It’s What You Make of It – Easter
Excuse me while I rant a bit.
I find all the highly popular righteous indignation over the evils of Halloween in the church to be annoying.
In the eyes of many Christians, my son could dress up as Batman 364 days per year without issues, but if he dresses up for Halloween and accepts gifts of candy from gracious, smiling adults with no motive but to give him more sugar than he needs (and perhaps to observe how awesome he looks as Batman), he’s propagating an occult practice at best and actively worshipping Satan at worst.
Or if my wife and I host a Halloween party for our friends so that we adults can enjoy a night away from the kids and in the fellowship of fellow believers… Or if my church holds a costumed function to reach out to the broader community and invite them into a place where they can experience the love of God and be surrounded by engaging people who love them as Christ loved the public… Or if my wife buys a super-skimpy little outfit for a private showing in celebration of the holiday (or, rather, in celebration of the post-Halloween costume sales)… we’re all contributing to the evil.
In the eyes of many Christians, if my son dresses up as Batman that one day out of the year, he’s propagating an occult practice at best and actively worshipping Satan at worst.
In my opinion, taking such a stance makes the vast majority of such Christians either shamelessly ignorant or disgustingly hypocritical, but either way it’s unfounded fear mongering that might just ignore some key biblical instructions. I say “the vast majority” because some Christians who condemn Halloween do the same for major Christian holidays for the same reasons. So, at least they’re not ignorant or hypocrites, but even they may need to look a bit closer at Paul’s writings.
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a little history…
Let’s start with Easter, since that was the first one Christians got behind. Some Christians even claim that 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 refers to an early Easter celebration, but serious scholars dismiss that out of hand. Still, the celebration of Easter is quite old.
In truth, Easter became commonplace sometime in the second century, though the proper date to use for celebrating the Lord’s resurrection was highly debated at the time. As early as 154, we see the debate recorded in letters between a pair of bishops (Anticetus of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna). Even after the Council of Nicaea in 325 standardized the date, heated debate continued for another three centuries until the Synod at Whitby in 664 (and the debate has popped back up several times since).
Just to be clear, we don’t know for certain which day Christ died and resurrected. Some historians feel they could offer an exact date, but it has little to do with our schedule for Easter apart from the deliberate proximity of Passover on the 14th of Nisan on the Jewish calendar. We just chose a date to celebrate. And it happened to be around some non-Christian religious festivals, including Passover.
What’s in a Name?
The name “Easter” may shed some light on its non-Christian (i.e. pagan) origins or traits. Two major theories exist on where this name came from, as the Romans and Greeks who celebrated it used the term Paschal which was a throwback to Passover’s influence on its heritage.
One theory, desperately clung to by some Christian scholars, involves a confusing etymology arising from a word for the white garments worn for Easter baptisms, a word for dawn, and some poorly executed pluralizing. The whole thing seems rather reminiscent of Rube Goldberg’s sketches, but language does that sometimes. So it’s more plausible than it may seem.
The other theory, first recorded by the 8th century St. Bede the Venerable, simply notes that the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring (and fertility), to whom sacrifices were made in April, was named “Eostre”. Sounds simpler, and equally plausible, if we’re honest about it.
More than a Name
Even if the name comes from harmless things like white garments and dawn, what about the rest?
Christians have tried to rationalize the injunction of long-time fertility symbols (bunnies and eggs) into the tradition, but such efforts have always seemed a bit too needy for my taste, and all of them fly in the face of Occam’s razor.
As John T. Ford CSC of the Catholic University of America wrote for the Encyclopedia Americana, these and other customs “may be adaptations of practices originally associated with pagan spring festivals or with local folklore.”
There’s compelling evidence that early Christians adopted pagan holidays to make the heathens more readily convert, but they merely removed from them any unholy rituals and the like.
None of this is absolutely convincing, but it’s still coherent, especially when compared to the common Christian rationalizations. There’s compelling evidence that early Christians adopted (and adapted) pagan holidays to make the heathens more readily convert, but they merely removed from them any unholy rituals and the like. This adoption of local customs and practices was a well-established practice in the Roman Empire. Heck, very few of the “Roman gods” actually originated in or near Rome.
If you ask me, it makes sense. And it’s not a bad idea. Early Christians applied this brilliant imperialistic strategy to evangelism, sanitizing the things people wanted and showing you could still have them, so long as they operated within God’s laws.
And even if you doubt Easter, nowhere is this more evident than in Christmas, which I’ll cover next.
Originally posted 2016-10-17 08:00:00.