Monday, March 28, 2016

Post for Easter Monday

Which should be a holy day (now "holiday") too.  It is for me, in part; but in part not, so I'll deal with secular matters related to the day before.

I'm just going to repeat myself, because it's easier.  I think Google got burned in 2013, because they did nothing special for Easter Sunday.  Same old new-style Google home page I don't see anymore because browsers can use Google by default, and I had to look to know they'd changed their font (perhaps I should check the kerning).

This is still available from 2014, at RD, the best part of which I quoted then.  But rereading the article I have to say, again:  "No.  The word "Easter" is not related to a Germanic goddess."

New Advent can enlighten you.  Or you can just take what I said in summary.  Shortest answer:  there is no referent to Eostre, the Germanic goddess, outside of the reference by Bede.  Maybe that's where the English word came from, but it's got nothing to do with the celebration of the Pasch (Passover), and it seems to be a word history Bede made up.  So the interesting point is the Pasch, not the supposed pagan connection.

I still like this bit, from that RD article, because nothing has yet changed in the world, despite all the efforts to make it so:

Last year, the Dawkins Foundation posted an Internet meme claiming that Easter is named after the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, which was dragged out again by contrarians who reposted it to remind everyone what Easter is “really” about. This secret history of Easter is a bit like the childhood myth that consuming Pop Rocks and Coke at the same time causes your stomach to explode: It doesn’t matter if it’s true, it’s fun to tell people because it makes you feel smart. These smug proclamations are not only irritating, they’re a disturbing index of our level of discourse about religion. Surrounding the Easter/Ishtar conspiracy theory is a toxic brew of anti-intellectualism, heresiological claims masquerading as historical ones, and simple sadism and incivility facilitated by new media.

But this time, despite their error with Bede's "Eostre," I want to go a bit deeper into their argument:

New Testament scholars have noted that since The DaVinci Code became a cultural phenomenon, there’s been a surge of conspiratorial claims about Jesus, the early church, and the influence of Pagan mystery religions. Authors such as Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman have written with bewilderment at the revival of “mythicist” theories of Jesus and “nineteenth-century philosophical hokum” that was long ago dismissed by serious scholars who read Greek and Hebrew.

All religious traditions change over time. However, to tell people of a different religion that they don’t know what their religious rituals actually mean is ipso facto not a historical argument but a sectarian one. The claim that Christians unknowingly practice a Pagan mystery religion has a long history combining sectarian claims with goofy pseudo-scholarship. It was Protestant Reformers, in fact, who first accused their Catholic rivals of adulterating Christianity with Paganism.

However, it was during the French Revolution that the “mythicist” claims first surfaced. Constantin Francois Volney, in his 1791 essay “Ruins of Empire,” claimed that all religions are derived from sun worship and that “Christ” is cognate with the Hindu “Krishna.” Charles Francois-Dupuis built on this idea in The Origins of All Religions (1795) and introduced discussion of Babylonian religion, including the resurrected god Tammuz. 

It's all of a piece with the worried mother who told me in high school (no, not my mother) that the peace symbols on my sandals (still wish I'd held onto those) were ancient Satanic symbols; when, in fact, it was a symbol created in the 1950's for a British anti-nuclear weapons group.  (and this morning talk of conspiracies has me thinking of John Oliver, who in this bit is kind of funny, but mostly because he uses so many words and tropes I encounter constantly in internet comments.  Maybe there is a conspiracy conspiracy after all; or maybe it's just the Cadbury Creme Eggs, which truly are inedible and yet return annually to store shelves.  Then again, how do you explain the persistence of Taco Bell?)

A little knowledge is still a very dangerous thing.  The poor woman was actually worried that her daughter, seeing my sandals, was going to endanger her immortal soul.  It's no less an anxiety than the internet commenters I read who insist Hillary Clinton is evil.  They don't even know what they mean, they just know it's bad.  They are like children making noises that sound like adult sounds, but apparently they have enough education to type on the internet, which they turn into their sandbox all over again.

And then there's that Dawkins internet meme about Easter and Ishtar.  After all, "Easter" sort of sounds like "Ishtar, and is it really a coincidence that the word "God" in English can be spelled backwards as "dog"?  Hmmmmmmm?

This part seems to be lost from that RD article, but I have it in my blog post, and it's a handy conclusion to my thoughts on the matter:

As a religion professor, I usually have both devout Christians and committed Atheists in my classroom. Both types of students can enhance the class and add to the discussion. What I can't stand—from either group—is smugness. Atheists and Christians often have different values and different visions of what constitutes the good society. Through earnest dialogue about these differences, common values can be found and understandings can be reached. But progress has never been made through sloppy historical claims and spewing bile across the Internet.

That latter, "spewing bile," seems to be all our national political discourse is capable of.  It's almost a religious discourse, with some people saying their vote cannot be tainted by using it to support someone they don't 100% support and agree with.  They are saying that their vote is holy, and must be kept pure and unscathed.  Which is an interesting argument from people who also insist religion should either disappear, or be kept firmly and rigidly separate from government, even to the extent of how other voters choose whom they will vote for.

Easter, and Eastertide (much longer than Christmastide), like Christmas, could be a time to reflect on how to change such animosities and even find common values.  But that's what's lost in secular Easter and secular Christmas: the whole point of the original purpose.  It's really not an accident that Eastertide ends with Pentecost, the great reversal of the dispersal of nations at the Tower of Babel.  It's also no accident the world pretty much ignores that occasion (and lesson) altogether.

1 comment:

  1. I blew Lent for various reasons so I should try to do better during the Easter season.

    An excellent post, as always.