Friday, March 25, 2016

Passover and Easter: Celebrations of Rebellion Against Authority

It's that season. Everything is in flower. The birds are chirping, and two of the major religions have a holiday that falls very close to the vernal equinox. So is it all about flowers and springtime? You would think so, if you saw the Easter decorations or went to an Easter egg hunt.

My Hyacinths in bloom

But though it's true that Easter is named for a pagan holiday about springtime, rebirth and fertility, two of the world's major religions celebrate acts of rebellion against oppressive authority -- successful and unsuccessful rebellions-- at this time.

The single daffodil that bloomed by my lagoon this year

In Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way, though the story is set in China during World War II in a concentration camp run by the Japanese, some of the characters are influenced by the Judeo-Christian symbolism of the Passover and Easter scenarios. Marah Fallowfield, for instance, sees the Camp Commandant as a sort of Pharaoh whom she asks to let her people go. She also warns him of the consequences, should he fail to do so. But Commandant Izu is working from another playbook, and he eventually has Marah crucified. What is ironic about the good faith, literal belief of these innocent characters is that the vast majority of people who celebrate these springtime holidays do not see them as celebrations of rebellion at all. Most devout Christians and Jews understand all their holidays as ritualized submission to authority! That right there is the real conflict in my new novel.

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Historically, there is a process whereby people forget. Successful religions are founded by rebellious visionaries, but they are kept alive only if those in power find them useful.

For instance, while Passover is about slaves rebelling against their masters in Egypt, the big focus for most believers is on the supernatural miracles and the absolute necessity of total submission to the priesthood and the payment of  taxes in gold to a particular god and not some other god. Though the new testament is about a man who called himself a "messiah" -- which is another name for the King of Israel -- and who was crucified for failing to pledge allegiance to the puppet king installed by the Romans -- most Christians put the emphasis on the need for ultimate submission to their God in the form of Church membership, including paying a tithe. So while the holiday celebrates rebellion from rulers who tax people, those who take it seriously do not think they should follow the example and also rebel. They believe they should submit.

In the same way, when Americans celebrate the 4th of July, which is the time when they declared their independence from the British, but had not yet won it in an armed rebellion, most  see the patriotic holiday not as a time to renew the fight for liberty, but to show submission to the Federal government -- which is much more oppressive than the British were in 1775-6.

Springtime seems to be a natural time to celebrate liberation. Coming up soon is April the 19th, an American holiday about a struggle for liberation from great Britain in 1775, but oppression of Americans by the ATF in 1993. There's just something about spring in the air that makes people long for freedom -- and other people eager to crush that longing in the bud.

A wasp on my peach blossoms
Some of the most successful films at the box office these days are about teenagers rebelling against oppressive governments -- The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series --  but there seems to be a real disconnect when it comes to understanding what real oppression would look like.  It would look more like the British in 1775 or the Romans in the time of Christ or today's Bureau of Land Management hounding ranchers, and a lot less like some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland in which people have to fight each other to the death on a daily basis. Even in the Courtyard of the Happy Way. most of the daily life was undramatic and ordinary, and people just tried to keep their nose clean and do their jobs. Oppressors want you to be happy. When people chant slogans learned straight from the Nazi death camps, such as: "When we're no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." --  they are unwittingly giving in to oppression. By all means, we should change ourselves for the better, but only if it helps to change the situation. If the situation is intolerable, we do not adapt to accept it as normal.


  1. Thanks for the reminders.

    Sadly, there are many sacrifices, human ones, before folks realize an authority of any kind was more of a negative than a positive.

    1. Yes, that's true. All of us tend to submit, when as isolated individuals we feel we could not possibly survive if we rebelled. But you would think people would at least give lip service to rebellion, if that's what they are celebrating. It's not necessary to preach that we mind-wipe ourselves rather than allow the feeling of unhappiness with a situation to intrude on our thoughts. I mean, they're only thoughts. It's not like we're going to rebel the moment we realize we are unhappy.