This wonderful diary entry by Purple Priestess is full of fun info and is a great reminder about the origins of Easter.
It follows on a very strange Facebook post by Richard Dawkins on the same topic, which was everything that he is: Joyless, cynical, triumphant and wrong.
Yes -- Eastern has pre-Christian origins!
All the same, it's okay for Christians to go ahead and celebrate.
I'm a Catholic and I know that Easter -- or, for that matter, Christmas -- has pre-Christian origins. It's the most Christian of holidays and yet, it seems ... somehow older, more primitive, more primal. Catholicism is high artifice. It's highly intellectualized and draws as much from secular institutions of the Roman Empire -- and those of successive temporal regimes -- as it does from the Old Testament and the Gospels. Easter just seems like it comes from an earlier time.
Does that make Easter in the Christian sense less important or less real to me?
Not at all.
Christianity is a syncretic religion -- by definition. Its most direct ancestor was Judaism, but it doesn't take much digging to find several other strains of belief and thought intertwined with it. Jewish mysticism. Roman mystery cults. Roman religion proper. By the time of Christ, traders and travelers practicing Hinduism and Buddhism had already arrived in the Near East. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the words of Christ so often resemble those of the living Buddha. Or maybe its just a testament to the universality of His message.
Part of the power of Christianity comes from its ability to absorb the folk beliefs and traditions of those people that it encountered. As Christianity spread, it promiscuously sucked in traditions from every group that it touched ... and not infrequently did these traditions become part of the canonical tradition of the Church.
I hope that both Christian and non-believers can find something in this:
The story of a God that can die and then come back to life, illustrating the eternal nature of the spirit, is one of the oldest ideas in human religion and one of the most beautiful. Setting aside whether or not one "believes" in the Supernatural, can we not appreciate this story for its beauty and for what it reveals to us about what it means to be alive and human, both sweet and bitter?
Richard Dawkins thinks that Easter comes from celebrations of the Near East goddess Ishtar -- probably not, but it seems certainly related to the Attis/Adonis story of the same pantheon. And so, he ridicules and discredits those who approach it from a Christian perspective.
What he misses is that religion is not experienced, for the most part, through its literality -- even by those Fundamentalists who claim an adherence to literal writtens of its texts. What the faithful experience is through metaphor and narratives that reveal underlying truths about the Universe.
It's okay that Easter has pre-Christian or pagan origins. It's okay that it was adopted later by Christianity, possibly as an accommodation to local custom. That doesn't mean that this powerful story is less meaningful or less interesting to the faithful.
In fact, the origins of Easter are a positive testament to the continuity of human culture and faith and an assurance that certain things -- a joyful response to renewal and change -- are universal parts of the human experience.
He has risen! The world is every day born anew. Life in human terms seems to end, but from greater perspective, there is no death, as life leads to life in an un-ending cycle.