Can we all just celebrate the religious holidays of this week without the religious part?
I’m not a “believer” in anything supernatural. No Samantha Stephens twitching her nose. No Jeannie blinking her eyes. No Casper the Friendly Ghost. No Ghosts. No Vampires. No Werewolves. No Quidditch in the Sky. No Divination. No Tooth Fairy. No Santa Claus. No Leprechauns. No Sawing the Lady in Half. No Dying on the Cross and Being Resurrected. To me, they are all the same. Great stories, but all allegory. Not real. Science is real. Science is cool. I worship Science. I always say, “Why do we need a god? We have a flower.”
Hear me out.
What if we had a celebration of Easter but took the “you must believe every word of supernatural incidents that (supposedly) occurred 2,000 years ago, goddammit, or the Great One in the Sky will punish you?”
What if we said we could all appreciate the story of Easter, but as an allegory, something for all of us, whatever our culture, nationality, religion, spirituality, etc.? What if we thought of Easter, for once, as something democratic, open to all, for the good of all, according to the free will of all?
As a non-Jew, I can appreciate Jewish proverbs, stories, holidays, and traditions. I think they’re interesting. I think they’re benevolent, for the most part. Same with all the other religions, although I’m most familiar with Protestant traditions.
What if the themes of Death and Rebirth were made available to all of us, without having to swear on a stack of bibles that we believe it’s all literally true? (And why does it have to be a stack? If it really is the Holy Scripture, one would think one copy would suffice; the whole stack thing just seems redundant.)
If you study history, as most of us don’t (not to any depth), you learn about ancient myths of heroes in literature who died and were reborn. There are those who say much of the stories about Jesus Christ are actually re-packaged stories about Mithras or Horas, who pre-date J.C. There are other stories from other cultures and ages about heroes who died and were reborn.
Ever seen the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”? That is about a man who dies and is reborn, or actually is shown (by a comedic angel) what the world would have been if he had never been born to begin with, but lives again with a renewed perspective and appreciation for the love of, and from, his fellow man.
Seen a Marvel franchise entry lately? “Captain America” is about a scrawny soldier who “dies” and is reborn into a muscular super-soldier hero stud who saves the world from the Fascism of World War II. Noble stuff. The Free World was saved by steroids; I get it.
Being from the 70s, I remember Lee Majors as “The Six Million Dollar Man” on TV, as an astronaut who “dies” and is reborn with some every expensive prosthetic (bionic) parts.
In the “Batman” franchise, Bruce’s parents die, and then he’s reborn – as a vengeful-but-still-benevolent superhero, whose powers are intelligence, study, strength, and a very strong motivation to see revenge on any and all of the criminal element.
People wrote these stories. Great people, but still just people. Intelligent and creative people, who told these stories, made up out of their head, not because they believe they were recounting actual reality, but because they believed the stories they told promoted very real themes that we could all learn from, and be inspired by: the mutual love found in interpersonal relationships, patriotism, conscience, compassion, justice, scientific discovery, and civic duty. People who thought of using their talent to tell tales and spin stories that might motivate and inspire us to live as better people – maybe, just maybe, the same motivations the men who wrote the bible were thinking.
I don’t think you need to really believe there is a real person named Bruce Wayne who lives in Gotham City who fights crime in a really spiffy costume to believe in civil order and benevolence. Batman lives in all of us. His example is democratic; it’s there for all of us. It’s the same with the Easter story in the bible, or any story, any allegory, in any religion or spiritual/cultural tradition. It’s here for all of us; that’s not appropriation; that’s appreciation. No one religion has the monopoly on truth, value, or validity.
For a long time, I’ve maintained the two “big” stories of the bible, the immaculate conception and the resurrection, don’t have to be taken literally to have value and inspirational meaning for everyone. The idea of inspiration, that the Personification of Peace could come to Earth like a gift from the stars and inspire us all to be better people, need not involve a serious belief in the idea that one woman in the Middle East about 2,000 years ago had a magic impregnation by magic sperm by a magic invisible penis of a magic holy spirit-being. Can’t we just take the immaculate conception as an allegory for the bonding of flesh and spirit, body and mind? That we are all composed of the body, which we can see, and the spirit energy in all of us, which we can’t? What’s the difference between a dead body and a living person? The “spirit” that is within us, that makes us move, laugh, talk, cry, hug, and dance. Spirit is the puppeteer part of the meat puppets that all us humans are. The bonding of meat bodies and the spirit that makes them move is a beautiful thing; it’s called Life, and Science gives us that. We don’t need to really believe in the Magic Invisible Sperm Donor to appreciate the “miracle” that is Life.
We also don’t need to literally believe that a very smart, very kind man with great progressive ideas, who was forced into capital punishment/execution, by some very insecure government officials, who bled and starved and dehydrated to death in the Middle Eastern sun, then rested up for three days, then came back to life with enough strength to move a two-ton rock, to believe in the concept that there are times in life when we need to let go of ideas, feelings, habits, and thoughts that no longer serve us. The allegory of the crucifixion has more meaning if we apply how it really happens to all of us, many times in a lifetime, than if we believe it happened to only one Magic Man thousands of years ago. That puts the idea away, in the past, in the “other”, outside of us. Imagine the power of the story if it is not literal and “distant”, but allegory that is close, present, and immediate, for all of us to claim for our own use.
In a universe ruled by any just god, no one is going to spend eternity in a hell for not believing in the constructs of the story but instead focusing on the take-away meaning. Why can’t we do that? If I worshiped a god (and that’s a big “if”), it would be one of mercy and inclusivity, not one who indulges a suspiciously human-like rage and vengefulness if you didn’t supplicate yourself to his every narcissistic demand. That sounds more like a Republican than a god.
The more you resist these ideas, the more you have to ask yourself, when your “faith sensibilities” get questioned, exactly what is behind your atomic, red-faced, entitled, adrenalin-fueled rage? If the answer is “because god said so”, you’re indulging in not just a specious argument, but a childish anti-intellectual retort that ignores all of history of science and inserts a capitalistic, selfish notion that you’re inherently special and everyone else unlike you isn’t. How narcissistic and grandiose to say that all who don’t believe as you believe will, and deserve to, suffer in an agonizing state called Hell for all eternity? How generous of you. How kind. And how so very un-like the very Magic Man you claim to adhere to.
Nature gives us all the story of death and renewal we need. It’s called Spring. Science gives us this. The magic book part (Easter in the bible) just creates an allegory to illustrate (as if we needed it any more illustrated) the process of Spring. Which, I think, really, is just a matter of gilding the lily. Don’t fix it if ain’t broke. The Science of Spring and all its natural beauty stands on its own as a miracle to inspire us. It seems greedy to want more at this time of year. Perennial flowers that bloom every year at this time reassure us of the evergreen nature of Life. Crosses are not required.
Literal interpretations of the bible (yes, I know the word “Bible” is usually capitalized, and I’m choosing not to, just to prove a point about challenging the oppression of the Dominant Paradigm (which I am capitalizing, on purpose)) are not more “pure” or “correct” than other interpretations, such as the bible as allegory. Literal interpretations fail to appreciate the language devices of metaphor and simile, and fail to appreciate the profound meaning in all forms of literary allegory, while at the same time they impose a hierarchical, right/wrong, up/down, good/bad, “I’m-‘saved’-and-you’re-not”element that is socially and culturally unnecessary. The stories (well, the positive ones) of the bible (or any “sacred text”) do not lose their power to inspire and comfort humans just because they are read by the Humanist.
So let’s take the “I’m right, you’re wrong” out of this whole weekend’s celebration and see if we can find a one-size-fits-all global celebration of our common humanity. Let’s stop being so invested in “my religion is better than your religion”, and let’s focus on something positive — that we ALL experience death and rebirth. That we ALL want to believe in something bigger than ourselves – whether it’s Magic People in the Sky, or just concepts and dreams that our lives mean something beyond the day to day. We’ll all be dead in 100 years; our meat bodies will be rotted, stinking, moldy, dusty, or burned and scattered to the winds, but only the echoes of the love and ideas we left behind will exist in the great ether that is our world in ages to come. Who among us will care who was “right” then? It’s not about being “right”, or being crowned with the “Yay, Our Religion Was Right All Along! We Win! Suck It, Losers!” award; it’s about leaving something for the next generations that helps them to understand how to live better – with more understanding – of themselves and each other — than perhaps we did in our own time.
If you study the traditions of many global cultures, open-mindedly, patiently, and with a certain benevolent curiosity, and stop taking it all so literally, then the beauty of the meaning of the celebrations really has a chance to come through. And that’s probably what the ancient authors intended all along, if we’re only enlightened enough to “get it”. If Someone really is Up There looking down at us in amusement (and probably more than a little annoyance), I keep imagining Them saying, “It’s about time you egomaniacal meat puppets understood your common humanity. What took you so long?”
Happy Passover. Happy Easter. Happy Ostara. Happy Ishtar. Happy Pharell. Speaking as a Humanist, you had me at “Happy”.
Ken Howard, LCSW, CST is a gay and HIV-positive (since 1990) licensed psychotherapist (LCSW), AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist, and life/career/relationship coach who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, since 1992. He helps many gay men (and others) resolve the issues that undermine your quality of life, and helps you to thrive.
To get your copy of his self-help book, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!,visit www.Amazon.com , or wwwLuLu.com. It’s your “portable therapist” for the challenges you face today in your mental health, health, career, finances, family, spirituality, and community.
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