Last Sunday – Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar – I saw a small group of Christians, numbering no more than abot 10, undertaking a procession around a church just outside Dudley town centre. Following behind their vicar, who was carrying a large cross, the group were carrying large palm leaves as part of a reinactment of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
Similarly on Good Friday, I saw 5 vicars followed by a handful of Christians marching through Darlaston town centre carrying a large cross. Later that day, I was also told that in Stourbridge town centre an outdoor Christian service was held and a crowd of about 50 people had taken part.
Apart from this and the appallingly acted BBC mini-series, ‘The Passion’ (which feels remarkably like the BBC’s ‘Robin Hood’ but with New Testament figures being involved), it raised the question: where did Easter go?
As the most important Christian festival, Easter as a religious or spiritual event or celebration seems to have completely disappeared. Despite the anti-Sunday trading lobby having claimed a minor victory some years ago by ensuring that shops were unable to trade on Easter Sunday, Easter seems to exist only as another consumer festival: Cadburys Creme Eggs on sale from Boxing Day, various 2 for £5 Easter egg offers, plus some ‘buy one get one free’ packs of hot cross buns. Elsewhere a variety of sale offers from Currys, Comet and PC World are matched by ‘Home Events’ at M&S and BHS in an attempt to ensure that all consumer desires are met. Given that I myself visited the Merry Hill Shopping Centre and Ikea on Good Friday and by default, was contributing to Easter’s demise, I was determined to find something more religious about Easter than bumping into a handful of Christians who were ‘making an effort’.
As such, I looked on the BBC News website to see what ‘religious’ references there were. Noticing that an ‘In Pictures: Good Friday’ feature was highlighted, I felt slightly reassured. Showing images of how Christians celebrate Good Friday around the world – Germany, Ecuador, Philippines, Spain, USA, Brazil and Israel – I quickly realised that there was nothing about the UK. Even under ‘Easter Recipes’, the ‘traditional’ recipes featured were from Sweden and Norway.
A search on the BBC website for ‘Easter’ therefore offers little in the way of anything even slightly religious. Easter news included three references to the bad weather, one to ferry services being cancelled, and another to how busy UK airports might be. In addition, a further three articles were about an Easter campaign against gun crime, how mounted Police were being used as part of a ‘crackdown on alcohol-related crime’ and how in north Devon, Police were targeting ‘yob culture’ over the Easter weekend. When shopping is taken out of the equation, it would seem that today’s Easter celebrations reflect many of our cultural preoccupations: weather, holidays, drinking and anti-social behaviour. Nowhere though was there any apparent religiosity or even reference to the crucifixion, unsurprisingly not even in the story about the 30 kilogram handmade chocolate egg that is currently on sale at a London luxury department store with a price tag of £500.
Two tenuous references were however apparent. The first was from the BBC website and referred to the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, who condemned ‘immoral’ money lenders that encourage “people to borrow more money than they could afford”. The second was in the Guardian and was written by Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney, who was considering the Christian-ness of George W. Bush, someone he described as the most powerful Christian in the world: “Throughout his time in office, the President has frequently been photographed in front of the cross. Yet as his support for torture demonstrates, he has understood little of its meaning”. Despite their respective efforts, I doubt whether many more than a handful of Christians taking part in sporadic Easter ‘events’ were even bothered let alone listening.
Easter then as a significant and important religious festival seems to have disappeared in today’s Britain. Replaced by a consumer-driven date on the calendar, Easter’s gradual disappearance reminded me of a classic line from The Simpsons. Whilst watching television sometime oin the near fututre, Marge turns to Homer and says: ““You know, Fox turned into a hard core porn channel so gradually I didn’t even notice”. For me, Easter turned into a hard core consumer event so gradually that neither I nor indeed anyone else even noticed…!!!
In reflecting upon how we got to this point, it is worth revisiting the Archbishop of Wales’ Christmas sermon from last year. Reflecting on ‘atheistic fundamentalism’ as he put it, Morgan argued that an increasingly aggressive atheistic (secular? capitalist? consumer?) society was driving religion in all its forms out of the mainstream and into the realm of the superstitious and irrational nonsense. As he put it: “All of this is what I would call the new ‘fundamentalism’ of our age. It allows no room for disagreement, for doubt, for debate, for discussion”.
The Archbishop’s point here is important because whilst it would seem that Christian festivals and beliefs are being eradicated from British society without much care, cause or consternation, those same atheists/ secularists/ consumerists/ capitalists will eventusally want to do the same with all religions. For Muslims, this is especially important because it provides some insight into why Muslims and Islam are so regularly being attacked and derided without any apparent reason. As the Archbishop concluded, such ongoing virulent attacks on religion and religious communities are highly dangerous because they refuse to allow any contrary viewpoint to be heard. In doing so, this affects the public perception of religion and religious communities where they are increasingly seen to be a ‘problem’ and even more so, an unnnecessary problem for society as a whole.
So whilst the final toll might have been rung for this religious festival, it certainly won’t be the last on the hit-list. Easter RIP.
A follow-up to this post can be found here.