Millions of us will put on our finest Easter outfits and attend Sunday services this coming week. My mama used to say, “We don’t need a new dress, since Easter is not about us.” One year she even suggested that we might stay home on Easter Sunday, so that there would be enough seats for all those who only showed up for church once a year. We were taught early that Easter isn’t about bonnets, candy, or bunnies. It’s about what happened on that first day of the week a couple thousand years ago.
But did I believe my mother? I was raised in a family where my mother was a conservative fundamentalist Christian. My father was an agnostic. As a result, from earliest childhood, I recall having to reason and choose. My older brothers encouraged my doubts when they told me at a young age, “There is no Easter Bunny.”
My parents could not have been more opposite in regard to faith. They both had faith, but in two opposing views. My mother was the daughter of a protestant minister. I asked her once if she ever had doubts. Her reply was quite simply, “No, I always believed.”
My dad always had doubts. When he was a teenager his minister offered to give him a scholarship to attend seminary. Not long before this, my dad was sixteen at the time, a guest minister spoke at his church and quoted Pascal’s wager.
“If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).”
That sermon was the spiritual turning point in Dad’s life. He decided then and there if one had to choose to believe without evidence, then he would choose not to believe at all. I agree with him in this sense: It seems to me one should have evidence before believing in any religion.
But then Dad took a turn I could not follow. He insisted that we all believed the same thing, all roads lead to God, whatever “god” is. He was not opposed to fundamentalist Christians. They should not be opposed to his religion. My father wrote a poem about how he was the center of the universe, yet he insisted Christians and he both believed the same thing. Like many people he resolved his doubts by embracing all religions. Ivan, a character in a novel, did the same.
“He’s cleared a space at the wall’s base where he burns incense. There he’s placed several plump Buddhas – smiling, serene figures; and just above them he’s tacked up pictures of Jesus and Mary. There are also Orthodox icons, and draped around the Buddhas are thin gold necklaces from which dangle Stars of David. When he prays, as he has taken to of late, he wears a yarmulke. Can’t hurt to cover all the bases, he thinks. Ivan belongs to all religions; he is promiscuous in that way.”
“Ivan and Misha” by Michael Alenyikov
I cannot help but think God may not like promiscuity. What if God wants a single-minded follower who admits God is the center of the universe? I realized that, even though I doubted, I had to search in case there was an absolute Truth. I struggled with this for several years, reading several books, and studying the Biblical account of Jesus’ death and resurrection over and over.
There came a day when the evidence overwhelmed my doubts. In the coming weeks I’ll present a simple overview of this evidence. For today I want to share my thoughts as I put myself in Mary Magdalene’s place – the day she saw Jesus standing alive outside the grave where he had been buried just three days earlier.
Mary Magdalene Speaks
I stand in the doorway of a tomb,
where all hopes have died.
My seven demons are cast out,
yet in despair I weep.
The tomb is empty and I am empty.
All that I had hoped for is fallen dead.
He calls my name, “Mary!”
I turn from my despair.
He is standing there.