Bad Feelings on Good Friday

I hear a lot of people bemoan the secularisation of religious holidays. The Crucifix has been passed in for a chocolate rabbit. Children worship Santa, the deity of consumption, rather than baby Jesus.

I agree that the value of these substitutes is indeed dubious. My question is this: are we not surrounded by unwanted messages reinforcing Christianity?

Case in point: on Good Friday all the bottle shops are closed and licensed venues are forbidden by law to sell any take-away alcohol.

My two favourite radio stations broadcast Station of the Cross, a ritual accompanied by an unlovely wailing of the bereaved, no doubt intended to make the listener experience Christ’s prolonged agony.

The church on the hill features two huge beams of splintery wood bound with rope. Designed to shock and visible from the road, it’s a reminder of the violent origin of this holiday and as disturbing as any Anselm Kiefer piece of modern art.

I confess I have an unholy bias. I grew up a Christian. My childhood dreams were not of daffodils and rainbows. They were scenes of mass slaughter, public burnings and decapitations – a recurring nightmare that lasted fifteen years.

If you said I watched too many movies, you’d be right. The vivid imagery came thanks in no small part to the graphic depictions in the propaganda films screened in the clapboard church halls we went to. These gems were niche, arthouse splatterfests— stuff that would warrant stickers and extra packaging from any mainstream classification board.

Hell wasn’t my only worry. The stealthy fingers of fear would crawl up my neck every time I walked into my house if it were empty. It meant one terrible thing: the Second Coming, which was when Jesus would come back to Earth and take all the good souls up to Heaven. If you were left behind, you were left to Satan and his henchmen of the New World Order.

The New World Order could ignite and spread at any time. It could happen before the Second Coming or afterwards. The scriptures were ambiguous.

The ultimate trademark of the New World Order was the cashless society, a sign that our civilisation was about to end and the Mark of the Beast would soon be rolled-out. People would be forced to have their personal and financial identity barcoded into a tattoo on their hands or foreheads. Or a silicon chip.

Richard Dawkins says that indoctrinating children into religion is akin to child abuse. I won’t make comment on that. My point is simply this. If you tell a child something as their parent, they will almost always believe you. If their teachers at school tell them the same thing, and the church leader and Sunday school teachers reinforce it, I think that comes pretty close to anyone’s definition of brainwashing.

Next Easter, I’ll be making a healthy choice again – chocolate over church. The irony is, without dogma, I have a more deeply connected and moral life than before: one that can accommodate spiritual principles without intellectual cognitive dissonance.

The best explanation I ever heard came from actor, Nick Nolte. “Religion exists so that people fear hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there.”