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The Easter myth and the decline of religion

Derivative of Black Madonna and child Jesus of Częstochowa.

Tom Drake-Brockman

Christianity is in relentless decline in the West and one reason is clear enough: it cherishes faith in metaphysical beliefs that are entirely baseless. The dogmas associated with Easter are a classic example of this.

Hearing voices

Most of these originated with St Paul, whose voices and visions on the road to Damascus convinced him Jesus was crucified to bring atonement for humanity’s ‘original sin’ of eating the forbidden fruit.

But Paul had no evidence for this beyond his epiphany and it is a notion riddled with anomalies, perhaps the most notable being its uniqueness.

There is no concept of Adam’s original sin in mainstream Judaism of the first century and Jesus was a devout, mainstream Jew.

Jews expected a Messiah to liberate them and restore their ancient kingdom – but that had nothing to do with atonement for some overarching sin of humanity.

Like most Jews, Jesus did not contemplate any idea of blanket divine forgiveness. That was because each individual was expected to find forgiveness through repentance. As the prophet Jeremiah said, there will be no collective guilt (or innocence) but ‘instead, everyone will die for his own sin’ (Jer 31:30).

Christians claim the Easter sacrifice was an extension of the atonement sacrifices that were a longstanding practice of Judaism. But by Christ’s time, Temple sacrifices were coming into disrepute and were even ridiculed by prophets like Isaiah (Isa 66:3).

Sins your responsibility

Even more compelling (though Christians do not want to admit it), the Gospels do not contain any clear reference to Jesus dying to atone for our sins. That is particularly striking given that most of the Gospels appeared long after Paul’s idea of Christ’s redemptive death had become widely accepted by the now predominantly gentile Christian church.

In Luke’s gospel, there is barely a hint that Jesus came to die for our sins. There Jesus states in the parable of the Good Samaritan that salvation will depend on love of others (Lk 10: 25–37).

In John’s gospel, Jesus says he will sacrifice his life but there is no connection made between this and atonement. In fact, Jesus says in John that redemption can only come through ‘knowing God’ (Jn 17:3), and in Matthew, Jesus says we can only know God by emulating His loving kindness (hesed) (Mt 9:13).

There are only two statements of Jesus (in Mark and Matthew) that appear to suggest he was intending to die to redeem our sins – but both can be construed quite differently.

In Mark’s gospel he refers to himself as giving his life ‘as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45). But the Greek word for ransom – lutron – had a very specific meaning of payment for liberation from slavery; and liberation from hierarchical oppression is the context in which Jesus speaks in Mark.

In Matthew, Jesus seems more specific when he says his blood will be ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mt 26:28); and forgiveness is indeed, the leitmotif of his mission.

But the forgiveness Jesus constantly refers to is not divine but human forgiveness. Indeed he affirms in the Lord’s Prayer that divine forgiveness will actually hinge on human forgiveness, not on any doctrinal faith in a salvific sacrifice of forgiveness.

Love God by loving each other

Jesus’s campaign of forgiveness – in sermons, parables, and healing miracles – was crucial for his people, stigmatised by a culture of guilt, to regain self-esteem and a measure of justice. It enshrined the basic empathy needed to fulfil his new ‘Great Commandment’: to love God by loving each other (Mt 22: 36–40). It also put him on a collision course with the Temple elites who exploited a widespread guilt neurosis by claiming a spurious (and lucrative) God-ordained monopoly on forgiveness via their sacrificial rites. Thus, he was crucified ‘for the forgiveness of sins,’ with the ‘for’ denoting cause rather than effect.

If Christianity focused on this empathetic, human forgiveness, it would be salutary for both it and our imperilled world. That is the kind of salvation we should be seeking this Easter.

♦ Tom Drake-Brockman is the Author of the newly published book, Bad Faith: a spiritual humanist alternative for Christianity and the West.


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6 responses to “The Easter myth and the decline of religion”

  1. Brian McMahon says:

    An appropriate article for Easter ?

  2. Andrew Baldwin says:

    Tom,
    I appreciate your thoughts here, but can’t it be even simpler?

    The idea that god judges is to me heresy. A god of love will not judge. Period.
    The concept that a loving god would create us, only to place irresistible ‘temptations’ in front of us and then condemn us to eternal damnation when we inevitably succumb is so patently ridiculous that I am staggered that it is so endemically entrenched in christian consciousness.

    The judgement that we suffer on this plane of life is entirely man-made.
    And it is judgement itself that is the leading cause of our almost ceaseless strife – not hatred, not ignorance nor any of the other feelings and reactions we have that are misidentified as the cause of our woes.

    The true messengers of god are always judged and victimised by other men… never by god.

    And they are judged because they threaten the comfort and the power structures of those who presume to lord it over their fellow men, when in truth we are all in our essence, absolutely equal. Absolutely. Equal.

    Hermes, Zarathustra, Zoroaster, Gautama Buddha, Patanjali, Pythagoras, Plato, Yeshua or Mohammed amongst others… all men, all equal to us, all judged by their fellow men who refused to countenance a way of living that is offered by connection and obedience to the deepest inner self, and not by the insatiable dictates of the material world.

    The message of these prophets is always the same – after all the truth is constant – yet it is invariably rejected by the vast majority.

    We are all gods, disguised as humans.

    Get used to it. The sooner the better.

    AndyB North Coast.

  3. robot says:

    Well, alll, yes, and noone including Jesus in those days had any idea of the far future, nor even the world beyond a few close boundaries. Somehow we have world religions. But in Matthew there is the sense that Jesus on the cross ffelt he was fulfilling a prophesy, his last words: It is finished. Maybe some former document now lost. It doesn’t matter the equivocations and pedantry. Any of us who think and live recognise wrongs in our lives, if we live that long. We don’t necessarily need saving, but it is a question.

  4. robot says:

    As for metaphysics, it was always those bits harder to define or slot. If Christianity is in decline, it’s because the past is being passed, aside from the bad press. Mohammedism was basically a response to those hypocrisies, and well enough; now we face that as well, a thousand years of law and dogma. But what can one say about the basic difference, a law based upon forgiveness and a law based on protection. We are in a new fight for ideas, it goes beyond religion. It goes to the heart of many Western ideals not even based on a religion, though there are interfaces. Our modern freedoms are under seige. Do we sit back and arguethe latest polemics, or fight.

  5. Tweed says:

    There is a stone tablet dedicated to the God Baal in the British Museum of natural history. It has the plagiarised “Christ” passion play inscribed on it. The Baal stone tablet is dated as being 4,000years old and pre dates the plagiarised “Christ Passion” play by 2,000 years.
    It escaped the massive Christian destruction in the 4th century.
    You can look at almost any “religious” celebration in any culture and see that it will require an astrological equinox full or new moon to set it’s date.
    Easter or “Ester” what it is derived from, requires the Nth Hemisphere spring equinox following full moon, the first Sunday following that full moon is Easter Sunday.
    Easter is an astrological event, just like almost all other religious events, all religions are astrological in origin the words Holy Bible are basically “Sun Book”, “Helios Byblos”! If you change the words God Jesus, Lord in the bible to the word “Sun” you can see it.
    This is why early Christians destroyed all of the classic world libraries, all literature, mathematics, science, art, monuments, buildings, the entire classic world culture, everything, all destroyed in the 4th century. These were dangerous people, similar to ISIS today.
    There are book s about this in your local library. “The Darkening age”, The destruction of the classical world by the early Christians. Catherine Nixey. is one of the latest.

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