For me, religious holidays have always been an excuse to indulge in good food and to feast on chocolate. Christmas is particularly well timed to help combat the depressing cold and wet of the northern latitudes, while Easter always brings the biggest boost in chocolate calories.
Religious holidays might have had a different meaning for me except something went awry during my early religious training. Like many impressionable children, I was forced to attend Sunday school and church services from an early age. I even endured a protestant baptism that involved some solemn adults, some water, and a lot of words that meant zip to me. I was handed a Bible and was, I guess, a certified Christian even though I had no idea what that meant.
I credit this experience, however, with awakening my independent thought. At the time, the Bible was mostly gibberish to my 7-year-old brain, but there were many spoken ideas I could grapple with. For instance, I was assured that the father, son and holy ghost were all one entity and that Jesus, the son, died for my sins. My first question, of course, was what on earth had I done that warranted anyone to die at all? Second, I never asked anyone to die for me and this seemed counter to the message of personal responsibility while presumptively obligating me to adhere to the strictures of someone I’d never met.
The whole crucifixion story was always pretty thin to me. After all, Jesus claimed to be the son of God and was a member of the Trinity, so wasn’t he immortal? I’ll be the first to admit that setting yourself up for death by crucifixion must be pretty brutal, but for an immortal, it is just one event across eternity. That’s a lot different from the willing sacrifice of a mortal human regardless of their convictions.
Of course, Jesus’ death was supposed to be followed by his glorious return as king of the cosmos within the same generation of those living at the time, but it was never clear to this 7-year-old why all the theatrics were needed in the first place. If Jesus was the messiah, why not get with the program and boot the Romans out of Judea? The theatrics simply offered a multitude of opportunities to discredit the entire endeavor, which was not helped by the inconsistencies between the gospels. And, of course, some people are still waiting for his return after 2,000 years.
Later, I realized that many other claims of church leaders were mostly hyperbole. Take for example the claim that the United States was formulated from Judeo-Christian values. It is an odd claim considering the scriptures show no love for democracy, and the idea of religious tolerance was nixed with the first bullet point of the Ten Commandments. Trial by jury was nonexistent while the rule of law amounted to arbitrary judgment by self-proclaimed prophets, or it depended on God’s mood at the time. Slavery was accepted. The idea of freedom of expression would have been endorsed as long as you followed the party line, but you can bet that would end dramatically if you went off the rails into blasphemy.
The fact that most modern religions are at least tolerant of some progressive values shows just how mutable the immutable word of God can be, but in light of the continuing culture wars in American, things still have a way to go. For example, there is no evidence that Jesus had any problem with homosexuality, and yet opposition to LGBTQ+ rights is standard fundraising fodder for the religious right. Similarly, some completely oppose birth control and abortion when scripture is completely silent on the former and, maybe, tangentially touches the latter once in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:22).
In short, you have to be a skilled apologist to wind your way through the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of religious claims and still feel OK with this stuff. Given how little all of this informs us about the real world, there is little motivation to invest much energy. Better instead to engage with another favorite past time that I learned from church service – the mid-morning nap.
Doug Call (he/him) is a microbiologist and father of three. He first discovered the Palouse 37 years ago.