dondigitalia

Easter Dinner

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I was a little wary at first. My best friend of 10 years invited me to her parents' house for Easter dinner. They are Catholic (she isn't, but her parents are). It was kind of nice. I don't really have any family to speak of (the best friend, in my view, is my family), so it was kind of nice to kind of sit down and have that kind of meal.

They said grace. I respectfully bowed my head while they did so; I'm certainly not going to walk into someone's house and make an issue out of the Philosophy they've chosen under their roof. I'd been declining these invitations for a long time on the grounds of their religous significance to the family. How wrong I was! It was a great time. The religious aspect of it ended after grace, and the rest was just good food and good conversation.

It was the first time in many years I've really gotten to experience a family, and now I'm kicking myself for passing it up for so long. I obtained two values today: spending time with my friend and her family, and even greater, the lesson I learned by going there.

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I had a similar experience on Easter, going to a relative's house for Easter dinner with my girlfriend. Needless to say, I'm not religious, nor is my gf. "Grace" was said, I didn't bow my head, but just listened for what it was: Stripped of religious overtones, a benevolent (in this particular case) expression of goodwill for all of the family not present. My atheism is pretty well known, and nobody would have expected me to religiously participate, just (logically enough) respect their right to the ritual in their own house.

I would not personally choose to go to a family gathering if "real" participation in some religious ceromonialism was expected.

Being a bit ornery about religion overall (I have always lacked respect for it, even after reading the arguments about it being a primitive form of philosophy, the importance of Aquinas, etc.), I did make the comment, during table conversation at a point that seemed appropriate, that Easter was originally a pagan holiday intended to celebrate the rebirth of life with the coming of spring. Nobody seemed to find the statement offensive. :)

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I did make the comment, during table conversation at a point that seemed appropriate, that Easter was originally a pagan holiday intended to celebrate the rebirth of life with the coming of spring. Nobody seemed to find the statement offensive. :)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Christians were very good at spreading their faith by making it amenable to pagan traditions. Despite Jesus's death, Easter is a time of rejoicing for Christians because his resurrection is what is stressed. To them it is a very literal "rebirth of life". It isn't surprising that they wouldn't find it offensive, the mixture between pagan and Christian ideas is very thorough when it comes to holidays/traditions.

~Aurelia

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Christians were very good at spreading their faith by making it amenable to pagan traditions. Despite Jesus's death, Easter is a time of rejoicing for Christians because his resurrection is what is stressed. To them it is a very literal "rebirth of life". It isn't surprising that they wouldn't find it offensive, the mixture between pagan and Christian ideas is very thorough when it comes to holidays/traditions.

Oh, I know - the Christians were great at ripping off former, secular celebrations. A benevolent celebration of the rebirth of actual life becomes twisted into the resurrected Jesus - a point I further made.

To my way of thinking, realizing that Easter was simply force-fit into an ancient secular celebration further shows the hypocrisy and rationalizations of the creators of Christianity - but you are probably right that many people don't look at it that way.

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[...] Easter was originally a pagan holiday intended to celebrate the rebirth of life with the coming of spring. [...]

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

In a later post, post 4, you speak of secularity. Weren't ancient "pagans" religious rather than "secular" (in our modern use of that term)?

Weren't the ancient world's celebrations, of the return of life after winter, religious in that they were directed to a celebration of a decision by the gods to bring growth?

I question whether secularity and paganism should be equated, if that is what you meant to do. My understanding is that most people in the ancient world were religious. They believed that they shared the world with a hierarchy of gods of various ranks and that the gods -- as well as men -- determined events in the world.

My reading in this subject is very limited. However, I would suggest, based on that limited experience, two works: (1) Walter Burkert, Greek Religion; and (2) Ramsay McMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire. The latter, unfortunately, is difficult to read. However, McMullen's Paganism and Christianity, 100-425 CE, a Sourcebook, makes intriguing reading of primary sources -- short writings by both pagans and Christians living at the time.

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In a later post, post 4, you speak of secularity. Weren't ancient "pagans" religious rather than "secular" (in our modern use of that term)?

Weren't the ancient world's celebrations, of the return of life after winter, religious in that they were directed to a celebration of a decision by the gods to bring growth?

I question whether secularity and paganism should be equated, if that is what you meant to do. My understanding is that most people in the ancient world were religious. They believed that they shared the world with a hierarchy of gods of various ranks and that the gods -- as well as men -- determined events in the world.

You make a good point. I will say that I'm not an expert on the subject either. My thinking was simply that the "pagan" celebrations were at least relatively much more secular than Christianity's celebrations - and that their focus was on something real in the natural world, not a fundamentally mystical thing like the "rebirth of Jesus." I think it's actually saner to worship some "god" who is supposedly bringing in spring, than to worship Jesus - spring is a real, natural, annual event of great personal significance to anyone living at that time - i.e., by its nature, more secular, not supernatural.

The Greeks had their "gods" too, but I don't have the impression (correct me if I'm wrong) that they took it nearly as seriously as men did after religion became large scale and organized.

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The Greeks had their "gods" too, but I don't have the impression (correct me if I'm wrong) that they took it nearly as seriously as men did after religion became large scale and organized.

For the Greeks, the dividing line between humans and gods was not firm. The Greek gods were idealized humans and humans were granted immortality for great heroism or other accomplishments.

Also, the gods were not considered moral ideals nor moral standard setters like the Judeo-Christian God. The Greeks got their moral standards from philosophers.

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I think Phil Oliver, by equating Greco-Roman pagan religion with secularism, meant something like what Dr. Peikoff meant when he said, "Greece was the only fully secular civilization in history" (a wonderful lecture, by the way, click here to find out more).

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I question whether secularity and paganism should be equated, if that is what you meant to do. My understanding is that most people in the ancient world were religious. They believed that they shared the world with a hierarchy of gods of various ranks and that the gods -- as well as men -- determined events in the world.

In order to clarify the difference, in my own thoughts I have defined paganism as mysticism due to what they didn't know, and religious...um...ism as mysticism due to what they think they can't know. Would you all agree?

The problem with this is I don't have a clear definition of mysticism. I think it is attempting a method of faith rather than reason, but I could be wrong.

Given that definition, I think the reason some people like to equate paganism to secularism is that paganism is based on ignorance, something we might be able to sympathize with. But religion as we know it today is a systematic denial of knowledge.

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I think Phil Oliver, by equating Greco-Roman pagan religion with secularism, meant something like what Dr. Peikoff meant when he said, "Greece was the only fully secular civilization in history" [...]

What did he mean by "secular"?

If he meant "worldly," that is, dealing with this world, then he was right, as a generalization. My reading of the Greek culture, at its best times, was that it was one-world oriented -- but a world in which there are gods everywhere, gods who could do things that were superhuman.

The Christians by contrast were other-worldly. They believed in two worlds: One for the gods (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, plus Jesus and saintly dead Christian souls, I suppose), and one for suffering mankind. And they said the world that is important is the other world. In that sense they rejected secularity.

Another element of secularity vs. other-worldliness is the temporal vs. the eternal. The best of the classical ancients were focused on this life and passing time. They don't seem to have spent much if any effort thinking about life after death. The Christians, by contrast, yearned for eternity and gladly let this life pass them by.

However, having said all that, I note that one conventional meaning of "secular" is setting aside the religious, the sacred, and the spiritual. In that sense, the ancient Greeks were definitely not "secular." That receives strong support from archaeological and literary remains. Altars, temples, and sanctuaries were numerous. Plus, their writings leave strong evidence of focus by many Greeks on all sorts of ways of dealing with the gods -- for example, through blood sacrifices. Again, I would defer to Ramsay MacMullen and Walter Burkert, among others, for their expertise -- which I lack.

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I cannot speak for Dr. Peikoff (of course), and I strongly urge everyone to purchase that wonderful and inexpensive VHS, because it is very valuable stirring in its own right; Dr. Peikoff even gets quite emotional at some points. But if I try to reconstruct what he said from memory, I think he defined the Greek religion as secular in the sense that man was the measure of the gods.

The gods may have done superhuman things, but they could not do supernatural things. Plutarch (the ancient Greek writer) tells us that Alexander the Great was born on July 21, 336 BC, the same day a certain Herostratus burned down the Temple of Artemis. If she was so powerful, then why did she let this happen, and why wasn't the criminal punished, or the fire extinguished? As the explanation goes, the reason that the goddess Artemis did nothing to stop the temple from burning was because she was too busy attending to Alexander's birth!

Furthermore, as Dr. Peikoff supports from literary evidence, Greeks, at least during the Archaic and Classical eras, despised the concept of infinity, and equalled any kind of unknown and uncountable with evil; I think he made an example with the 6th century philosopher Anaximander, who equated the infinite with the evil and malevolent.

I don't think secular should be defined by the absence of the spiritual, because one of the best parts of Objectivism, to me, is just how spiritual is; Atlas Shrugged especially, but other fiction works too. I would define secular as not believing in any kind of supernatural forces acting in unknowable ways. If that's the definition, then the Greco-Roman religion was secular, and was merely populated by superhumans who could run faster than men, lift a little more, sometimes even could set moral examples for men to admire and imitate, but they still had to obey the laws of nature, and could not deny reality. It's a kind of unusual secularism for us today, but Dr. Peikoff seems to believe that the Greeks worshipping Zeus were more secular than the modern, progressive and liberal culture; as for myself, I find it difficult to disagree with him.

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