The importance of Easter to this atheist
Atheism, for me, came gradually. I was never raised in an overtly religious family, although the requisite Christingle decorations were made, I sang hymns at school and occasionally we attended a special service at the local church. At some point I realised I didn’t believe in God, and hadn’t for a while, which warranted no announcement and batted no eyelids in my family or friendship circles. It was only when I attended university and my experiences diversified that I began to realise just how controversial a lack of faith can be.
I became aware of families who disowned their children for marrying atheists – or worse, becoming them. When I went travelling I learned about spaces in which a non-believer would never be welcome; where openly declaring that one eschewed deities altogether was cause for widespread suspicion. And, for the first time, while having a conversation with two of my best friends (both religious), I came across the criticism that when I celebrated Christian holidays in the UK I was nothing more than a hypocrite.
At first I was willing to cheerily accept my perceived hypocrisy and continue on my way, living my life as I choose to, cognitive dissonance knowingly intact. But as I’ve got older I have come to understand exactly why my atheist family and I celebrate Easter – chocolate in abundance, no mention of resurrection necessary – and I see no hypocrisy. In fact I have come to realise that acknowledgement of the significance of these holidays is socially responsible.
What reduced trading hours on Sundays and public holidays do for society is force us to step off the treadmill – and we shouldn’t underestimate that value. There are sound financial arguments for getting rid of reduced Sunday hours or bank holidays. But we hold steadfastly to the Christmas break and the Easter weekend because we collectively value that time as a positive gift from our ancestors.
The tradition of embracing time away from work with close friends and family, whatever the cause, is one in which everyone of every belief can take part. It is important for a functioning society: it humanises the realities of wages, commutes and working days, where rampant capitalistic overdrive seeks to dehumanise them. It puts a speed limit up where there used to always be one, allows us to reconsider the relatives we live far away from, and has a positive impact on our mental health.
That is why David Cameron’s comments this week on the importance of the Christian faith, and of teaching children that Easter isn’t just about chocolate eggs, left me unconvinced. Yes, I believe that from a cultural perspective biblical stories are interesting and enriching to learn about; a knowledge of the context behind any religious holiday is a powerful resource. But in a country where children as young as four now spend 10 hours a day at school while their exhausted parents schlep back and forth trying to make ends meet, I don’t feel the real importance of the bank holiday has been addressed by our prime minister.
Instead of taking Easter back to religion and arguing that our problem lies in disassociating Christianity from its holidays, Cameron would do better to concentrate on protecting workers from exploitative systems that force them to work over every holiday. He should consider the need for social bonding and time away from the grindstone that unites us all, and therefore concentrate on the most important aspect of this upcoming weekend.
The fact he has ignored these simple truths while spouting Christian fables is what makes him, and not me, the real hypocrite this Easter.