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Foolishness, Martin Luther King Jr and the Resurrection

[ by Charles Cameron — from MLK via St Basil the Great to Mullah Nasruddin ]

Three lines from the Apostles Creed locate the Resurrection between a descent into hell and an ascent into heaven. These lines are worth pondering in concert:

He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,

In what world of three worlds are these three utterances, so poetically juxtaposed, credible as declarative propositions?


He is risen!

Bach’s Easter Oratorio, with Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra:


Martin Luther King Jr gently lays out the liberal / modernist perspective on the Resurrection:

The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?

The root of our inquiry is found in the fact that the early Christians had lived with Jesus. They had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form. But it must be remembered that before the doctrine was formulated or the event recorded, the early Christians had had a lasting experience with the Christ. They had come to see that the essential note in the Fourth Gospel is the ultimate force in Christianity: The living, deathless person of Christ. They expressed this in terms of the outward, but it was an inner experience that lead to its expression.


The Jesuit priest Fr James Schall defends that outward interpretation, as found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, taken for dogmatic purposes as declarations of fact:

To the wise Greeks, as St. Paul tells us, the whole aura around Christ’s death and resurrection seemed to be “foolishness.” And it is foolishness unless considerable evidence is found showing that something astonishing was in fact going on. This evidence is basically the testimony of the women and men who attested to the fact that Christ did rise again. This is the same Christ whose death on the Cross they had witnessed a few days before.


To take these declarations as reporting historical fact, it may help to have an upside-down worldview — that of the wisdom of the fool. Appropriately, this year Easter is celebrated on April Fools Day. Indeed, Fr Schall opens his piece from which I quoted above by noting that fact, then moves to a discussion of Christ himself as a Fool:

A tradition exists about “Christ the Fool.” It probably originates from when Pilate sent Christ to see Herod. Herod was anxious to see him. See him do what? See him perform. He had heard much about this man and his miracles. So naturally the king wanted to see what Christ could do; he wanted a private show to entertain the court. In response, Christ was simply silent.

Christ, we might say, played the naïf for Herod.


Scripture declares how a naturalistic worldview perceives the eruption of God’s wisdom into this world as folly, and vice versa:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.


the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

and, in an almost tongue-twisting formulation:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.


All of which leads Christians to imitate the foolishness of Christ:

We are fools for Christ’s sake

That too is St Paul, writing of himself and his contemporaries, followers of the pattern set by Christ — and his message has echoed down the centuries among those who wish to imitate that pattern closely:

One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference.


In the Orthodox tradition — in which, this year, Easter and the Resurrection will be celebrated next Sunday — the foolishness of saints is a recurrent story. As I noted, quoting from the National Catholic Register in an earlier post:

In Russian history the greatest of the “holy fools” was Basil the Blessed, a man so revered that the famous Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square next to the Kremlin was named in his honor. Basil walked through Moscow wearing nothing more than a long beard. He threw rocks at wealthy people’s houses and stole from dishonest traders in Red Square.

Few doubted Basil’s holiness. Tsar Ivan the Terrible feared no one but Basil. Basil was also given to eating meat on Good Friday. Once he went to Ivan’s palace in the Kremlin and forced the tsar to eat raw meat during the fast saying, “Why abstain from eating meat when you murder men?” Countless Russians died for much less but Ivan was afraid to let any harm come to the saintly Basil.


I don’t suppose one could speak of left and right wing parties under the Terrible Ivan, but evcen if one could, I don’t think St Basil’s approach would fit either description — he’s acting in a manner that is plain contrary to all sane opinion — and indeed, the term “Contraries” is applied by anthropologists to trickster shamans and holy foots in many traditions. Interestingly, in Sufism the “path of blame” has at times been highly esteemed — its practitioners, like the Russian Holy Fools, draw blame on themselves to awaken those around them while subverting their own propensity to take pride in how “spiritual” they are.


Mullah Nasruddin really didn’t want to loan his donkey to a neighbor.
My brother borrowed him yesterday and hasn’t brought him back, the Mullah said..
Just then, the donkey brayed.
Who are you going to believe, the Mullah asked hastilyy — me or a donkey?

Now, who in that little vignette is more of an ass?

5 Responses to “Foolishness, Martin Luther King Jr and the Resurrection”

  1. Jim Gant Says:

    Charles, This is one of my favorite posts of all-time! I read for several hours each morning and then write down my thoughts in a journal. Here is what I wrote this year on Easter:
    Each day is a miracle. Today is the miracle of all miracles. The day that changed all things for all time. Today is the greatest miracle in the history of histories, the day that we all put our trust and faith. Today is the very foundation of the universe. For if it happened, it changes everything. If it did not, nothing matters. I, for one, believe. I, for one, know.
    Holy Father, make us all one even as You and the Lord Jesus are one – You in Him, and Him in You – and us in You all, that the world may believe that You sent Jesus Christ. – John 17:21
    Take care and march on!
    Your friend,

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, Jim.
    Here’s the poem I wrote that accompanies that piece. I don’t often post such things on ZP, but just between the two of us, on this occasion — it’s a bit twisty, as I’lll explain below:

    He is Risen!

    This bag follows me around like a shadow:
    it contains my urine
    and if I summon up a spiritual perspective
    it serves to remind me
    I am a body, natural, imperfect,
    with waste to be disposed of,
    not some spiritual entity, perfect, incorruptible,
    all intellect and will..
    I thus embody paradox,
    and take refuge in the Creed of Aristotle:
    If A, then not Not-A.
    He descended into hell;
    on the third day He rose again from the dead;
    He ascended into heaven

    and here’s my explanation, which may help:

    That’s a sneaky-snaky one, eh?
    The first stanza sets up the paradox. The trope of the body being a bag of shit is found in Kabir, for instance, a terrific Indian poet in the tradition of Rumi and Hafiz, and in François Villon, pretty much France’s founding poet. My leg-bag is a modern variant. Well within the great poetic tradition. And the spiritual intuition proving the naturalist hypothesis and vice versa — pure Jordan Peterson, and good theology.
    SO the second stanza takes up the discomfort of living the paradox, angel / animal, and resolves it with Aristotle — essentially the secular equivalent of a creed, the basic statement of pure logic — if you’re one thing, you’re not another.
    Only problem — the Catholic creed, with three statements in a row, one which proclaims resurrection from the dead framed by two, in one of which there is a descent into hell, in the other an ascent into heaven. Very tidy, very symmetrical. And if you think about it, if the two outer lines are true and there is a hell and a heaven, then the middle line, with resurrection, makes sense (is logical) too — hell, immortality, heaven, no problem. For the believer.
    I think that’s a pretty neat poem, but not an easy one.
    Just sneaky-snaky..
    What say you, Jim?

  3. Sally Benzon Says:

    I also really enjoyed this post, Charles. Nothing illuminating I can say, but then there isn’t darkness anyway, is there?

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, Sally! Not if you bring the light with you..

  5. Jim Gant Says:

    Ah, the poem and the poet. You cannot have one, without the other…? Since it is just the two of us…:)…I really enjoyed your words (the poem) and the thoughts (belief) behind the words. He is Risen! The world and it’s great dichotomy, its great paradoxes…and our shadows…which belong only to us. We can share many things but shadows? Only if we stand right next to each other can our shadows meet…Yes, there is deep meaning here. Thank you for sharing. I would definitely not want to go head to head with you in a ‘Glass Bead Game’ So I will submit to you (since it is just the two of us) two lines from a poem I recently wrote while reading ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ for the umpteenth time…
    “Unbelievable the words; Unimaginable their meaning”
    Thanks Charles!!! Your friend and ally, Jim

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