I Can Haz Easter?

I had intended to continue the rambling account of my conversion from hapless benighted Jehovah’s Witness to vague half-arsed Pagan to angry militant atheist to amicably iconoclastic atheist, but yesterday was Easter and I want to write about that instead. And it’s my blog. So there.

Easter, Passover, Ostara – spring holidays in all their forms – are about rebirth. Define that however you want; Jesus rising from the tomb, the salvation of the firstborn who will then continue the lifeline, the first shoots of sustaining crops poking up through the resurrected winter earth. And like many of the profoundly human ideas and experiences that get enshrined in religion, rebirth is by no means exclusive to religiosity.

Sometimes the Bible really does say it best; as an atheist I just have to sieve out the metaphysics and think in terms of humanity rather than deity, and some amazing insights can be found. The rabble-rousing tag-team Easter sermon at Glide drew heavily on Luke 24, which is the bit of the story where Jesus is resurrected. The women look for his body and find an empty tomb, which understandably freaks them out, and the apostles say “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The Christian interpretation of this generally tends to center on the flimsy faith of the women, who should have known better than to forget what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead. But that misses out on so much of the richness.

We all look for hope and rebirth among dead things, in cemetaries of our own devising. We are sort of built that way. From infancy onward we are bound to that which sustains us, regardless of the toxic form that sustenance may take. Familiarity can so often feel like nourishment and we can so easily convince ourselves that we are fat and happy even as we starve. We shake the dead tree of a relationship that has long ago ceased to bear fruit. We cling to withered ideals that keep us bound to frozen earth, too afraid of the unknown to be properly afraid of the dead hands gripping our ankles. We roam from headstone to headstone, populating the graveyard with ghost visions of the life we desire but cannot bear to imagine. Life is scary and chaotic. Death is static and unchanging. No wonder we look for the living among the dead. It’s safer there.  

My presence at Glide on Easter morning is one small evidence of my leaving the cemetary. The ferocity with which I clung to my conviction that religion and the religious are by definition dangerously insane was a way of protecting myself from the frustrating ambiguities of the human psyche. But it was a dead, unchanging position that kept me dead and unchanging. Not to mention seriously pissed off and isolated. Most religious organizations have a testimony schtick where people share how opening up to the supernatural force in question has radically improved their lives, brought them prosperity and healing and all sorts of wonderfullness. I find myself doing this as well, but it’s the opening to human compassion and complexity, placing myself firmly on the side of love no matter how it’s defined, that has done this for me. The fact that it was religious people who taught me how to do it only serves to emphasize the random irony of the universe.

On Easter morning I watched the sun rise through stained glass windows over the heads of the homeless and the well-heeled, the die-hards and the wanderers-in, the ascetics and the drunks. I waited for it like a child for her mother, for the darkness to lift and for light to flood the sanctuary, flood my life. When it came I wept with gratitude, even though I am grateful to no supernatural force for bringing it. For me it is enough that it comes.

4 responses to this post.

  1. …and don’t forget the rebirth in freedom as the Israelites make a brake for it.

    Speaking of searching for the living amongst the dead…I have had many interesting theories that a line my belief in ghosts (if you live in Savannah…its just a matter of time). I don’t believe in heaven or god mind you, but I have enough evidence to believe in ghosts…That coming from someone who believes in Santa.

    So I have read all four posts so far…I see that you have found a home, and knowing you as I do and the place that people closest to you have in your daily life…well I am not surprised and I am happy you have found a home at Glide…its only natural. I look forward to lessons you bring and the process you take.


  2. yes, yes, yes, the exodus part. i LOVE the exodus part. it takes on more and more meaning the older i get and the more exoduses i make from things that oppress and bind. these stories are so unbelievably powerful and exsquisitely human. it’s a shame that so many atheists feel like they can’t access them because they’re contextually religious. yet another awesome thing about a community that opens access to all these stories regardless of one’s beliefs. so much to learn! so gratifying to learn in an environment of inclusiveness and mutual respect!


  3. Posted by marvin on April 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Having read all four posts I marvel at your probing honesty as well as your modesty. and forgiving nature. My own atheism is extreme; I share neither your honesty, modesty nor forgivness. I despise all religions especially the RC to such a degree that I cannot stand being in the presence of priests. I attended the funeral Mass for Betty, my brother George Carmen’s wife. I appreciated what Garrett had to say about his deceased Mom. But set my mind to hearing symphonic favorites whenever the clergy took the stage.

    P.S. There is an intimate freshness to your writing that I enjoyed very much.


  4. Posted by Fagel on April 8, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Hey! If it wasn’t for the man we wouldn’t have Zombie Jesus Day.


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