Was Easter originally a Pagan Holiday?

The charge is that the word “Easter” derives from the name of a pagan fertility goddess “Eostre.”   It is said that Christians took over a spring festival devoted to this deity.  But this article by British historian Anthony McRoy debunks that claim: Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday? | Christian History.

Briefly, the connection to Eostre was made by the Venerable Bede, the medieval church historian, but we can find no other mention of the goddess or any festival associated with her.  Prof. McRoy accounts for what may have been Bede’s misunderstanding with some other etymological accounts of the origin of our word “Easter.”

Besides, English and the other Germanic languages are  the only languages that calls the Festival of the Resurrection “Easter.”  Everyone else calls it some version of “Pascha,” which derives from the Hebrew word for “Passover.”  And the holiday was celebrated extremely early in the church’s history, evidently by the 2nd century.  And its original celebration in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean sea shows no connection at all to any pagan festivals.

The impact of Holy Communion

Today is Maundy Thursday, when Passion Week takes off.   In particular, this is the commemoration of the Last Supper of our Lord with His disciples, at which He instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion.

We Lutherans, of course, consider that the bread and wine convey the actual objective body and blood of the Risen Christ given for our salvation.  So of course Holy Communion is a huge deal for us, the very center of our spiritual lives, the tangible manifestation of the Gospel, of Christ giving His broken body and His shed blood “for you.”  My Reformed friends say that we only disagree on less important matters, such as the sacraments, but that only shows how different we are, since, to Lutherans, the sacraments are not less important!  That the Reformed think the sacraments are not so important is kind of the point for Lutherans.

But we have lots of readers from different theological traditions at this blog, and I’m glad of that.  For once, could we NOT ARGUE about the nature of this sacrament?  And instead just talk about its blessings.

Certainly Holy Communion is always a blessing, but can you tell about a time when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ had a particular impact on you?

I’d like to hear from non-Lutherans too, the whole range, from those who believe in transubstantiation to those who see the elements as mere symbols.  We usually consider Holy Communion in terms of what people believe it is–and quite rightly–but I’m curious about its effect on people, whatever their beliefs.

Again, NO ARGUING.  If an argument is made or breaks out or a criticism is launched against another commenter or church teaching or practice, I will delete the comment.  Just state your experience, perhaps including your theological tradition if that is not obvious, and then move on.

Preserving the Union

In a review of Robert Redford’s new movie The Conspirator, about the plot to kill Lincoln, Ann Hornaday makes an interesting point, that one of the major patriotic ideals for which many Americans died in the Civil War–namely, the Union–is nearly always denigrated in movies and has faded from the American consciousness:

As University of Virginia history professor Gary Gallagher gracefully proves in his book “Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten,” about how popular culture has shaped ideas about the Civil War, the preservation of the Union has never been deemed worth valorizing by filmmakers, who have historically been more drawn to Lost Cause romanticism or self-flattering stories that emphasize emancipation of enslaved people or the reconciliation of the white South and white North. (At one point in “The Conspirator,” noting the higher causes they both fought for, Surratt tells Aiken, “We’re the same,” a classic reconciliationist elision of the myriad ways the two sides weren’t the same.)

Considering the depiction of white Union soldiers in such late-20th-century movies as “Glory” and “Dances With Wolves,” Gallagher writes, “recent Civil War films fail almost completely to convey any sense of what the Union Cause meant to millions of northern citizens. More than that, they often cast the U.S. military, a military force that saved the republic and destroyed slavery, in a decidedly negative, post-Vietnam light.”

Replace “post-Vietnam” with “post-Iraq” and you get a pretty good description of how the U.S. military is portrayed in “The Conspirator.” Rather than a principle worth fighting for, or a fragile democracy still vulnerable to dead-enders who would reignite the war, the Union is painted as the nest that hatched the egg of an overweening state and arrogant abuse of power. Hollywood may be where Confederates are buried in their onetime capital, but for moviegoers, it’s still the place where the Union Cause goes to die.

via Robert Redford’s ‘The Conspirator’ and the lost Union cause – The Washington Post.

The review cites the anti-government sentiment of both the left and the right for denigrating the Union cause.  But surely our national union is more than just government and can be embraced by those who believe in a limited government. The Constitution was put together to form “a more perfect union.”  Does anyone today really want us to exist in separate states as separate countries?  Can we recover the love of all of these states and all of these different people coming together into the Union?  Where does the ideal of the Union manifest itself in today’s love of country?  Or is there no longer a place for it?

Maundy Wednesday?

This would harmonize an alleged inconsistency in the inerrant Bible:

Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University says discrepancies in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as compared with John arose because they used an older calendar than the official Jewish one.

He concluded the date was 1 April AD33.

This could also mean Jesus’ arrest, interrogation and separate trials did not all take place on one night only.

Prof Humphreys believes his findings could present a case for finally fixing Easter Day to the first Sunday in April.

In his new book, The Mystery Of The Last Supper, the metallurgist and materials scientist uses Biblical, historical and astronomical research to address the fundamental inconsistency about the event.

While Matthew, Mark and Luke say the Last Supper coincided with the start of the Jewish festival of Passover, John claims it took place before Passover.

“This has puzzled Biblical scholars for centuries. In fact, someone said it was ‘the thorniest subject in the New Testament’,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

“If you look at all the events the Gospels record – between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion – there is a large number. It is impossible to fit them in between a Thursday evening and Friday morning.”

“But I found that two different calendars were involved. In fact, the four gospels agree perfectly,” he added.

Prof Humphreys argues that Jewish people would never have mistaken the Passover meal for another meal because it is so important.

He suggests that Matthew, Mark and Luke used an old-fashioned Jewish calendar – adapted from Egyptian usage at the time of Moses – rather than the official lunar calendar which was in widespread use at the time.

“In John’s Gospel, he is correct in saying the Last Supper was before the Passover meal. But Jesus chose to hold his Last Supper as a Passover meal according to an earlier Jewish calendar,” Prof Humphreys said.

The Last Supper was therefore on Wednesday, 1 April AD33, according to the standard Julian calendar used by historians, he concluded.

via BBC News – Jesus Christ’s Last Supper ‘was on a Wednesday’.

So Jesus was “old school,” following the older calendar, whereas most of the other Jews followed the more modern calendar.

Pro-abortion theology

Katherine Jean Lopez quotes from “O, Beautiful,” a play by Theresa Rebeck, which is getting praise in the New York Times:

‘This is a loving, caring Jesus,” is how the director of a play involving abortion described a leading man to the New York Times.

The play, written by a Notre Dame grad, recently took to stage at the University of Delaware. The dialogue includes a gal asking Christ: “Did you ever say, ‘I’m Jesus, and I say that stupid girls who let guys talk them into going to the back seat of their cars have to have babies?’ Did you say that ever?”

“No,” Jesus replies.

“All you talk about is, be nice to each other!” the teenager continues. “You never said nobody’s allowed to have an abortion.”

The fictional Jesus confirms her assertion.

“So can I? Can I? Can I?” she asks.

“Honestly, I — I don’t really have an issue with it,” Jesus tells her.

Honestly?

Honestly. Rather than uplift and challenge, the hallmark of great art, this just seems to bring Jesus down to our broken level. Where’s the hope in that?

via Defining Divinity Down – Kathryn Jean Lopez – National Review Online.

What shallowness.  What bathos.  What flaming ignorance.  What a reduction of Christ’s teachings.  “Be nice.”  But no one has to be nice to the baby.

 

 

Who pays taxes?

A news story in the Washington Post follows the Democratic party line in complaining that the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.  But notice how the facts get in the way of the thesis!

As millions of procrastinators scramble to meet Monday’s tax-filing deadline, ponder this: The super-rich pay a lot less in taxes than they did a couple of decades ago, and nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.

The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.

Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.

The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so much less than that in taxes? The nation’s tax laws are packed with breaks for people at every income level. There are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college and even for paying other taxes.

The top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent.

There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank. . . .

The sheer number of credits, deductions and exemptions has Democrats and Republicans calling for tax laws to be overhauled. House Republicans want to eliminate breaks to pay for lower overall rates, reducing the top tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. Republicans oppose raising taxes, but they argue that a more efficient tax code would increase economic activity, generating additional tax revenue.

President Obama said last week that he wants to do away with tax breaks to lower the rates and to reduce government borrowing. Obama’s proposal would result in $1 trillion in tax increases over the next 12 years.

The proposals from the GOP and Obama included few details, putting off hard choices about which tax breaks to eliminate.

In all, the tax code is filled with $1.1 trillion in credits, deductions and exemptions, an average of about $8,000 per taxpayer, according to an analysis by the independent national taxpayer advocate within the IRS.

More than half of the nation’s tax revenue came from the top 10 percent of earners in 2007. More than 44 percent came from the top 5 percent. Still, the wealthy have access to much more lucrative tax breaks than people with lower incomes.

Obama wants this to change so “the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.” . . .

The vast majority of those who escape federal income taxes have low and medium incomes, and most of them pay other taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes and retail sales taxes.

via For richest, federal taxes have gone down; for some in U.S., they’re nonexistent – The Washington Post.

So it turns out that the rich already pay taxes at a rate nearly twice that of the average, that the top 10% in income already pay half of the nation’s taxes, that the top 5% already pay 44% of those taxes, and the 45% of Americans who pay nothing at all are not the wealthy but poor and middle income people!

Isn’t it a bad thing for so much of the government’s income to come from only 5% of its citizens?  And that nearly half of Americans cannot claim the stakeholder status of “taxpayer”?  Not that I begrudge anyone’s good fortune in getting tax breaks, but if taxes should be raised (not that I think they should be), shouldn’t those who don’t pay any get targeted before people who are already paying half of the government’s income?

As a matter of principle, shouldn’t everyone chip in something, if only a couple of bucks?  When the topic is tax fairness, isn’t it unfair for a few to pay so much, while so many pay nothing?


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