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Monday, April 5, 2010

The Meaning(s) of Easter

After going to an Easter sunrise service (staying up the entire night so as not to get 2-3 hours of sleep and be grumpy about it) and hearing the pastor note a study from the Barna Group about how people regard Easter, I thought I’d look into it. After a cursory glance, I took a well deserved nap. And after analyzing it in more detail, I am somewhat disappointed as to how they use their relatively small sampling (a little over 1000 people) to suggest that everyone in the U.S. is ignorant about Easter’s meaning in the Christian context. Some of the answers they gave seem to be there just to make the evangelicals and born again Christians feel superior that they know the “true” meaning of Easter. Some people suggest it is reflective of welcoming the spring or of Passover (which are both true in terms of meaning you can derive from the holiday). Some of the answers are admittedly more concerned with “consumer culture” as it’s termed or the general togetherness the holiday brings. None of these are necessarily the incorrect meaning unless you view the Christian answer as the only true one, which is one of my issues with such groups using studies to justify their status quo or lack thereof.

There’s also their distinction between seeing Easter as a religious holiday and of seeing the “true” meaning of Easter in the alleged resurrection of Jesus. How are these different except in the specificity; that is, assuming there has to be one meaning only? It’s not as if they’re complaining overall; they seem to have a concern about people in my age category and their progressively “secular” thinking making them forget that Easter is even a religious holiday. But the very way they phrase the distinction of the groups that are mistaken about Easter and the minority that affirms the specific things they want to hear troubles me; as if being an evangelical or a born again Christian is not affirming a religious position or should be the majority position. The Barna Group seems more concerned about groups affirming that Easter is both a religious holiday and focused on Jesus’ resurrection. Although even that is observed in the statistics (however suspect they are) to be questionable since less than half of all the age demographics affirm that Jesus’ resurrection is the meaning of Easter, meaning any group affirming exactly what the Barna Group thinks is right are in the minority of what is a miniscule representation of the 300 million+ people in the U.S..

The issue they’re not seeing is that people are not educated enough about Christianity or Easter in the first place to really know what the Christian meaning is in the context of what is commonly their native religion. This issue is not uncommon, especially with a book by Stephen Prothero coming to mind: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn’t. He notes that America is one of the least religiously literate nations in the world; however advanced we may be in other areas of consideration, such as military. With this in mind, I don’t see the Barna Group’s concern as surprising, but I do see their positive conclusion about people’s willingness to invite people to Easter services as the least of their concerns. The groups willing to follow through with their likelihood to invite friends to Easter services were 31% of their 1000 people, suggesting that even if all 300+ people did what they said they’d do, the increase in congregations would be a paltry sum in the dwindling numbers of active churchgoers. If they really want to improve the status of their religion’s popularity or accessibility to today’s people, then they should adjust the way they communicate to them. However objectionable it may be, I can’t imagine it’s that hard to emphasize the miraculous nature of your founder’s return from the dead even to today’s people, however “secular” they may be. It’s a matter of focusing on the meaningfulness derived from the story itself. The historical or scientific credulity, it would seem to me, is secondary to convincing people that the story of the Jewish rabbi returning to life as a pseudo vampire and saving their souls is something they can derive meaning and purpose from. After all, you’re taking the story on faith primarily, are you not? Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

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