Saturday, April 25, 2009

Defending Easter

Pagans are claiming, and some Christians are believing, that "Easter" comes from ancient pagan rites honoring an Anglo-Saxon goddess, Ēostre. Some have even gone so far as to attempt to link Ēostre with the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. Here, I present a defense.

Please note that the connection between the word "Easter" and the word "Ishtar" (or "Ēastre" or "Ēostre" or any of the others which may or may not be possibly somehow related) is spurious at best. If you believe the one and only ancient reference claiming such a connection (the 8th century monk St. Bede), then yes, there may be a very, very distant connection.

If instead you believe authoritative and scholarly sources, then you will learn that our "Easter" was named after the month in which it fell, "Eostur-monath" (now known as April), which meant simply 'the month of opening' or 'the month of beginnings' (see Ronald Hutton, "The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain", Oxford University Press, p. 180). Plus, "Ēostre" literally means "east" or "dawn", so the goddess was named for the direction. Shall we no longer say "East" because a commonly derived word was used to name a false god? Shall we rename July and August as well?

In Latin-derived languages, "Easter" is not the word for Resurrection Day. The word is derived from "Pascha" (which refers to Passover), such as in Spanish, "Pascua", in Italian, "Pasqua", French, "Pâques", and so forth. In any language, "Ēostre" and "Pascha" deriviatives refer to the season, not to a specific day. To be precise, in English we should be saying "Eastertide" and "Resurrection Sunday", but we usually speak of "Lent" and "Holy Week" and "Easter". (Oddly enough, the more liturgical sects, like the Roman Catholics, do a much better job of keeping the names straight.)

Many people also say "the fourth of July" when they mean "Independence Day", which minimizes the importance of the celebration. People also say "random" when they mean "spontaneous", which deflects blame from their own thoughtless behaviors. Most people do not even understand the true meaning of "apology", thinking it has something to do with regret. I do not dispute the fact that people change the language through laziness and ignorance. But I do not believe they do it out of irreverence. Some well-meaning people even claim that "X-mas" is somehow irreverent, because they have so little understanding of etymology, orthography, and hermeneutics. That doesn't make them bad Christians, just ignorant ones.

Yes, the Easter Bunny represents fertility. It is not Christian. And the brightly painted eggs represent both rebirth and the sunlight of Spring. While these symbols are not Christian, they are not anti-Christian either. There is nothing wrong with sunlight or fertility. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. " (Galatians 5:1, NASB)

One of the fascinating things about neo-pagans is the way they desperately claw for any possiblity of continuity to some ancient religion. They will try to claim they are getting back to the root of the "original religion". Neo-paganism was effectively invented single-handedly by Gerald Gardner in the 1940's in Great Britain (see Craig S. Hawkins, "Goddess Worship, Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism", Zondervan Publishing House, p. 23). It has no connection to anything ancient, so they claim everything. Check out most neo-pagan or Wicca websites, and you will see the great disparity in their claims, because there is no actual history.

One of the greatest dangers of neo-paganism, Wicca, and such, is that they will discount your claims of the truth because they practice moral relativism. That is to say, they say that "truth" is personal and relative, not absolute and objective. To combat this logic, I suggest you read

Don't let the neo-pagans steal Easter.

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