Shared from the 4/1/2018 The Age Digital Edition eEdition

Easter story is one of rebellion


Subversion is the meaning and force behind the story of Jesus, writes Elizabeth Farrelly.

Happy oestrus! Oh if only they knew. If only the spruikers and sellers for whom Easter is like some roided-out Valentine’s Day knew that they’re actually wishing us a happy fertility cycle, and that the word comes from the Latin for frenzy and the Greek for gadfly, madness or irrational desire. Perhaps then they’d see. Easter isn’t about buns and bunnies, business as usual. Easter is insurrection.

Yes, it has a resurrection climax, but it’s insurrection that gives Easter its theme and its pulse. Maybe that’s why it is so wildly my season of choice. Always did love a good insurrection.

Of course, as a Farrelly, I also treasure the story of the Easter Rising, that heroic but doomed 1916 attempt by James Connolly and the boys – plus 200 female paramilitaries – to regain Irish autonomy. I love how the very name, Easter Rising, suggests the irrepressible springing of sap, as much as armed rebellion. In the face of Ireland’s heartbreaking history, it suggests life as much as death.

Easter itself prefigures all this. Jesus’ overturning of the tables, early in the Easter story, is his banking royal commission. The prevailing system charged people just to enter the temple, and excluded women, gentiles, anyone with a disability and slaves from intimate sacred experience. Jesus’ stage-managed upset was a blow for equality and diversity, designed for maximum symbolic impact on the patriarchy.

But I’ve only recently understood just how thoroughly subversion drives the whole Easter plot. Subversion of the rational by the poetic, the masculine by the feminine, the powerful by the weak, and death by life; it’s a morality play we could usefully restudy.

Scholars now doubt that the Hebrews were ever, collectively, Egypt’s slaves. So perhaps Exodus never happened. Perhaps Passover is unfounded in historical fact. Irrelevant. What matters is the Hebrews celebrated Exodus each year in Passover, and this made the footprint that became Easter. The sacrificial lamb became the murdered Jesus; Paschal became passion.

Jerusalem, Judaism’s cultural heart, was a walled city, often depicted as circular. It centred on two crossed axes, east-west and north-south.

By AD30 it was almost 70 years since Augustus had declared himself the son of God, but still the empire clung to temporal power as well. Each Passover, as proof of superiority, the Romans staged a triumphal procession that, thunderous with cavalry and footsoldiers, entered the city from the west.

That particular year, at the same instant, another procession entered from the east, the Mount of Olives. It was Jesus, on a small donkey, with his ragbag of peasants. The symbolism was exquisite. Jesus’ gentle approach made stark contrast with the violence of Rome’s forced penetration. But Jesus, for all his modesty, had claimed the east, the direction of light to come, while the sun would soon set on Roman rule.

This was performance art; less triumphal than parodic, almost satire. It was a provocation designed, precisely by forgoing force, to compel the harshest Roman retaliation.

There’s also Judas’ subplot; the kiss of betrayal, the terrible regret, confession, rejection, suicide. There’s Pilate’s, forcing the crowd to force his hand, so that history would always blame the Jews for killing their own prophet.

And of course there’s the protagonist, Jesus, who invites disaster, laments his appalling fate but somehow sustains both his courage and his love, even for his torturers.

The story quivers with power and abuse, twist and reversal.

How much of it is true, in the sense of historical fact, matters not a jot. Fact is the lowest form of truth. Indeed, most religious arguments entirely misunderstand the role of fact. In things spiritual, fact is irrelevant.

The question of whether God exists is not only unanswerable but, in the end, meaningless. Just phrasing it that way presumes a god who is essentially an XXL parent, sitting on high, exercising universal tough love – judging and intervening, rewarding and punishing, making

and enforcing rules.

This is silly. Such a view of

God doesn’t last five

minutes. It’s childish and

needy on our part and creates patriarchy as the power paradigm. It also walks right into the ‘‘Problem of Evil’’, as it’s known, since an interventionist god can be either omnipotent or benevolent, but not both. In other words, it totally plays into atheism’s hands.

It is often argued that monotheism, in extracting the gods from the natural world, squishing them into a ball and throwing them into the sky as a transcendent unity marked the shift from nomadism to settled agriculture. This shift, it is said, facilitated the aggressive and imperialist view of nature (and of course women) that is now destroying the planet.

It’s what I now think of as the Tony Abbott world view. Man, said Abbott in his ‘‘Daring to Doubt’’ speech, ‘‘being made in the image and likeness of God’’ is ‘‘charged with ‘‘subduing the earth and all its creatures’’.

Look around. See how well that went for us.

This is the kind of religion people hate – exploitative and domineering, using and abusing everything in its care. I’m reminded of Leonard Cohen’s dying prayer: ‘‘Vilified, crucified, in the human frame . . . I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim.’’

But a transcendent deity needn’t behave like a sociopathic CEO, nor justify our doing the same. Simone Weil describes God as the ‘‘current of supreme good’’. Here, God is less an authority than an energy or force, an ‘‘I Am’’. Our role is less to demand than to listen.

To self-empty, even unto the

point of death, is a kind of firefarming; killing the diehard

ego to enable new growth of

the soul, a religious vision

that is connective, nurturing

and, arguably, feminine.

This is the insurrection of


Elizabeth Farrelly is a Fairfax Media columnist.

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