Easter is the holiday that probably excites me the most as an atheist–in the sense that I get a bit agitated. That’s because the straw that broke the camel’s back, for me, was my realization that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead. My evolving Christian faith had always depended on a cosmic happy ending, and that happy ending had been anchored to the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth quite literally overcame death (and that that overcoming would somehow, someday, extend to all or most of “creation”). When I realized how groundless my conviction was, that was it for me.
I could have been a liberal Christian, I suppose. I could have gone the metaphorical route, or whatever. But my Christianity was already so unorthodox that I would have been left with an impersonal “God” unworthy of worship. What’s the point? As a humanist, I get to keep everything good about Christianity–the fun stories about Jesus, the social and political critique–and I get to ditch the bad, all while helping myself to the good in the rest of the world’s religious and philosophical traditions. I get to be a syncretist hack. It’s great! I try to take the good and leave the bad wherever I find it.
Every Easter though, I revisit everything I find stale, frustrating, and false about Christianity. The false hope, the false enthusiasm, the false historical claims. I’ve come to rather appreciate the tragic beauty of the Crucifixion narrative. A peasant prophet man comes into town, railing against the elites and preaching the universal accessibility of God. He then stages a public protest in the temple, and is shortly thereafter betrayed and hung out to dry. If you care about what Jesus of Nazareth obviously cared about, it’s touching and tragic. You know, like all good stories.
But then there’s this silly Easter narrative (silly, at least, on the versions I’m familiar with) that has him overcoming death. I’m happy that’s spawned a hundred or so Zombie Jesus internet memes. From a narrative perspective, it’s a classic deus ex machina. The plot has run its course, things have come to an impasse, and so the narrator has the gods do the dirty work of fixing everything up all tidy. I suppose that “works” for the sake of the story.
But then again, this “savior” of the world gets hoisted up into heaven again, and leaves his followers all alone (convenient, dare I say, to have the man who overcame death take his leave at such an early point in the rest of the story!). What does he leave his followers with? The “Holy Spirit”. An intangible nothing, that means nothing, accomplishes nothing, and is worth nothing.
If Christianity were true, it would be amazing. Life changing. I’d still have plenty of questions for the man upstairs (along the lines of, you know, why so much undeserved suffering?), but at least I’d have something to look forward to. A Happy Ending. But if there is no Holy Spirit–and I haven’t met him, though I pretended I had, for a long time–then Jesus isn’t risen. Jesus is still dead. And if Jesus is dead, then Christianity, in its orthodox form, is false. Worse, it’s probably a waste of time. I suppose there are worse things to believe, a worse ways to waste one’s time, but there you have it.
So Happy Easter. Have some chocolate. Hide some eggs. Play dress up if that’s your thing. But spare us the “he is risen indeed” nonsense. Jesus is dead.