Tuesday, May 03, 2016

and on the third day he blogged again

A couple of religion-related stories in the news around Easter (so a few weeks ago now, but y'know, sue me, I've been busy), occupying spots somewhere near the tragic and comic ends of the spectrum, respectively.

Firstly, David Cameron's at it again with his Easter message: farting all sorts of meaningless soundbites out of his potato-ey face-hole. The co-opting of things that are clearly universal human things, or at least things that most societies that have progressed beyond making crudely-fashioned drinking vessels out of each other's skulls and crudely-fashioned flutes out of each other's femurs have adopted as the best ways to behave, as somehow quintessentially Christian values, is a pretty common one, even while being a) patently ridiculous and b) implicitly making the claim that any other religions that claim them as foundational values are WRONG and have STOLEN THEM from Christianity.

Some of the things that Cameron is claiming LITERALLY DID NOT EXIST until some bunch of ill-educated goat-herds threw the Bible together some time during the first couple of centuries AD are such hilariously anodyne concepts as:
Values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion and pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities.
Needless to say things like "hard work" are things that pre-Christian societies like the ancient Egyptians and Greeks knew nothing of, while they were building the pyramids and the Parthenon and that. Interestingly the paragraph above appears to be an almost word-for-word retread of part of a speech he gave in Oxford back in late 2011. I guess once you've got your shtick down there's no point trying to re-work it. Zoe Williams in the Guardian picks all the bullshit apart far better than I've done here.

The other obvious riposte, made more pithily by Stephen Fry here, is that what Christianity considers its foundational values have changed over time - not much "compassion" on show during the crusades, for instance. If you want a modern example, look at attitudes to things like women's rights and homosexuality - things the various churches would have been implacably opposed to back in the day, and would have found wider society broadly in agreement, but since societal attitudes have moved on and become generally more groovy and inclusive those same churches are increasingly desperately hanging onto its coat-tails to try to retain some relevance.

Cameron knows what he's doing, of course: no public statement of this sort will be issued without there being some point to it in terms of keeping the core Conservative voting bloc onside. Cameron's Machiavellian strategist Lynton Crosby will no doubt have run the figures and calculated that there's more value in issuing some vaguely comforting platitudes to the ageing spinsters and apoplectic retired colonels who vote Tory habitually than in saying anything vaguely meaningful to people who care about statements actually making sense, since the stuff-making-sense demographic won't be voting Tory in large numbers anyway.

Secondly, there's this rather bizarre story about the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wanting to standardise the date of Easter. Now I actually quite like the rather haphazard appearance of Easter in the calendar, for a number of reasons, one of which is: since I'm exceptionally averse to advance planning I rarely know when Easter is more than a couple of weeks in advance, so the four-day weekend is always a pleasant surprise. But, says the Archbish, people find it confusing, so we should try and have it on the same date every year. As always it's interesting to try and put yourself in the head of someone who, while seemingly able to do normal things like drive a car, operate a bank account and make it to the toilet in time, also believes some hair-raisingly irrational shit, and try to work out what makes them tick.

The obvious criticism of Easter as it stands is: look, this is meant to be the most significant thing in the Christian calendar, and the whole significance of it rests on its being the commemoration of some actual events that actually happened, as ridiculous as they might sound. So surely that would necessitate the festival being on the same day every year? Christmas is on the same day every year, after all. And the current arrangement with the whole business of it being linked to the cycle of the moon is a bit of a DEAD GIVEAWAY of its pagan beginning-of-spring nature-worshipping origins (although it should be said that the whole thing about the conveniently-named pagan goddess Ä’ostre is fairly thinly-evidenced).

Amusingly, though, the Telegraph article demonstrates that either the Telegraph's reporter or the church authorities themselves haven't grasped the actual nature of the problem, since there's talk of keeping Easter to a Sunday:

Now you can see the point of this, since there's a well-established tradition of having the Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays bookending the Easter weekend, and if Easter suddenly starts happening on a Wednesday then there's the whole question of what happens to them. As much as I don't care about imaginary Jewish zombies, I don't want to lose my four-day weekend. And those Lindt bunnies are pretty awesome as well.

The trouble is, of course, if you keep it to a Sunday you aren't fixing the date of Easter at all, you're just introducing a slightly simplified arbitrary rule for calculating the Sunday on which it occurs: the first Sunday in April, say, rather than the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox as it currently is. To which the obvious riposte is: why would you bother? And I suppose the obvious answer is: because it keeps the church in the news, and provides at least the illusion of the people in charge being open to change, responding to criticism, moving with the times and all that horseshit.

My advice to the Christian churches is this: either leave things as they are, thereby implicitly acknowledging that your absurd Bronze Age voodoo belief system survives mainly by virtue of how deeply culturally embedded it is, and that actually the last thing you want to do is to make people think too much about what any of it means, or fold up your tents, sneak away into the night, and stop bothering everyone. Or, I suppose, thirdly, produce some proper evidence for the resurrection (and, moreover, that the guy who was resurrected was the Son of God, and, even moreover, that there's this guy called God who totally exists) that ties it to some specific date which we can all then agree hereafter to call Easter. Job done.

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