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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London