Monday, March 12, 2012

Wright with Colbert

Stephen Colbert (SC): Bishop, thank you so much for joining us. Now, you are a bishop of the Anglican church, correct?
Bishop N.T. Wright (NTW): Correct, yes.
SC: Okay, great. Well, welcome. Now, I'm a Roman Catholic; no hard feelings about the whole Henry thing. Okay?
NTW: Absolutely.
SC: Let's not try to make this... let's not try to settle any scores. Okay?
NTW: We actually have an annual golf match of Anglicans and Catholics, and I'm sorry to say that they won the first two, but we shared the one last week. So we're getting on alright.
SC: Okay, great. Well that's a good ecumenical step.
NTW: Absolutely. We played for a dogma a hole.
SC: A dogma a hole?
NTW: Go figure, yeah.
SC: That's very nice. Now, you talk a little bit about dogma -- really quite ancient dogma -- in your bookSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. I love the nameSurprised by Hope. I believe that will be the title of Hilary Clinton's next book, also.

NTW: I thought it was going to be Hoping for a Surprise.
SC: Yes. Well, these days, when I feel hope, I'm kind of surprised.
NTW: Yeah, well, absolutely. I mean the whole point about this is that most Christians have this vague idea of going to heaven. It's something that may happen to you --
SC: -- No, mine's very specific. You get a harp, and I'll have a mint julip, and I'll ask Ronald Reagan questions.
NTW: Right. And you'll be sitting there like that guy on the Far Side cartoon saying, "Gee, I wish I bought a magazine, 'cause it's so boring." I mean that's the image a lot of people have of it. But the point of the New Testament is that there's this big surprise that 'heaven' is just phase one, and then there's a further thing -- further down the track -- which is what the Bible calls 'New Heavens' and 'New Earth'. So, it's like --
SC: The New Jerusalem.
NTW: Well, the New Jerusalem, but at the end of the Bible the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven toearth so that heaven and earth get joined and made over.
SC: And we're made over too, right? Like we have physical perfection along with our spiritual perfection.
NTW: The resurrection is what you get in order to inhabit this new world. But that's only surprise number one. Surprise number two --
SC: -- What's behind door number two?
NTW: Behind door number two... well, it's a good question. Behind door number two, in the last chunk of the book, is that if God is going to do that to the whole creation at the end of time, and if that began with Jesus, then we now get to share in doing bits that are going to turn into the new creation. In other words, stuff like feeding the hungry, and looking after the poor. And particularly big things like --
SC: -- But come the resurrection, Jesus is gonna take care of all that. He comes on a cloud of glory, judges the living and the dead, okay, and then everything's better. Right? I mean, he made everything in six days, he can clean up what we got here in like, uh, an afternoon.
NTW: So, I don't know if you have kids, but --
SC: I have three kids, yeah.
NTW: Well, I have four, and two grandkids --
SC: -- It's not a contest, okay.
NTW: Oh really? I thought it was.
SC: I'm sorry, I should have said, "...that I know of." [Applause] Go on, go on.
NTW: The whole thing about -- if you say to your kids, "Well, nevermind, by the end of the weekend this will be alright," and so they can go and play, if the stuff they need to do they need to do it now. But the point -- seriously -- the beginning surprise is the resurrection of Jesus. And there's great many Christians who are befuddled --
SC: -- That surprised a lot of people. Especially the Romans.
NTW: Absolutely. And the early Christians themselves; they weren't expecting it at the time. You know, took them by surprise.
SC: He told them though.
NTW: Yeah, he told them, but they didn't get it. It says that they didn't get it, and they kind of, you know --
SC: What's the surprise here? Hasn't this long been the message of the church? Isn't this a Medieval doctrine?
NTW: It's not Medieval. In fact, the Middle Ages is when it started to go wrong. If you go back to the very early church, yes, resurrection was the standard doctrine. I'm not saying anything radically new that wasn't in the New Testament in the early church. In the Middle Ages there's a lot of stuff [that] comes from the Greek philosophers -- people like Plato -- which says that actually you have a soul and the soul ends up going off.. and so you don't need a body anymore.
SC: Well, what happens then? So, like, I'm all for finding out what happens to me after I die, because I'd love to make some plans. But, what happens then? According to your reading -- and is this your reading or is this Anglican theology?
NTW: The great thing about Anglicans is that we have no theology of our own; it's only if something is true, the Anglicans believe it. That's the theory anyway.
SC: That's what I say.
NTW: No, you chaps have stuff that you look up in these big books all the time. But the point is this: in the New Testament --
SC: You're talking to the wrong chap. [Laughter]
NTW: Oh I'm sorry... I didn't know you use the word 'chap'. In the New Testament you have this wonderful picture -- which is lost off for many Christians today -- of God bringing everything together in this re-creation. And the point about that re-creation is that we can do re-creation here and now, because it's already begun with Jesus. And I talk a lot in the book --
SC: That sounds a little slippery to me. I'm sorry, you got a little slippery on me there. You're saying everything is re-created, okay, the earth is recreated, everyone who's ever lived on it is re-created. Won't it be crowded?
NTW: Well, it could be.
SC: Will the new earth be bigger than the last one, or will we all be slimmer?
NTW: Okay, two little facts. Well, I could do with being a bit slimmer -- and I'm sure that it doesn't apply to you -- but actually every human being who's ever lived on the face of the earth could just about stand together on the Isle of Man, which is a little offshore island off the English coast.
SC: And that's what heaven will be?
NTW: No, fortunately no. And you're still doing what most people do, which is to use the word 'heaven' for the final stage. What I say is, think about life after life after death. Heaven, okay, where people go after death. But then there is a further stage. We're talking about a two-stage postmortem reality.
SC: I'll tell you what. This is the sort of thing that really can't be argued out in this lifetime. I'll see you in the afterlife and we'll settle it there.
NTW: Well that would be nice, yes.
SC: Bishop Wright, thank you so much for joining us.

[transcribed by Jake Bouma @]

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