This past Easter, an old friend of mine whom I don't see very often, emailed me. "Rob" (not his real name) is a great father, husband, and friend. He was baptized and raised in the Vatican II sect (b. 1968), but a few years ago became a Protestant. He wished my family and me a "Happy Resurrection Sunday." I replied back, "I pray for your family and you--and always wish you the best. Don't you mean 'Happy Easter'? What's with 'Resurrection Sunday?" He responded, "Resurrection Sunday is for Christians. 'Easter' is of pagan origin, and we shouldn't be using that word." Many atheists make the same claim, and many churches now proclaim "Resurrection Sunday." Rob and I have had a great many theological discussions as I try to show him the way to the One True Church. I have great hope for him. He was correct, insofar as my subsequent research showed many atheists making this assertion about "Easter" and many Protestant sects adopting the name "Resurrection Sunday." In this post, the controversy surrounding Easter shall be examined.
Richard Dawkins: Frequently Wrong, But Never In Doubt
One of the so-called "New Atheists," Dr. Richard Dawkins, is blinded by his hatred of God. This meme appeared on his so-called "Foundation for Reason and Science " Facebook page a couple of years back, and I believe that this is where the idea of jettisoning the word "Easter" got much of its its traction among many Protestants. For an educated man (biology professor by profession), proclaiming himself the epitome of "reason and science," his meme is but little more than an emotional attack on the God he hates. He's not merely an atheist, but an anti-theist (one who wants God stamped out of society). The basic gist of Dawkins' mindless attack is that Christian doctrines are just "myths" borrowed from pagan culture. If he did even minimal research, he would see that his contention is totally wrong.
1. Ishtar is pronounced "Easter." There is not one credible linguistic source I could find to support this assertion. It is pronounced "ISH-tar" not "EAST-er." According to historian Anthony McRoy: "The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.
Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms." McRoy then puts things in context, since the Church celebrates "Maundy Thursday" and "Good Friday" and "Holy Saturday." The names of the days of the week all derive from pagan origin; Thursday for the Norse pagan "god" Thor, Friday for the Germanic pagan "goddess" Freya, and Saturday for the Roman pagan "god" Saturn. Does the use of these names denigrate the True God, or imply we honor these false deities? Does it render the historical Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Vigil of the Resurrection "pagan"? This is a classic case of "guilt by association."
McRoy further assets that there are two theories as to the origin for Easter among historians. "One theory for the origin of the name is that the Latin phrase in albis ('in white'), which Christians used in reference to Easter week, found its way into Old High German as eostarum, or 'dawn.'" The other is that "Eosturmonath simply meant 'the month of opening,' which is comparable to the meaning of 'April' in Latin. The names of both the Saxon and Latin months (which are calendrically similar) were related to spring, the season when the buds open." (See https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/april/was-easter-borrowed-from-pagan-holiday.html).
2. Easter is originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex.
Ishtar was associated with fertility and sex. Easter is always celebrated near the Feast of Passover, when it took place. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) set the formula for calculating the date. (The Eastern Schismatics use a different calculation, and usually celebrate Easter a week later than Catholics and Protestants). In short, Easter has everything to do with Passover (when it took place) and nothing to do with the pagan deity Ishtar.
3. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?)
I don't get upset when people disagree with me, but I can't help getting angry when they attack a straw-man and claim that you're wrong. So far, there is no credible evidence that the word "Easter" derives from "Ishtar." Second, Christianity has retained some vestiges from pagan times, such as the names of the days of the week, but do not thereby celebrate the pagan gods and goddesses after which they were named.Therefore, to claim "Easter" is "making pagan" the Resurrection is fallacious "guilt by association." Third, Easter is celebrated in the spring because the events took place on Passover, not because of some alleged connection to Ishtar. Score thus far: Dawkins 0, Christianity 3.
As to the next ridiculous assertion, Ishtar's symbols were the lion, the gate and the eight-pointed star; I can’t find any evidence of eggs or rabbits symbolically belonging to this pagan deity. (See, e.g., https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ishtar-Mesopotamian-goddess; there is no mention of rabbits or eggs). Admittedly, most of the popular associations with Easter do come from pagan traditions rather than Christian. However, traditionally the Church has taken these pagan elements and "converted" them to convey Christian principles. For example, the egg is a common pagan sign of fertility, but for Catholicism, the egg is often used to signify the resurrection to new life promised us by Christ's resurrection (See 1 Corinthians 15:37-38). The Polish were prominent in making this connection: "Polish traditions taught that eggs were symbols of 'new life' and used them in church services, which represented rebirth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hedgerow/2017/04/know-easter-eggs-lent/).
Rabbits likewise are known for being fruitful and multiplying. Butterflies are indicators of spring, and therefore new life, and at Easter, make a great symbol of the resurrection. Just as the caterpillar "dies," is "buried" in its cocoon, and then emerges in a "new body," so too Our Lord died, was buried, and was resurrected on the third day. We who belong to Him will be resurrected also (See Romans 8:11). Hiding eggs once symbolized the mysteries of the world of the gods and goddesses, who had to be coaxed into returning life to the Earth in spring. Early members of the Church used hiding-and-finding Easter eggs as a teaching tool to children that we have been "hidden" from God’s loving presence by our sin, but we are "found" by Christ, who forgives us, loves us, and treasures us (See St. Luke 15:4-7).
4. After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.
There is no citation to any relevant historical authority to support this ludicrous claim. When Constantine was alive, English--in any known form today--didn't even exist, and the emperor spoke Latin, in which the word would be pascha. According to Merriam-Webster, "The history of English is conventionally, if perhaps too neatly, divided into three periods usually called Old English (or Anglo-Saxon), Middle English, and Modern English. The earliest period begins with the migration of certain Germanic tribes from the continent to Britain in the fifth century A.D., though no records of their language survive from before the seventh century, and it continues until the end of the eleventh century or a bit later." (See https://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq-history; Emphasis mine).
There was no "Easter" at the time, and the celebration of Christ's Resurrection had been going on for almost 300 years.
5. But at its roots Easter (which is pronounced Ishtar) was all about celebrating fertility and sex.
Well, this has been shown to be demonstrably false. If I were to write something so slipshod and manifestly untrue, would you want me representing you in court? Yet, Dr. Dawkins, a professional biologist and professor, has atheists, and those with doubts about God's existence, clinging to his every word as a man of "reason and science." Even a superficial check of his alleged "facts" would expose the falsity of the claims regarding Easter. One can only conclude (a) Dawkins can't do basic research and is a pseudo-educated dolt, or (b) he purposefully lies to make Christianity look as bad as possible. I don't know which is more charitable to believe.
Modern Paganizing of Easter
Easter is not pagan, but unfortunately, even some Traditionalists make it so. When you tell your children about rabbits, egg hunts, and chocolates, but not about what they symbolize, the true meaning of Easter gets lost. That is pagan. The value of symbolism must not be lost. Historically, the celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection is a time of joy, light, and celebration. Our churches and chapels use bright colors to decorate the sanctuary and the altar, traditionally white and gold. White represents purity and the resurrection, gold symbolizes triumph. Confidence in the Resurrection is also the historical significance of flowers (especially lilies) at Easter since they are associated with funerals.Christ has proven death is not the end of it all. I also don't believe in parents lying to children in connection to religious celebrations. Let them know the Easter Bunny is not real.
I wrote a post in January of 2017, opining how lying to children about Santa Claus is detrimental to their faith. Unlike the symbols of Easter, Santa is dangerous because--as I wrote---"People calling themselves "Christian" lie to their children about the existence of a supernatural, all-knowing being who is watching them and holding them morally accountable. This "God-surrogate" is an all-seeing person endowed with miraculous powers, who’s making a list and checking it twice in order to find out if you've been naughty or nice. "He knows when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good, for goodness’ sake!" Fear not, however, no matter what you’ve done, he thinks you’re good and delivers the presents. Is this caricature of God something about which you want to lie to your children? Once they find out that you have lied to them about Santa’s existence, how can doubts not also arise that you have been lying (or wrong) as well in telling them that God exists? " (For the complete post, See http://introiboadaltaredei2.blogspot.com/2017/01/secret-santa.html).
There is no comparison with the Easter Bunny being a "God-surrogate," but you should not lie about his existence to your children or let the prospect of finding eggs and getting chocolate derogate from the true meaning of Easter.
Are there similarities between certain pagan religions and Christianity? Of course there are, but it in no way implies that Christianity is just "another pagan myth" or "borrows pagan myths." Many pagan cultures attest to a world-wide deluge. Did the Jews "borrow" this so-called myth, or since the flood really happened, is it a testament to the fact which you'd be expected to find written elsewhere? The Jehovah's Witnesses sect, is fond of claiming that since there were "trinity-like" pagan deities, then the Catholic Dogma of the Trinity must have come from pagan mythology. Interestingly, they don't deny the Biblical Flood, which if they want to be consistent they would have to reject, since it is also found in pagan mythology; yet they do not claim the Great Deluge to have come from the pagans.
Calling Easter "Resurrection Sunday" is not theologically incorrect or heretical, but why should we give credence to the real "fairy tales" being told by the likes of Richard Dawkins? On April 21, 2019, when some well-meaning Protestant says "Happy Resurrection Sunday!"be sure to shout back, "No, I'll have a Happy Easter, and I wish the same for you!"