An essay donated by Alton C. Thompson
A heretic’s view of Easter,
One conservative Christian web site gives the following interpretation of the meaning of Easter:
"What is the real meaning of Easter? In John 1:29, as he sees Jesus approaching, John the Baptist announces to the crowd around him:
'Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'
He knew that Jesus was the son of God, the long awaited Messiah, the one whom God's prophets had promised to save mankind from their sins and to give them a deep heartfelt
relationship with God the Father. The new covenant would be an everlasting covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:39-42, Isaiah 55:3) Jesus, our sacrificial lamb, our Savior, our
God, our Redeemer -- he laid down his life as our sacrificial lamb to pay for our sins. When he rose from the dead three days later, he gave victory over eternal separation from God (death) to
all who put their faith and trust in him. That is the new covenant -- everlasting life spent with God through faith in all that Jesus Christ has done and continues to do." 1
The above article begins with this sentence:
"The best way to understand the real meaning of Easter would be from Jesus. The real meaning is a three word answer . . . 'the new
(This explains the reference to "new covenant" in the second paragraph above.)
Needless to say, as a skeptic, 2 my interpretation of Easter has little in common with the above interpretation! However, rather than rebutting the above interpretation, I choose here to present my own perception of Easter. The reader will then be able to compare the two interpretations, and decide which one is more acceptable.
Let me begin here by noting that although it would seem that most branches of Christianity hold some variation of the above interpretation of Easter, this is not universally the case. For example:
"... most Anabaptists, Quakers, Congregationalists and Presbyterian Puritans [use to] regard. . . such festivals as an abomination. The Puritan rejection of Easter traditions was (and is) based partly upon their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14–16 and partly upon a more general belief that, if a religious practice or celebration is not actually written in the Christian Bible, then that practice/celebration must be a later development and cannot be considered an authentic part of Christian practice or belief -- so at best simply unnecessary, at worst actually sinful."
Groups such as the Restored Church of God 3 reject the celebration of Easter, seeing it as originating in a pagan spring festival taken over by the "Roman" Catholic Church. 4
Interestingly, the view of the Restored Church of God has considerable merit! Consider this statement from The Guardian newspaper, for example:
"Easter is a pagan festival. If Easter isn't really about Jesus, then what is it about? Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the
resurrection. However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practices, most of which we enjoy today at Easter. The general symbolic story of the death of
the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of
parallel, rival resurrected saviors too.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld. One of the oldest resurrection myths is
Egyptian Horus. Born on 25 December, Horus and his damaged eye became symbols of life and Rebirth. Mithras was born on what we now call Christmas day, and his followers celebrated the
spring equinox. Even as late as the 4th century AD, the sol invictus [unconquered sun], associated with Mithras, was the last great pagan cult the church had to overcome. Dionysus was a divine child,
resurrected by his grandmother. Dionysus also brought his mum, Semele, back to life." 5
I doubt that many Christians -- or others, for that matter -- know that many of the stories in the New Testament gospels have ancient antecedents, so that there is good reason to perceive them as mere stories, rather than actual historical events. However, that’s not the point that I wish to make in the present essay.
A distinction that I find of overriding importance regarding Biblical interpretation is that between orthodoxy and orthopraxy -- i.e., correct belief vs. correct practice/behavior. Most branches of Christianity have focused on the former -- the Church calendar proving my point: Its orientation is to supposed events in Jesus’s life (his resurrection, for example), rather than to his teachings. Now if one asks oneself what, in the gospels, has relevance for us today, for me the answer is obvious: It’s his teachings! Note that the statements that I quoted at the beginning of this essay do not deny that, but their lack of any reference to those teachings (as recorded in the gospels, at any rate) indicates that for the author of the article in question, those teachings have limited, if any, importance! For me, this is blasphemous!
For me, the message of the supposed resurrection is that resurrection -- interpreted as personal transformation -- is possible. It is not only possible, but desirable -- for it means that one will begin to live one’s life differently. How? Paul stated this well in Chapter 5, Verses 19 to 26 of the Epistle to the Galatians. This writing was appropriate for his time, but not necessarily ours, of course. From the New Internatonal Version (NIV):
"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; 6 hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and
envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ
Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." 7
What’s notable about this passage is Paul’s reference to “crucifying” the flesh. What this suggests to me as that he may have regarded stories of Jesus’s crucifixion as mere stories, with the passage as a whole suggesting to me that he may also have regarded stories of Jesus’s resurrection as being mere stories -- with both of them, however, having symbolic significance.
Just as Scrooge, in The Christmas Carol, 8 had “experiences” that resulted in his transformation behaviorally as a human, and Bill Murray (in Groundhog Day) 9 had a different set of “experiences” that resulted in him becoming a “new man” behaviorally, so is it possible, suggests Paul, that we too, as moderns, can undergo a transformation. In addition, there is the suggestion that after one experiences a transformation of one’s personality, one should submit oneself to the sort of water baptism that is said to have been engaged in by John the Baptizer. Why?
Subjecting oneself to immersion in water represents a “dying” of one’s old self, with the re-emergence from the water representing a “new birth” -- a starting afresh in a new life, with a new personality -- one having, above all, new behavioral implications. In subjecting oneself to immersion in water, one:
- Is declaring to others that “if you are unable to perceive me as a different person, you haven’t been paying enough attention to my behavior, for I am, now, a transformed being -- in effect a ‘new man,’ whose behavior differs substantially from my previous behavior -- in the direction of ‘goodness’.”
- Can use this public display symbolizing one’s transformation as a means of keeping one “on the straight and narrow.” That is, one’s remembrance of this public event can help one resolve to not allow oneself to “backslide” into one’s old self.
The important question here not answered by Paul is: How can this transformation be accomplished? Scrooge accomplished his transformation not by consciously seeking it but, rather, by being presented with scenes from his past. Bill Murray also did not seek transformation, but received it by being given (in a dream) experiences that all turned out not to his liking until he was given the “right” experience. These are, of course, fictional accounts, so neither is helpful for learning how to become transformed.
However, in my Worship: An Exercise in Revisioning (written under a pseudonym), I discuss this matter (see, e.g., p. 56), and suggest an institution, participation in which might lead to transformation (see p. 38 ff.) Unfortunately, that institution has not been given a trial.
I will not myself be celebrating Easter because I regard doing so as a travesty -- given Easter’s orientation to an alleged event, thus to belief, not to behavior. I wish that the ideas in my Worship eBook would have been implemented, but they haven’t been.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Beth Patch, "The real meaning of Easter," The Christian Broadcasting Network, 2015, at: http://www.cbn.com/
- Alton Thompson's religious beliefs are grounded in Scientific Skepticism (a.k.a. Empirical Skepticism, Zeteticism). This is a belief that one should not accept the beliefs asserted by others until and unless convincing proof becomes available for the validity of those beliefs.
- "Restored Church of God," Wikipedia, as on 2015-FEB-09, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- "Easter," Wikipedia, as on 2015-APR-11, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- Quoted from The Guardian newspaper. Article is no longer available.
- In the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) the term translated into English as "witchcraft" generally referred to individuals who used poisons to murder people. It is unrelated to the practice of Wicca -- a Celtic Neopagan religion -- today. Unfortunately, the term "witchcraft" today has over a dozen conflicting meanings.
- "Galatians 5," Bible Gateway, at: https://www.biblegateway.com
- "A Christmas Carol," Wikipedia, as on 2015-APR-18, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- "Groundhog Day (film)," Wikipedia, as on 2015-APR-18, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
Originally published: 2015-APR-20
Last updated 2015-APR-20
Author: Alton C. Thompson