Issue 130: Have We Misunderstood The Metaphor?
As the religious foundation of Easter has taken a back seat to commercialism in the last 100 years, I wonder have we completely misunderstood the metaphor.
Good Easter Sunday morning to you.
This morning my youngest son sat on the sitting room floor with a large Cadbury’s chocolate egg in his hands and asked me, “what are we celebrating, Dad? What are these eggs all about?”
“Exactly,” I said.
All my children know the story of JC, rising from the dead and all that craic, but there is a significant disconnect between that story and the reality of Easter celebrations, is there not?
So I put aside the scheduled piece I’d been working on for today’s Sunday Letters in favour of sharing my thoughts on Easter, what it means to me, and what it says about western industrialised culture.
By all means, share your thoughts in the comments below.
Easter is a religious festival, but I’m not sure too many people celebrate it as they used to in previous generations, at least in developed countries like Ireland. It’s the same with Christmas. Festivals such as Easter have so-called “pagan” origin, having developed from central Europe's pre-Christian cultures. It was a celebration of the arrival of Spring, of rebirth. According to etymology, the word has its origins in Old English Easterdæg, Eastre, from Proto-Germanic *austron-, meaning "dawn." It is also the name of a goddess of fertility and spring, perhaps originally of sunrise, whose feast was celebrated at the spring equinox. It further originates from aust- "east, or toward the sunrise", from PIE root *aus- "to shine," especially of the dawn.
So we can see that rather than remove the celebration completely from its early converts, the Christain Church simply piggy-backed it. Today, Easter is largely a commercial exercise in buying and selling chocolate, and the religious aspect is a sideshow. It seems the Gods of our parents and grandparents, the ones to whom they so devoutly gave themselves, is well and truly dead.
"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding 1882
You might say that the commercialisation of religious faith is an abomination, a measure of the depths to which we have gone from our own humanity, and I’d say you are right. Regardless, it is a good thing, in my opinion, that people have left the Church and found faith in other things. Although, for the most part, that new faith seems to be in Capitalist Gods and celebrity. These are the new rulers of body and mind, and the benchmark of our faith is measured in the accumulation of material comfort. Not only that, they promote a psychological and physiological image of the ideal human being which we pursue to obscene extents. Fake tits, fake lips, fake pecks, botox, liposuction, and gastric band surgery, you name it; we’ll do whatever it takes to achieve the perfect self-image.
Perhaps not such a good transition in itself then. As I mentioned in last week’s Sunday Letters, we seem to have left one prison and walked straight into another. Nietzsche said God is dead, but we seem to have replaced him with another more powerful and destructive.
I don’t assign myself to any religion. If anything, I am agnostic as far as God goes. I prefer to think for myself thanks very much. I go inside when I have a problem, and lo and behold! I usually find the answers I need, eventually. I don’t seek solace from the discomfort of my life in any other man’s ideology. And it is an ideology of men, not women. Although women in the Church have been equally guilty of vile abuse of their fellow human beings, it has been power-hungry men at its centre. Our will to respect one another, live in harmony and acknowledge a higher order of reality is merely a convenience that allows bullish narcissistic men to take control.
It’s not only religion that has been guilty. Political ideologies have been just as destructive to society. Of course, they all start out with an apparent great idea and the best intentions, but their dogmatic idealism invariably leaves certain people out. Some pretend to be secular and inclusive, but it’s not long before cracks start to appear and the original idea becomes outdone by an individual and collective sense of importance. The institution now becomes the point of focus rather than the premise on which it was founded, and in that mode of mind, abuse of power usually follows.
If worshipping idols, be they virtual or actual, is your bag, then fire away. It’s not my intent to convince you otherwise. I just don’t understand how any human being in their right mind can bow to an organisation that is so obviously rotten to the core as the Catholic Church. I don’t know why any human being in their right mind does not see the deity in themselves, in fact. Unlike Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, the self-deity I’m speaking of doesn’t have an image. We’ve got to get behind the veil of the self-image if we are to see it. That’s the tricky bit, and what religion does is present another layer, so instead of becoming clearer, things become more clouded.
Jesus Christ is an image. Muhammad, Buddha, and every other (mostly men) persona presented as the epitome of human achievement and spiritual truth stands in the way of that truth. Even our own self-image stands in the way. So when I talk about the self-deity, it is what all these idols point towards rather than are in of themselves.
The story of Jesus Christ, his birth, death and subsequent rising is, as are all stories of the Bible, metaphoric. It tells a story; it points the way. It is the story of every human being that ever lived, but instead of seeing this, we believe the story. Today many of us ignore the story. We’ve figured out that there’s a bloke behind the curtain, and all that we saw was just a show. But instead of embracing the real truth, that the birth and death of Christ is a metaphor for our own existence, we’ve exchanged one idol for another. Today we buy chocolate Easter eggs, and we remain lost, perhaps just as we were two thousand years ago.