... I think there are more plausible explanations for the fact that Jesus’ followers found ‘his’ tomb to be empty on the morning after the Sabbath, and that later on some of those followers decided that they had encountered him — as recorded in questionable stories written down decades later in a different language.
Okay, so he wants to be a Christian but he doesn't want to believe that anything "really happened" with respect to Jesus' tomb being found empty or that there's anything grounded in reality when it comes to the eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus alive again as a flesh-and-bones person after his death by crucifixion.
So why, if someone thinks that the resurrection of Jesus is a "misunderstanding" rather than the central claim of the Christian faith on which everything hinges, should we call ourselves Christians and soldier on for this "misunderstanding" (bearing in mind that predecessors and contemporaries have given their lives for this "misunderstanding") with "ample reason to celebrate Easter." If it's a "misunderstanding," a "mistake" that can be cleared up by other, more sensible, rational and enlightened means, why participate in liturgies that say otherwise? And why would anyone be willing to suffer and die for this claim when, after all, it's a mistake? (If the martyrs had only known the truth, it would have saved them a lot of trouble!)
Here's the rationale for soldiering on offered by "The Questioning Christian":
The Resurrection misunderstanding catalyzed both a belief system and a social organization. For nearly two millennia, that belief system and that organization have provided inspiration and assistance to billions of people in helping with the continuing creation of the universe.
Not all of that assistance and inspiration have been positive by any means. But we do seem to do our best work in that area when we try to follow the Summary of the Law that was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. The Summary’s simple rules of thumb seem to capture something fundamental about the universe. Their utility gives us plenty of reason to try to follow Jesus simply because of what he taught, and because of his extreme faithfulness to what he saw as his call from the Creator.
So the fact that "the Resurrection misunderstanding catalyzed both a belief system and a social organization" makes celebrating Easter worthwhile. And perhaps that also makes it worth dying for a misunderstanding (if one is pressed to such unfortunate lengths).
This begs an important question that a questioning Christian should surely ask: how in the world did a "misunderstanding" - and a "resurrection misunderstanding" at that - so successfully catalyze and establish a belief system and social organization that could withstand almost 2,000 years of history, much less get off the ground in the first place? There were other pretenders to the title "Messiah" in and around the time of Jesus. They were killed by the might of the Roman empire, just like Jesus was. And, just like Jesus' disciples, the followers of these false Messiahs faced a choice: carry on the cause of their now dead leader by finding someone to succeed him, or abandon the cause as a failure.
In contrast to other contemporary cases, Jesus' followers claimed that their leader had been raised bodily from the dead. They didn't try to find a new leader, nor did they abandon their cause. Instead, they proclaimed that their Lord was bodily alive again after bodily death. And they proclaimed this message even though doing so would be regarded as ridiculous by Greek and Roman philosophy and religion, and preposterous or even heretical by the theological norms of Judaism in Jesus' day.
But perhaps we don't have to face such questions of history (which are comprehensively addressed by N. T. Wright in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God). Instead, we can circumscribe the significance of Jesus within the limits of (practical) reason alone. All we have to do is embrace the teachings of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus may be a "misunderstanding," but it's a worthy "misunderstanding," because, according to "The Questioning Christian," "the heart of Jesus' teaching" is what "capture[s] something fundamental about the universe."
It may be true that Jesus' teachings "capture something fundamental about the universe." But it's worth noting that hyper-intelligent atheists like Friedrich Nietzsche would find such a claim ludicrous at best. For atheists like Nietzsche, nothing about Jesus' death and the "misunderstanding" of his resurrection in any way vindicates his teachings. Instead, they serve as examples under the heading "Misguided" or even "Sick." And if "The Questioning Christian" is right, he's conceded the key point, for if the resurrection is a misunderstanding, then Jesus is dead. And so "The Questioning Christian" gives the Nietzscheans and atheists everywhere just the opening they need to say: "God is dead. And we make our way through life as our preferences - and our might - allow us."
There are other problems with this position for accepting the resurrection as a misunderstanding. Jesus wasn't the only good moral teacher of his day. Indeed, his moral teachings, taken by themselves, are hardly unique. So why not establish churches in honor of other rabbis and moralists of that era and worship in their names? Indeed, why not do so with figures closer to our own time whose life, witness, words, and example are religiously inspiring, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Surely, any claims that Dr. King has been raised from the dead constitute a misunderstanding, but we can overlook such a misunderstanding on account of the fact that his teaching and preaching are so inspiring and relevant for our lives.
C. S. Lewis' observation is appropriate : "If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference."
And it doesn't help to cite Jesus' "extreme faithfulness" if the reward for that faithfulness is that he's dead. It's hardly an inspiring moral example to say to people: "Look what happens when you're 'extremely faithful' to God like Jesus was: you get tortured and crucified for it. Now go out and live like Jesus!" If Jesus' "extreme faithfulness" was not vindicated by resurrection in a real, historical, and bodily sense, then being faithful to such a "god" would be sado-masochistic madness.
Luke Timothy Johnson is right: "The most important question concerning Jesus … is simply this: Do we think he is dead or alive?" If we say that the resurrection is a misunderstanding, we are saying that the central claim of the Christian proclamation from the days of the early Church to our own times is false. It's a lie because, in reality, Jesus is dead. And so we Christians worship a dead Christ.
If that's true, I have better things to do with my time, talents, and treasure.