He is risen! And so is she (and him...)
It was a fleeting but effective life. He was conceived by a virgin, he was born in a far away town, he inherited a royal lineage, he escaped a mortal danger in infancy, he was tempted in the wilderness, he received a commission to rule the world, he performed supernatural feats, he suffered a cruel death, he vanished from the burial vault, he descended into hell, he appeared to the women of the entourage, he ascended to heaven in a cloud, and the disciples waited for his triumphant return.
His name, of course, was Heracles, the peasant demigod of Tarsus, from whence emerged a loquacious evangelist who was intimately familiar with the story. For centuries the people of the Mediterranean annually observed the death and resurrection of their gods. Osiris, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Adonis, Eurydice, Tammuz, Attis and Mithra were all celebrated in the popular spring festivals. Christos came late to the party.
The formula of the last supper, passion, betrayal, trial, crucifixion and resurrection was a transcript of a mystery drama long familiar in the ancient world. The aspects of the faiths were remarkably similar. The followers of Mithra believed that baptism with holy water would inculcate the spirit of god. The followers of Adonis believed that the sign of the cross, a sign that had nothing to do with Christianity for centuries after the beginnings of the Jesus cults, was protection against disease and injury. The followers of Attis believed that their god had painfully died by being fastened to a tree. The followers of Dionysus believed that divinity could be shared in a meal of bread and wine. The followers of Osiris believed that the sins of humanity were expiated by the god's sacrifice.
Each of the gods died a violent death, each of them was resurrected from the grave, and each of the gods promised to reappear in order to establish a heaven on Earth. Christos promised to be back sooner rather than later, in "this generation." So the believers started waiting.
Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official state religion by force in 325C.E. The bloodshed of dissenters and the burning of their stories began. You would think a real god could have built his church by influencing the minds of people without the help of state force. Still, the believers waited. In the same year, the spring festival of Christos was formally recognized as the only legal celebration. Party for any other reason, and you're dead.
During the Middle Ages, the name "Easter" was derived from "Ostara", the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the spring. Still, the waiting continued.
For millennia, the butterflies arrived in spring, unaccompanied by a savior. The flowers blossomed, but no judgment was handed down. The lambs appeared, but no kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile, the violence inflicted by those spreading their exclusionary story of Christos put the spiritual cost accounting since Constantine irretrievably into the red, where it continues to bleed this very day in places like Northern Ireland, Christian Serbia, Indonesia and Matthew Shepherd's fence post.
If there was a real person behind all the mythology, I think when all was said and done, he was probably sorry he didn't spend more time in the spring enjoying chocolate eggs.
There are many thousands of gods in the world. Most Christians are atheists when it comes to all but one of them. Atheists merely go one god further. The morality of an atheist is therefore free to rise above the arbitrary dictates of religious zealots who lived without the benefit of thousands of years of accumulated human wisdom, and the ultimate relativism of whatever some alleged god allegedly says.
The great Robert G. Ingersoll cast his gaze on the religions of the Earth and beautifully described his vision of man's past and future:
"When India is supreme, Brahma sits upon the world's throne. When the sceptre passes to Egypt, Isis and Osiris receive the homage of mankind. Greece, with her fierce valor, sweeps to empire, and Zeus puts on the purple of authority. The earth trembles with the tread of Rome's intrepid sons, and Jove grasps with mailed hand the thunderbolts of Heaven. Rome falls, and Christians, from her territory, with the red sword of war, carve out the ruling nations of the world, and now Christ sits upon the old throne. Who will be his successor?"
"I look again. The popes and priests are gone. The altars and the thrones have mingled with the dust. The aristocracy of land and cloud have perished from the earth and air. The gods are dead. A new religion sheds its glory on mankind. And as I look Life lengthens, Joy deepens, Love intensifies, Fear dies -- Liberty at last is God, and Heaven is here."
I wish for you the joy of spring. The time of birth and renewal. A time to stop waiting on outdated mythologies that have lost their virtue, and start creating a world in which waiting for heroes to return will no longer be needed or desirable. A world where all can understand that those who offer love increase the love in themselves, and differences are to be celebrated, not feared or discouraged. A world in which we understand reality well enough to know that we are capable of solving our own problems.
Life is short. Awaken to your full potential. Enjoy the resurrection of springtime.
"He is risen! And so is she (and him...)" is copyright © 2001
by Dan Lewandowski.
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