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:

A NETWORK OF MUTUALITY

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?

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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.


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