Something Else for Easter

Easter, 2012. My little girl’s first words when she awoke this morning: ‘One more day to go’. She’s been counting down for over a week. When the counter hits zero tomorrow she will be going, with her nanny, her great nanny, cousins and more attenuated family to Connelly’s Marsh, for the annual Easter Festivities. ‘We will swim every day’, she tells me, ‘even if it’s cold. And on Sunday we will hunt for eggs’.

Her excitement is infectious. I’ve been looking forward to Easter also, even though I’m not going. Connelly’s Marsh Easters are a custom perpetuated by her mum’s family.

I have more than a few issues with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and other myths that Grace’s mum thinks are ‘part of growing up’. Are we inculcating kids with a capacity to believe stuff that makes no sense? Are UFOs and palmistry, miracle workers and homeopathy what results if you tell kids that lies are true?

Woody Allen tells a tale in Annie Hall which has no purpose here other than the punch line. A man goes to see an analyst. ‘It’s not about me, doc, it’s about my brother. You got to help him. He thinks he’s a chook’. ‘Well, you’d better bring him in then’. ‘I would, but I need the eggs’.

Grace has a way of dealing with my cynicism about this stuff. ‘I know you don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, daddy, but I do’. I suspect she doesn’t, but she needs the eggs.

Easter. The first Sunday after the first full moon after the autumnal (for us) equinox (except for the fact that the date of Easter is computed using the Julian calendar and it’s thirteen days out, and the equinox is not necessarily on the right day, and the calculation of the date of the full moon is spastic).

Easter. The celebration of our saviour recovering from a (very) near-death experience. One of the most remarkable events of Christ’s remarkable career was being born on a solar calendar and then dying (nearly, and then for good, so far, unless you are a Swedenborgian) on a lunar calendar.

Easter bunnies are fertility symbols, as are eggs. The northern hemisphere spring approximately corresponds with Easter, a time when rabbits breed like rabbits. Our rabbits are pests, of course. It took several attempts to establish a population on the mainland of Australia, but in Tasmania rabbits were already in plague proportions twenty years after white settlement.

Easter, 1990. I was with two friends at the Red Lion hotel, then a rock venue, now an undeserved winner of Australian tourism awards as The Old Woolstore. Don’t think for a moment I’m bitter. After all, MONA got an honourable mention at the Tasmanian engineering awards. Anyway, one of my friends was carping about his inability to meet women. I attributed his problem, and a similar issue I had, to our unwillingness to engage them in conversation. Pressed to demonstrate how such a conversation would take place, and emboldened by alcohol, I spoke to three girls in a group.

One was wearing a large pendant crucifix. I said, ‘If this were yesterday I would be nailed to that cross’. A poor gambit, I know, but my skills with ladies were, and are, limited. One of them, the one wearing the crucifix, gave me a chuckle. And then she gave me a child. A lovely child whom she named Jamie.

Perhaps out of an excess of cadness, perhaps because of the young lady coming to her senses, I had sex with Jamie’s mum only that night and the next morning, which puts me in the unusual position of being able to calculate the gestation period that preceded Jamie’s debut. Jamie is now twenty-one, and I can remember my pale pick-up line from twenty-two years ago. Here survivor bias rears its rational head, I wouldn’t remember lines like that if they didn’t lead to fornication, and then to conception.

Jamie was conceived on either Easter Monday or Tuesday, 1990, the 16th and 17th of April (Easter came late that year, I did not). Between the first of those days, the most likely date of conception, since I was primed by a considerable dry spell before that date, and Jamie’s birthday on January 13th 1991, 273 days elapsed. The mean human gestation duration is 266 days so Jamie was about 87 per cent likely to be born earlier. This is significant because had she been born earlier her 21st birthday would not have interrupted MONA FOMA.

If you’re going shagging this Easter and you lack the decency to commit to basic social niceties like condoms you should reconsider your carnality. Because Easter is a bit earlier this year than 1990, your acts of wanton lust will not impact upcoming MOFOs, but you might have to give future Falls a miss.

Easter, 1972 (approximately). My father was a greyhound trainer. He along with many of his brethren (training greyhounds is a religion, you see) believed that key to making greyhounds try hard, race as fast as they can, is to convince them that the mechanical lure they are supposed to chase is, in fact, alive. To achieve this some of them give a dog a live kill. The procedure: tie a rabbit or a possum to a fishing line on an industrial reel, and allow the dog to chase it while reeling it in. After a few hundred metres allow the dog to catch the sacrificial beast, and slaughter it. On Good Friday that year, when I was ten, I went with dad and a friend to a farm in Sandford, and we tortured and sacrificed a possum. I would like to say that my disgust was palpable, and that it planted the seed of my later vegetarianism. As far as I remember I simply accepted it. Dad, whom I already didn’t trust, told me it was necessary and I must have thought that was reasonable. I also didn’t consider the torture and slaughter of the roast chicken we had (‘we’ doesn’t include dad) the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, that had been raised in a cage with so many others that they had to stand atop one another. And I didn’t consider the possibility that the concealed barbarity, the feast of the chicken, is the most heinous, it being perpetuated as a societal calumny, no individual in the chain accountable, rendering the chain unbreakable.

Easter as a focus of belief seems absurd. Easter as a place-marker for events that shape a life seems reasonable. And Easter as a holiday, as a celebration of values, whatever those values, seems essential.

Happy Easter. May all your eggs be free-range and all your bunnies be chocolate.

-David Walsh

Something for Easter

Eleanor has asked me to write something about Easter. Eleanor is our Blog Mistress.

I was wildly disappointed with Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists. I usually like de Botton very much, and this book was bland and preachy.

I have been prepared lately to consider the uses of religion: for social cohesion, community-mindedness, and a structure for kindness, for instance. My argument so far has been thus: if you pick and choose the bits to believe in – that it’s good to be good to your neighbour, and to feed the poor, but not good to admonish gay people, because come on, it’s the twenty-first century – you prove to yourself that you didn’t need religion in the first place. Moral relativism and responsibility is encoded in us naturally. All you’re left with, without God, is the problems with religion – obviously the wars and stuff, but also sloppy mindedness and waiting patiently for happiness.

So, like I said, I have lately been prepared to consider the other side. Not of course that God exists but that religion might be good for us. Consider: Richard Dawkins said, at a conference I’m hideously ashamed of myself for attending, that gratitude is imbued in us by evolution. Just like being co-operative can be a passive, unconscious ‘strategy’ for our genes to cycle into the next generations. The conference was for atheists. Guess what, stupidity and atheism are not mutually exclusive. Worse than the lynch-mob jeering the placard-bearing Christian soldier out the front of the Melbourne Exhibition Centre was the presentation on ‘Feminism and atheism’. Who cares, went the argument, chicks rule (cheer) and God’s dead (woo hoo). It was hideous.

Anyhow, the reason I’m thinking about whether religion might be healthy somehow is basically because I’m getting old and conservative. (Comparatively). I’m mostly worried about people being nice to each other, except for Mummy Bloggers, who I despise and wish to put an end to, a final end. I also really like watching rom-coms; I routinely veto films in which a parent dies or any pets are sick or sad (emotionally scarred by Dumbo).

I’ve teased (and tested) my friends a bit too, about the possibility of finding Jesus – me, who is known to her loved ones as a ‘fascist’ and ‘zealot’, and also ‘aggressive and arrogant’, when it comes to preaching about why religion isn’t good for us. A particular sticking point for me, at least me in my pre-rom-com state, is ‘tolerance’: if you believe in magic, I will think you’re weird and stupid. Why should I ‘tolerate’ you? Dressing up your belief in magic with words like ‘spirituality’ and ‘fate’ will make me ‘tolerate’ you even less for your sloppy logic, i.e. if you are going to believe in fate, have the guts to call it God.

Apparently, if I do eventually locate Jesus, I won’t have many friends left, not even a boyfriend (‘It’s a deal-breaker’). Those of my friends who were at my eighteenth birthday a decade ago know that I once knew Jesus very well. My mother decided that my birthday party was the perfect time to wheel out the religious poetry I wrote when I was ten: God gave me hands to touch the earth / Beneath the moonlight sky/ And eyes to see the little birds / flying in the, um, sky. Funnily enough, should I ‘fall’ again, my boss David would probably let me keep my job, and might even stay my friend. After all, he employed me and was nice to me when I was in the throws of cult hysteria (i.e. at university) and thought it was funny when I told him that postcolonial and feminist theory were not, in fact, a way of thinking, but a religion.

Clearly we have tendencies in that direction: gratitude, spirituality, a greater purpose for us. That’s ok (see how grown-up I am). We also have tendencies in the direction of violence, sexual exploitation of each other, and not liking people who look different to us; being ferally competitive about our children, or worse, revealing to others the details of their eating and sleeping habits. There was a letter in the Age last week, to the sex therapy agony aunt, that said something like: ‘Help – I’m a feminist, but I want my husband to spank me!’ Clearly grown-ups should, in this order: respect such urges (to be sexist / grateful to God / write mummy blogs) and then, promptly, quarantine them – to the bedroom, in the case of the spank-me feminist. That’s what makes us civilized.

So spanking is akin, then, to celebrating Easter? The safe expression of a baser urge? Not quite sure how I ended up here but there you go, something for Easter.

-Elizabeth Mead

Afterthought

Blog Mistress here – that sounds kinkier than it is, particularly in an afterthought to a blog that compared a good spanking to celebrating Easter. I feel that it’s my duty to let the blogosphere know that the Wim Delvoye exhibition ends on Monday 9 April. It’s an appropriate closing weekend, and not just because there’s a four-day holiday, if you’ve seen the exhibition you’ll know why, if you haven’t, then you should visit this weekend and find out.

Also, I think I tend to agree with Mead in that maybe religion does have something to offer. Although I do firmly believe in her first argument on religion, before she was older and more conservative, that the good bits are nice because they’re nice ways to behave towards your fellow human, and what you’re left with is an excuse for the bad stuff; wars, hate crimes, greed, closed mindedness and rejection of that which is considered ‘other’. But maybe that’s the same for any societal group, religious or otherwise. Anyway, her post prompted me to think about this, in time for Pesach (Passover).

Technically, I’m Jewish, on my mother’s side: Judaism is generally considered matrilineal; if your mum was a Jew then you are too. This makes sense to me because, let’s face it, it would have been a lot easier for people to be more certain of who your mother was than who your father was. Anyway, when both of my grandparents passed away recently I experienced my first Jewish funerals. They were vastly different to any other funeral I’ve been to. There were no hideously expensive coffins, no elaborate bouquets of flowers, no dressing of the deceased in their ‘Sunday best’ – none of which relate strictly to other religious funerals, by-the-by. Instead the bodies are stripped naked of all of their material belongings, wrapped in a plain white shroud and laid to rest in an unadorned, simple casket. Firstly, this seems like commonsense again – I like Judaism’s practicality – because, I’m dead and I don’t give a shit what I’m buried in. Sure, if it makes you feel better about it all then go ahead, but personally I’d rather you gave the money to people who were still alive and could enjoy it and benefit from it (take note future offspring). But that aside, what this process is meant to symbolise is that we are all equal in death, and I like that idea too. Whether you were a king or a pauper you’re one and the same once you’re dead. That’s the nice part of the religious ritual that I took away from the experience. However, after I extracted that I was left with the problems, some of which are what have made me decide to steer clear of Judaism, or any other religion, since I escaped mandatory ‘religion classes’ in (public) primary school and my mother’s fleeting and halfhearted attempts to introduce me to the religion as a child. The women and men were segregated, sitting on opposite sides of the funeral home, the men closest to the deceased. After the burials, first of my grandfather and then a few weeks later of my grandmother, came their respective Shivas, traditionally seven days of mourning, during which there were prayers for the deceased’s soul. The catch, though, is that we needed an orthodox Minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish males who are aged thirteen years or more. Women’s prayers don’t count for much, apparently. We had a tough time wrangling up ten capable Jewish gents at my grandparents’ nursing home. We managed, so I hope their souls benefitted. I left enjoying the really beautiful aspects I took from the experience, while missing my grandparents terribly, but also feeling like Judaism remains horribly sexist.

I also find it weird that I feel odd and put out when people mention the holocaust and being stingy, and when I studied The Merchant of Venice. Oh, and that I don’t purposely buy pig products or shellfish.

That’s a long afterthought. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I agree with Mead, don’t I?

You might not, feel free to let us know.

Either way, go and see the Wim exhibition before it ends.

-Eleanor Robb (aka Blog Mistress)