Being an outsider in all matters religious I must confess to a certain unease with the concept of Easter. It is a period of observance that, laying it all out on the table for you, kind of gives me the willies. The joy that springs from death, and not only death but a savage, grisly, barbarous death at that, unsettles me.
Yes, yes, I do understand that this is the serious meat and potatoes of Christian faith. Death and resurrection and one must die in order to live eternally and that Jesus was put up on the cross for our sins but couldn’t he He have taken the whole Socratic route and insisted on drinking a cup of poisoned hemlock instead? Too suicidal for you? How about just one to the back of the head then? Clean, simple and we’re all off for the rest of the weekend to wait for his miraculous, heaven-bound reappearance.
It’s the reveling in the gory details of the death – the Gibsonian Passion of the Christ – that seems so unnecessary, so full of life denouncing abnegation. Existence is nasty but we must bear it devotedly in order to live again gloriously in the presence of our Lord and Saviour. Just putting in time, probably miserably, until I can shrug off this mortal coil and kick back to enjoy eternity without a care in the world. Far too much stake in the future for my liking.
In addition to which, if the whole Easter holiday is so important to Christians, why did I get a phone call from a friend in the U.S. yesterday who expressed surprise that I wasn’t working? It’s Good Friday, dude. The whole place is closed up almost as tightly as it would be at Christmas. Apparently not so much Stateside. Aren’t they supposed to be the most religious country in the western world? If the whole Easter commemoration isn’t that important to them, are they practicing their religion incorrectly? Should someone explain it to them?
And another thing. If the death and resurrection of Jesus is so integral to Christian doctrine, what’s with all the Christian based anti-Semitism? If he He had to die in order that we all shall live again, shouldn’t we be thanking our Jewish friends for setting the Romans on Him? Judas should be celebrated rather than reviled for betraying Jesus. If he’d done the honourable thing and not sold Jesus down the river for a few pieces of silver, history, as they say, might have been entirely different.
Still, I’m not going to turn down the prospect of a couple days off for the sake of a theological quibble. Especially not this weekend given that it seems we’ve skipped the whole spring thing and plunged right into summer. I slip into my sockless shoes, pull out the old straw fedora and head out for a mid-afternoon promenade along College Street.
Only to be stopped up by crowds of people that can only be described as nothing less than a throng. It’s as if taking a cue from the weather, the street festival season has just decided to start. Cars are parked everywhere. Huge packs of families meander, ice creams in hand. It’s a holiday, sure, with exceptionally good weather but.. all of Toronto has descended onto College Street? The Eaton Centre must be closed.
Then the music kicks off, a dreary funeral dirge, and I suddenly come to my senses. The Good Friday Easter Procession making its way through the heart of Little Italy. You think I would’ve remembered, what with all the previous talk about this particular religious festival. So I step up onto a restaurant doorway to watch the passing of the parade.
Almost immediately, The Godfather or, more precisely, The Godfather Part II springs to mind. Robert DeNiro’s young Vito Corleone stalks the white suited local mobster, Don Fanucci, during a similar religious procession in New York and kills him in the darkened hallway of a tenement walkup. Another Easter. Another execution. There seems to be no escaping it.
The procession participants are mainly older expect for those having to do anything at all overly physical. Like the Jesus who’s getting beaten up by Roman soldiers. Outside of that, the numbers skew heavily toward the elderly. I wonder if their children, down visiting from places like Woodbridge and now watching from the sidelines, will step up and fill the void when this generation dwindles. There’s that whole death and rebirth symbolism at work again. It’s hard to imagine. Rather than occupying a central spot in the lives of the younger folks, religion is merely observed, thought of only during the holiest of days and on monumental occasions like weddings and funerals.
There it is again. Funerals. Death. No escaping it, it seems when Easter comes around. A funny thing to design a life around if you ask me.
No wonder they came up with the whole bunny angle. Sure, sure. Life is full of pain and misery. Death awaits us all. But it’ll all be worth it when we go to heaven (if we go to heaven… otherwise… well, just get to heaven) and live forever in blissful contentment. Not sold? OK, so there’s this bunny and he brings you chocolate…
— religiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat
good quesitions mr. sophisticat good questions. it would be interesting to
get father so and so or someonone to rebutt (that is if they’re not under
arrest) to follow up on your musings.
open the podium or the pulpit i say.
Mmmmm…chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps.
“It’s a holiday, sure, with exceptionally good weather but.. all of Toronto has descended onto College Street? The Eaton Centre must be closed.”
That’s pretty cynical. I’d argue that the virtue of Christianity lies in precisely the opposite direction: a commitment to a set of principles that run counter to the prevailing ideology of late capitalism. Sure, Christianity can be co-opted to earn a quick buck (e.g. televangelism) and the various abuses perpetrated by the clergy are execrable, but even the most cursory reading of the gospels lays the foundation for a powerful critique of capitalism and its attendant valorization of self-interest and competition. Keep in mind that churches are one of the few non-commercial public spaces existing in this city.
I’m not convinced that the commitmentless atheism advocated in this post offers much of a model for political resistance; in fact, it seems easily assimilable to the radical individualism encouraged by both anarcho-capitalism and the free-market deism that undergirds much of the supposed religious belief of the American religious right (see, for example, Glenn Beck’s idiocy posted below). Both of these forms of worship only talk about individual rights and have nothing to say about responsibilities, commitment, justice. To reduce the church to the mall is to diminish one of the few institutions (perhaps besides the university, the only institution) that can articulate a vision of a future not condemned to economic exploitation and social injustice.
Dear duh it’s capital,
We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke think that you make some fairly big assumptions about the nature of our disbelief. Advocating commitmentlessness? Easily assimilable radical individualism? Free-market deism? You will be hard pressed to find any of those notions in anything written by us on this site.
We’re somewhat tired of the godlessness = immorality argument used by various defenders of the faiths. While many religious tenets helped point the way for a more equitable, just society, we think there are many who argue for that same path to be taken without possessing any religious attachments or affiliations. Before expecting a church to articulate a vision (positive, presumably) of the future, we think they should be forced to clean up and atone for their grave missteps of the past.
In looking ahead to the future filled with hope and promise, we’ll happily and unapologetically throw our lot in with the likes of avowed atheists such as the late Bertrand Russell before we would those who promote mere superstition and orthodox adherence to rigid hierarchy.
I’m all for atheism, as long as it’s intellectually honest and rigorous and committed to political resistance. And I certainly don’t believe that “atheism = immorality.” What I have a problem with is how atheism has been hijacked by so-called New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens et al. This movement is characterized by a distortion and misrepresentation of theological positions, a fondness for strawman arguments, a refusal to own up its own neoliberal roots, and a general sneering attitude towards all forms of religious belief. I think it’s safe to say that Bertrand Russell would hold a dim view of these “thinkers.”
Although your piece was obviously written with some tongue in cheek, I couldn’t help but detect certain hallmarks of Ditchkins-style polemic. I mean, why pick Mel Gibson’s representation of the crucifixion instead of something a little more substantial or even textually accurate – say, Kazantzakis’ or Michelangelo’s? The New Atheists are notorious for picking the most ridiculous manifestation (like the redneck fire-and-brimstone Souther preachers Hitchens likes to beat-up on cable TV news shows) as a representative of an entire faith. What’s more troubling is how many converts to this new brand of atheism come from the right and how it has provided ideological support for a number of reactionary causes: military interventionalism (unlike Russell, both Dawkins and Hitchens see nothing wrong with bombing a country like Iraq to protect the rational best interests of the West), neo-imperialism, free-market free-for-all, Islamaphobia. Again, I am not saying you support these causes – as you point out, your posts indicate the exact opposite – but I think we on the left have been slow to pick up on how what was once the default form of belief for the revloutionary has been co-opted by a highly insidious strain.
As I mentioned in my original post, I also think the New Atheists’ complete rejection of Christianity obscures the revolutionary praxis embedded in the Christian gospel. Two of today’s most prominent atheist thinkers, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, both of whom also happen to be Marxists, have written about the need to reckon with the emancipatory politics of the NT, without necessarily believing in the existence of God, angels, transubstantiation etc. To entirely reject Christianity for the abominations committed in its name (of which there are many, admittedly) is, in my mind, akin to rejecting socialism for the travesty of Stalinism. I for one am not prepared to do either.
BTW, Terry Eagleton’s new book Reason, Faith and Revolution is worth reading by atheists and theists alike for its critique of New Atheism.