Now, when I was young, not having been raised in the most religious of households, there were a few things that came to mind about Easter. Easter eggs was the biggest, and they always were bright, pastel colors, although I couldn't have told you why at the time. Also, a big, chocolate, Easter bunny, and I almost always started by biting off the ears. Finally, Easter always came in the springtime.
That was about all that I knew of Easter, and there was no basic understanding of the religious connotations.
Now, an interesting thing happened to me this weekend. My girlfriend, who is Polish, is not the most religious person that I have ever met. She hardly goes to church, for example. But she does go on certain occasions, particularly the big, religious holidays, such as Easter weekend. There were services, I think, for each day this weekend, and that included Friday evening.
So, when she told me that was where she was going on Friday, I decided to hop along for the ride.
"But, it's in Polish. You're not going to understand anything."
She was right about that. I'm not entirely that I would have understood much better had it been in English, either. But for once in my life, I thought it would be interesting to go to something like that, on such an occasion as this.
It was interesting. The colors, the ceremonies. Polish people in America, she explained, tend to be unified mostly through the church community. Now, I had told her that a part of me wished that the French community in the United States (what exists of it) would be half as united and organized as the Polish community is. Where she lives, there are several reminders of the mother land. There is a Polish deli within walking distance that she shops in, and numerous others within a few minutes drives. There are other stores and services available for the Polish community, as well. And, of course, there are Polish churches.
In other words, the Polish community has a strong presence. I just never realized how much this was centered on religion before, I guess. It made sense instantly, as soon as she told me.
Of course, I thought. That's not uncommon. That was how the French speaking community was in Canada, and in many respects, how settlers in newly colonized lands, often frontier lands for their purposes, generally held onto their cultural ties. This was true in many colonized lands, and often was the main thread tying them to a past, to traditions. So, they took it seriously, and I think this may account for why it is so much stronger still in the "New World", both in North and South America, then it is in Europe, or at least Western Europe.
In any case, I found this subject interesting. And although I am hardly the most religious person in the world (I think the typical way people like me would generally describe themselves is "Spiritual, but not religious"), I find it fascinating to learn about stuff like that.
On our way home, we had an interesting discussion in the car, which I am not going to get into here. She does not go to church all that often, and I don't blame her, since she works basically seven days of the week. But she is spiritual, and clearly appreciates the church's influence on her upbringing, which was in Poland during the days of Communism. Not surprisingly, she appreciates Pope John Paul II, who was Polish, and I have come to learn quite a bit about her.
She always seems to approach discussions with me on the subject cautiously, as if fearful. Perhaps she is afraid I will mock it, or otherwise reject it. But since I am not a part of it, my focus is on simply learning more about it. Not being recruited, just learning.
My father grew up in a traditional Catholic upbringing, although he moved away from the church. My mother, who grew up in a Jewish household, also moved away from her religion. They agreed not to impose religion, or religious viewpoints, on their children - my brother and I. They wanted us to make up our own minds when we were old enough.
When younger, I used to scoff at religion, and automatically assumed believers were duped, and deliberately closing their minds to some realities. Yet, paradoxically, it seemed almost enticing to see so many people, including classmates, that still observed religious practices, and seemed comfortable in their own skin, not self-conscious at all.
The older I got, the more I came to be curious, and started to want to learn more. With each religion that I have learned about, it started more or less the same: as a purely academic approach at first, then coming to grasp some of the elements that attracted (or could attract) people to it in the first place.
Again, that does not mean that I am a believer. It just means that I have scrapped the conceit of automatically prejudging, or at least am still trying to scrap it. People are entitled to believe what they want to believe, so long as it does not hurt anyone else. When religious beliefs do hurt others (and this certainly has happened, and still is happening), that is when I begin to get my old skepticism back, and get turned off from "religion" as a label. That is when religion is dangerous. When it gets in the way of science, or social progress, I cannot help but reject it automatically. But when the focus is where it should be, on empowering people and spreading the message of love and acceptance...well, I can certainly appreciate that!
But the other part, when people truly turn to it to improve themselves, for guidance in their lives, and to try and learn more, to strive, to find inspiration - that is when religion can be at it's best.
When religions get too mired in self-righteousness preaching, focusing too much on procedures, ceremonies, and traditions, rather than on helping people truly improve themselves, religion becomes destructive. When religions focus more on excluding rather than including, it becomes dangerous. And when religions are conveniently used as an excuse, and a vehicle, for anger, hatred, wrath, and petty human divisions, it becomes very dangerous.
Fire and brimstone religious teachings can often be the antithesis of spirituality, focusing instead on intimidation and spiritual blackmail. That is religion that I want no part of.
Ultimately, religion is what the individual makes of it, good or bad. Prejudging and dismissing not only is wrong, but it often itself carries the same strands of arrogance and dismissiveness that nonbelievers have accused religions and their practitioners of in the first place.
I have my own ideas on religions, and will admit here to being skeptical towards organized religions in general. But I love to learn, and this weekend has been a learning process in that field.
So, in any case, it seemed appropriate today to do something with an Easter theme, and here is what I came up with: an interesting article by LiveScience, giving facts about Jesus. Also, there is a website that I found (see the link below) that describes more about this holiday, which I admittedly do not know much about.
I wish everyone who accepts it a Happy Easter! Enjoy!
Easter Science: 6 Facts About Jesus
by Tia Ghose of LiveScience Staff Writer, March 30, 2013
He may be the most famous man who ever lived, but surprisingly little is known about his life.
This Sunday (March 31), more than 2 billion Christians will celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. While there is no scientific way to know whether that supernatural event at the heart of Christianity actually happened, historians have established some facts about his life.From his birth to his execution by the Romans, here are six facts about the historical Jesus.
1. His birth … in a manger?
Most historians believe Jesus was a real man. To test the veracity of biblical claims, historians typically compare Christian accounts of Jesus' life with historical ones recorded by Romans and Jews, most notably the historians Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.And though a manger may or may not have figured prominently in the birth, scholars do agree that Jesus was born between 2 B.C. and 7 B.C. as part of the peasant class in a small village called Nazareth in Galilee. Historians also back the claim that Joseph, Jesus' father, was a carpenter, meaning Jesus would have gone into the family profession as well.
2. A mystical baptism
One of the pivotal moments in the New Testament is Jesus' baptism in the wilderness by a radical mystic named John the Baptist. Most historians believe this event actually occurred, and that Jesus experienced some sort of vision that led him to begin preaching. In the New Testament, Mark 1:10 (The New American Bible, Revised Edition) describes Jesus seeing "the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him." Jesus is then tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, the passage continues.The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the mystical activities of John the Baptist, as well as his execution by King Herod. [History's 10 Most Overlooked Mysteries]
After his vision, Jesus began to preach that the Earth could be changed into a "Kingdom of God." Jesus' message of reform was deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, and he likely never viewed himself as creating a new religion per se — just reforming the one he was born into, scholars say.
4. A wise teacher
Josephus not only mentions Jesus, in one passage he also describes him as a wise man and a teacher. (The passage is controversial because many historians believe a Christian author later added in phrases such as "He was the messiah" to the text, leading a few scholars to doubt the authenticity of the passage as a whole). Most historians agree, however, that Jesus was viewed as a teacher and healer in Galilee and Judea.
5. Timing of Jesus' crucifixion
Several sources mention Jesus' crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect. Christian Gospels say the skies darkened for hours after the crucifixion, which historians viewed either as a miracle or a portent of dark times to come. Using astronomy, later historians have used this mention to pinpoint the death of Christ. Some tie the crucifixion to a one-minute 59-second total solar eclipse that occurred in 29 C.E., whereas others say a second total eclipse, blocking the sun for four minutes and six seconds, in 33 C.E. marked Jesus' death. (C.E. stands for Common Era or Christian Era, and is an alternative name for anno Domini, or A.D.)Death by crucifixion was one of the goriest ends the Romans meted out, and it was typically reserved for slaves and those seen to be challenging Roman authority.
6. Historical relics
The historical veracity of various physical relics, such as the crucifixion nails and crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross, have decidedly less historical or scientific backing. Most scientific studies suggest that these relics originated long after Jesus died. But the most famous relic of Jesus, the shroud of Turin, may be on more solid footing: Whereas some parts of the shroud date to A.D. 1260, other analyses have suggested that the shroud is about as old as Jesus.Another more recent finding, a scrap of papyrus from the early Christian era referring to Jesus' wife was unveiled last year, to much skepticism. Since then, evidence has come out to suggest the so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a forgery, though the jury may still be out on that relic.
Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter @tiaghose. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.
Finally, I thought that I would add this little part, for people like me - the uninitiated. I don't actually know all that much about the specifics regarding Easter, and so there were questions that remained unanswered, like why is Easter usually in April, but occasionally in March (like this year)? Here is a Christian website that explains some of that kind of stuff.