Why I hate Easter

As an agnostic, I'm not at all sure that I should be saying anything at all about the Christian festival of Easter. We are living through paradoxical times as far as religious beliefs are concerned. Indeed, when it comes to considering Easter I find myself screwed to the sticking-point of what my "agnosticism" really means. It's all very well hiding behind "I don't know" when it comes to the large-scale metaphysical underpinnings of religion: Does God exist? (I don't know.) What happens when we die? (I don't know.) Are we brought into this world for a transcendent purpose? (Once again - I don't know.)

However, at the level of everyday ethical decisions - should the whereabouts of sex offenders be made known publicly? Should government seek to influence the nature of the family? - such "I don't knows" really do become offensive to the properly religious, of all stripes.

"When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Eastertime too/ And your gravity fails, and negativity don't pull you through..." Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman - the secular-Jew-turned-fundamentalist-Christian- turned-orthodox-Jew, whose Zen grappling with religion and religiosity lies as near to the core of the poetics of the post-bomb 20th century as any other body of literature - speaks for me in this cold, awful, vernal equinox, as he voices for us all the unnaturalness of the rest of the emotional year: "I've never seen spring turn so quickly into autumn."

I hate Eastertime - and, by extension, I hate Easter. Not that I really know anything of Easter itself at all. There's a Venn intersection between Radio 4, the laity of the Church of England and the rest of what laughably calls itself the fourth estate in this country, which means that the rituals of the organised and semi-state-sanctioned religions receive a vastly disproportionate amount of consideration. At the exhausted fag-end of a century that has seen so many human lives snuffed out in such physically obliterating ways - conflagrated to ash; gassed to ordure; machine-gunned to pulp; exploded to inhumanly less than the sum of their parts - it would seem to me that to seek redemption in the 40 extra days between Easter and Pentecost putatively allotted, 2,000 years ago, to a self-proclaimed Messiah is - how can I put it with even a scintilla of respect for people's beliefs? - utterly ridiculous.

I've now been to Golgotha. Been to that Unholy Land. There's nothing more risible and historically disorienting about the environs of Jerusalem than those road signs that read "SODOM 20 KMS". And there's nothing more destructive of the Star Trek view of the Resurrection - a peculiar scenario involving a being with amazing powers marooned on a remote, backward planet - than a stroll around that cramped quarter wherein Jesus spent his final mortal hours. In the Star Trek view, Jesus is, of course, Caucasian. Pilate has a toga and a laurel-style eyeshade. The Temple priests - the quisling Klingons of their day - have exaggeratedly curled and perfumed beards; unctuous and unguent in one. And everyone observes the most important convention which renders this outlandish primitivism endlessly relevant: they speak Standard - RP even - English.

The cross is plywood - and anyway, a criminal from central casting, complete with standard-issue off-white dhoti, gets to carry the thing. The Way of the Cross is like any picturesque stroll through an ancient medina; the stations are spiritual time clocks; the crucifixion itself is mercifully televisual - when the sign is placed above his head with the dreaded ascription "King of the Jews", it's more in the manner of a title sequence than an abusive, cosmologically evil singularity.

To complete the teleplay, the garden of Gethsemane is just that, a municipal- cum-Olympian agglomeration of miniature cypresses, gravel paths and well- tended ornamental beds. The womenfolk, who are beautifully, cleanly attired in freshly laundered blue robes with white borders, arrive to make that epoch-creating discovery. Now, at this point in the gospels, it's easy for us cross-legged, nineteen sixties, late baby-boomer, Vietnam-as-TV- spectacle-witnessing kids to understand how it should be that the rock placed at the mouth of the tomb has been rolled to one side. Clearly, like all those bits of other worlds which are forever being hefted around by the crew of the Starship Enterprise, this alien stone is made from polystyrene, or foam rubber, or moulded plastic. Suffice it to say - even a flabby Kirk could've thrust it aside, and we know what a demigod he is.

Yes, I hate Easter, and the very movability of the feast makes it still more hateful - for I never know, in any year, when it will heave into view, freighted down with its groaning cargo of unpleasantness. It's not the Council of Nicaea which bothers me - although as a half-Jew with Catholic children from my first marriage I would seem purpose-built to respond to doctrinal disputations. Even that half-Jewishness requires some clarification - I mean, is it strictly possible to be half-Jewish?

The Jews might well claim me for their own, as my mother certainly was Jewish. But so intent was she on making her entire life a performance act of deracination, that I was uncircumcised, not bar mitzvahed, and only ever went to synagogue in my early teens, accompanying thoroughbred school friends in order to get in with them. On the other hand, my philosophically inclined, Anglican father - "I think of Jesus as a remarkable personality, rather like Plato" - did make a claim on my soul. I was christened - as was my brother before me - by the fantastically ancient vicar of All Saints, Hove, the Reverend Bickerstaff.

Throughout my childhood our father would take us two squealing, atheistically perverted (courtesy of my Jewish, anti-Semitic mother) brats, along to whatever empty, prayerful barn happened to be in our vicinity when either Christ's birthday or death day fell. What a thankless, graceless task it was for him. Try as he might to enthuse us with the sonorous beauties of the King James Bible, as declaimed by middle-class, middle-aged men in dresses, it was far too late. We had already been claimed by the split infinitives of Star Trek, were already preparing to boldly go into a world where ethics, so far from inhering in the very structure of the cosmos, was a matter of personal taste akin to a designer label, sewn into the inside lining of conscience.

My mother died at Easter. She who thought all religion was an out-and- out con, in that beautifully wiseacre fashion only a native New Yorker can achieve. She died in the Royal Ear Hospital of lung cancer - an irony which she might have appreciated, were it not for the fact that, in dying, my mother was fearful, alone, angry and devoid of any humour, no matter how black.

She had said to me a few weeks before her death: "The greatest thing about being a pessimist is that you're always starting off on the race of life with the understanding that you're bound to lose." Whether this was intended to give any comfort to either her or me I've no idea - since it certainly did neither. In the event, her pessimism was of no use anyway: she died utterly unconscious, shoved deep beneath the meniscus of sentience by barbiturates and opiates.

They had admitted her to the University College Hospital, where her oncologist was the consultant, but - wasn't it ever thus? - there were no beds available, and my brother and I had to follow her supine body as it was pushed through the subterranean passageways that connect this central London necropolis, until we rose up in a lift to the Royal Ear. This process was, on reflection, my mother's crucifixion: the cruel, iron trolley they wheeled her on was her secular cross; in place of the vinegar which was thrust into Christ's mouth by bystanders, nutriments were fed into Mother's arm via a transparent drip; and instead of the Roman legionnaire's sword, thrust into Mother's side were the increasing dosages of diamorphine which ensured that for all time she would remain dead.

In mourning my mother - whom I loved very deeply - I went through all the recognised stages of anger, denial and eventual acceptance. Like the disciples, in the days and weeks immediately succeeding her death I would see "fake" mothers wandering the streets of London much as she did in life. However, since neither of us believed remotely in the existence of personal immortality (and she in no kind of transcendence whatsoever), these visitations were mute and hazy. If Mother had felt driven to communicate anything to me from beyond the grave, it would doubtless have been a sardonic remark about the cost of her cremation.

As with so many of the most important and resonant facts about our lives, I have opted to block out the exact date in April when it was that we stood in the plastic cubicle and watched the mutant cells finally push mother out of her own head and into oblivion. So Easter is, for me, for the rest of my life, that time of the year when death comes to visit for a while. Western death: painless, medicalised, and about as ethical as a tooth extraction. It's a pity there are false messiahs - just the way that there are false teeth.

Yes, there will be no resurrection for Mother, just as there will be no resurrection for all the millions upon millions of dead souls that clutter this world of ours, like so much psychic lumber. Yes, they're gone - and they're not coming back.

So it is that I suppress my memory of the date my mother died and I never know the date upon which Easter is going to fall. As winter fades, a council quite as doctrinally hairsplitting as that of Nicaea begins its first convocation of the year.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas