Friday, April 22, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Christianity in America at Easter

Almost every time Bambino and I gather with friends in New York, it strikes me that we're like the opening of a bad joke: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, an atheist, and a Buddhist enter a bar.... I love that America is a mix of all people from all places. I also love that in America I can identify as Christian for what I see as all the right reasons, and not because to do otherwise is to risk harm.

Yeah, I know..."Christian" is hardly the first thing you'd think to call me, but this time of year I always fall off the wagon a bit with my on-again--off-again agnosticism. Easter is the Christian holiday I respect the most (even more than Christmas, which I love, but mostly for its family-gathering and warmth and charm), and there's something so reassuring about Easter's message of renewal. Whoever decided to have it in Springtime knew what they were doing. :-)

More than that, though, Easter is the holiday in which we observe what made Christ most worthy of admiration. So much so that it still continues, to my mind, to overshadow all the jockeying for ways to control the masses that followed in its wake. And that's saying something.

Easter is the holiday I respect because it's about something other than wanting to party.

At Christmas we celebrate his birth, but being born was no big deal (despite how melodramatic we try to make his story, the fact remains that billions of the rest of us have managed the same thing). And while living simply and spreading advice on love and life's best practices is certainly noteworthy, it was accepting his terrible fate in Calvary with grace and conviction (if the stories are to be believed) that truly set him apart from your average inhabitant of this planet. If there's anything to admire about Christ (and I think there's plenty), the sacrifice symbolized by his crucifixion is worlds above the rest.

There is another part of Christianity I admire and need to clarify in this context, although I think it's predominantly a Protestant presumption. That is the ability to communicate (i.e., negotiate) with God directly, without any middlemen. This may be total hogwash as theology to many people (and that's their right to believe so), but it's what I was raised to understand and, well, I prefer it that way.

But that's as far down the path of theology as I'm comfortable taking this. My main point is that as much as America is statistically dominated by Christians, the belief that people are free to worship as they wish, or not, is what actually makes being a Christian here so great. I can choose to be a Christian even though there are those who would argue that certain aspects of my life are incompatible with their definition of Christianity. In that same regard, the fact that others are free to be Jewish or Muslim or atheist, only underscores the freedom I feel to be Christian in the way I wish to negotiate with my God and my conscience. It creates the most forgiving context imaginable, which just so happens to be at the very core of Christianity.

Now I know that my preference here will strike many people heavily invested in a wide array of religious rules and regulations as highly convenient for me. Knowing how many sects there are within any main religion and the truly petty differences that separate them, though, I'd throw the exact same statement back their way. Work your differences out amongst your warring selves and then get back to me. I'll wait.

Next week I'm sure some idiot will burn a Qur'an or insist that objecting to Christians' sense of entitlement is a "hate crime," but this week, I'm reminded of all that's good about the message of forgiveness, charity, sacrifice, and love for each other that I had been taught Christ represents. Like most religions, Christianity IS fabulous, when sincerely practiced as preached.

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Solstice, and Happy Spring!

Labels: happy holidays, politics, religion


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Like most religions, Christianity IS fabulous, when sincerely practiced as preached."...INDEED!

here is one fine contribution to this notion:

Rob Bell is the most challenging writier in Christain literature today...his Church Mars Hill is something of an excercise in Faith as Performance Art.Spiritual Humanism with a heart for the mysteries of the divine.

4/22/2011 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tatiana said...

Im all about 'good messages' and feeling a camaraderie with like-minded folk -- but I contend that to call yourself a follower of any defined religion, means not just cherry-picking the *good things* you see/read/hear about it, it means being devoted to the entire religion...this is where i have problems with folk who call themselves: christian, jew, muslim, etc and yet dont accept it really cant call yourself 'that' unless you accept the full-on breadth of the religion, as defined in texts/scripture -- otherwise, it's not 'that' religion, it's something else. This isnt just about semantics...
I understand I may sound like a downer on this 'holiday' but dont get it twisted, i love the 'good messages' and reflections -- I just think it would behoove those who want so desperately to pick the good stuff out, to rather define themselves as something other than what already has historical definition. It's a tough one. Why take on a title that really doesnt completely define what/who you are? Maybe if more folk decided against doing so, we'd have more rational global discourse -- and maybe we'd have *something else*.......

4/22/2011 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I contend that to call yourself a follower of any defined religion, means not just cherry-picking the *good things* you see/read/hear about it, it means being devoted to the entire religion...this is where i have problems with folk who call themselves: christian, jew, muslim, etc and yet dont accept it all.

Again, when you reconcile all the inconsistencies within those religions as practiced through the various sects that identify themselves as the true "Christians" or "Jews" or "Muslims" get back to me, OK?

Until then, since the folks who insist they're doing it "right" are obviously already picking and choosing, I'm going to continue to identify as I wish according to the set of rules that make sense to my life too.

4/22/2011 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Tatiana said...

I understand your point on one level, yet dont understand why, if there are so many inconsistencies, why one would still choose to define oneself as such -- when there are already established basic notions re: each organized religion - that may contradict. That is where I have trouble understanding. Why wouldnt someone just define themselves as something else then? As in a "branch of XYZ" or something completely different (which makes more sense to me)...I dont reminds me of folk who 'reclaim' words such as ni**er and fa**ot and such...making them their own and giving it more of a "positive" spin on the same word, that btw already has an established definition -- I feel that most organized religions have established, basic statements of practice -- it's in the texts -- so yes, "picking" and also, *supplementing* to an already established entity, to me, is 'something else'-- another religion perhaps.
But I suppose it is "your version of ___" and that's anyones choice.
My goal is to have more understanding in the world re: religion, et al...and adding to the inconsistencies only causes more confusion, misunderstanding and false impressions.
Religion is yes, a personal thing, but it is also a public thing.

4/22/2011 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Joanne Mattera said...

What I love about Easter is not Easter, actually, but that it coincides with Passover and that *both* religions coincide with a time from the Pagan past in which renewal was celebrated.

Demeter's daughter, Persephone, arose from the underworld to begin life anew (hmm, sound familiar?; the earth warmed up, at least in the northern hemisphere; flowers bloomed and crops began to grow. The rabbit was a living metaphor for continuous regeneration--much cuter than, say, rats--and the egg, of new life about to burst forth.

Ed, next time you get together with friends, invite me. Then your bad joke can begin, "A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist and a Pagan enter a bar . . ."

4/22/2011 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Adding to the discussion between Tatiana and Ed:

Right on Ed. The beauty of Easter IS that Christ died for those that choose to believe He died for them. And [Tatiana] that is an open invitation to anyone from any walk of life. Everyone has sin in this world (no matter what you think it is that you are/aren't doing). Christ offers to renew us from that sin. To stop short of offering Christ's love/sacrifice to all who will believe regardless of who they are or what life style they choose is wrong. ONLY God can make the judgment on who is truly Christan or not. Ed saying he likes Easter for the reasons he's stated is right on. Besides if you went into any Christian church today you would be hard pressed to find two people that can agree on everything that the religion claims.

Happy Easter to all.

4/22/2011 06:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

me, I adore the way that the message of forgiveness is such a really radical concept. That the Christ didn't intend anything, but embodied it. That Easter isn't about being labeled a criminal by the establishment nor about being put to death as a scourge on society ... that in forgiveness or in a disregard of projected labels, symbolic slurs and outright discrimination even (bullying if you wish to minimize it), that one can instead embody what one attends to, rather then be limited by what others intend.
Which is likely why we still talk of the "meaning" of this ones life.

Kinda reminds me of art. Where, when art embodies what it aspires to, then others have the possibility of relating to it- to getting it without necessarily getting a prescribed meaning. Imagine, over 2000 years ago, the means of art were embodied in one whom people still identify as a saviour ... it gives me hope for arts validity as well! (not to be society's saviour, but that the proof of its value is in the pudding)

As Van Morrison sings - We've got to go back. Maybe that's Easter's message for the arts? To not forget where it all comes from.

4/23/2011 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Happy Birthday Ed ! ! !

4/24/2011 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with can't cherry pick from a religion's teachings...i have this argument all the time with my (Jewish) mother who extolls the virtues of the religion but says you can just ignore it's more oppressive tenets. I disagree.

4/26/2011 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Let's draw this out a bit then.

Of the statements Christ is reported to have said himself, I have only the slightest of disagreement with one of them. The rest of them are fine with me and I actually do attempt to live my life by them. (And no, it's not about homosexuality...Christ never weighed in on that topic. Peter did, but if we're to believe he wasn't mistranslated, or even apocryphal, then I have to conclude he was an awful opportunist who took extreme liberties.)

Moreover, I would reject the notion that I'm "cherry picking" from the religions "more oppressive tenets" (even framing things that way reveals a masochism that's inconsistent with my belief in a loving God, fwiw) because when I say I "negotiate with my God and my conscience" I do so in a way I believe is completely consistent with Christ's recorded statements.

What I choose to disagree with other mere mortals about are the rules and regulations that came after Christ's death via decries by other people who claimed to know what he wanted us to understand even when he never said so himself. Arrogant as this may sound, I honestly see no reason to believe they were any more in tune with what Christ meant than I am, not if the Protestant permission of a personal relationship with Christ is valid.

Further, history has shown us time and again that such rule makers were more than willing to abuse their position within religion's structures to oppress their fellow believers. Defending their tenets is therefore, again, masochistic.

Now, I'm sure folks will say "Well, I just assumed you meant you cherry picked from among Christ's teachings..." but if they carefully re-read what I wrote, there is no support for that. Such thinking is a bias they bring to any such rejection of organized religion's human-made rules and regulations, without careful consideration of why someone would do so.

4/26/2011 08:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

"Of the statements Christ is reported to have said himself, I have only the slightest of disagreement with one of them."

Which one?

4/26/2011 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That's between me and Christ, Bernard.

4/26/2011 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous waynestead said...

Thanks for this post, Ed.

I know I'm late in catching up with the discussion, but in my experience, there aren't that many people in the NY art world (especially the academic, gallery, museum systems...the artists don't seem to have the same issue) that can address Christianity intelligently, let alone from a neutral or positive perspective.

Thanks for offering your thoughts (and responses) with grace.

I would second the first (Anonymous) post about Bell. His most recent, "Love Wins" reiterates much of what you say here and it's encouraging to know that it's finding a wide audience.

Lately, I've been thinking that title would work well for a curatorial project...

Historian and curator, Dan Siedell, directs the conversation well for artists and art professionals.


5/02/2011 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very brave post. I am really starting to question my atheism and this post is very helpful and coming from someone with an intellect I respect makes it more so. I don't think I could ever wrap my head around the fact that if you do not believe but are struggling to do what is right (subway paper seller questioning) you are doomed, and further more that there is only one right way to believe.

6/03/2011 12:03:00 PM  

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