Michael Coren is an author who is ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Easter must have hired some extraordinarily incompetent marketing people. Christmas, of far less religious significance, can boast a plump, smiling uber-altruist devoted to love, gifts and goodwill. Easter only offers an invisible rabbit with a basket of chocolate eggs. The Paschal holiday is more complicated, of course, with Holy Week being the culmination of Lent and consisting of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the rest. For Christians, it’s paramount – if, that is, one believes at all, when the accepted wisdom is that we’re all cynical and incredulous.
But I’d propose that we’ve seldom been as open to acceptance and even naive reverence as we are now. TV celebrities, young royals, conspiracy theorists, flimsy self-help gurus: We adore them, we defend them and we attack their critics with the fierce absolutism of holy crusaders. So it’s not lack of belief, but a change in what and who we believe in.
I believe in God. Not the God of neurotic theocracy, a stale fundamentalism that has reduced the creator to a divine bureaucrat, ticking off boxes of behaviour to judge whether we get into paradise or not. Those boxes, by the way, usually involve issues Jesus never discussed – such as abortion or sexual orientation – or, when he did, demonstrated a glorious and revolutionary apathy.
No, something far more nuanced and even paradoxical than that. The God of losers, the God of what at first glance are wrecked causes. Because, as Freud believed, if we got what we really deserved, we’d all get a good beating.
There are numerous arguments for the existence of God, most of them as ultimately pointless as the arguments for His non-existence, but there’s another way to approach all this. The most central teaching of Christianity is the command of Jesus to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Yet do we love ourselves? Do we believe in ourselves? This is the age when self-harm and depression are grimly common, personal doubt ubiquitous. If we’ve fallen out with anyone, lost belief in a person, it’s us.
We can’t believe in God, can’t genuinely love God, unless we believe in and love ourselves. That doesn’t mean self-regard, pomposity or pride, but rather coming to terms with the preciousness of the broken and the sparkle of the needy. We’re flawed, we get it wrong, we can be difficult to like, but until we come to respect ourselves and see our reflection in the divine, we can never love others. That, not some arcane philosophical puzzle, is the foundation of belief.
If authentic Christianity is anything, it’s the opposite of “virtue signalling” – that contemporary putdown used so promiscuously by reactionaries the world over. Not virtue signalling but the announcement of failure and fault. Remember, during the first Easter, those closest to Jesus were in despair. After the crucifixion, they cringed in hiding and cowardice, certain that it had all been a colossal defeat. They failed in love, they detested themselves, they abandoned what they had seen and heard and as a consequence, during that dark hiatus, they also failed in belief.
As a cleric, I see most aspects of human nature on a daily basis. The grimness of the human condition is sometimes difficult to witness, and I would never be so arrogant and crass as to offer religious platitudes to those in mud-thick suffering. What I have discovered is that when people in such gruesome pain know the inner peace that comes from self-knowledge – yes, a form of love – they’re more able and willing to forgive, accept and believe.
I can question my behaviour, blush at past actions, know that I can be and do better and want to lead a better life, but if I hate myself I’m of no use to anybody. More than that, I can never come to know God in the way that God desires. True religion – good religion – is an affair, a leap of romance, a reciprocal relationship. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself; not mutually exclusive, but inseparable and co-dependent.
The Christianity I embrace, the passion I remember during Easter, rests on a belief in and a love for humanity, as much as it does on a belief in and a love for God. I am part of that humanity, and when we remove the fleshy, personal aspect of all this, we slide from inclusion into judgment, from joy into hatred. The great conversation of love and belief continues, and we’re all welcome participants.
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