is Mary Magdalene buried with Jesus, but a few children as well. A statistician concluded that the odds in favor of the tomb being Jesus’ is 600 to 1. You can read more about the documentary at the Discovery Channel website.
Predictably, many people are upset with the mere notion of this documentary. And while I’m not surprised by the anger, I’m a little confused by it.
I think it would be useful to start this argument by reviewing the concept transubstantiation. This is a concept that many Christians should be familiar with, even if they don’t recognize the name. Transubstantiation refers to the moment during a Catholic Mass when the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus. Here’s what the wiki entry says about this mystery of the Catholic faith:
“When at his Last Supper Jesus said: “This is my body”, what he held in his hands had all the appearances of bread: these “accidents” remained unchanged. However, the Roman Catholic Church believes that, in accordance with what Jesus said, the underlying reality was changed: the “substance” of the bread was converted to that of his body. In other words, it actually was his body, while all the appearances open to the senses or to scientific investigation were still those of bread, exactly as before. The Church holds that the same change of the substance of the bread and of the wine occurs at the consecration of the Eucharist.”
While transubstantiation is pretty much exclusive to the Catholic faith, many other religions and branches of Christianity hold similar beliefs which allow them to transcend the physical world to reach towards the realm of the spiritual. Transcendence of the physical is not exclusive to Christianity; it can be found in all religions.
So what would it matter if science proved that Jesus’ body was actually buried somewhere in Jerusalem? As transubstantiation shows us, spiritual faith is already quite capable of distinguishing between the earthly and the spiritual, so why would this be any different? His body’s in Jerusalem, but that body is merely an accidental.
The main problem with many people of faith is that they are so enamored with the dogma of their particular religion that they forget about the spiritual aspect. They worship the institution more than the actual spirituality that it espouses, which leaves them unable to deal with change, because change threatens their whole system of belief. If we found out that Jesus had been married and was a father, would that in some way lessen the teachings of the gospels?
I’m borrowing slightly from Cornel West here, but believers can be broken into two groups: dogmatic believers and Socratic believers. Dogmatic believers are violently defensive about every aspect of their religion. Any inquires into their religion are viewed as adversarial and antagonistic. Dogmatic believers not only actively attempt to obstruct and frustrate efforts to test the ideological standpoints of their faith by outsiders, but they are also reticent to engage in spiritual introspection and self-examination. Any type of change is viewed as bad.
Socratic believers are interested in exploring and testing the central tenets of their faith. While change may not always be easy to accept, a Socratic believer is capable of dealing with change because they remain constantly aware that there is always new information to be learned and assimilated. Thus, the ideology and spirituality of a Socratic believer is perpetually evolving in response to experience.
I also think that too many people are confused about what religion is meant to do. I’ll break it down for you: Science shows us the intricacies of how the world works by way of the scientific method. Science is all about observation, theories, and repeatable experiments. On the other hand, religion and spirituality inform us about the human experience. Religion and spirituality propose an explanation for why we are here, and as a people, what we are meant to do, which are things that science can never address.
I’m actually pretty interested in seeing this new documentary. I’m fairly positive that it won’t change my outlook of the spiritual, regardless of whether or not it proves Jesus had a passel of kids, but you never know. Plus, my spirituality is sufficiently strong enough that it can’t be threatened by the likes of the director of “Piranha II: the Spawning.”