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Easter: Celebrating the Hope of Salvation?

Roop Misir
April, 2011

Spring heralds the season of renewal and hope. Warming temperatures melt snow and set the stage for rebirth and rejuvenation. Amidst it all, life forms multiply and flourish. The essence of the season of hope is captured by poetry and song, perpetuated by culture, and immortalized by religion. Humanity's determination to enjoy life in perpetuity has sprouted a plethora of belief systems, which excite the imagination and certainly boggle the mind with truth claims and counterclaims. Spring not only showcases Nature's beauty but also renews our quest for immortality.

Belief of the mind
It is not unusual for some of us to find solutions using the mind. As times, we think and let the imagination soar. In due course, we start believing what we think and imagine. As we develop confidence in ourselves, some of us accept things we can't explain with implicit faith (belief without reason or logic). Before long, we are ready to convince others that our beliefs are true – Gospel truth.

Easter non-pagan origin
The origin of Easter is pagan (non-Christian). The name "Easter" comes from "Eastre", the Saxon goddess of fertility and spring. This observation was made in the eighth century CE; however, others trace “Easter” further back to Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). They point out that the Saxon goddess Eastre was derived from Ishtar, the principal god of the Babylonians. Like Eastre, Ishtar was associated with spring, life, love, and fertility.

The modern Christian Easter is also tied to the spring (vernal) equinox-day of equal light/darkness. It's celebrated on the first Sunday after March 20 following the first full moon. Easter bunnies and eggs are taken to symbolize fertility and new life.

Easter celebration of hope
Holy week precedes Easter. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends at sundown on Easter. This is the time when Christians remember the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Good Friday focuses on his suffering and death on the cross (crucifixion). In contrast, Easter Sunday is a joyful celebration of hope because the faithful believe Christ arose from the dead (resurrection) the following day (Easter Monday). His Ascension (rising to Heaven) occurred forty days later. Events around Easter are meant to symbolize perpetual life after death (immortality). By merely believing, Christians feel they are entitled to enter the Kingdom of God (Heaven). Thus the annual celebration of Easter is an exercise of hope for afterlife immortality!

Easter secular activities
Is Easter strictly a holiday for devout Christians? Or can secular families also celebrate?

This is an important question because many newer Canadians aren't Christians. Others have little interest in matters of God and Heaven, regarding them as pure speculation. However, they do like to celebrate and have fun. The increasing popularity of Hindu/Buddhist Yoga and meditation techniques may help Christians reach atonement with the suffering of Lord Jesus.

Of course, people can believe anything – Tooth Fairy, Halloween, Santa Claus. They chase after mirages and the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. But traditional beliefs can also be a powerful force. To pagans like me, there's nothing wrong with observing religious events (e.g., Easter), albeit with the secular eye. In attempting to engage young people, some schools may choose fun activities, e.g., coloring eggs, making decorative cards or eating chocolate bunnies.

In Christian homes, parents do cleaning and baking, and shopping for new outfits. Workers like myself use the long weekend to visit with friends and relatives. Many just laze around, or take long awaited dream vacations.

Jesus' message
Jesus was born a Jew. His message was meant primarily for the Jewish people. He told his twelve disciples to go and preach his word – not to the Gentiles (non-Jews), nor the Samaritans, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew: 10.5-6, 15.22-24). However, Jews refused to accept him as the divine savior. And so when the Romans crucified him, many Jews felt convinced that he couldn't be the Messiah as described in ancient prophecies. But Gentiles and non-Jewish people embraced Christianity.

Today, Christian devotees believe that the blood of Christ will somehow save them.

Apostle St. Paul
Rational people dismiss Christianity, and other “religions” as little more than tales of make-believe, and chasing after mirages. Yet, many Christians somehow feel certain that they are headed for Heaven simply because they believe that Christ died for their sins-a notion that flies in the face of reason. When we knowingly and repeatedly commit sins (reprehensible acts), does it mean that as believers, Lord Jesus will overlook our infractions? This idea originated with St. Paul, but it is the cornerstone of Christianity.

Conversion of Hindus/Buddhists
Christian proselytizers dare not try to convert Muslims. Yet, the Church makes no secret of its plans to convert Hindus and Buddhists. In fact, the Pope himself declared that the Synod of Bishops was a "call to conversion”, to "open wide to Christ the doors of Asia". To become Christian, all that's needed is belief in Jesus, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Entry rules for Jesus' heaven
So why don't all Christians go to heaven? Consider the rules for exclusion.

Lord Jesus was quite specific on this topic. In fact, he left specific rules in books of the New Testament. For example, he said that if anyone that loves his or her father, mother, son, or daughter more than him, he/she is not worthy of him (Matthew 10.37). Also, God commands person to honor his father and mother, and he that curseth his father or mother must die the death. However, if honoring one's parents means less love for Jesus, then that person will not get to heaven (Matthew 15.4). Clearly then, a believer's entrance to heaven is not such a sure thing after all!

All religions same goal?
If all roads lead to the same destination, does it necessarily follow that the popular interfaith notion is also true – that God (by another name) is in reality the same universal God? Knowing that Hindus believe in many manifestations of God, Christian missionaries are able to convert them, citing Jesus as another form of God. However, when we consider that proselytizing by the “non-democratic” religions is actually meant to enslave people, then it is clear that peddling religion can be a smokescreen to entrap unsuspecting people and steal their resources.

Religion vs. spirituality
What we need is not religion that divides people, but spirituality that emphasizes universal values – truth, love, kindness and fair play that apply to all peoples equally. Promulgating Christian and other divisive dogmas that benefit only the propagators, and not the people in need of spiritual guidance are divisive and dangerous. Forced religious conversion divides communities, destroys families and cultures. Over the ages, it resulted in holocausts of Hindus (pre-British India), inquisitions (Catholics domains), and loss of land and resources (parts of the Americas, Africa, and Asia).

Happy secular Easter
In the days of Lord Jesus, crucifixion was the preferred penalty for the guilty. Yet an innocent Jesus was made to suffer and die on the cross. The manner of his death and subsequent resurrection is denied by many, but is thought by Christians to give hope for eternal life after earthly passing.

Even as this basic tenet of Christianity is being challenged, it's time to observe Easter.

Happy Secular Easter!

Roop Misir is a Guyanese-Canadian Teacher with the Toronto District School Board. At High School, Dr. Misir was required to study the New Testament and the Acts of the Apostles.