If you were raised in a traditional Christian home, as I was, you’ve probably been conditioned to see the Easter story as a noble, uplifting, feel-good kind of story. I don’t even mean a conservative Christian home necessarily. Throughout most of my childhood, my family belonged to a pretty liberal United Methodist church, and even among liberal believers, the annual three-day saga of crucifixion, burial, and resurrection has always been seen as the heart of the gospel, the generous principle of goodness that sincere believers should cling to instead of obsessing over all those picky, literal minutiae like the fundamentalists do.
It took me quite a long time to realize that Easter’s family-friendly facade was masking something very dark, twisted, and bizarre. And I’m not even talking about the exaltation of gore and death, or the so-called “shame of the cross” that the Bible talks about. I’m talking about the perverse and corrupt message this blood ritual sends regarding good and evil and the relationship between them.
Not that I want to accuse believers themselves of having some kind of apocalyptic agenda for evil. I think the perverted lessons of Easter happened by accident, as people tried to force a primitive myth to fit into a more civilized concept of morality.
But the original black heart is still there. At the core of the story lurks the original bloodthirsty deity, the ancient invisible menace whose constant appetite for suffering and death put you and your family and everyone close to you at risk. Better to find some poor animal to slaughter, so that the deity could feast on the blood of something less precious to you. Better to make sacrifice the centerpiece of your worship, to delay as long as possible the day when He would finally turn on you and delight in your suffering and death.
Modern worshipers try to soften that ancient dread, and turn Easter into a noble tale of self-sacrifice, and putting the needs of others ahead of your own. A noble ideal, certainly, but still based on the assumption that sacrificial rituals will do some kind of good. The ancient, divine predator still lurks, and still thirsts for our blood. Noble and allegedly selfless intentions aside, the Easter story still proclaims, in gore and death, that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
That bothers people, even believers if they think about it. Why would a supposedly good God have an appetite for our suffering, our blood, and our death? Why would He look on the torture and brutality and injustice of the crucifixion with satisfaction instead of revulsion? This is the nature of God that Christians have inherited from earlier, more brutal superstitions, and because of the way religion works, they aren’t really free to dispense with it, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
The solution to this problem is as obvious as it is perverse: don’t blame God for demanding blood and death. Blame the victim instead. Declare that all of us are duty-bound to obey every command and whim of the divine tyrant, on pain of torment and death–followed by endless torment! Set the standards so high that God is entitled to feast on the blood and suffering and death of each and every one of us. It’s still the same predator with the same merciless appetites, but now all the guilt has magically become our guilt instead of His.
And then, to muddy the waters further, proclaim how “good” God is by declaring that He will “mercifully” refrain from satisfying His carnivorous appetites on a select few believers, on the grounds that their guilt has somehow been magically transferred to Jesus. As if guilt were a tangible thing that could merely be plucked from the guilty and forced upon the innocent!
And what’s worse, this bizarre theory would have us believe that Jesus assumed the guilt, not just of the saved, but of all sinners. Think about that for a minute. If the actual guilt were literally transferred from the person who committed the sin to Jesus, who did not, then that means Jesus would be literally guilty of the sin. Every murder, every rape, every lie, every theft, every wrongdoing ever committed, would be Jesus’ fault. If the guilt were literally transferred, then Jesus is not only the worst sinner who ever lived, he’s the only sinner who ever lived. Everybody else is 100% innocent, because their guilt was removed from them and transferred to Jesus.
And notice that some sins are specifically listed as sins that can never be forgiven. It doesn’t say that the guilt for those sins cannot be transferred to someone else, it only says they can never be forgiven. If we take the Bible at face value, then Jesus is guilty of every sin ever committed, including the unforgivable ones. That means Jesus can never be forgiven, even if he dies for those sins.
Pretty weird morality, with pretty weird consequences. If Jesus took those sins, if those sins were literally transferred to him from all the sinners in history, past, present, and future, then Jesus is the only person guilty of sin. Sure, he paid some kind of penalty, but he’s still the child molester who got out of prison after only 3 days, the murderer who was pardoned, the drunk driver whose license was re-instated. And nobody else can be any of those things, because their guilt was magically transferred onto someone else. And we should worship this sinner? Would we, the good and innocent, even want to? Would it even be right?
But that’s just the absurd and bizarre side of the story. The darker side is this notion that the Cross was somehow necessary in order to fulfill God’s glorious, righteous, eternal plan for the maximum amount of blessing and goodness in His creation. If God was originally the only thing that existed, and if He created everything else, then sin and evil never had to exist in the first place. An all-good, all-wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful God could have created a sinless and perfect creation without any sin and evil, and thus without any need for any crucifixion and resurrection.
But no, thoughtful believers tell us, the Cross was necessary. Somehow it was not possible, even for an Almighty God, to create the perfect kingdom He wanted, in the absence of the sin and evil that supposedly makes our redemption necessary.
That’s a really twisted and corrupt morality, because what it’s saying is that, even for an all-wise and all-powerful God, you can do more good through sin and evil than you can do by good alone.
Think about that.
Ultimately, what Easter is telling us is that good, all by itself, is not enough. God Himself does not have the power to accomplish His own will apart from sin and evil. Because if He could create the best of all possible worlds, or even if He could just create a world that was good enough, without resorting to sin and evil, then the only reason we have sin and evil is because God wants them. He didn’t need them, but He wanted them. And would any truly good God go out of His way to introduce unnecessary evil into His creation?
The only alternative is to say that good, on its own, cannot accomplish any worthwhile goal, apart from sin and evil. Somehow, despite God being allegedly all-good and all-powerful, His power would be less if He couldn’t involve sin and evil in His eternal plan. The most powerful good in the universe is not powerful enough to accomplish what can be done by resorting to sin and evil. Sin and evil are necessary parts of good, according to the Easter story.
That’s the kind of twisted and corrupt moral principle you end up with when you take a primitive superstition, elevate it to the status of religion, and then try to make it somehow be part of a reality it knows nothing about. The ancient gods, the ones that hungered for human suffering and death, were a mere projection of primitive terrors of the dark and of the future. They are not a source of enlightenment nor a fount of morality nor a family-friendly inspiration. Even decked with lilies and candy and pagan fertility rituals, they cannot escape their fundamental nature as embodiments of ignorant, superstitious fears.
You want an annual spring ritual with candy and Easter eggs and cute little bunnies? Fine, let’s go back to the original fertility rites from which Easter takes its name. We can still have family-friendly holidays if we want. But I think it’s time we outgrew blood rituals that celebrate “good” gods that require evil in order to do their will.