I’ve been thinking. This Easter, at least in our neo-pagan West, our Christian call to worship for a reverent remembrance of the betrayal, suffering, trial, execution and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, should be nothing less than inspired by a reconsideration of the ministry of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-21). And yet, such a proposed bending of ourselves that brings on repentant remembrance, and then holy living, is what Jesus himself called from us as his disciples every time we partake of the meal he instituted, the “Lord’s Supper”. So what’s so special about Easter? Why is Nurturing Justice making such a strange call as “Holy Week” draws near? Here we continue reflection on our earlier post about secularisation and Sunday. And this time it also involves beer and chocolate.
We may no longer be surprised by the secularisation of the way of life presupposed by the political parties that dominate the horizons of our citizenship but neither should we be ignorant of the relentless upswing in neo-paganism which is alive and well in all manner of populist projects these days. Are the politicians who were so keen to have their Facebook “selfies” launched showing their pious attendance among the masses at the Mardi Gras going to give us a feast of images of them kneeling at communion rails at Easter? We’ll wait and see.
Over the past decade we have often enough drawn attention in these pages to the post-modern fertility cult to which one prominent Liberal PM accommodated when he reneged on his pious pre-election promise concerning embryonic stem-cell research. That got him “Christian votes” but those “Christian votes” were happily ignored once he started talking with the pharmaceutical companies and their bogus predictions. But that just led on to other “body politic” uncertainty in his own side of politics, now joined inseparably by the other mob’s obsequious compliance with the latest polls. And let’s keep in mind that with films like the Marigold Hotel we have been given a subtle introduction to an Indo-Hindu view, not simply of “spirituality”, but also, in truth, of human sexuality, an artistic deconstruction, if truth be known, of marriage itself. And “rights talk” politics these days very quickly lands advocates of “same-sex marriage”, let alone of “gender fluidity” into worldviews that have hitherto been unknown and which make their own elaborated contribution to public debate uncomfortable if not distorted and deceptive.
But back to our “Easter celebrations”. We have a deeply anomalous public way of life in this country. We have grown to expect “Easter Holidays” – but what are they? Those pundits who tell us that we, as a polity, have to be brave and keep religion out of political life – as if political life can be somehow closeted from the rest of our life (can the conservative liberal gad-fly Tony Abbott tell us how this is done in his case, please?) – are not so brave themselves to advocate the reformation of our public holidays. They’ll comply with AFL Games being played on Good Friday, but why have a Good Friday holiday anyway, particularly if so many are claiming to have no ongoing religious affiliation, let alone Christian conviction? Is it all about tourism then – stimulating the holiday timetable so that tourist operations can stay afloat? Or is it simply to maintain a kind of regimentation that wants to maintain a brave front with distinct Christian trimmings in the face of militant Islam, let alone militant atheism? (I haven’t heard many militant atheists asking these kinds of questions, but they may be doing so.) Is it that we can’t really admit the paganisation of Easter without opening the door further to confirm entrance of the Islamic view that Islam is the way because Christianity clearly no longer has a hold on the hearts of western citizens? So is “Easter” simply more pretending, this time because we don’t want to be that kind of “religion”.
Well, consider the manner in which the West’s ongoing adherence to the keeping of Christian festivals has now reached ridiculous heights, manifesting inherent incoherence if not complete brain-dead stupidity, let alone apostasy. Why can’t we Christian people (at least those of us who still profess faith in Christ Jesus) face up to the fact that we are being confronted with ongoing religious efforts to transform our faith into yet another effort to make life meaningful, born of a presumed and unassailable human autonomy? Why can’t the Christian people, the sheep of the flock of Jesus Christ, resist the ongoing public construal of their faith as merely their own efforts to attain a mythic joy through a concocted self-transcendence – “Please pass the chocolates, Vicar!”
Consider the British Prime Minister’s pathetic lament about the Cadbury company’s rebadging of its advertising for its annual egg hunt. Now admittedly, the UK PM has got other matters on her mind, and we certainly are victimised these days by news media and twitter storms blowing all kinds of things, sentences that were breathed in paragraphs, out of context and way out of proportion. We know that already. And so we had better also be careful,and not get inappropriate exercise by jumping to premature mediated conclusions about what the Archbishop of York might have said about John Cadbury the Quaker (1801-1889).
But then think about it. By referring to this commercially sponsored chocolate egg-fest, the phrase “the joy of Easter” is a flagrant playing with words anyway. What Christian minister inspired by John the Baptist is going to mount his or her pulpit and take Cadbury’s Australia to task – not for “air-brushing” faith from Easter – but to insist that to be Christianly consistent, John Cadbury would have condemned the entire exercise as yet another superficial instance of modern paganism’s hegemony, an idolatry worthy of public condemnation.
I make this suggestion because John Cadbury was a Christian believer. But keep in mind that as a Quaker he held no remit for the “sacred” festival of Easter. We are told by his Quaker descendants that he didn’t subscribe to such paganising festivals.
So then churchpersons eager to get a piece of the chocolate from this “storm in an egg-cup”, need to take a deep breath and ask themselves, as we are doing, why the Churches that claim to be the repositories of the Good News of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, have for so long “airbrushed” the idolatry that abounds each year when we are stopped in our tracks by the “paschal full moon”, a holiday granted by ancient Gregorian calendrical calculations. Now that the Cadbury company is embroiled in such a controversy and the British PM feels impelled to lament the passing of the name of a chocolate festival which no longer gives such prominence to its “Easter” badging, we need to ask how it is that churches continue to identify this part of their church year with a festival that has become more and more a festival of chocolate.
We used to observe that with the Christianisation of the Roman Empire we also witnessed the paganised Romanising of Christianity. Likewise with the Eastering of Bunnies and Eggs do we not now encountered the Bunnified Chocolatising of Christianity?
If what has been reported of the statements of the British Parliament’s Leader of the Opposition means that he wants the chocolate company and the UK National Trust to reassure faithful chocolate devotees that the removal of the sacred word “Easter” from the egg hunt will not compromise any eclectically devout participation in Easter celebrations then … well you can see the problem I trust even before we try to raise a Christian voice heard in the midst of this firestorm.
Let’s be plain about this. We may have long discussed how we now face what are nothing other than pagan versions of Christmas festivals dominating the late-capitalist, post-modern market place. As soon as Christmas is over, on the 26th of December, Coles and Woolworths stock up with Hot-Cross Buns (“Buy Early for Easter”) and then the pre-Easter religiosity – “I shop therefore I am” or “Shop until you drop”) is interspersed with a “Don’t forget fish for Lent”.
This too is part of the everyday problematic reality we face. And if we are not wise we can too easily be provoked into making our own rear-guard advertising, making our own apologies in order to safeguard our precious niche in the market place … Recently Australia had it’s “Cadbury-type” moment with Coopers Beer coming out and apologising for promoting civic discourse about SSM in association with the Bible Society.
But Nurturing Justice keeps on posting because Christian citizens stand in need of a Christian political option. Christian citizens live coram Deo, so we do not function, as, not should we ever think of ourselves merely as, so many isolated individuals. Our task in life is something quite other than socially constructing own identities via our own paltry publicity efforts. But if any Bible Society, as a Christian commercial enterprise, or a beer company, along with churches, social welfare agencies, aid and development agencies, schools, households, or the man and the woman constituting a Christian marriage and family, want to maintain even a shred of Christian public credibility in this highly compromised and compromising phase of the roll out of the pagan-humanistic world view, then we had all better face the awesome and difficult responsibility of developing a genuine Christian political option. I’m not saying that subscription to Nurturing Justice is the answer. But as we have said – this is not and never should be about seeking to give a good Christian account by inflicting “our Christian biffo” in the public square. No. In the first instance we will need to learn how to view ourselves in a distinctly Christian way and stop the nonsense of assuming that identity is somehow religious neutral, and unrelated to how we drink our beer, frame our conversations and pass the chocolates (1 Corinthians 10:31).
And so, this communal work forging a Christian political option, is not so much for exercising “pressure” on parliament or even giving political biffo with respect to a whole range of coherent public policy issues held together by a faith in Jesus Christ the King of Kings … at least not in the first instance – we might say the “John the Baptist moment” is one of repentance and it will simply need a deepened appreciation of the Biblical call to love our neighbours with public justice. From that reassurance of our trust in the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus of Nazareth, our calling will be, as it has ever been, to develop an obedient stand in the public and private places the Lord has allowed to be opened up to us in which to love him with everything we have and our neighbours as ourselves. That is the first and crucial step in maintaining a lawful res publica contribution.
We simply do not have that kind of integrity at the moment if we are not receiving it with the hands of repentant faith. John the Baptist’s “preparatory” call to Israel in the day’s before Jesus’ manifestation to Israel applies …