Happy Easter! Thoughts about religion in our society

The central Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panel of Jan van Eyck

Today is Catholic/Protestant Easter. Living in an Orthodox country, my girlfriend asked me a simple question: how do you want to celebrate? I was a bit startled I must say.

Well, I do not celebrate Easter, because I do not believe in God. That was my first answer.

But then, I immediately realized that it was not really true. Yes, I am not a believer, have not gone for a long time to a religious service and I am unlikely to go any time soon. And I am also not anymore a kid, have no kid and I am therefore not thinking about going for a chocolate egg hunt.

And then I also remembered how important it was for my grandmother to have the family gathered to eat lamb. For her as for many people I guess, the religious calendar probably offered the only occasion outside of Christmas to gather the family around the table. For me, Easter, as Xmas, is first and foremost associated with my grandmother -Easter eggs and bunnies were part of that day as well...

Mostly, Easter makes me think about the place of religion in our everyday life. Whether you are a believer or not, whether you like it or not, our calendar is mainly built around religious holidays. Time therefore follows religious time. Religion is somehow at the base of our society (there I am speaking about French). The references to religion are omnipresent in our lives, in literature, music, paintings, architecture.

It reminds me of why my mother, a very secular if not anticlerical character, who taught literature in public schools all her life, had wanted me to be not only baptized, but also to receive religious instruction on top of the public school curriculum (although I suspect that my grandmother was for something in that choice).

Back then, I would go for service every Sunday and then go for lunch at home. I once asked my mother why she was not going to Church with me. She answered that she did not believe in God. I then asked her why she had chosen to send me to Church then. She explained that she wanted to me have a solid basis of general knowledge and that was why I was going for school and catechism.

I kept this as an important lesson and it still influences me very much. I have come to realize when I was a teenager that I did not really believe in God and was going to catechism mainly to please my mother and my grandmother. I therefore stopped going. But I have never ceased to marvel at how much art originated from the strength of people's beliefs: cathedrals, paintings, early, baroque and classical music to start with. Without faith, who would have started building cathedrals, which construction took at best generations to build? The architect -or the builder as it would have been called back then- who started the construction knew that if he was lucky, four generations later only his work would be finished and was likely to look quite different than how he had conceived it. How would Bach have composed several pieces a week? I suppose this is linked with the thinking of the afterlife or even the more eschatological necessity for some to leave a trace, as an illusory way to be immortal.

To sum it up, although I am not myself a believer and I am quite wary of religion as an institution on people, I keep being stunned at what incredible things people can create when they believe in something, when they have a sense of purpose, a drive towards something higher, bigger, more important.

Coming back to Easter, I therefore decided to celebrate somehow more modestly and ventured into making salted caramel and chocolate truffles, although I am not a very keen baker. The result does not look superb, but it is sinfully delicious!

Happy Easter, whatever it means to you!