Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rabbit Season: An Easter Contemplation

Easter is often considered the most important holiday in Christianity, because it commemorates the fundamental miracle of the faith: the resurrection of the Christ after his sacrifice for the redemption of the sins of humanity. In spite of its obvious importance, it still manages to create significantly less cultural noise than Christmas, which is in its modern form more a celebration of capitalist values than strictly Christian ones. That's not to say there's no overlap between those sets of values, but they are absolutely not identical, and I don't think anyone could make a mistake as to which cultural paradigm is in the driver's seat each December.

Plenty of special commerce gets done on Easter, for sure. As I write, I'm happily enjoying the contents of a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs, and the country is awash in pastel marketing for flowers, eggs, and other springtime pleasantries. More candy will be consumed in the coming week than at any other time, apart from early November*. You can be quite sure, family friendly brunch establishments will do very well today.

* I assume.

And yet, nobody seriously believes Easter to be over-commercialized in the usual sense. Stephen Colbert has a hilarious graphic, but the vanishing of Easter's spiritual roots simply isn't a serious topic of discussion. At most, we wonder where exactly the colored eggs and rabbits come from, and then get on with our lives. As far as popular culture goes, Easter keeps itself low key, and Christians and secularists alike seem to prefer it that way.

Of course, Easter is simply too bizarre (what the hell is up with rabbits laying eggs anyway?) to avoid becoming the object of ironic discourse. Witness the rise of Easter's Facebook alter-ego, Zombie Jesus Day. A highly blasphemous and plainly heretical interpretation of the resurrection, it nonetheless has become a virtual synonym for Easter amongst the younger generation. Zombie Jesus has nothing to sell, apart from irreverence and T-shirts, and seems to reflect the fitful emergence of a (nearly) post-consumerist strain of America youth culture.

If you find yourself worried about the slackening of religion in contemporary pop culture, make no mistake: young people are quite familiar with Jesus Christ. You may not recognize the Anointed One these days: perhaps you've never seen him riding a Velociraptor, and perhaps you've never seen him as a Velociraptor, but your kids have, and the meme-smiths of the internet are working feverishly to make sure you do, too. This revelation will probably not comfort you.

However, the pill is not so bitter as you might think: mockery requires familiarity, and the cultural relevance of Christological absurdities requires knowledge of the original subject. Young people may have less time for Sunday school or the words of priests and pastors, but Jesus himself remains a powerful idea. Even South Park, a show that normally drives religious conservatives into apoplectic fits of rage, is known to use Jesus to voice arguments in favor of a more sensible, tolerant vision of religion. If he has to kill Bill Donahue with a shuriken in the process, chalk it up to artistic license. The raptors and zombies are a passing amusement, but they represent what could be an important movement: the separation of Jesus from organized religion, an institution with rapidly shrinking credibility.

There's no doubt that Jesus lives on in our culture, having accomplished yet another miraculous resurrection in the face of secularism. We should be thankful, because we need the ethics of Jesus more than ever: it's high time that turning the other cheek and loving your neighbor came back in style. Whatever happens to the Christian religion, the carpenter from Nazareth will keep coming back, and Lord knows what he'll be riding next.

Happy Easter, everybody!

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