Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Philosophical Christian: Understanding Easter as Survival of Love

Buddy Christ icon from Kevin Smith's film Dogma
Despite having been raised Christian and celebrating Easter throughout my youth, I'll confess that this holiday never made any sense whatsoever to me. Christmas makes sense. You don't have to believe in the Virgin Birth as a literal event to understand the wonder inherent in the story of the nativity for those who believe it.

My Easter Confusion

Easter is an entirely different animal. Sure, the Resurrection is clearly a miraculous thing worthy of celebration ... but just two days before that is Good Friday, which celebrates the Crucifixion, and you really can't decouple the two. In the traditional Christian view of these events, it's actually the Crucifixion - the blood sacrifice of the son of God - which is the big deal, with the Resurrection being "merely" the event that happens to highlight how important the Crucifixion was.

The result is an Easter weekend (and a religious view) that has always vexed me. See, I don't personally hold with human sacrifice (or animal sacrifice, for that matter). It just seems to me a very poor way for a benevolent deity to structure the universe. "In order to appease me, you've got to kill" is not exactly a starting point that resonates with me. I've never understood how anyone would be comfortable with the central role of this brutal murder in a spirituality of salvation.

This view only makes sense to me in one of two cases:

  1. God was powerless to forgive sins without a blood sacrifice of his son.
  2. God could have forgiven sin without the blood sacrifice, but demanded it anyway.

Neither of these creates a view of God that I find particularly appealing (although I much prefer 1 to 2), and certainly neither meshes well with the traditional Christian view of God.

A Revised Metaphysics of Easter

But this Easter, I instead heard a new interpretation which actually resonated with me. Attending my Christian Church, which emphasizes a "metaphysical" reading of the Bible over a literal one, the Crucifixion is viewed instead as a the attempt to kill Christ, who represents a perfectly loving being. Christ's Resurrection, therefore, is the bold declaration that, despite all appearances, love cannot die.

This, to me, has profound implications. This creates a view of the Easter weekend events which allow for me to look at them as something other than an indictment of God as a malevolent force. Instead of the Crucifixion being a blood sacrifice demanded as atonement for sin (the traditional Christian view), the Crucifixion can be interpreted as an event that Jesus chose to do to get the attention of those around him, to shake them out of their pre-conceived notions about what was important.

Nor, for that matter, is my minister the only guy teaching this view of Easter. Over on Patheos, there's a post discussing the Easter season (who knew it was a whole season? 50 days of Easter?), and the words he use are in line with the metaphysical interpretation that I heard on Sunday:
Easter invites us to imagine a world without fear. It invites us to imagine what our world would look like if violence and retribution were indeed signs of weakness rather than strength and might makes right. It invites us to imagine that violence and death and the Powers that Be do not have the last word. It invites us to imagine the transformative, mountain-moving power of nonviolence and grace, of faith, hope and love. 
In fact, Easter proclaims that this is true. Easter proclaims this is the reality of the world God has created, and that this had indeed always been the reality in which we live. God has always been calling to us, through prophets and sages of the past, to live as if love, not hate and violence, were the forces that matter most in the world. Easter isn’t true because Jesus was resurrected. Easter is true because it has always been true that God loves us, because it has always been true that God hasn’t been interested in controlling the world with war, violence and oppression like the Powers that Be, but in transforming it with love and the giving away of power. 
... 
Easter invites us to start living, and living fully, and living fully for others rather than living for ourselves, for security, for our small portion of domination of others in the midst of our own oppression. 
Easter is costly.
Easter asks us not to perform penance, but to practice hope. 
This is a view of the Easter events that I can respect. The focus on the literal historical nature of the Crucifixion and Resurrection creates all sorts of metaphysical, logical, and moral problems for me, but ignoring the literal events and focusing exclusively on the message of hope, that works for me.
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