Jesus Christ on trial, again

thorns and gavelI wanted to make a note of a remarkably weird religion story playing out in Italy where a judge has ordered a priest to prove "that Jesus Christ existed," reports The Times. The evangelicals among us may react against the use of the past tense to describe Christ's existence. Could the Catholic priest take on the challenge of proving that Christ still exists, or is that cutting to close to the realm of faith? Oh wait, the judge has already done that by letting this lawsuit go forward. Forget the separation of church and state in Italy, since they have such a great history understanding that concept.

So anyway, here are the details:

The case against Father Enrico Righi has been brought in the town of Viterbo, north of Rome, by Luigi Cascioli, a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist.

Signor Cascioli, author of a book called The Fable of Christ (not available on Amazon.com), began legal proceedings against Father Righi three years ago after the priest denounced Signor Cascioli in the parish newsletter for questioning Christ's historical existence.

Yesterday Gaetano Mautone, a judge in Viterbo, set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear. The judge had earlier refused to take up the case, but was overruled last month by the Court of Appeal, which agreed that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was "abusing popular credulity".

Signor Cascioli's contention -- echoed in numerous atheist books and internet sites -- is that there was no reliable evidence that Jesus lived and died in 1st-century Palestine apart from the Gospel accounts, which Christians took on faith. There is therefore no basis for Christianity, he claims.

I also take issue with the author's use of the word atheist to describe those who do not believe in the existence of Christ. Not believing in the existence of Christ does not make a person an atheist just as believing in the existence of Christ doesn't make a person a Christian. Also, I'm sure there are people out there who do not believe Christ exist yet would not want to classify themselves as atheists. It's a big world out there with many religions.

This one-man campaign is making quite a bit of news, but I had trouble finding much speculation as to what would happen if this lawsuit were successful. Amy Welborn gives us the link but appropriately did not choose to comment.

Ted Olsen over at Christianity Today's blog predicts that the lawsuit will be unsuccessful and gives us a link from the Guardian that has more background on the case. My take is that this is one of those "that's weird, why are they doing that?" stories. But it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

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