March 10, 2010

Watergate and the Resurrection of Christ

In his book Loving God, Chuck Colson recounts his experiences inside of the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. He discusses how even though the cover-up technically went back to the June, 1972 break-in, the real cover up – the one which should be obviously illegal to everyone involved – began on March 21, 1973 and ended on April 8, 1973. A small group of people, all fiercely loyal to their leader, President Nixon, could not keep a conspiracy going for longer than two weeks. Despite of all the power available to them, and all that they had sacrificed in their commitment to President Nixon, within a few weeks they jumped ship one-by-one and struck a deal to attempt to cover themselves. He writes:

Think of what was at stake: Each of us involved – Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, and the rest – believed passionately in President Nixon. To enter government service for him we had sacrificed very lucrative private law practices and other endeavors; we had sacrificed our family lives and privacy; we had invested our whole lives in the work, twenty-four hours a day if necessary…

Think of the privileges: a call to the military aide’s office would produce a limousine or jet airplane; the National Gallery delivered classic paintings to adorn our office walls; red-jacketed stewards stood in waiting to serve food and drink twenty-four hours a day; private phones appeared wherever we traveled; secret service men were always within sight – as many as we wanted.

Yet even the prospect of jeopardizing the President we’d worked so hard to elect, of losing the prestige, power, and personal luxury of our offices was not enough incentive to make this group of men contain a lie. Nor, as I reflect today, was the pressure really all that great; at that point there had certainly been moral failures, criminal violations, even perjury by some. There was certain to be keen embarrassment; at the worst, some might go to prison, though that possibility was by no means certain. But no one was in grave danger; no one’s life was at stake.
(p. 67)

In many respects, what took place is simply the human instinct for self-preservation and can be witnessed in any number of scenarios where someone is faced with unpleasant consequences if they choose to uphold a lie. Colson then goes on to draw a connection to the events surrounding the resurrection of Christ. If Christ was not raised, and the tomb was empty because the disciples, and 500 others (1 Cor 15:6), had conspired to steal the body and lie about it, why would we expect anything different from them? This was a group of people who had no power, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by upholding the lie, and whose loyalty to their leader, if he was really still dead, meant absolutely nothing. Their persistent confession in the face of torture and death and their zealous evangelistic efforts are incredibly difficult to account for in light of this. While this may be an old and very common apologetic for the resurrection,  it is interesting to see the sociological confirmation in a contemporary event such as Watergate.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, you must come up with an answer to what you do with the resurrection. The historic rise and present existence of Christianity demands it. There is an historical record intact all the way back to a rag-tag group of disciples who maintained that they had been eye-witnesses to the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Jesus (and had spoken to, touched, and eaten with him over a period of 40 days), and who chose to be ostracized, beaten, and killed rather than deny it.

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