Tomorrow, for the first time in my life, I will not go to church on Easter Sunday. Even during and after college, when my church attendance was somewhat sporadic, I always went on Easter. Because, you know, it’s freaking Easter. You get more demerits if you skip church on Easter than any other Sunday. Or something. I don’t know; I just knew I really needed to go.
I remember the Easter Sunday sermon traditionally being a graphic description of the horrors of crucifixion, designed to be so detailed that even those of us with the strongest stomachs felt a little nauseated by it all. If you weren’t sobbing and disgusted by the end, then you probably weren’t listening. Then, the preacher would go on to say that if you personally were the only human being on Earth, Jesus would still have gone through all that for you. Not just because he loves you that much, but because you deserve it. You personally, no matter who you are, are such a horrible human being that you deserve to beaten to a bloody pulp, have thorns driven into your head, and get nailed to pieces of wood and left to die while being gleefully mocked by the crowd below.
To be honest, even typing all that brought back a little bit of irrational guilt, even though I can’t think of anything I’ve done that warrants that kind of punishment. Telling an occasional white lie? Saying “bad” words? Drinking? Having consensual sex without a magic ring? No, I’m sorry, that penalty just strikes me as a wee bit over the top. I’m sure it’s probably the sin of pride that causes me to say that, but the idea of even painless capital punishment for those “sins” really offends my sense of justice.
However, I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because I no longer believe Jesus rose from the dead does not mean I no longer appreciate certain aspects of the holiday. I speak primarily, of course, of chocolate bunnies.
When people first hear me refer to myself using the “A” word, they tend to ask me what I do about holidays. Do I still put up a Christmas tree? Am I now repulsed by chocolate eggs? While other children gleefully open gifts from Santa or the Easter Bunny, will mine be joylessly toiling away on papers debunking intelligent design? After all, what could an atheist have to celebrate?
Personally, I’m a big fan of celebrating life and love. “Christian”* holidays may not hold any more specific meanings for me than that anymore, but why should they need to? Every now and then, we all need a day to relax, enjoy ourselves, and spend quality time with the people we love. I don’t mind doing that in the context of a preexisting holiday, especially since it’s no trouble to get the day off from work.
Note that I’m not saying this needs to be true for all people who have left the religion they grew up with. For one thing, I recognize that while my experience with religion was far from positive, it could have been much worse. I can certainly see why someone who grew up with a more toxic version than I did would want to chuck the whole thing, holidays included. For another, I recognize that I am to a large extent reaping the benefit of Christian privilege here; there may be less incentive (or pressure) to hang on to your old religious holidays if your country’s mainstream society doesn’t recognize them to begin with. And maybe you just want to forge your own path and leave all the relics from your past behind. That’s fine. I’m not trying to dictate or even suggest an ideal here; I’m just describing my own thought process.
For me, there’s a certain empowerment in recognizing that I can celebrate whatever I want however I want. Christianity can’t hold me hostage with its holidays, dangling them over my head and telling me that if I leave their belief system, I can no longer be a part of things I enjoy. Churches, social groups, and even families can kick you out, but holidays are just not something anyone can take away from you. You can make your own decisions about Christmas trees, chocolate bunnies, or anything else, and they don’t have to correlate with your beliefs concerning deities. Maybe that’s what I’m really celebrating. Or maybe it’s the fact that I found this:
Come to think of it, a Star Wars marathon sounds like a great way to spend tomorrow morning. Maybe that should be my new Easter tradition.