Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Some Thoughts From Easter Sunday

As the final semester of my undergrad degree is winding down and new projects loom on the horizon, I have found that my aptitude for writing grows less and less. This is unnerving for me in a way, as I have always prided myself on my ability to churn out several dense paragraphs at a whim, but I also feel it is in the nature of writers to only produce when they receive the proper motivation -- and as I sat in the front pew of the Cathedral of St. Helena on Easter Sunday, I found that I couldn't keep my fingers from incessantly clacking new thoughts into the memo pad of my BlackBerry (yes, they still exist, and I like them). Such a strange holiday gave me the scribbling verve once again. 




I'd like to skip over the now mundane and too-easily deduced Eostre-ian implications of the most holy day of the Christian calendar -- even the most fervent theist understands enough of their history to swallow the fact that Easter is a bastardized event. As well, I should do you the courtesy of not spouting too many of my thoughts on the sheer extravagance of the cathedral wherein I sat -- many of my readers know quite thoroughly my thoughts of the obscene amount of money that is thrown into commercial worship. 

Rather, I was taken so intensely by the sheer pointlessness of the Christian event of which Easter commemorates -- even in a theological sense. As my good comrade Thain Bertin once elucidated, the outcome of the Resurrection is logically a lose-lose for the Christian argument in that it either occurred in reality, or it didn't. Should the Resurrection not have happened, then the entire sacrifice would have been for nothing, and the primary tenet of faith required to be a believer would be non-existent -- not to mention, the ages since would have glorified needless torture and grisly iconography for no good reason. If the Resurrection did occur, then the Crucifixion wasn't a sacrifice at all, that the altruism of a willing scapegoat would be completely null and void. His faith wasn't rewarded -- the reward was predetermined. There is no benevolence in a recompensed act. To this argument, I have heard countless garbled doctrines, dogmas, and personal interpretations of Scripture thrown, but each was subjective, unsubstantiated, and most often contradictory. It was this paradox of Resurrection that occupied my mind most heavily as Easter service echoed through the cavernous halls of the cathedral about me. 

I also found myself enthralled with the rather theatrical presentation with which all religion merits itself. I firmly believe that one of the reasons that religion has existed for so long and in so many incarnations is that it is such damned good theatre. Religion does what all good theatre does -- it evokes a willing suspension of disbelief. Even I, if the performance is particularly compelling, feel a faint longing to want to buy into it. This is, however, because of the evocative qualities of performance art and not because the plot as any theatrical merit. (I feel equally incensed, as it were, by watching a baptism as I do watching Coriolanus.) Chanting, candles, lurid costumes, and rising from the dead undoubtedly makes for a damned entertaining show. 

Then, methought, the air grew denser / perfumed from an unseen censer. The overly pungent fumes of censers oscillated by altar boys managed to draw me out of my brief reverie. Before long, Eucharist was being performed. For a cathedral that seats circa one-thousand souls, the process was slightly arduous. The bishop himself, noticing my intemperate leg, made his way from the altar to administer the blood and body of his lord to me personally, and I politely declined. Instead, I entertained myself with watching various personnel of the church give crackers and wine to the waiting assembly. I noticed with a tinge of theatrical regret that the first several "This is the Body of Christ"s were delivered in an appropriately pious and reverent way, but soon lost their authenticity as lines grew steadily longer. One can only repeat even the most holy of admonitions several hundred times without losing some of their luster, I suppose. Altar boys yawned. The monseigneur was quite blatantly unaware of the lyrics for several common hymns, and twice tripped over the words of standard Catholic prayers. All this to say that a service that began at 9:00am with all the vivacity required to inspire belief was quite ready for a nap by 9:45. Above me, beautifully carved statues of angels demonstrated proper enthusiasm, but alas, the mortal flesh beneath was quite unable to sustain any amount of energetic glory to their lord. I found myself quite longing for a gospel choir, if only to get some air back into the nave. 

If over a billion souls commit themselves to weekly cannibalism, I should think they would wish to be ebullient about it. I am not being unnecessarily cruel -- the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist is not metaphorical in any sense. Once the cleric blesses both bread and wine, the effect of transubstantiation is literal. Even as I watch the act with material or reductionist eyes, I cannot help but feel slightly apprehensive as many people who I consider close friends indulge in an act that would be barbaric even as a metaphor. One might take some comfort in remembering that the both the body and blood of Christ come pre-packaged with nutritional facts printed on the back. I wonder to myself what the serving size is on a 52-sacrament per year diet. 

All in all, if the pomp and circumstance of the greatest celebration of the Christian faith was to have any impact on me, I must confess that it failed. The great thing about religion is that it is never short of resurrections. After all, Krishna, Sakia, Thammuz of Syria, Wittoba, Iao, Jesus, Quetzalcoatl, Quirinus, Thulis, Indra, Alcestos, Atys, Crite, Bali, and Mithra were all crucified for the sins or the atonement of mankind, some of whom rose back from death on the third day -- perhaps the next deity that undergoes a similar event might present itself more convincingly.