Easter – The Ultimate Vanity
I know that there will be plenty of people writing blogs about Easter, its stolen (adapted) stories, its co-opted symbology, its dubious efficacy, and its variable date according to the phases of the moon. It happens every year, and as with Christmas, the points about how Christianity absorbed pagan rituals and mythology into its own religion so as to appease the people of the time, forever adding new appendages to the story and making it easier to understand for societies that already had their own rites in place, will saturate the Internet. So there’s no need for me to add to the cavalcade. Instead, I’d like to focus on the elephant in the room, the implications of the celebration of Easter, and what it says about humanity.
The world’s most popular religion, Christianity, holds the Easter weekend with high esteem, and is the most important date on the Christian calendar. In essence it is meant to celebrate the death and subsequent rebirth of Jesus, which we are led to believe absolves us of all sin. The story is emotive, and sits within our collective psyches as an archetypal reminder that, as Christendom would have us believe, we are born into sin, and that we must repent or forever burn in hell. This notion, that we are in need of salvation, taps deep into the psychologies of humanity, and plays upon our individual frailties and doubts, and does so with the stealth of a ninja.
As the bible would have us believe, the sin we are all embedded with came from a single moment in biblical “history”, where a perfect world, made for humanity, was sullied by the actions of a single woman, Eve. Without getting into the specifics of the story from Genesis, we all know that this so unlikely that for all intents the story cannot be true, since there are precisely zero pieces of evidence for the existence of Eve, Adam, or the Garden of Eden. But from this once piece of fanciful and misguided storytelling, the roots of the Jesus story are born. If there was an “original sin” from which we must all repent, then the logic of the Bible follows that we must all pay somehow. Hence, God sent his “only begotten son” to earth to heal the sick, feed the poor and stand up against the aristocracy of the time, which in the case of Jesus, was the Romans.
While this story can only make sense if you shut the eye of reason, it’s an archetypal story, one that has been told countless times throughout history, and a story that resonates with humanity on a deep psychological level. It has to do with the very essence of being alive, the problems that our lives deliver to us, the pain and suffering of existence, and the existential angst which goes part and parcel with being human in a human society. Joseph Campbell, in his 1949 book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” (later revised in 1977 to include reference to the science fiction epic Star Wars) talks of this archetypal hero, and how the story repeats throughout history, again and again as an inspirational piece, one designed to placate the angst that is associated with existence. These problems, those of death, birth, conflict, illness, plague, famine, war, etc., when questioned and analysed with a critical mind, can only throw forward a nihilistic slate of existence, stating “we exist because we exist.” Not a very satisfying answer, no matter how true it is.
In summary, Campbell says of the hero story (the “monomyth”):
As I have written before, this story is repeated, not because it’s true, but because it’s tenacious.
As with much of the role of religions, in this case the monomyth of Jesus is the justification and redemption of humanity, the reasoning and explanation (however farfetched) for the pains and torment that are the consequences of being alive. But the most striking thing it does is place humanity at the centre of the universe. It raises us up to be of such high importance in the scheme of things that we create the audacious notion that we are the reason for everything.
The bible, in its opening passages, makes it very clear that humanity was God’s ultimate achievement. The heavens and the earth, and all the creatures that roam upon it, are all here for us to use. This may have been a useful notion in the Bronze Age, when too much questioning and existential pondering would lead a person to depression at the ultimate futility of life, but in the 21st century, when we know so much about the nature of the earth, the universe and ourselves, it serves a a dangerous and wasteful attitude to have about the planet and its resources.
The idea that humanity is at the centre of everything, that our only purpose is to serve a god that created us, and that we are fundamentally flawed and in need of “saving” is the most vain thing any creature could do. While the religion of Christianity may placate us with “reasons” for pain, suffering, and ultimately death, the truth of the matter is we are only one of millions of species on this planet alone, not to mention the possibility of life on other planets. The self-centred nature of a monotheistic religion, where the creator of this vast and unexplored universe cares so much about a single species is an affront to the natural world and its diversity.
Is it any wonder, then, that the largest religion on earth celebrates most keenly the symbolic death and ultimate resurrection of a god in human form?
In the end, Easter is harmless. It’s a story created to make us feel better about being thinking and analysing creatures. It is our ability to analyse and view the world with introspection that makes us the tortured and broken beings we see ourselves as. So while the world celebrates this arbitrary date with chocolates, bunnies and hymns about the magnificence of a long-dead carpenter, just think about what this celebration says about ourselves. Not the broken humanity that the Bible tells us about, the real thinking and analysing humans that we are.