Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Crap Round-up

I do sure love Easter, that special time of year for Jews where everything just gets awkward. I recall fondly watching Easter specials on TV with my brother, Deacon Yid. Our favorite ones were the cartoons where Jesus was white, blond, thin, and uber-Aryan. All the Jews around him were considerably browner. The Apostles and other proto-Christians also tended to be browner, but usually had better noses. The BAD Jews, well, you never really needed any help figuring out who they were- their noses usually looked like they doubled as clubs, and for some reason they often seemed to be surrounded by piles of coins, even when it wasn't the "30 pieces of silver" scene. Strange.

Shiska Girlfriend and I were discussing some of the weirder paradoxes of Easter this morning- like why Christians call today "Good Friday" but act sad. It seems like these are contradictory- either you're happy Jesus died so you can all be saved, hence, Good, or you're sad because he died horribly and are SAVING the Good times for Sunday, in which case- it's not good. Simple, no?

The answer, of course, is no. And to punish me for even presuming that I could ever understand how this Easter shit works, the gods of the universe (and internet) sent me various weird shit, mostly, not that surprisingly, from the masters of brain pain at WorldNetDaily.

Let us begin with our old friend Hal "all references to oil in the Bible talk about bubblin' crude" Lindsey (maybe he's talking about this?). Hal thinks its cool (or weird, or neat, but most likely divine evidence) that Jesus became so famous while being such a nebbish in life.

Jesus was born in a stable in an obscure village named Bethlehem. He grew up in another obscure village known as Nazareth. He never traveled more than about 200 miles from His birthplace. He was not known beyond Nazareth until He began His public career. And that public career only lasted three short years.

His profession, prior to what he called his life calling of saving men from their sin, was a carpenter. During his life, He never ran for public office, yet hundreds of millions have followed Him over two millennia. He never wrote a book, yet hundreds of thousands have been written about Him. He never became the patriarch of a family, yet untold millions consider themselves His children. From the time he began publicly teaching, he never had a house. He was never formally educated, yet He confounded the most brilliant sages of His time. He never commanded an army, yet his teachings have captured the hearts of mankind for more than 2,000 years.

He also, like, never wore shoes. But I heard most of his followers DID wear shoes! Truly, a man of contrasts.
In short, none of the characteristics associated with some of the greatest men of history such as Pharaoh Ramesses II, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Fredrick the Great, Charlemagne, etc., are associated with Jesus.
Paul Bunyan, Gandhi, Captain Crunch... None of them had homes, either. I never realized how many people were just like Jesus.

At the end of his earthly life, some believed that He was the long-awaited Messiah that Israel's prophets predicted would come. But the religious leaders of Israel condemned Him as a false prophet and a blasphemer on the grounds that He claimed to be the Son of God, thus making himself equal with God. So Jesus was condemned for claiming to be exactly what the Hebrew prophets predicted the true Messiah would be.

Well, except for the fact that the Prophets didn't say that the Messiah would be the Son of God. Also, the whole "list of qualifications the Messiah has to do in order to be considered the Messiah." Also, none of this "second coming" crap. Other than that, totally.

Humanly speaking, there is nothing about Jesus that explains the fact that, 20 centuries after His birth, He stands as the most influential figure who ever existed in human history.

I've been saying this for years. The Vikings were much cooler.

The one event that changed it all was this. Jesus hurled a challenge at His bitterest enemies that what He claimed and taught would be proven true when He would be raised bodily from the dead on the third day.

His cowering and disillusioned disciples suddenly became bold as lions and fearlessly proclaimed that they were witnesses to the fact that they saw him bodily alive after the third day. More than 500 of Jesus' followers were immediately transformed and never changed their witness to the fact that they saw Him bodily alive and talked and ate with Him. Most of these suffered terrible martyr's deaths. But not one recanted of his witness.

Well, at least, not one you could ever be bothered to write about. Come on, you guys are still digging up lost GOSPELS for God's sake- don't act like the entire history of ancient Christianity is known, documented, and established.

It is an undeniable fact that the calendar by which the civilized world marks the passage of time dates to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Even though Jews and Muslims use a different calendar, they still have to deal daily with the BC/AD calendar.

Yeah, so there!

Frankly, I've never understood this argument. The Western world follows the Gregorian calendar, originally established by and for Christians. This no more proves Jesus' divinity than the fact that English is the most spoken language indicates that God loves the UK. Plus, given population (and economic) trends, it seems perfectly likely that at some point, the focal point of the world might shift to a non-Christian superpower like China or India. Also, dates to his precise birth? Really? Prove it.

There are many paradoxes about Jesus. But perhaps the greatest is what a Jewish prophet named Isaiah predicted about him 750 years before he was born.

That really says it all, doesn't it?

(Background on Hal's favorite text here.)

Next up is Tom Flannery, who apparently wrote a slightly longer version of a evangelical tract you might find under a park bench, or stuck to a subway pole. Basically, Tom claims that Jesus was foreshadowed all over the Old Testament.

Not ONLY is Isaiah 53 often interpreted to refer to Jesus (a trend Tom continues here), there's also more!

the animal sacrifices instituted by God in the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ's substitutional death. As we are told in Leviticus 17:11, "It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul." In Exodus, we read that God used the shedding of the blood of spotless lambs in the Passover to save His people and deliver them from bondage. In the Gospel accounts of the New Testament, we read that Jesus was the Lamb of God whose precious blood was shed at Passover for the salvation of all men who would ever trust in His sacrificial death for them. Through Christ alone, we are saved and delivered from the bonds of death to live forevermore.

Man, it sure is lucky the Gospels didn't go with Jesus' original nicknames and call him the Platypus of God, or the Correction Fluid of God. Kudos to whoever caught that one in editing.

God also gave a vision of Messiah's substitutional death to King David, who wrote Psalm 22 from the point of view of Jesus on the Cross about 1,000 years before the fact: "I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint. ... They pierced My hands and My feet ... they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots ..." and so on.

All of the prophecies of Psalm 22, like those of Isaiah 53 and many others throughout the Old Testament, were fulfilled in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as recorded in the New Testament by men whose lives were radically transformed by these events and who died as martyrs rather than retracting their testimonies.

Ok, first of all, the fun part about prophesy is that you can interpret it to mean anything. For instance, let's take the case of someone horribly wounded in the Civil War- they could have been hit by canon or rifle fire, (bones out of joint- check, hands and feet pierced- check). Their comrades would then traditionally divy up their gear (bye, clothes!), and any fluid in them would certainly have been poured out or otherwise removed. And they may or may not have died from their injuries. Using this criteria, Isaiah could just as easily be talking about Stonewall Jackson.

Second, almost every religion has had martyrs (maybe not the Scientologists... yet). Does that mean they're ALL true? Or does martyrdom just indicate that someone really, really, believes something strongly? Hmm...
The Old Testament also contains numerous stories that uncannily foreshadowed significant events in the life of Jesus, including His substitutional death and bodily resurrection. For instance, the Genesis account of when God commanded Abraham to take his beloved "only son" Isaac, the "son of promise," up on a mountain and sacrifice him (Genesis 22).
Except for Ishmael. And the six other sons with Keturah. Whoops.

When Abraham had Isaac on the altar of wood and was about to obey, God stopped him and revealed a ram whose horns were caught in a thicket (a crown of thorns).

Or, is it trying to show that Jews like mutton (Hillel sandwich?)

Abraham loosed Isaac and used the ram with the crown of thorns as a substitutional sacrifice as directed by God, just as Jesus wore a crown of thorns and was a sinless substitutional sacrifice on a mountain for each one of us on the wooden altar of the tree, or cross.

What does something being used as a sacrifice have to do with the sacrifice itself being "sinless?" What if the ram had stolen another ram's sheep? That's theft and coveting and adultery. And why assume that it's a direct link between, "Sacrifice Ram" and "That dead guy over there totally counts as a sacrifice, Big Guy. Just so you know, there's mine for this year." That's like saying you can tithe lawn clippings instead of dollars to your church because they're both green.

The Old Testament states that "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree," and Jesus literally became our curse upon that tree, the curse of our sin, and paid for it in full there.

First, what the hell are you talking about? Second, it looks like the verse from Deuteronomy is referring to people that have been HUNG from trees. Like, hangman's noose, style. Not nailed to a piece of wood.

Ow, ow, ow.

Last is this wank-fest from Slate by James Martin, which starts from the assumption that Easter is totally not commercialized, never will be, and says its because Jesus' death is "challenging." Ok, I'll bite.

Sending out hundreds of Easter cards this year? Attending way too many Easter parties? Doing some last-minute shopping for gifts to place under your Easter tree? Getting tired of those endless Easter-themed specials on television?

I didn't think so.

Sigh. Let's try this slowly.

1. Go to a toy store or a Pharmacy.
2. Look at all the Easter crap.
3. Turn on your television.

4. Now shut up.

Unlike Christmas, whose deeper spiritual meaning has been all but buried under an annual avalanche of commercialism, Easter has retained a stubborn hold on its identity as a religious holiday. This is all the more surprising when you consider what an opportune time it would be for marketers to convince us to buy more stuff. Typically arriving around the beginning of spring, Easter would be the perfect time for department stores to euchre customers into buying carloads of kids' outdoor toys, warm-weather clothes, and summertime sporting equipment. And while Christmas is forced to contend with Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, there is little holiday competition around Easter time.

Yes, poor oppressed Christmas, always getting overshadowed by Kwanzaa. Are you high? And if you think there's no commercialism surrounding Easter, maybe you should try a Google search. Fine, there's only 1 million to Christmas' 3 million, but that's hardly "un-commercialized." Grow a clue.

Martin's primary thesis is that Easter is bloody and therefore impervious to gussying up.
Despite the awesome theological implications (Christians believe that the infant lying in the manger is the son of God), the Christmas story is easily reduced to pablum. How pleasant it is in mid-December to open a Christmas card with a pretty picture of Mary and Joseph gazing beatifically at their son, with the shepherds and the angels beaming in delight. The Christmas story, with its friendly resonances of marriage, family, babies, animals, angels, and—thanks to the wise men—gifts, is eminently marketable to popular culture.

Family? Sort of. I guess it's very relatable for families where the father has been cuckolded but decides to raise the kid as his own even though he clearly isn't.
On the other hand, a card bearing the image of a near-naked man being stripped, beaten, tortured, and nailed through his hands and feet onto a wooden crucifix is a markedly less pleasant piece of mail.

Only if you focus on the bloody part! If the Christmas moment everyone decided to depict was the actual point of birth, no one would want to see those cards, either. ("Look, the Holy Mother's Birth Canal!") Similarly, Easter is quite easy to represent saccharine-style for those with an iota of creativity, with or without Jesus. (And btw, some people make bloody Jesus cards, too.)

No matter how much you try to water down its particulars, Easter retains some of the shock it had for those who first participated in the events during the first century. The man who spent the final three years of his life preaching a message of love and forgiveness (and, along the way, healing the sick and raising the dead) is betrayed by one of his closest friends, turned over to the representatives of a brutal occupying power, and is tortured, mocked, and executed in the manner that Rome reserved for the worst of its criminals.

Worst criminals? Crucifixion was a standard execution technique applied to commoners:
Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called "supplicium servile" by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station ('humiles').

The two guys on either side of Jesus were thieves. It's not like they're giving him lethal injection with a golden needle.
We may even sense resonances with some painful political issues still before us. Jesus of Nazareth was not only physically brutalized but also casually humiliated during his torture, echoing the abuses at Abu Ghraib. In 21st-century Iraq, some American soldiers posed prisoners with women's underwear on their heads as a way of scorning their manhood. In first-century Palestine, some Roman soldiers pressed down a crown of thorns onto Jesus' head and clothed him in a purple robe to scorn the kingship his followers claimed for him.

Wow. Ow. Die.

Martin concludes by arguing that Easter challenges audiences differently than Christmas.

Even agnostics and atheists who don't accept Christ's divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It's hard for a non-Christian believer to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead." That's not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life—really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God's son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.

Except that if you follow the WHOLE story of Christmas, Jesus is no less God's son then than he is at Easter. By contrast, if you decide he ISN'T God's son, (i.e., you're just "celebrating his birth", or "remembering how he died,") that can apply equally to both holidays, too. It's no more a leap of faith to declare him the offspring of a Virgin-Diety loveshack episode than to say he became a zombie in the spring.

Finally, I'm also annoyed with this other wanker at Slate, also writing about Easter (sort of):
In the earliest expressions of their faith that we have, Christians claimed that Jesus' resurrection showed that God singled out Jesus ahead of the future resurrection of the dead to show him uniquely worthy to be lord of all the elect. However, the paradigmatic significance of Jesus' resurrection was also very important for early Christians.

One word, bozo: Lazarus.

Argh. All my griping aside, Happy Easter to anyone who celebrates it. Not my thing, but that's ok.

Just... please don't tell me you think these guys are representing it right.

1 comment:

Jon said...

And Peeps are just as delicious (and much cheaper) the day after Easter. Incidentally, what's a rabbit and a duck got to do with Easter? Sounds like the beginning to a joke. How true.

The answer is: the same as eggs on seder plates.

Oh, and this ends the debate about tastefulness in Jesus depictions: