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Carrying the Cross

Its Easter again so we expect to see all the traditional Easter imagery in the news. You know, things like people eating too much chocolate, having a few days off work, Easter sales in just about every retail store, etc. Oh yes, and there is that thing that a decreasing minority seem to attach to Easter: some sort of religious event associated with a character called Jesus. Remember him?

Well if you don’t you seem to be in the majority. Of all the news, entertainment, and other media I have experienced over the last few days the only news showing a religious association with Easter was a newspaper article showing three small groups carrying crosses from one place to another around town, presumably re-enacting the Jesus crucifixion story.

I admit that the story of the crucifixion contains a lot of powerful imagery and probably has a great impact on people who are inclined to take these things seriously. I’m afraid I’m a bit more cynical about the whole thing because I only see two possibilities: either you take the story seriously or you take it as a metaphor of some type.

If you take the story seriously then you really should worry about whether it is true or not. The facts indicate clearly that it cannot be taken seriously as real history. The gospel stories were written many years after the events they describe, they were written by unidentified people who had no association with the characters in the story, they are inconsistent with each other, the four gospels were chosen arbitrarily from hundreds of alternatives, and there is no credible evidence outside the Bible that Jesus even existed.

So if the story isn’t true does it serve some useful symbolic purpose? Well I guess it must do to some people although I’m really not sure what exact purpose that would be. The traditional interpretation is that if you follow Jesus you will get some sort of forgiveness from God, but that only makes sense if you think the story is true. I have already shown that there is no reason to think it is. And what does believing in Jesus have to do with being a good person, being looked on favourably by God, or anything else? It just doesn’t make sense.

So it seems that neither of those purposes make much sense, so maybe all the story is good for is to make some insecure (and possibly fantasy prone) people feel better and to provide another interesting myth to study, a bit like the mythology of ancient Greece. So the groups carrying crosses around add interest to our society but its really hard to take the whole thing too seriously, unless you are a social anthropologist!

Correction: Since writing this I have noticed another couple of examples of religious material related to Easter. There was a program on TV which followed one interpretation of the crucifixion and resurrection story, and a couple of minor items in the news mentioned the religious aspects of this weekend. Despite these I still think the general ideas I discussed above are relevant.

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