Easter is here, and yes, I know, we are more and more a secular country. It is not politically incorrect to scoff at religion — it’s done quite a bit, sometimes to roars of laughter on TV shows. Some will shrug their shoulders at just another superstition being celebrated this week.
They should give magnificence a chance.
That’s what this week is about, magnificence, something extraordinarily great conveyed in a remarkable story that changed human history.
First there was a ride into Jerusalem. It was on a donkey as people joyfully waved palm branches. Happiness was then replaced by anger and there was a trial of sorts followed by a tortuous crucifixion of someone who had preached loving even your enemies, concern for the poor and how it was better to be a servant than a master. Finally there was a resurrection, which is to say, there was a rebirth, just as the spring is a blooming of flowers following cloudiness, cold and snow
A sacrificial tragedy was now a mighty promise, and, in the New Testament, Saint Paul sums up the promise as dying to sin and rising to a new life. What’s needed, he said, is burying the wrongdoing self, refusing to let it rule you and turning to righteousness.
Christians, he said, should become alive to God in Jesus Christ and thus be enabled to resist desires of a debasing kind.
There is obviously more to the faith and the resurrection story than this, and those lacking faith may focus on one aspect or another and dismiss it all as so much hooey. But is it hooey to say cling to hope, that even if we are lost in our lives, wandering in a threatening wilderness, there is a prospect of being found, of having help in locating a better self, a better life?
Biblical passages can lift us up by their truth and strength, even if you are reading the Wall Street Journal one day and find the psychologist Steven Pinker writing about the Enlightenment.
He quite correctly points out the science and rationality it helped spur have done an incredible amount of good for humankind, but then asks, “Do people need to believe in magic, a father in the sky, a strong chief to protect the tribe, myths of heroic ancestors?”
Dismissing God as “a father in the sky” is as uneducated as saying two plus two equals five, and Pinker really ought to know that Christianity played a powerful role in encouraging science based on an interesting idea. It was that nature was created and made intelligible by God and that coming to a greater understanding of it was doing God’s work. He might consider that Christians invented universities and that, despite some of the faithful turning their backs on science, great numbers have helped foster it from the beginning.
What’s not so wonderful is the way some secularizing scientists, getting their philosophy wrong, believe the world is nothing more than stuff. They think everything can be reduced to the material, that when you react to beauty, for instance, it is not because of something actually beautiful out there. It is purely physical interactions in your brain.
In their view, nothing immaterial exists, certainly not love, not poetic truths, not wonderfulness of any kind, not ultimate reality. To come down to it, we humans are pretty much puppets of this material stuff.
The experience of something like an Easter ritual in a church can be transformative in taking us to loving realms beyond where we were.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.