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Easter hopes

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Regarding our habit

Of venerating a rabbit

Who brings jellybeans and eggs –

Is someone pulling our legs?

At least the Easter Bunny is a harmless myth. We don’t urge or compel people to pray to it; we don’t ascribe causes and effects to it; we don’t call it the architect and chief executive of Heaven and Hill. Its existence, we agree, is entirely fanciful.

Christianity’s collective fantasy reaches its apex today, with millions of adults celebrating the miracle of reincarnation as avidly as their children revel in gathering colored eggs. Easter Sunday is the apotheosis of “faith in things unseen,” and isn’t it odd that someone who wouldn’t dream of allowing her child to make itself sick on chocolate, for instance, is happy to gorge herself on hope?

“Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross so that all of us could live forever,” is a Facebook post I came across. (What would Jesus say? “That’s OK, glad to do it”?) Shouldn’t the operative phrase, today and forever, be: Be careful what you wish for, lest you get it?

For what if eternity’s like the here and now -- only more so? Why should we believe it to be otherwise, if we’re going to believe in it at all? After all, the God who’s arranged things so unsatisfactorily here will still be running the show.

Kids who went to bed last night hoping the Easter Bunny would visit at least had reason and the weight of experience on their side – he came last year!

In an article in the New York Times today, Simon Critchley writes about an episode described by the Greek historian Thucydides. In his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” Thucydides tells of an army of ancient Athenians menacing the inhabitants of the island of Melos, who are allied with Sparta. The Athenians give them an ultimatum: Give up or die. The Melians tell them, if we give up, then all hope is lost. “The Athenians reply that it is indeed true that hope is a great comfort, but often a delusive one,” Critchley says.

Here Thucydides takes over: “’Do not be like ordinary people’,” the Athenians tell them, “’who could use human means to save themselves but turn to blind hopes when they are forced to give up their sensible ones—to divination, oracles and other such things that destroy men by giving them hope'.”

Critchley says that we “can have all kinds of reasonable hopes…But unless those hopes are realistic we will end up in a blindly hopeful (and therefore hopeless) idealism.” He concludes his piece with a quote from Nietzsche: “Hope is the evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.” He could just as well have ended with this (even less hopeful) one, from Kafka:

“There is hope, but not for us.”

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