A Pagan Looks at Easter

We live in a time and place where Christianity is deeply embedded in our culture. Even if we are happily committed to Paganism and to the old gods and goddesses – and I am – at some point we have to stop ignoring the religious elephant in the room and figure out what we believe about Jesus. Not whether we accept the religious propositions of orthodox Christianity (we don’t, or we wouldn’t be Pagans), but who and what Jesus is and what Easter means from a Pagan perspective.

Was Jesus a historical person? Almost certainly. There are those who claim he was completely fabricated, but while the accounts of his life were not written soon enough after his death to be an accurate preservation of his words, they were close enough to his life to make it highly probable there was a Jewish prophet and teacher called Jesus.

Is Jesus God? That’s the wrong question to ask a polytheist. Instead ask “is Jesus a god?” And that answer is an unqualified “yes”. Even if Jesus wasn’t born a god he has certainly been deified by two thousand years of worship, praise, and prayers.

What about his miracles? I practice magic – I’m not about to dismiss miracles out of hand. If the past hundred years or so has taught us anything, it’s that much of what was miraculous for one generation becomes understandable for the next generation and ordinary for the third. Still, my experience with magic is that while it can do the improbable, it cannot do the impossible. More importantly, the stories of Jesus’ miracles are like any myths: their value isn’t as a historical record, but rather for their meaning and inspiration.

What did Jesus teach? We don’t know for sure, despite to what the biblical inerrantists would have you believe. But the value of any teaching isn’t dependent on who said it, it’s dependent on whether or not it’s meaningful and helpful. “Love God and love your neighbors” is a good idea no matter who said it. Taking care of the sick and the poor is a good idea no matter who said it. The Prodigal Son is a helpful story no matter who told it. You could do far worse than to live your life according to the teachings of Jesus as presented in the gospels, even if you can’t be sure what Jesus actually said.

Did Jesus rise from the dead? Of course he did… and so has every other person who ever lived. I believe – based on a combination of tradition, evidence, and intuition – that after death we spend a time of rest in an Otherworld (“heaven” if you prefer) before being reborn to continue our Great Work of learning and growth. But that’s another blog post for another time.

Did Jesus bodily rise from his tomb after three days? I find that highly, highly unlikely. Remember what I said about magic earlier – it does the improbable, not the impossible.

Will Jesus come again? I expect to come again to this world and I expect you will too. But although the idea may be borrowed from Eastern religions, it seems reasonable to assume that Jesus has moved beyond rebirth. That may be one good definition of a deity – someone who has finished his or her work in this world and is no longer reborn as a human.

The whole idea of a “second coming” and a “rapture” is a decidedly unhelpful doctrine.

Should we worship Jesus? I prefer the traditional Unitarian Christian view that it is better to follow Jesus than to worship him. Still, two billion Christians aren’t categorically wrong, and there can be value in worshipping Jesus as a god and honoring him as a teacher. But let’s draw a sharp, bright line between worshipping Jesus as one god among many and accepting the exclusivist doctrines and theologies about Jesus made up by men long after he was gone from this world.

So what can we take from the Easter story? It is not a story of sacrifice. Sacrifice is an acknowledgement of the reality and necessity of hard truths (another topic that deserves a post of its own). Jesus’ death wasn’t a sacrifice – it was a brutal state-sanctioned murder. Jesus didn’t die for your sins or for anyone else’s sins – the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is a relic of a hierarchical, barbaric worldview that persists in our time in honor killings. Nor is Easter a triumph of life over death. Death is not the enemy – it’s a part of life. Birth is the gateway from the Otherworld into this world and death is the gateway from this world back into the Otherworld.

The message of Easter is that death is not the end and that the grave is merely a waystation on the route to the next world. That’s a message worth affirming in any religious tradition.

So, having said all these good things about Jesus and about Easter, am I moving back toward Christianity? No.

I discovered at an early age I could not be an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian like those at the church where I grew up. As a young adult I tried to be a liberal Christian but found it unfulfilling – it didn’t make a difference in my life. But when I found Paganism something clicked – the idea of the Divine as female as well as male, the beliefs and practices of my ancient ancestors and the calls of Nature and the gods and goddesses of Nature were stronger than any call I ever felt in any church.

It was not easy to walk away from Christianity. The ties of the religion of my childhood were strong: a few from positive experiences and many more from deep fear. But it became very apparent I could do a lot more good as an enthusiastic Pagan than as a reluctant Christian. If I was to live my life with integrity how could I do otherwise?

This is who I am. This is what I’m called to be: a Pagan and a Druid who practices in a Unitarian Universalist setting.

I have practiced as a Pagan and a Druid long enough and deeply enough and I have had enough experiences of the old gods and goddesses that what I once believed in my head is now engrained in my heart. Now I can separate Jesus from the institutions that claim his name but all too frequently ignore his message. Now I can separate the man – and the god – from the ideas about him that have no basis in reality or in my experience of the Divine.

Now I can simply say “Happy Easter.”

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10247722361880680989 Ila East

    I understand that Jesus never said he was the son of God. That a king, not King James, was having the Bible copied and decided that it would strengthen the Christian religion to have Jesus claim to be the son of God so he had it added.

    I can't attest to the truth of this, but neither can I say it's wrong. Once we get time travel and can go back and view past events, we can verify all these statements. ;)

    I'm not gonna hold my breath though. ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 John Beckett

    Studying the origins of Wicca and other modern Pagan religions has demonstrated the impossibility of knowing exactly what the founders said and intended – and that's with a religion that's less than 100 years old, in an era where documentation is the norm.

    If we can't be sure what Gardner et al did, how can we possibly be sure what Jesus or Peter or Paul did, much less what they said? It requires belief in divine authorship of the Bible, which goes out the window as soon as you start talking about creation myths.

  • noodlewhip

    Looking at the idea of a historical Jesus from an objective perspective without bringing religious bias into it, but that of doubt and looking for enough proof required, there is a lack of acceptable evidence for a historical Jesus. Jesus is a religious figure, and that is how they regard that character. However, when the claims to historical fact are made, then it becomes a matter of looking for the proof necessary, and there really isn’t none. Forgeries, length of time, heavy history revisionism, and lack of account, especially from the one historian, Josephus supports the idea of there not being a historical Jesus. I think many seem to lose track of the fact that Jesus is a character from religion, not history. How or why or to what extent anyone regards that figure is left up to the religious, and at least in my opinion, should stay within the religious context.


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