Festivals of Life and Renewal

Then the earth comes back to life. Nature resurrects itself. That is the real story of Easter, and it’s why the Easter and Passover season is probably my favorite of the year if I had to choose. Every year I’m amazed by the way the way it happens again: no matter what is going wrong in my life, the season almost magically provides reasons to view life sunnily. That’s just how nature works. It finally provides more light, more oxygen, every year. So why wouldn’t we want to tell old stories that capture the power of the experience with their metaphors of a man rising from the dead, a people escaping from slavery? I love the family gatherings around these holidays every year, that in fact can also feel like my family is being resurrected, because I usually haven’t seen most of them since December or longer, and because without the excuse of the holiday, we would probably not feel enough pressure to actually all show up on a nearly annual basis. And so I love gathering for Humanist Passover Seders, where we read from the Biblical book of Exodus—as literature—and pick it apart over dinner, talking and debating about which values in it we should accept today, and which ones we reject. (Freedom from slavery is great, for example; praying God will visit a series of horrible plagues including infanticide upon one’s enemies—less so.) In many ways, Humanists and the non-religious can celebrate holidays like these by adopting some of the customs that our most liberal Jewish and Christian neighbors have pioneered, then taking things a step farther—removing the prayers that might have been said thoughtlessly and without intention anyhow, and substituting little rituals to highlight the modern significance of the occasion, like the new Passover tradition of dipping a finger in one’s wine ten times and spilling drops of “blood” for ten modern-day plagues like homelessness, child-trafficking, and nuclear proliferation.

Here is a Passover reading I particularly like– I’ll be sharing it with my students and friends tonight:

We retell what the Exodus first taught:

  • first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt;
  • second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land;
  • and third, that “the way to the land is through the wilderness.”

There is no way to get from here to there

Except by joining together and marching

Excerpt – Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution

Here’s a favorite reading from Martin Luther King, Jr. that strikes me as appropriate for either Passover or Easter, whether one’s celebration might be Humanist or religious or interfaith:


We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted.

Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that.

We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.

The foundation of such a method is love.

Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war.

One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.

We shall hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

Are you celebrating Passover or Easter humanistically this year? How? What new traditions have you created or adopted?

About Greg Epstein

Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, and is author of the New York Times Bestselling book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. A frequently quoted expert on Humanism and community for the nonreligious, Greg’s work has been widely discussed in the national and international media, including the New York Times, CNN, the Boston Globe, and on dozens of radio programs.

  • Tony

    As someone who has officially deconverted from Christianity fairly recently, I took time over this Passover weekend to focus on my journey of passing over from Faith into Reason. I truly feel reborn! This focus was especially helpful because my spouse is a devout Theist, and since Easter is the highest of holy days in the Christian calendar — what I consider to be the HEIGHT of all the nonsense — focusing on my journey helped me to stay sane and relatively positive.

    • dan m.

      hey tony,

      i would like to apologize if you had any bad experiences at church in the past. One quote i like made by Mahatma Gandhi is ” I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”.

      This quote motivates me to truly live out my life for Christ, which is loving everyone unconditionally. I believe everyone goes through a cycle of their life where they begin to question everything in their life including their beliefs. To be honest, there were many times where I felt like turning away from the Body of Christ, and God in general to become an atheist simply because I was getting hurt by fellow believers and found so many to be hypocrites. I am just curious what made you become an atheist? I hope and wish you the best of luck as you try to find answers to all your questions about life.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I like the little ritual of dipping your finger in the wine to oppose modern day plagues of violence and bloodshed. Would you include the crime of abortion as well as the others you mentioned?

  • Selah

    Tony , how sad that you have obviously succumbed to the ” big lie ” dealt out by the adversary. .Your journey will only lead to destruction. Come to the true ” light ” and surrender your life to Jesus Christ. He is the truth , the way and the life. He is the Passover Lamb that was slain for your sins and mine so in believing in what He did on the Cross at Calvary , WE MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.

  • Tamilia

    Someone shared this book with me that points out many things in the church that strengthens the urge not to be a Christian. After reading this I saw that those who are least like Christ are Christians! Maybe the author didn’t mean for it to be used by Atheist but glad it was shared with me. PLEASE Share with your friends! See it here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/the-zeal-of-thine-house-has-eaten-me and http://zeal-book.com

  • dan m.

    I don’t mean to sound like an ass, i apologize in advance if I may sound like one because my intentions are in the right place and don’t mean to offend anyone but merely just want to share some insight. I am just curious how can you celebrate Easter and the Passover if you don’t believe in the judeo-christian theology? After all Passover and Easter symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if you think that you are being resurrected isn’t there a source allowing you to feel that way? If any of you were hurt by the church in the past in any way to draw you away from believing in any sort of higher power, I would like to encourage you in saying that the God I believe in simply loves and accepts you for who you are. I am not here to convert anyone into Christianity, but instead don’t allow the actions of certain people dictate your belief/faith. As you explore life, I really hope you find the answers to your questions about life and wish you the best of luck. As an atheist, please don’t try and push your beliefs on others, but instead just be intentional of their beliefs because how much better are you compared to that Christian who is trying to share their beliefs with someone else? Please just be mindful that’s all.

  • Annie

    Yeah, I love to celebrate a commemoration of the fairy tale where YHWH slaughters all the firstborn Egyptians. That’s my idea of a fun time.