October 21st, 2012
06:59 AM ET
The Gospel according to Obama
By John Blake, CNN
President Barack Obama was sharing a pulpit one day with a conservative Christian leader when a revealing exchange took place.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Christian who has taken public stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, had joined Obama for an AIDS summit. They were speaking before a conservative megachurch filled with white evangelicals.
When Brownback rose to speak, he joked that he had joined Obama earlier at an NAACP meeting where Obama was treated like Elvis and he was virtually ignored. Turning to Obama, a smiling Brownback said, “Welcome to my house!”
The audience exploded with laughter and applause. Obama rose, walked before the congregation and then declared:
“There is one thing I have to say, Sam. This is my house, too. This is God’s house.”
Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage.
When Obama invoked Jesus to support same-sex marriage, framed health care as a moral imperative to care for “the least of these,’’ and once urged people to read their Bible but just not literally, he was invoking another Christian tradition that once dominated American public life so much that it gave the nation its first megachurches, historians say.
“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, an evangelical activist group based in Washington that focuses on poverty and social justice issues.
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“It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”
Some see a 'different' kind of Christian
Obama is a progressive Christian who blends the emotional fire of the African-American church, the ecumenical outlook of contemporary Protestantism, and the activism of the Social Gospel, a late 19th-century movement whose leaders faulted American churches for focusing too much on personal salvation while ignoring the conditions that led to pervasive poverty.
No other president has shared the hybrid faith that Obama displays, says Diana Butler Bass, a historian and author of “Christianity after Religion.”
“The kind of faith that Obama articulates is not the sort of Christianity that’s understood by the media or by a large swath of Christians in the U.S.,” says Bass, a progressive Christian. “He’s a different kind of Christian, and the media and the public awareness needs to reawaken to that fact.”
Some Christians, however, still see Obama as the “other.” He doesn’t act or talk like other Christians, says the Rev. Gary Cass, a conservative Christian president of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission.
“I just don’t see or hear in his accounts the kind of things that I’ve heard as a minister for over 25 years coming from the mouths of people who have genuinely converted to Christianity,” says Cass, pastor of Christ Church in San Diego.
Cass says he’s never heard Obama say he’s “born-again.” There’s no emotional conversion story to hang onto.
Obama talks about his faith and attends church, but Cass says that doesn’t mean he’s a Christian.
“Joining a church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. “You can put me in the garage, but that doesn’t turn me into a car.”
The origins of Obama’s faith
The suspicion about Obama’s faith may seem odd at first because he’s written and spoken so much about his spiritual evolution in his two autobiographies, “Dreams of my Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” Other books, like “The Faith of Obama” by Stephen Mansfield, also explore Obama’s beliefs.
Mansfield says Obama is the first president who wasn’t raised in a Christian home. Obama’s mother was an atheist and his grandparents were religious skeptics (Obama’s family has challenged the description of his mother as an atheist. Obama called her “the most spiritually awakened” person he’d ever known, and his sister called their mother an agnostic).
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Mansfield called Obama’s boyhood a “religious swirl. He was exposed to Catholicism, Islam, and strains of Hinduism and Buddhism while growing up in Indonesia during the 1960s.
“In our household, the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology,” Obama said in Mansfield’s book. “On Easter or Christmas Day, my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites.”
Obama became a Christian while he was a community organizer in Chicago. He joined a predominantly black United Church of Christ. The UCC became the first mainline Protestant denomination to officially support same-sex marriage in 2005.
Obama’s faith showed many of the elements of a liberal Protestant church: an emphasis on the separation of church and state, religious tolerance and the refusal to embrace a literal reading of the Bible.
In a 2006 speech before a Sojourners meeting, Obama talked about his approach to the Bible:
“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”
When many people think of Obama’s religious experience in Chicago, though, they cite his exposure to the angry sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and “black liberation theology,” a movement that emerged in the late 1960s and blended the Social Gospel with the black power movement.
Bass, the church historian, says another black pastor shaped Obama’s theology more: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
He attended liberal Protestant seminaries where he learned about the Social Gospel’s concern for the entire person, soul and body.
King once wrote that “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them …is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”
But King and the black church also fused the Social Gospel with an emotional fervor missing from white Protestant churches, Bass says. Other presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were influenced by the Social Gospel, but they weren’t shaped by the black church.
“This is the first time we’re hearing the Social Gospel from the perspective of the black church from the Oval Office. It makes it warmer, more emotive, more communal," Bass says. "There is less fear of linking the Social Gospel with the stories of the Bible, especially the stories of Exodus and Jesus’ healings.”
The emphasis on community uplift - not individual attainment - may strike some Americans as socialist. But the emphasis on community is part of King’s “Beloved Community,” Bass says.
King once wrote that all people are caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.”
“When I listen to Obama, I don’t hear communism, I hear the Beloved Community,” Bass says. “But a lot of white Americans don’t hear that because they never sat in those churches and heard it over and over again. It’s the whole theology that motivated MLK and the civil rights movement.”
Obama is not a Christian, some think
For some, Obama’s actions in the Oval Office seem to contradict Christianity.
Jesus was nonviolent. Obama has ramped up drone attacks in Afghanistan that have not only removed terrorists, but killed civilians.
The Bible talks about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Obama invoked Jesus when he came out in support of same-sex marriage. “The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule," Obama told ABC News during his announcement.
Jesus talked about helping the poor. But he never said anything about creating a massive health care law that taxed the rich to help the poor, some Christians argue.
But Wallis of Sojourners says Obama’s push for health care was a supreme example of Christian faith.
A situation where 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance is “a fundamental Christian problem,” Wallis says.
“Health is such a Gospel issue. Jesus was involved in healing all the time, and to have some people excluded from health care because they lack wealth is a fundamental Christian contradiction.”
Wallis has been one of the most persistent defenders of Obama’s faith. But no matter how much Scripture he and others cite, doubts about Obama’s faith have followed him throughout his political career.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson once said that Obama distorted the traditional understanding of the Bible “to fit his own world, his own confused theology.” The Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, publicly questioned Obama’s faith, then later apologized.
Conservative Christian books and websites are filled with stories of Obama allegedly trying to suppress the nation’s Christian heritage.
The Rev. Steven Andrew, author of “Making a Strong Nation,” says Obama is trying to change the national motto from “In God we Trust” to “Out of Many, One,” and he’s ordered the Pentagon to remove biblical verses from its daily report.
“That’s the most serious thing someone can do to a nation, trying to separate a nation from God,” he says. “He seems to be trying to change the Christian laws our Founding Fathers made.”
Andrew says Obama is actually an enemy of Christianity. In his book, Andrew argues that the Founding Fathers were Christians who created a “covenant Christian nation” and calls for a “national repentance.”
“I think he’s an anti-Christ,” Andrew says. Cass, of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, says Obama’s emphasis on helping the poor through social justice isn’t Christianity.
Christians who talk about “social justice” are often practicing “warmed-over Marxism,” Cass says.
“Do I believe in caring for the poor and oppressed? Yes. But you don’t do it along the lines of communistic redistributing.”
Obama’s support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights also disqualifies him from being a Christian, Cass says.
“It’s the most pro-abortion administration in the history of America. On every social issue – the sanctity of life and of marriage between men and women – Obama is on the wrong side of every moral issue,” he says.
He says a progressive Christian is a contradiction.
“No Christian says I believe in Jesus Christ and I reject the Bible,” Cass says. “These progressives who say they’re Christians are liars. They’re using Christianity as a guise to advance their own agenda.”
Cass says he doesn’t know what Obama believes.
“He’s conflicted,” Cass says. “He has Muslim sympathies from his upbringing."
How progressive Christianity lost the public square
There was a time when Obama’s brand of Christianity would have been understood by millions of Americans, historians say.
The Social Gospel and progressive Protestantism dominated the American religious square from the end of the 19th century up to the 1960s. At times, the traditions blended together so seamlessly that it was hard to tell the difference.
The Social Gospel rose out of the excesses of the Gilded Age in the 1880s, when urban poverty spread across America as immigrants crammed into filthy slums to work long hours in unsafe conditions.
Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor in a New York slum, urged the church to take “social sins” as seriously as they took individual vices. Churches began feeding the poor and fighting against other social ills.
“The notion that religious people should be about feeding the poor and helping the homeless is a carryover of the Social Gospel,” says Charles Kammer, a religion professor at Wooster College in Ohio. The Social Gospel was adopted by many Protestant churches in the late 19th and early 20th century, says Bass, the church historian. Some of the Social Gospel churches grew popular because they provided the poor with everything from English classes to sewing instructions and basketball leagues.
“The first American megachurches were liberal, Social Gospel urban churches,” Bass says.
The Social Gospel, though, sparked a backlash from a group of pastors during World War I. They were called fundamentalists. They published a pamphlet listing the “fundamentals of the faith:” Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, Adam and Eve.
But the fundamentalists lost the battle for public opinion during the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was tried for violating a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution.
Though Scopes lost, fundamentalist Christians were mocked in the press as “anti-intellectual rubes,” and a number of states suspended pending legislation that would have made teaching evolution illegal, says David Felten, author of “Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.”
The trial drove fundamentalists underground where they created a subculture, their own media networks, seminaries and megachurches, he says.
That subculture thrives today, Felten says, and has infiltrated the political arena. It has created an “alternative intellectual universe” that denies science, rational thought – and any beliefs that violate their definition of being a Christian, Felten says.
“They have millions of adherents who believe in a literal six day creation and a literal Adam and Eve – so it’s not a stretch to believe that President Obama is a Kenyan-born secret Muslim bent on destroying the country,” Felten says.
Progressive Christians eventually lost the messaging wars to this fundamentalist subculture, Bass says. Their nuanced view of faith couldn’t compete with the “spiritual triumphalism” of conservatives.
“If you get up and say we’re right and we have the truth, then you have a powerful public message,” she says. “They have a theological advantage in the public discourse. It’s comforting to have things clear, to have things black and white.”
The result today is that the Protestant tradition that shapes much of Obama’s Christianity is fading from public view.
The share of Protestant Christians in the United States has dropped below 50% of the population, according to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
White mainline Protestants make up only 15% of the nation’s population, the survey revealed. The study also found that the fastest growing "religious group" in the country is people who are not affiliated with any religion.
Another generation of Christians, though, may bring a new version of progressive Christianity back.
The lines between younger conservative Christians and progressives are blurring, says Marcia Pally, author of “The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.”
Pally spent six years traveling across America to interview evangelicals. She says her research revealed that more than 60% of young evangelicals support more governmental programs to aid the needy, as well as more emphasis on economic justice and environmental protection issues.
“What’s interesting is that these values, associated with Obama and the black Protestant tradition are now also the values of a growing number of white evangelicals,” she says.
Her perspective suggests that Obama’s faith may be treated by history in two ways:
He could be seen as the last embodiment of a progressive version of Christianity that went obsolete.
Or he could be seen as a leader who helped resurrect a dying brand of Christianity for a new generation.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1Cr 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
"Don't be stupid."
SO0o if our bodies are God's buildings just how small does God and His kind have to be in order to inhabit our body-like buildings?
Some of these comments from self-described Christians make it clear that people pick their religion to fit their political and tribal prejudices. Some choose the Sermon on the Mount, and an unfortunately large cadre who are simply looking for a justification of their bigoted, selfish, vindictive worldview. As Sinclair Lewis put it, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” And there Sam Brownback is, right on cue.
Obama says whatever is conveinient for the moment. He is all about show over substance and that is true of his Christianity. The author of this article also needs a lesson in what conservative Bible believing evangelicals deem to be the literal Word of God. Yes, we believe it is true from cover to cover, and there are certain fundamental truths reflected in the pages of Scripture that reveal the heart of God. Having said that there are also many different writing forms utilized: poetry, hyperbole, types and shadows, and also mandated rules for living. All of it is true and inspired by God but there are certain texts that things the people did that were fitting for that given time frame and to that particular audience. The Bible so clearly supports traditional marriage, right to life. The spirit of God is the only One Who can open the eyes of people to desire to follow God and His truths as outlined in the Bible. These are guidelines to bring us joy and help us in our lives. When we stray it burdens God, just as it burdens a parent when his child strays and disobeys. Why? Because parents, like God know that the guidelines to follow are there for our protection and not to limit us or in some way confine us. Jesus saves!
Very well said!!
Aspergians are literalists too
Well, that nails it. If Chard's against Obama, I'm for Obama.
You will no doubt use "thou shalt not kill" as justification for being against abortion. How do you feel about the death penalty? How about war? How about our military? Do you support the troops? If you do, then you are a hypocrite if you profess to believe in the literal word of the Bible. Thou shalt not kill is pretty clear. So is turn the other cheek. So, unless you are willing to dismantle our military you are picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe and have no right to criticizing others for doing the same.
So what do you think about Mormons that have added a book to the Bible among other things? Jesus came to save us all ... Jesus is always on the side of the have nots,, I don't understand why conservative Christians are so conservative.. Jesus was not conservative... He dined, ate and socialized with sinners.. The first person he appeared to after his resurrection was Mary M.. Jesus loved all and came to save all... I do not think he would like the division and lack of love so often shown by conservative evanglists..
AND MITT ROMNEY IS A LIAR.... Psalm 101:7
King James Version (KJV)
7 He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.
Obama is not Christian (my opinion) and likes to mess things up,but that's a cultural thing..
Obama's faith as described in thisarticle actually sounds like the beliefs of a huge number of American Catholics. Unfortunately, the Big Brother mentality that has taken over the administrative levels of the Catholic Church prevents most of them from speaking out about it. Last week's Gospel sums it up rather nicely....it is harder for a rich man to gain entry into heaven that for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
A L O H A !!!
Healthcare for kids and banking reform sound a lot like "if you do for the least of these you do unto me" and throwing the money changers out of the temple.
This is a sensationalist, biased headline, and offensive to Christians of all "types." Particularly ironic, given that Romney is a Mormon, a group that MANY Christians do not recognize to be Christian at all. Where's the "is Romney the wrong kind of Christian" headline?
The content of the blog is also poorly defended, "some people are saying..." kind of assertions we would expect from Bill O'Reilly. CNN botched this one.
It is, however, easily backed up reading the comments on the article. Seems about 50 comments or so someone is calling Obama the anti-Christ and explaining that he's not Christian.
If you follow in the footsteps of Rabbi Jesus and do his Will, if you uplift the word of G-d (The Bible) and obey it and not ridicule it or mock it, If you believe what Jesus said: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). If you believe John 3:16, if you love G-d with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself... then you can call yourself a believer according to Holy Scriptures. The real religion is taking care of the orphans, widows and keeping yourself from stain from the world. The Gospel of Jesus commands us to take care of the poor and needy, but its main purpose is to save the lost. The followers of Jesus have founded hospitals, orphanages and preached his Word of love to the World. I will like to see what our current Leader has done to show us his Christian faith. The real disciples and followers of Jesus have left a wonderful legacy and will continue to do so. People know clearly who follows the Messiah and Savior of the World. Sadly our current leadership has mocked and ridiculed the Bible (they don't understand it) and they stand for those things that break G-d's heart. Many will say "Lord, Lord" in the end and Jesus will say I don't know you. By the fruit of the tree you shall know...I don't see the fruit of Jesus in this current leadership. You can tell me that you are an orange tree until you die, but if you give only lemons...you are a lemon tree.
John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
If we are God's buildings and temples and storehouses then God and God's families and servants live inside us on a scale of such minuteness we tend to not believe such thought. Can you DOC believe we are mere buildings created by God and the Powers that be and such Godly Beings are so small we tend to overlook such truths?
DOC, the sad reality is that former leaderships as well as this one have done the same... Words are cheap, but it is like you said.... the deeds are what count and the fruit is what makes the tree known, of what sort it is.
Corruption and greed has robbed the soul of this nation!
And so what do you think about Mormons? They've have another book of Jesus's words, in addition to the New Testament.
"Real" Christians have crystal balls
John 3:7 "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray."
They seem to have stopped claiming Obama is a Muslim which a good thing.
No they haven't. There are many comments that claim that in these threads.
What the hell kind of question is that Blake? Obama is a Christian, but Romney isn't a Christian.
Now the opposition wishes to claim Christianity too,,what's next Morality?
LivinginVA, I am not judging, I am predicting and trying to warn people from listening to Jim Wallis who is NOT a real Christian. He is an evil man trying to mislead people.
In your opinion. In mine, he's an excellent Christian.
Oh, and saying that his is "NOT a real Christian" is indeed judging him.
He's certainly a far better PERSON, regardless of his faith.
You fvcking "christians" are disgusting with your back and forth about who is "the real christian" etc...
Matthew 7:15 Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
What's with the blatant Anti-Obama Propaganda CNN? The FOX Channel is so much better at that than you guys? What are you branching out to bigotted " I'm going to Heaven Your going to Hell type Christians" now? CNN is almost at the top of the very long list of the things they hate. What gives?
Did you read the whole article? What I take away from this article is in no way Obama-bashing, but rather a discussion of how evangelical Christians have anointed themselves the true bearers of Christian belief. In the last few paragraphs the author provides hope that younger generations are starting to rekindle the notion of progressive Christianity. A headline on Fox would likely have not included quotation marks around the word "wrong" and no question mark at the end.
Thanks for the reassuring response aroomadazda. I actually didn't read through the entire article because of the provocative headline. Christianity used to be a religion of humility and service in this country until the religious revivals of the 40's and 50's. The strident, self righteous, hypocritical, intolerant kind of Christianity which resulted has turned more people away from the faith than any other cultural influence or Boogey Man ever could have. Peace.
CNN NEED TO BE CALLED OUT... THEIR BIAS VIEWS ABOUT THIS ELECTION IS SO TRANSPARENT....
When I die, I hope I do not go where Jim Wallis is going to end up. I want to be with Jesus instead.
Are you God that you can judge someone else's soul?
There is no reason to believe that there are any destinations at all after death. So you will be with both Jesus and Jim Wallis and everyone else who ever lived. You will simply cease to exist.
so, you really DON'T believe that if you accept Jesus as your savior, you are saved? What sort of religion are you?
After reading the comments on this article, it becomes clear why there are so many different beliefs that people consider Christian. This is a short article and people are taking away entirely different meanings from it – the Bible is much longer and written in language far less clear – why should we expect any two people to get the same meaning from it?
The "Dream-Factories" are no longer night-dreams or even one's day-dreamings. The dream one lives may not be the dream one wants.
Obama is the anti-christ!
It's that sort of language that is polarizing America. As long as you can demonize those who disagree with you, you can ignore anything they say and refuse to compromise.
That's just pure stupid.
HE IS??? AHHHHHH AHHHH AHHHHH !!!! WE HAVE TO WARN EVERYONE!! AHHH AHHH!!!!
And your an ass
No your kid is and your wife is a jackal.
You don't have to be a christian to care for the poor. and you Christians' need to be reminded, as well as Catholics and others that when you migrated here, or invaded to be exact, the Native American Indians did not practice your religions. The most ignorant people in the world seem to be the religious who most of the time are hypocrites if not all.
3/4th of Americans are Christians and give more to charity world wide than all the other countries combined.
related to Deepak Chopra?
well Sam, they have also exploited and colonized more than any other religion in the world, so it would stand to reason, that they "gave" more than anyone in the world.
Oh, yes: That "In God we trust" thing? It's only from the 1950s, and you have that moron Uncle Joe McCarthy to thank for that nonsense. E pluribus unum is the correct motto.
For those who missed this on p. 58 of the commentaries:
Putting the kibosh on this discussion in less than 10 seconds:
Only for the new members of this blog–
• As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.
• As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.
• There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.
• There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.
• There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.
• Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.
• Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.
Added details available upon written request.
A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.
"The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.
Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man.
Did you look on Wikipedia for your research? No one can take you seriously.
For your kind information, there is no religion exists by name Hindusim or idk if you referring to civilization called "Sanatana Dharma". May be your upset that your beef steaks that you casually kill for your breakfast is respected in some other part of the world. Sanatana Dharma has many schools of religions. May be it is the time to be humble and think outside your "world revoles around america or me" ignorance. Every religion or non-religion in the world falls under one or the other schools of Sanatana Dharma.
Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/
From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.
From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:
"Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.
Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.
Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.
The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.
Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers.
The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "
"In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.
With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:
An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
"Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."
p.168. by Ted Peters:
Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "
So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.