An email was once distributed among my friends asking what each thought was the worst vice. “Hypocrisy,” I typed with little hesitation.
The pervasiveness of hypocrisy seems greatest at Christmas and Easter, when Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny vie for importance with Jesus Christ and the integrity of Christianity. After gaining on Jesus for decades, it appears that Santa and the Bunny have finally taken the lead.
First, there’s the delightful materialism. Though I enjoy them, the material gifts exchanged at Christmas and Easter have always confounded me. What does mass-produced gift giving have to do with Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection?
Children are the primary beneficiaries of these bi-annual gift orgies, so my childhood memories of Christmas and Easter are most vivid. I wasn’t inspired toward any deep spiritual realizations. All I could think about was the great stuff I was going to get.
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The lengthy lines to visit Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are the closest I’ve come to a bona fide pilgrimage, unless you count waiting in line amid thousands to enter Disney in November. It’s hard not to recognize Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the gift-giving frenzy they inspire as nothing more than exhibits of modern idolatry.
The first of God’s commandments in the Old Testament is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul says, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), and the apostle John commands, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
At one of the many church youth meetings I attended while growing up, I asked whether “idolatry” also refers to Jesus statues and other religious paraphernalia sold via for-profit Bible stores. “We aren’t worshipping the actual objects,” the leader offered, “they are only symbols, reminders of our one God.” That explanation never sat well with me.
“Idol” is derived from the Greek eidolons and eidos, meaning “image” and “form.” Current definitions include “a representation or symbol of an object of worship,” “a likeness of something,” and “an object of extreme devotion.” In Judaism, the precursor to Christianity, any representation of God is strictly forbidden, as is the fashioning of any “graven image.” Islam also adheres to this rule. Yet Christianity has accepted and even embraced pictorial or sculpted images of Jesus, the saints, and, on occasion, God.
Never mind that, as early as the 4th century, even “Orthodox Christianity” began resembling Jesus to the “heathen” gods, Zeus and Sarapis (ancient Egyptian god of the Underworld), and that this representation of Jesus predominates religious texts and Bible stores today.
Surely Jesus would condemn the capitalist foundation of today’s Religion-based businesses, the wares they sell, and the monetary profits made in His name. Likewise, I’ve no doubt that Jesus would rebel against the capitalist notions of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and their apparently deliberate association with His birth, death and resurrection.
During one of many teenage philosophical discussions with my step-dad, he asked, “What if Religion is the Devil’s Disguise?”
As I approach his age, I’ve begun to understand what prompted the question.
Organized religion has been the basis of distrust, hatred and war for millennia. Christian militias offensively slaughter innocents today, most notably in the Central African Republic and the Philippines. Current religiously motivated contempt towards homosexuals, atheists, women who use birth control, and those performing or undergoing abortions (to name a few) directly violates Jesus’s commandment to “Love One Another as I have Loved you” (that is, unconditionally).
Is the entrepreneurial genius behind Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny just another shade of the Devil’s cloak?
Every Christian I know agrees that God gave man free will and loves unconditionally. Thus, the celebration (or not) of Christmas and Easter and their relative associations with a magical, gift-giving Elf or a giant, egg-hiding and basket-filling Bunny rightfully remain a personal choice.
But Jesus/God playing second fiddle during His own sacred holidays to headliners Santa and the Easter Bunny? How is this anything but sacrilege? What’s worse, our society peer-pressures everyone into playing along. We may dispel the myth(s) for our own kids without much ado, but severe admonishment is expected if we prematurely let everyone else’s kids in on the secret.
Sadly, my sentiments herein will not prevent my kids from dying/hunting eggs and ravaging through gift-laden baskets at my mother’s house this Easter. And, despite feeling like a hypocrite, I expect I’ll enjoy this year’s hedonism as much as any other. Thank goodness our God is a forgiving one.
Melissa Rooney is a mom, scientist and writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org