Saturday, April 4, 2015

May You Have a Happy Zombie Jesus Pagan God Bunny Worshiping Candy Eating Easter

The phone rings. 

It is my mother.

"Hi, Chauncey. What are you doing? Did you start your day yet?"

I reply, "yes mom, I am grading papers."

"What are you doing for Easter? What are you cooking?" she says.

"You know my opinion about religion and such things mom, I don't really want to talk about it today."

Annoyed she continues, "Well, it is a very important holiday. I am cooking turkey legs and stove top stuffing and going to church with my friend. I also went to Bonton (note: Bonton may be the go to store for black old ladies on a budget who want to buy something bright to show off at church). 

Fine then. Go back to you work".

"Sounds good mom, talk to you later".

This is a recurring conversation between me and my mother.

She knows that I rejected formal religion when I was a child. On a basic level, as a parent, she feels a bit of a failure that I am not a religious hypocrite who shows up one or two days a year out of a sense of forced obligation to get on my knees for an hour and proclaim a belief that I do not share with the other phonies in the building.

[One of my favorite conversations on this matter centers on her worry that when I die I can't have a church service. I told her to have me embalmed, put up on a dais, and to have a party in my honor with dancing, great food, testimonies to my greatness by friends and lovers, and have my favorite movies shown on a big screen.]

My mother is not religious per se. She rarely goes to church. Her faith is one of convenience, habit, and comfort that comes from watching TV evangelists, leaving Bibles open around the house to select pages, leaving glasses of water around the house for spiritualist purposes, and reading a PSALMS book that has a picture of Black Jesus meets Rick James on the cover...which she leaves next to one of her dream interpretation lottery books. If anything, mom is a pragmatist.

My beliefs can best be described as those of "an atheist who believes in God" and that science is the mind and organizing principle of some type of greater entity, one which may or may not care about humankind. I also believe that God/Fate is a trickster. I am also a die hard secularist who believes in a firm separation of church and state, that religious organizations should pay taxes, and that religion is a form of human livestock management best removed from the public sphere.

I am not religiously minded. I do not have the gene. My brain does not work that way.

I also would never pretend to understand or intervene against a person's testimony of faith or conversion experience. As long as they respect the law and keep their beliefs to themselves I could not care less.

Faith is by its very nature irrational and deeply personal.

Random observation. 

I have also never met someone who has been "saved" or otherwise converted over to Christianity, Islam, or some other faith that has been made a better person by such a decision. In my small part of the world, such people's faulty personality traits and bad behavior are made worse by such a "revelation". It would seem they find a faith that fits their psychological needs--and this does not mean that the faith experience is palliative or positive for changing their bad ways.

The "Saved" also make for great fun--I smile thinking about how my cousin "found" Christ and then all the "big words" in the Bible were magically translated for her. She also would try to get me on the "right team" because no other religion had a "savior" who came back from the dead. When I told her that was not the case she had a mild moment of upset and confusion...which she resolved by wandering off to repeat her proselytizing to someone else. 

Nonetheless, ritual and mythology have great power. For example, Jesus Christ likely did not exist. he most certainly did not look like a white surfer dude, and if the "historical" Jesus Christ was in fact real, he was not born in December, may not have been a pauper, and could have been married. 

Jesus Christ was most certainly not a zombie who rose from the dead--although, that would make for a great episode of The Walking Dead.

Christendom's ability to borrow from existing pagan traditions helped it to gain popularity.

All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead. 
Easter is essentially a pagan festival which is celebrated with cards, gifts and novelty Easter products, because it's fun and the ancient symbolism still works. It's always struck me that the power of nature and the longer days are often most felt in modern towns and cities, where we set off to work without putting on our car headlights and when our alarm clock goes off in the mornings, the streetlights outside are not still on because of the darkness.
Christianity and other enduring religious traditions constitute a powerful set of myths. The stories are compelling, very entertaining, and often contain a great amount of practical advice. 

A good one: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

I also like the part in the Bible where Jesus, bad brother that he was, fights demons and casts them out into pigs. I believe in that story we may have found an explanation for why pork is so tasty.

For those of you who are religiously minded and who may be celebrating Easter tomorrow, please do some teaching, help me to understand. Without judgement on my part, I am legitimately curious about the appeal of such a day. Do you actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Or is it a celebration of community, family, and friendship for those who are of the same faith? Is going to church on Easter or other days just a habit motivated by guilt?

I was abrupt with my mother during our phone conversation earlier today. I am going to call and tell her that I will make some beef short ribs or maybe a nice roasted chicken for Easter, just like we used to do as a family when I was a kid. 

I am also going to get some jelly beans like the ones in the Easter basket that my dad would buy me from the old Hispanic man who sold them from his van near Yale New Haven hospital downtown. 

I will also, as is my habit, buy a homeless brother or sister a meal.

If Easter and other holidays are about family and fond memories of home, kin, and being nice to each other for a day, I know that I have the capacity to not mention religion as a type of magical thinking if it makes my mother happy as she goes about her church routine this Sunday.

How did I get so soft and unprincipled in my old age? Young lions roar loudly. I am now an older lion who is content to pick his fights with more care. I am unsure if that is a gain or a loss.


Andy said...

This post is a pretty good explanation of the difference between being culturally and religiously Christian.

Personally, I look forwards to the holiday for Cadbury Creme eggs and hams on sale the week after.

chauncey devega said...

You know. I wasn't even thinking in those terms. Spot on.

Kyle Younger said...

I agree. Being a Christian is part of a culture I grew up in and getting up for sunrise services on Easter Sunday is part of that. Today, I wouldn't consider myself a religious Christian at all. Definitely a cultural one. Excellent observation.

physioproffe said...

Religion is some ugly shit. It's nothing but fantasy gibberish cover for self-righteous assholes to convince themselves they're better than other people.

Learning Is Eternal said...

Since childhood the church thing never resonated w/my being either. To which when made to read the bible, then asking the why's & how's this even possible to be met w/answers trembling on notes of anger & violence.

I ask those of faith did you find it or inherit it? Your reLIEgion? To which these queries are met w/disconcerting looks. The same look Soda Popinisky had my first time beating him on Mike Tyson's Punchout.

You see, I attended a "Christian Academy" K-3rd grade. Not popular amongst educators w/me asking questions like:
1. If Africa is the land of 'blacks,' why is Jesus white?

2. Why do we have to take time out from math & science to read the bible? This won't help me get job.

3. The world flooded? Where did all the water go?

And a host of other questions a 3rd grader could ask but adults couldn't explain. Labeled "problematic" though my grades were top tier. Keep in mind this was a black school.

Holidays only brought joy to my life as a tike only because of absences from school. Easter for me as an adult equates to one thing: Crawfish boil. They definitely in season by then.

I should just say that I'm atheist already...

Buddy said...

I love Edward G. Robinson. He was a great character actor. But when I think of him in “Ten Commandments” I always imagine him walking around in the period costume: tunic, black socks and black sock garters, black 1940s oxfords shoes. And taking a cigar out of his mouth to say “Yah, Moses, see?”

Justin M. White said...

I consider myself a cultural Christian. It was actually the work of the (what I now consider fairly conservative) Jesus Seminar on the historical Jesus that rekindled my interest, and subsequent rejection of religious belief. Religious function, however, can still be fun, though I'm not one for it. I prefer studying the myths, the changes, even the theology--though I think that often theology gets in the way of the power of myth. I can't remember which biblical scholar said it, but "the Bible raises questions it doesn't always answer". To me that's for the best, because it can leave a trail of breadcrumbs to competing beliefs that were subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) edited and reworked in the text itself.

I love the polytheism and henotheism that went into Judaism and continued, revived, in Christianity. Even though I wasn't raised in those understandings of the text as a child, as I continue learning about the Bible and extra-biblical writings, I can appreciate the mythology all the more. Maybe Christianity has remained a childhood fixation for me, or maybe I've just found a way that works for me to work through those beliefs I no longer hold.

chauncey devega said...

Punch Out or Punch Out 2?

There is a cool book called Strange Histories that I have mentioned here before. It has some very interesting material about how the Catholic church would send Jesuits and others to research and find answers about zombies, questions such as "how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?", "where do new souls come from if the population is growing?", and I believe there is work in the Vatican archive on just your question too. Very smart people using the tools of their era and faith to come up with answers. The book is a great read too.

chauncey devega said...

The myths and rituals of Catholicism are pretty cool--eating blood and bodies, anointing oneself with death, i.e. ashes, etc.

Snake handling and poison drinking is some bad ass stuff too. I would rather think about women having orgasms while getting "saved" during tent revivals as opposed to if snakes biting people symbolizes salvation though.

joe manning said...

Religion, like language is a cultural tradition which divides people according to ethnicity. It functions to justify the discrepancy between reality and ideality. Its a non-empirical cosmology as compared to physics which is an empirically based cosmology. Similarly, religion posits a moral absolutism which it juxtaposes to a scientifically based ethics.

buddy said...

God created the universe in six days and was arrested on the seventh.
– ambrose bierce

OldPolarBear said...

Cadbury eggs! I used to do the same thing, buy them on clearance. I forgo that pleasure now due to diabetes.

There was a funny satire once about how they are made by demons (some people find them gross and disgusting apparently). It was pretty funny. I thought it was in The Onion, but I can't find it searching their archive.

OldPolarBear said...

Culturally Christian describes me pretty well, I guess. I first heard a colleague use that several years ago, and I agree your explanation of the difference is pretty good.

I was raised to be religious, and like Agent Mulder, I wanted to believe. Possibly did for a while, or even off and on at different times. Like you (at least the way I'm reading your post), I still sort of believe in "something," but not some sky wizard listening to our prayers and either doing or not doing what we ask. I will still occasionally attend a church service, and I will join in the prayers. What does that make me? I don't think praying does any harm.

Most of what Jesus is purported to have said seems pretty reasonable. I don't know if he was a real guy (I sometimes would like to think so) or some kind of composite of stuff going on at the time. There is a very old struggle between "civilization" and something much older that had a much different relationship with the whole world, with nature if you will, and was more a part of the whole than something separate, as "civilized" humans are. Civilization, which is exploitation and conquest, has more or less won out, but the old way surfaces from time to time and struggles to make a comeback. That's who/what I think Jesus was.

I still like to read the Bible sometimes. There are bits of the old ways that come through here and there. I find one of them in the book of Jonah, which I also love for being an explication of the idea of mercy. If you read it (it is very short!), see if you can find a parallel to a certain type of person to Jonah in today's world.

Some of the "lost" gospels and other material that was around but didn't make it into the canonical Bible after the 4th century really bear this out. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, really seems very pantheistic, like everything living, and even "nonliving" things like rocks, are part of "God." I describe my own beliefs as pantheistic, and I have come to reject even the idea that humans are at the "top" of some hierarchical organization of life.

There is also a modern concern that the decline in Bible reading has led to a lot of literature being less meaningful to people, because there are so many references and allusions. Of course, a lot of it is DWG literature, so who knows how long we will continue caring about it anyway?

DanF said...

Sounds like your mom and my mom have a lot in common. She'll tell you she's a believer and and wishes I were, but it's very much just what she was raised with. Televangelist are the only church she goes to (anyone who cries as much as those people do are acting or in need of serious mental help). I've asked her if it bothers her that her god is going to send her son to hell, and she'll just say, "It's not for us to know." So I guess I'll be the exception.

We now know the universe is just far stranger than anything we could have possibly imagine back when we were inventing angels and demons. So weird there is a pretty darn good chance that our universe is actually a simulation.

kokanee said...

I always wonder about how much respect and leeway we naturalists/atheists/agnostics should give religious people who believe in the supernatural/ghosts/miracles/prayers answered/etc. Believing in god is one thing but believing that god is proactive in the world is quite another. There is absolutely no proof that anything explains the world better than scientific laws.

kokanee said...

For example, Jesus Christ likely did not exist.
I'm guessing the myth was based on a man but the truth is that we'll never know. Peter Joseph collects a huge amount of information to say, "No" in his first Zeitgeist film:

kokanee said...

Acquaintance: Do you celebrate Passover?

Me: No.

Acquaintance: Do you celebrate Easter?

Me: No, but the kids believe in the Easter bunny.

Acquaintance: Ahh, so you do celebrate Easter!

Me: Uggg, no!