Sunday, April 4, 2010
The royal “we” refers to the habit eminent persons sometimes have of referring to themselves in the plural—a famous example being Queen Victoria’s rejoinder to a social gaff by one of her subjects, “We are not amused.” It has been reported that Admiral Rickover once told a subordinate who used the royal we: "Three groups are permitted that usage: pregnant women, royalty, and schizophrenics. Which one are you?"
I am wondering if there is a similar expression for what might be called the “journalistic we” or the “sociological we.” As in the headline I spotted in the Houston Chronicle this morning: “Some scholars fear we’re losing the religious meaning of Easter.”
When I come upon such things, I can’t help thinking of the Lone Ranger joke that ends with the punchline, “What you mean we, white man?” Jews, Muslims, athiests and Hindus certainly aren’t losing the religious meaning of Easter. They’re probably not familiar with it, and wouldn’t be too interested in any case. And while we’re at it, we might ponder why scholars would “fear” this loss of meaning, unless it happens that they also feel that religious interpretations of widely-celebrated Christian holidays are the mortar that holds our society in place. The sorry truth is that newspapers are designed to instill anxiety in their readers—hence the “fear.” And it’s true, you wouldn’t sell too many newspapers off the street with the more accurate but less gripping headline: “Scholars note decline among Christians in explicitly religious interpretation of Easter.”
In this case scholars (I wonder what their field of expertise is?) have been a little slow on the uptake. The importance of the religious meaning of Easter has been declining now for centuries. This is what we call Old News.
Of course, scholars can never be content to “note” something, however antediluvian it may be. No, their job is to explain it. And one such explanation offered here is that Easter is “safer” when the resurrection of Jesus isn’t so prominently displayed in it.
“Jesus is very challenging,” one assistant professor at a local Houston seminary remarks. “To encounter him is existentially challenging. It can be scary and uncomfortable.” Far more so than Easter bunnies, hats, and eggs, to be sure.
Yet it seems to me that the concept of bodily resurrection is not only challenging, but downright bizarre. For example, what is the spiritual merit of suggesting that an amputee will appear at the Pearly Gates minus an arm or a leg? And what about those unfortunate individuals who have been frozen solid and ground to a pulp in a wood chipper, ala Fargo? What’s to become of them in the next world?
The columnist admits that among Christians the spectrum of belief on who Jesus was and what the resurrection means is broad. The word “metaphor” appears, though it is summarily rejected.
“Let's don't try to water this down. Let's not try to make it just an idea,” one theologian remarks. “Jesus’s resurrection doesn't stand for something else, like a metaphor. Jesus's resurrection only represents his body, not his philosophy.”
But is that really true? If I'm not mistaken, there is a very powerful body of orthodox Christian belief that contends the crucifixion was not central to Christ's teaching or his mission. And if there is no connection between the body and the philosophy, which one should we be interested in?
The article concludes with a judgment by the Episcopal bishop for Texas, who admits that there is considerable confusion as to the exact nature and significance of Christ’s resurrection, though it doesn’t really trouble him much.
“While many may not be able to articulate fully the theology of resurrection, I think most Christians would say that they experience a sense of it in Christian community,” he says. “They experience resurrection through relationships with others, through the community a congregation offers and from service and outreach to other people. Christians testify that they experience, receive, and act out of the mystery of resurrection — this feeling of constant renewal.”
To me, it seems significance that year after year, Easter always happens in springtime. It's a fact. From the very first, it has been contingent on the spring equinox and the full moon. Sunlight, eggs, fertility, bunnies. It’s an attractive package. Family get-togethers, ham, scalloped potatoes, and the annual egg-fight. (I never win, gentle soul that I am.) These aren’t metaphors for something else. And they aren’t really a celebration of one individual’s resurrection. They’re elements of a social construct that has been passed down to us from our parents and grandparents. There is really no point in celebrating a resurrection which, considering the figure in question, was really a foregone conclusion. And who among us would be vain enough to celebrate his or her own resurrection, with the day of judgment still so far off and so problematical? What have we got left to celebrate, then, than the arrival of new birds, the quickening of the season, and the return of pastels to the blouses of the ones we love?