Thursday, April 9, 2009

Forgiving Easter

Public Service Announcement: Do not give live rabbits as Easter presents. Come on, people, it happens every year. You don't need to give your shrieking, ADHD-addled offspring a little bunny to torture and feed crap to. No one's saying you can't have a happy Easter - give a plush toy bunny or a chocolate rabbit to enjoy. Save the beautiful life of an innocent rabbit. Spread the word.

It will be Easter in a couple of days and I always get to thinking about a lot of things when this holiday rolls around. I was born and raised in a devout Roman Catholic household, although I never considered myself to be Catholic. Actually I never had any say in the matter - a couple of days after I was born they whisked my little bald head off to church to be baptized. You see, I had been born with "original sin." Rumor has it (and by "rumor" I mean the Baltimore Catechism circa 1941) that after Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden apple they were banished from the Garden of Eden (site now occupied by a Honda dealership in Anaheim, California) and all of their progeny would be stained with "original sin" for all eternity.

Um... seriously? Babies being born today who haven't done anything at all automatically have a sin credited against them when they take their first breath? You don't need to be Mr. Cynical to think that maybe it's just a transparent, self-serving scam perpetrated by the Catholic Church to make sure all babies get baptized as soon as possible after birth, before the parents can change their minds. And once the Church gets its fishhooks into you, you will stay hooked unless and until you do something drastic.

My parents were devout Catholics, not to excess. They certainly weren't fundamentalists, but the Church was a huge part of my life growing up. Attendance at Sunday Mass was absolutely mandatory unless you were two seconds away from death, and only then would you be grudgingly excused. In my first sixteen years of life I remember missing Sunday Mass only once, when I was very sick with a fever and was hallucinating about being 10,000 feet tall. I was sent to Catholic school and our house had a Bible and a huge garish crucifix in the living room above the television. Imagine watching Monty Python's Flying Circus under the watchful gaze of a bloodied Jesus and you get some idea of what my childhood was like. And yet the second I went away to college I turned my back on the Catholic Church and never, ever looked back. For all their good intentions, my parents made the same mistake that the Roman Catholic church, and most organized religions for that matter, make, and that is you can't force a person to believe in something that they innately don't believe in.

I may be wrong, but I've always intuitively felt that religious faith is something that comes from inside you, not imposed by force from the outside. Faith is a deeply personal thing that goes to the core of your understanding of life, your purpose in it, and if there is an afterlife. If you don't have faith in something, how can someone or something make you have faith? Fact is, they can't. Someone can impose their beliefs on you and you can say that you believe it, too, but that's a form of lying, because you are merely telling them something that they want to hear in hopes that they will get off your case and leave you alone. But that is not true religious faith.

However, back to Easter. It was the second-biggest religious holiday of the year, after Christmas. It was a string of days, starting with Holy Thursday, where admittedly nothing much happened but I guess it was a gearing-up day, and ended with Easter Monday, also known as Dingus Day in my little Polish-Catholic hometown, when it was okay to run around and throw water balloons at all the girls. I am not kidding about this, just don't ask me to explain it. In between was Good Friday, which commemorated the day Jesus was actually crucified, and we were not allowed to go outside and play or make noise or watch television between 12 noon and 3pm. We had to sit around a quiet house and stare at the walls and do pretty much nothing, which was amazingly surreal to me. At some point we got hustled off to church for Stations of the Cross, which was unmitigated torture to me. Also Holy Saturday, which was fun because that's when they had the Blessing of the Animals and everyone got to bring their pets into church, which I thought was outrageously cool, especially when some big dog would take a dump on the floor in front of the altar.

Speaking of unmitigated torture, nothing was worse than the previous Sunday, Palm Sunday, when the priest read that incredibly long gospel about the passion and crucifixion of Jesus and you had to stand throughout the whole thing. It was awful and I can remember wanting to sit down so badly as the priest just droned on and on. One horrible Palm Sunday the priest read through the long, tedious gospel in English, and then at the end when everyone thought they were going to finally sit down, he read it again in Polish! All the way from the start, for the benefit of the three elderly Polish ladies in the back row who couldn't hear a damned thing anyway. I can remember being delirious with outrage as I had to stand for what seemed like a horrendously long time while the priest blathered on in an incomprehensible language.

Tortuous church services notwithstanding, out of all the Catholic holidays Easter seemed to have the most meaning for me, because it dealt with redemption and forgiveness, two concepts which are eternally interesting to me. I liked the idea of admitting your sins, atoning for them, and coming out a better person afterward. Redemption is a transformative process, a way to get closer to God while still retaining your humanity, by admitting that you are a flawed being and allowing the power of love to heal you. But just as Christmas has become distastefully corrupted by the many, onion-like layers of greed, materialism, commercialism and consumerism that so easily supplants the true, basic meaning of the holiday, Easter has too become stained by the emphasis on colored eggs, marshmallow peeps and Easter baskets filled with the most obnoxious, wasteful crap imaginable. And, as I mentioned at the top of this entry, the unfortunate association of Easter with domestic rabbits, which in the vast majority of instances results in a rabbit being abused, neglected, abandoned, turned into already-overcrowded shelters, doomed to a lonely life isolated in some outdoor hutch, or worse.

What to do then, with this holiday where innocent creatures are sacrificed for some anachronistic tradition of the "Easter bunny". Maybe we should just forgive Easter for this unfortunate association and move on to a better way of celebrating it. After all, it would be the most Christian thing to do.

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