We'll veer far of the usual course for this blog today. On rare ocassions, we leave the secular behind and ponder a religious item or two. This week, two of the world's major Abrahamic religions celebrate a central holiday; Passover for the followers of Moses, and Easter for the followers of Christ. Those who would follow Mohammed also have a holiday this week, the "Day of Ashutura", which ties in to the Exodus, but it's not a central holiday of that faith.
In any case...we've rolled our eyes and pointed out the absurdity of Faux Gnu's "War on Christmas" for many years now. Somehow, Easter has escaped their notice. But is there a secularizing of this rite of Spring? Things like being tortured, nailed to a cross, dying in the sun, and coming back to life seem like they should be 'hands off' for that sort of thing. However, some biblical scholars think the holiday is being watered down.
Just as Christmas for many has become less about the miracle of the virgin birth, Easter may be losing its connection to the resurrection.
Fewer than half of Americans mentioned Jesus' death and resurrection when asked about the significance of Easter, according to a survey released last month by Christian researchers the Barna Group.
At the same time, the National Retail Federation reports we'll spend more than $13 billion on the holiday for food, clothes, candy and greeting cards.
Although the holiday is meant to be the central celebration of the church, disassociating Easter from the biblical narrative of the resurrection or seeing it in symbolic terms makes Christianity “safer” for con-temporary churchgoers, some local Christian leaders say.
“Jesus is very challenging. To encounter him is existentially challenging. It can be scary and uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Wilkins, assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Mary's Seminary in Houston. “There is a strong pressure in our culture to reinterpret (the resurrection) or explain it or not to deal with it as the mighty and miraculous thing that it was.”
The resurrection's Easter competition comes not only from colorful bunnies and candies, but also the historical accounts of the story that appear in books, newspapers and cable TV programs each spring.
This month, the History Channel aired The Real Face of Jesus, a documentary about the Shroud of Turin, thought to be Christ's burial shroud.
“The skeptical mind is always going to try to find a physical, a psychological, an other-than-spiritual reason for the truth of the resurrection,” said Gary Moore, spokesman for Second Baptist Church.
Even within Christianity, there's a spectrum of belief on who Jesus was and what the resurrection means.
Among young American evangelicals, a growing contrarian viewpoint holds that Jesus isn't the only path to salvation and non-Christians can go to heaven. Brian D. McLaren presents a reconsideration of the Gospel in his recently released book A New Kind of Christianity.
Unitarian Universalists and more liberal congregations emphasize the inspirational side of the Easter story, as a story of new life and the power to rise above hate and injustice.
“Let's don't try to water this down. Let's not try to make it just an idea,” said Moore in response. “Jesus' resurrection doesn't stand for something else, like a metaphor. Jesus' resurrection only represents his body, not his philosophy.”
The most common concept comes from Apostles Creed, shared with little variation among Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans and others.
According to the statement of faith, Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; He ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Jesus' resurrection was the first testimony of Christian faith; early Christians circulated stories about seeing him after his death, which were recorded in the New Testament, said April DeConick, a Rice University religion professor and historian.
“As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus served as a concrete example that God is good on his promises, and so the faithful followers of Jesus could be assured of their own resurrection after their deaths ,” she said.
The Episcopal bishop for Texas also acknowledges some confusion over resurrection in today's world, but says that doesn't keep parishioners from experiencing the power of God and his promise of salvation in their lives.
“While many may not be able to articulate fully the theology of resurrection, I think most Christians would say that they experience a sense of it in Christian community,” said the Right Rev. C. Andrew Doyle. “They experience resurrection through relationships with others, through the community a congregation offers and from service and outreach to other people. Christians testify that they experience, receive, and act out of the mystery of resurrection — this feeling of constant renewal.”
Ah, but even as Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of their Savior, a particular sect seems to be in need of resurrection on its own. The Christian church of Rome, the one we all call "Roman Catholic", and the only sect arrogant enough to think it's in charge, has been reeling from a series of child-abuse scandals. You all know what happened here in Boston
; it sure seems like it's become a global pandemic of abuse now.
Of course, the church is still slow to react to these accusations, even now. Some are calling for the Pope to resign; still others are not afraid to stand up and call it what it is...protecting and coddling pedophiles. Overseas, a hundreds-year-old wound seems to be opening back up in England, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has declared the Catholic church in Ireland has lost all credibility
and is wondering if the Pope should cancel his upcoming visit there.
The archbishop of Canterbury has said the Catholic church in Ireland has lost "all credibility" because of its poor handling of the scandal of paedophile priests.
Dr Rowan Williams said the scandal had been a "colossal trauma" for Ireland in particular.
In an interview to be broadcast on Monday, he said: "I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it's quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.
"And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that's not just a problem for the church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."
Williams's remarks were condemned by one of the most senior Catholics in Ireland, the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. "Those working for renewal in the Catholic church in Ireland did not need this comment on this Easter weekend and do not deserve it," he said.
The comments are also likely to fuel the controversy surrounding the pope's visit to Britain in September, when he is expected to talk about moral standards and renew his attack on Britain's equality laws.
A Protest the Pope petition on the Downing Street website against the £15m cost of the visit, which will be shared by the government and the Catholic church, has already attracted more than 10,000 signatories.
In his interview for BBC Radio 4's Start the Week, to be broadcast on Monday, Williams sounded less than enthused about the pope's visit.
"The pope will be coming here to Lambeth Palace. We'll have the bishops together to meet him. I'm concerned that he has the chance to say what he wants to say in and to British society, that we welcome him as a valued partner and, you know, that's ... that's about it."
He also predicted that few Anglicans would take up the pope's offer of conversion to Catholicism.
Martin, who has called for full accountability in the church over child abuse, rebuked Williams's remarks , which he said would discourage those working to address the damage caused by the paedophile scandal.
"The unequivocal and unqualified comment in a radio interview of the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that the Catholic church in Ireland has 'lost all credibility' has stunned me," Martin said.
The comments would be "immensely disheartening" for those Catholics dealing with the child abuse problems and would "challenge their faith even further", he said.
"I have to say that in all my years as archbishop of Dublin in difficult times I have rarely felt personally so discouraged as when I woke to hear archbishop Williams' comments," he added.
The reputation of the Catholic church in Ireland has been severley damaged by revelations that its leaders covered up widespread child sexual abuse by dozens of paedophile priests.
Its leader, the primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, came under pressure to stand down after he admitted being at a meeting where children abused by the convicted paedophile Father Brendan Smyth were forced to take a vow of silence.
The scandal has also damaged the pope, who has faced accusations that he failed to properly investigate a serial abuser in a children's home for the deaf in Wisconsin, US, in the late 1990s.
It's a curious thing, and it's not escaped my notice. I wonder what the rest of the blog's opinion is on this. Roman Catholicism is about the only religion that requires celibacy among their preachers. What is the only church that is having this significant of a problem? Yes, it exists elsewhere...it's a power and control thing, I know. But when was the last time a sex scandal ripped the Methodist community? Or the Lutherans? or the Baptists? (wait - nevermind.)
So...if you are of the faith, do try to remember what this weekend is supposed to represent. If you're not, enjoy your holiday in peace...and we'll get back to the politics later.