Up front, please understand that I'm not trying to take away anyone's happiness in their Easter holiday, whatever that means for you. I'm not saying you're a terrible person if you like Easter or if you have a Christian easter celebration, or you find bunnies soft and adorable, so please save your cries of "intolerant!" for the next time I display intolerance. You probably won't have to wait long.

But...Easter bothers me. Troubles me, like, viscerally.

Human sacrifice as a magical expiation of community guilt is a concept much older than Christianity, and it's immoral and gross. The story of Christ's martyrdom is no different from throwing a virgin into a volcano, which we all now find immoral and gross and, like, so primitive and uneducated. Seeing normal otherwise reasonable people so happy about it and so accepting of allowing another to suffer and die for their benefits makes me cringe, every year, in a way that other religious messages and attitudes do not. It creeps me out, this Easter story.

Here's what I always end up thinking about on Easter: Sidney Carton from Tale of Two Cities.

Stay with me; it's a very simple comparison. Carton makes a sacrifice [SPOILER ALERT!] in going to the block for his cousin Charles Darnay. Some people would read this act as "Christ-like," but that would be an egregious misreading. Carton's choice presents a crucial contrast to the Christ story in that it does NOT involve an "innocent" who is tortured and murdered for the benefit of sin-ridden others; Sidney is not redeeming anyone but himself, because Sidney is not the innocent here, Charles is, and that's a major reason why Sidney makes his choice.

Sidney's epiphany is that Sidney kind of sucks, while Charles is a good guy who is about to be martyred in the French revolution's narrative of community redemption that involves purging itself of the aristocracy. The book rejects communal expiation of sin utterly, focusing instead on personal responsibility and actual moral and immoral actions by individuals, as opposed to magical effects that cannot be measured or observed and that apply to people who didn't even do anything. The effects of Sidney Carton's sacrifice are obvious and objectively real: Charles will live and he and Lucie will escape France. Carton also imagines that someday they will have a child named for him, representing his awareness that his personal choice to go to the block for Charles, this "far, far better thing," is an attempt to repair his legacy, to give the people he cares about reason to remember him fondly.

In addition--and perhaps most appealing to me in this context--Sidney has to DRUG Charles to make this happen. Because Charles is a "good" moral character, there is no way he would ever agree to let Sidney do this, and Sidney knows it, and the reader has to know it or the character of Charles Darnay doesn't work anymore. How would we feel about him if Sidney managed to convince him to escape with his pretty little wife and let Sidney die horribly in his place? We would lose respect for him as a character, and rightfully so. He has to be tricked, they all do, or they're complicit in Sidney's death, which the book codes asimmoral, as it should.

My point is, the novel correctly identifies zealotry and dogma as elements of a corrupt system under which people end up sacrificed and martyred, and though characters like Sidney can achieve dignity through suffering, it would still be better if the suffering didn't happen at all, and the culprit is the corrupt system, and that system is the real Bad Guy. Why should we not look at the "system" that necessitates Christ's suffering in his story and conclude the same? Because that story ends up somehow affirming the horrific idea that violently shed innocent blood can wash away the sins of other people and is thus necessary, which is so morally disgusting I am honestly astonished every time I have to think about it, just stunned and grieved that people find this okay, that they perceive it as moral.

Which is why I dislike Easter so much, I guess.

The moral compass of Tale of Two Cities is more moral by far than that of the gospels, and this has nothing to do with atheism and everything to do with why the core narrative of Christianity, in particular, is so repellent to me. Ugh. Why couldn't we have stuck with the fertility celebrations? We could've kept the eggs and bunnies and grass and gotten excited about the return of spring and left blood and death out of it.

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Tags: cities, dickens, easter, morality, of, tale, two

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Comment by Allison Rodriguez on April 4, 2010 at 6:42pm
I totally agree! I am very worried about my young nephew going to a lutheran school and having nightmares about a man getting nails through his feet and palms!
Comment by Manning Bartlett on April 2, 2010 at 9:43pm
Great post - the insights into Tale of Two Cities are great and original (to me at least).

To really explore the original and adapted meanings of Easter requires going into the (unique) obsession of the Abrahamic religions about sex.

It is well-known that Christian festivals were all pasted over pre-existing pagan festivals. But why the crucifixion story was pasted over the traditional vernal equinox fertility rituals instead of over (say) an autumnal harvest festival is a curious one. The themes of sexual repression and sexual ownership run deep in the Bible, so maybe there is a connection to why a festival of death was put in its place.
Comment by Shell on April 2, 2010 at 9:26pm
Oh, yes, Cheryl, there's a big reenactment near here that some church puts on every year. It's just as vile as you'd imagine.
Comment by Jennifer Lovejoy on April 2, 2010 at 9:22pm
Wow! Truth is, I never thought about all of that. And for Cheryl, I agree, totally creeps me out!
We have always just celebrated "spring" and it was just another excuse to give little gifts to our kids and decorate eggs. But the truth is we say "Happy Easter" like we tend to say "Merry christmas" on the 25th of December, even though we say we are celebrating winter solstice.
There are many holidays that I enjoy the family time/ traditions as a family but I hate the actual religious symbols of. I think we should start our own holidays/celebrations. I enjoy the many traditions, the gift giving, the decorating, etc...
Comment by Cheryl on April 2, 2010 at 6:39pm
I agree with you. It is sick that in many parts of the world, they have a reenactment of the death and resurrection of Christ. What is wrong with people!!!

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