Whether I’m standing in a grocery checkout lane surrounded by bright plastic baskets, wandering a mall filled with gourmet-chocolate bunnies, or enduring the interminable wait at CVS by staring at fake eggs nestled in even faker grass, I have to wonder — why isn’t someone decrying the War on Easter?
After all the telegenic despair over the temerity of people who say ”Happy Holidays” as opposed to ”Merry Christmas,” you’d think the culture warriors would find the Easter holiday a tempting next target. Looking at the pre-packaged Easter baskets that brim with more toys than candy these days, it’s hard even for a humanist such as myself not to see the secular yuletide tentacles reaching from one season to another.
Still, I have to admit that Easter remains a second-class commercial holiday compared to Jesus’ birthday. The date of Christmas is as burned into my memory as the sensations I felt when I first kissed another boy — more so, actually, as I’ve tended to be sober for the former, and not so much for the latter. But when Easter rolls around, I have to check the calendar. Often.
When is it again? Oh, that’s right, April 8. I think.
This is an odd state of affairs. From a strictly religious standpoint, Christmas doesn’t seem to be all that. Jesus was born. He didn’t even have to do the hard work — God and Mary took care of that.
Easter’s where the action’s act — from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion to the Resurrection to the Ascension, the Easter story would seem to hold most of the major points of being a Christian.
But when it comes to celebrations of the seasons, it doesn’t work out that way. To sum up:
For Christmas we get a jolly fat guy bearing presents and nativity scenes in front of every church.
For Easter we get creepy, anthropomorphic rabbits handing out hard-boiled chicken fetuses.
Something certainly seems out of whack.
You may wonder what on earth a staunch secularist such as myself is doing yammering on about the appropriateness of Christian religious celebrations. Fair question, and a difficult one to answer, to be honest. The best way I can put it is this: I’m getting older far faster than I’m getting wiser, and the encroaching mortality of myself and my loved ones makes me question my own beliefs (or lack thereof) more and more.
Maybe it would help to go back a bit.
In many ways, I’m from the Bible Belt, but not of the Bible Belt. While members of the Bugg family had long been a part of the Fredonia Valley Cumberland Presbyterian Church, my parents were not churchgoers. However, that didn’t let me and my sister off the hook. Every Sunday morning, our aunt and uncle would pick us up and take us to Sunday school and worship services.
I was a Sunday morning regular — the apparent familial pact to ensure I got some churching didn’t include Sunday evening services or the perplexing Wednesday night refresher service. I went to Bible school each summer, where I indulged in Kool-Aid, sugar cookies and Old Testament-themed macaroni art. I narrated Christmas pageants, dressed as a shepherd, gave myself up for baptism when I was 12.
Then I got a driver’s license and a job with Sunday morning hours — my religious days were at an end.
The combination of college and coming out led to my whole-hearted embrace of fervent agnosticism. I was often accused of atheism because of my predictable disdain for organized religion, but that’s a label I’ve always resisted. First off, never say never — it’s a big universe of infinite possibilities, so I consider it wise to hedge my bets. Second, the only thing more annoying than an aggressive Christian proselytizer who wants to save my soul from the Devil is an aggressive atheist proselytizer who wants to save my soul from God.
In my twenties, my agnosticism was less an active philosophy and more a default status. Sundays were a day of rest, primarily because I needed a day to recover from Saturday. What little thought I gave religion consisted of bafflement at why some gays and lesbians would be trying so hard to stay in churches that didn’t want them, or to find welcoming churches of their own. You’re out, gay and proud — who needs God?
Some of you may be sensing a conversion story coming around the corner. That’s not the case. But these days I find myself living in an actual religious household. In my home is an altar for Phat Ba Quan Am — my partner, Cavin, is Buddhist. And not a Hollywood ”I’m bored with Western religion but scared of Scientology” Buddhist — he’s a real, practicing, believing Buddhist with a religious tradition that stretches back to his childhood in Vietnam.
It’s been an eye-opening experience, being the non-believer in an otherwise believing home. I’ve been to temple more in the past few months than I’ve been to church in the past 20 years. At first, it was a cool and new experience, like watching the Discovery Channel, only live. To my austere, Protestant eyes, even the humblest Buddhist temple is like Easter squared, with colors and fruits and statues and incense and near sensory overload.
Death changes that perspective. When Cavin’s grandmother died last year, I was fortunate enough to be included by the family in a number of the rituals that helped her passing from this life to the next. And, as rituals go, there are a lot of them, every bit as complicated and comforting and human as the ones I grew up with.
While I sometimes place an apple on the altar at home for Cavin and light incense, that’s generally been a simple case of me doing him a favor. But in the past few weeks, I’ve twice found myself at the altar of my own accord. Once was after some bad news about one of Cavin’s relatives, who had received a disheartening and dire diagnosis from the doctor, and again when my mother’s husband underwent surgery for an aggressive brain tumor.
We get older, our situations change, and we find ourselves open to questions we thought had been settled.
While I’m certainly closer to being a Buddhist these days than I am to being anything more than a cultural Christian, I’m steadfast in my agnosticism. But putting aside the bunnies and the eggs and the candies, I’m more prone this year to looking at the actual message in Easter — the same as I could look for a message in Passover, in Ramadan, in Tet.
I don’t need to believe. But I do want to have hope. And if this time of year is about anything, it’s about that.