4/05/2010 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Pseudonymous --
I am the only person I know who dreads Easter. People think I'm nuts. "But Easter is an easy holiday", one friend says. "You might cook a nice ham for dinner but you don't have to make a big deal like at Christmas." He doesn't get it. Sometimes, I feel a little irrational myself.
My problem probably began the year I ate a big bowl full of Easter eggs with vinegar and spent the rest of the day throwing up. Then, at the age of thirteen, I suffered my first debilitating Migraine headache attack over Easter weekend. I still have more Migraines in early spring than any other time of year. So I automatically associate Easter with being sick. I think, however, that I could overcome that particular negativity if the emotional damage from being raised a Christian didn't cut so deep.
I was raised in a strict Baptist church. The minister there was cruel, charismatic and controlling, believing that he and his associates were the only ones who truly preached "The Gospel" while all others were false prophets. I listened to his sermons from the time I was born. As a young child, I had no idea what he was talking about.
But the people there were nice, praising me for being so quiet and well behaved. Besides that my aunts, uncles and cousins all went to church there too, so I enjoyed socializing with them on Sunday mornings.
As I got older, I tried harder to understand what it all meant. We were told over and over that we had to believe "The Gospel" or suffer God's wrath. But what was "The Gospel"? It seemed like everyone else at church already knew. Naturally, I was too shy to ask and show my ignorance.
Eventually, I understood that the minister was telling us that we had to believe that the story of Adam and Eve was really true and that mankind, as a result, was sinful and deserving of horrible punishment. But we also had to believe that God fixed this tragic situation by coming to earth in the form of a man. This God/man was murdered by regular men. This God/man then came back to life and left earth again. Somehow, all the horrible punishment that he endured canceled out all the horrible punishment that we deserved.
It took me until I was around twelve to puzzle out this much of the story. I wondered why it had taken so long, considering that I had been listening to the same minister talking about the same thing every Sunday for my entire life. I felt like a slow learner, but I accepted our minister's story. What choice did I have if I did not want to go to Hell?
The minister had a special word for the evil act of questioning the story,"B-L-A-S-P-H-E-M-Y" Even the spelling scared me. He would enunciate the "S" when he shouted the word, as if to remind us of the serpent's hiss.
I had never heard the term "cognitive dissonance" but I began to experience it as I got older. The more I actually understood our minister, the more uncomfortable I became. I believed everything he said, because I had been taught that he was always right. I was afraid to even think to myself, "Hey that doesn't make sense." To do so would have made me guilty of that big scary word with the serpent's hiss in the center.
It was as if my emotions were ahead of my intellect. I began to feel very angry while in church, though I was still a believer. Little by little, my intellect began to catch up. One of the first things I dared to actually think about and question to myself was the minister's strange use of the language. It seemed that words were used differently in church than elsewhere. For example, the minister said we had to "Believe On Him" instead of "Believe In Him". Was this some kind of code? How could you believe ON something?
Eventually I gained the confidence to question other illogical things he said. I began to dislike him more and more. I learned of others in the congregation who were unhappy with the minister's seeming delight in condemning all other churches. Some of them even left for those other churches. I decided that I was still a Christian, but I was not a follower of this crazed preacher I was raised with.
Not that I tried to find another preacher. To please my dad, (my mom had long since stopped attending the church and was busy honing her skills as a religious fanatic at home by studying the bible night and day)I attended the church until I left home for college. There I pretty much stopped going to church at all, unless a friend guilt tripped me into attending the occasional service.
College exposed me to new ideas. For the first time, everyone around me was not necessarily a Christian. I had classes in which we discussed the history of various religions. Suddenly, I was in an environment where thinking for yourself was rewarded rather than stifled with the threat of eternal damnation.
But it was not easy to undo eighteen years of brainwashing. Now my intellect raced ahead of my emotions. I could read the Bible and see that it was full of gibberish, but I could not let go of the need to believe in it. I almost felt like my classes in Western Civ. and religion were an insult to God.
Looking back, I realize those classes would have been an insult to my parents. They honestly believed that the single most important thing they could do in their life was to make sure their children believed in Christ.
So there we were in our pretty new Easter clothes eating our hamburgers reading about blood pouring from Christ's eyes. I looked at my son, wiggling in his carrier and then it hit me-THIS IS SICK. I did continue to believe in Christ, though I let go of a few other facets of the doctrine I'd been taught. Was the story of Adam and Eve true? I wondered. Maybe, maybe not. Would it be so bad if some of the stories in the Bible were meant to illustrate a point rather than to document historical fact? It was a comfortable point of view, one I kept throughout my early twenties.
Then my discomfort with religion began to grow again. By this time I was married and had a new baby. My husband and I wanted to be a good parents, and good parents,(so I'd been taught) must take their children to hear the word of God. So we did. But I found I was growing angry again without really understanding why. This time, however, I knew enough to try to figure out the reason. I wasn't quite as afraid to question the preachers we listened to.
One beautiful Easter Sunday after services, my husband and I went out to eat with group of church members. After we had been served, someone from the group handed me a piece of paper. I don't remember who gave it to me or exactly what the person said, but it was something to the effect of, "Isn't it amazing what He went through for us." The paper described all of the agonizing injuries suffered by Christ on the cross in gory graphic detail. It was written from the point of view of a modern day doctor. I read it and handed it, to the next person.
So there we were in our pretty new Easter clothes eating our hamburgers reading about blood pouring from Christ's eyes. I looked at my son, wiggling in his carrier and then it hit me-THIS IS SICK. I watched everyone read the paper, then get that phony serious "Oh I'm so Grateful" expression for the requisite few seconds before going back to their gossip.
My true break with religion began that Easter. It was not a clean break; it took many years to complete. But as I sat there on that beautiful Sunday, I realized that any set of beliefs that caused normally decent people to take delight in reading about a man's body being ripped apart was wrong.
Every Easter, I remember the discomfort I felt that day. Well, that day, and the day I ate too many Easter eggs and the day I got my first Migraine headache. It all adds up. As I write this, Easter 2010 is almost over. I'm glad.