Let me unscramble some thoughts with you here, for a moment……
I’m ‘celebrating’ Easter this weekend, though, of course, I shouldn’t ‘celebrate’ Good Friday because it’s when Our Lord was crucified – except that it isn’t, because the truth is no-one exactly knows when the crucifixion happened and what I’m urged to feel so sad about is an arbitrarily selected date set by the Church back in the middle ages somewhere.
But wait a minute – the Church taught me the greatest truth of all. They wouldn’t lie to me about something as crucial (pun word) as that, would they? Well, a lie of convenience maybe, but yes they would; just as they are a bit disingenuous about Christmas, because Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th December, either. The truth? In those bad old, sad old pagan days when we all had such a good time being unrepentant, it was easier to convert us seething masses to a new cause if those movers and shakers of the early church latched onto our existing booze-ups and re-appropriated them, rather than begin fresh ones of their own. So Christmas was once the Feast of Yule, the last good blow-out of winter before we started tucking into pemmican, and Easter was Eostre, the spring festival, when we got to do some tucking in of a quite different kind. They were times, those, when we were all together in the Chief’s hut, and we could be caught with our cod-pieces stretched and a little the worse for the mead.
There’s nothing like a good sermon when you’re pissed. Nothing like being told how bad you are, how much of a reptile you’ve become, but it’s all right because the Guy up There’s nothing like Odin and He won’t mind. You can even run away from the fight if you like – you’ll still get to Valhalla. Well, alright, maybe not Valhalla, but somewhere just as nice. Sorry, my Liege Lord, but I’m persuaded: if it’s all the same to you, I’ll forgo the privilege of fighting by your side at Ragnarok – I’m going somewhere with lyre music and lots of white fluffy stuff.
Then there’s this business of the cross; the abiding symbol of Christ’s suffering and the standard behind which all Christians march. Well, maybe; but then again, maybe not? The original symbol of Christianity was the fish, wasn’t it? And the gruesome engine they used to punish miscreants in the Roman Empire was more of a ‘T’ shape than a cross. However, when Paul of Tarsus’ followers had to sell the Christian message to their Roman conquerors, the fashionable god of the time was Solis, god of the sun, and it just so happened his temples were cruciform in plan, pointing east towards the rising sun…..it wouldn’t take much of an architect, would it?
So where is all this going? For me, the symbolic weekend of Easter each year is a renewal; a reminder that the nature of truth in our value system is not the straightforward matter of conscience I was taught at mother’s knee, and that when an inviolable argument is posited before me as the truth, I should question its history, because almost certainly it started as a lie. Not that all lies are bad – of course they’re not: Paul of Tarsus, in sowing the seed of Christian thought among the Romans began a belief system that has shaped our Western civilisation – often at the expense of other perfectly valid civilisations, possibly – but nonetheless a force for good. Or so I was taught. Yet Paul and his team were, basically, selling a product, weren’t they? I spent some time as a salesman, once, and if my recollection is correct in the battle between absolute honesty and commission, honesty was an early casualty.
Some truths are bad. We only accept them as ‘true’ because it is convenient, or more comfortable, to do so. And when those who want something from us, or who are convinced we should live in their ideal world, have to persuade us of their vision they have first to present it as comfortable, and then validate it as ‘true’. And this is a process as old as time, probably – and thousands, no millions, have suffered and died because of it. And that is my renewal. That, for me, is the meaning of Easter.