Now, I can understand happy resurrection, but happy crucifixion?
I am writing this on Palm Sunday. For weeks the shops have displayed chocolate eggs and rabbits. Why are they taken to symbolise Easter? Well, it may be the coincidence of Easter and early Spring, the egg and the fecund rabbit symbolising new life, new beginnings, resurrection. Got it? Again, pagan traditions have been absorbed by Christian culture. Of course, it all makes sense to business. If there is a buck to be made, go for it. That’s capitalism. The Confectioners’ Association is rejoicing in billions of chocolate eggs having been sold in this country alone.
Now we are regaled by a display on Royal Parade, Chislehurst, wishing one and all a Happy Easter.
Does that include a happy crucifixion?
The ancient walled city of Nicaea, which was at the centre of the verdant Roman province of Bithynia now lies deep under the modern Turkish town of Iznik, but it is not long-forgotten. It was the site chosen by the Emperor Constantine for a conference of all the bishops of the young, argumentative and divided Christian Church. There, in 325 CE, the participants thrashed out the first version of the Nicene Creed, which was later amended at the 1st Council of Constantinople in 381 CE.
The crucial argument which Constantine wanted to be settled was the nature of Jesus. It was agreed that Jesus is both human and divine, not two entities, but one. God is Jesus and Jesus is God. I suppose the father-son relationship is symbolic, rather than intended to be taken literally. Of course, the evangelical far right will take it literally.
You may understand and accept that idea, but that is not all a practising Christian is expected to believe.
The standard beliefs are summarised in the Nicene Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds … begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father … who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate (i.e. a real body) begotten by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary … and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried and … he rose again and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father .,.. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son… etc.
So, you believe that God created everything about 6,000 years ago, according to the fundamentalists), including Jesus, who was created before everything else was created, but did not appear on Earth until about 2,000 years ago. Although God created Jesus, he was not simply made, but was born following the Immaculate Conception (impregnation) of the Virgin Mary, for which God was responsible.
You also accept the existence of the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, which is one with God.
So, there are three entities: God, the Father, God in the form of Jesus and God in the form of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, but they are not separate; they are all one, the Holy Trinity.
If you can understand and believe that three entities are also one entity, then it is not much of a stretch to accept the virgin birth, Christ’s resurrection from death, ascent into heaven and God and Jesus being one entity, but sitting next to one another in heaven.
And how is it that the execution of Jesus was necessary for us to be forgiven our sins? Surely, if God is prepared to forgive us, it should not be necessary for anyone to suffer the cruelty of crucifixion, no matter whether symbolic or real. Let’s remember that the Old Testament is full of stories of animal sacrifice and even human sacrifice in order to propitiate God. This was a practice of the pagan tribes in and around ancient Palestine, which the Old Testament Jews appear to have inherited. Most commonly, sheep were sacrificed. In Genesis, chapter 22, there is the story of Abraham and his only son, by his half-sister, Sarah. Tempting (or testing) Abraham’s faith, God said to him: “Take now thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moab and offer him there for a burnt offering.” Abraham was about to kill Isaac, having already prepared a fire to receive the corpse, when, at the last minute, an angel sent by God, tells him to release his son. Abraham sacrificed and cremated a ram instead.
Male circumcision, a brutal rite practiced on babies by Jews and Muslims is a form of human sacrifice. In early times there was self-circumcision and there were even Christian sects that practiced self-castration.
The early Christians were either combating or embodying the beliefs of their forefathers. This is not surprising. After all, the earliest Christians were Jewish converts, known as the Nazarenes.
H G Wells, no believer, described this Trinity business, with its assimilations and accretions, as “the most extraordinary jumble of absurdities and incompatibilities that has ever exercised and perplexed the human intelligence.”
Of course, many Christians of varying degrees of devoutness, do not bother with all this theological complexity. They are simply concerned to follow the moral code of Christianity.
That is Christianity’s great contribution to civilisation: borrowing from many sources, both religious and secular, the codification of a coherent and rational morality, which is sufficient to redeem the obscurantist nonsense, provided it is prepared to move with the times, without compromising the fundamentals. So, the rightwing evangelical bigots apart, the established Anglican Church is willing to accept divorce, abortion, LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.
What a pity Islam cannot make similar concessions to modern, rational thinking But let’s remember that the Roman Catholic discipline still includes the sacrifice of the celibacy of its priests.