Friday, 22 March 2019

More Easter annoyance

I find Easter a very annoying business - the way it has turned-out. But in a revealing way. In particular, the dating of Easter is a combination of insanity and bureaucratic incompetence that discredits the early Christian church authorities.

More importantly; Easter is revealing of the unwiseness - indeed impossibility, if coherence is required - of regarding the traditions established by the ancient Christian church as primary: as authoritative and binding. 

Firstly - Easter was declared to be the single most important celebration for Christians.

It was decided to create a movable feast, linked with the Jewish Passover festival not-practiced by Christians, to celebrate a fixed event: fixed not just in its timing, but in that it had a timing. The death and resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus constitutes a fixed point in the history of Men... so why does it oscillate unpredictable across some 35 days...

Okay, they decided to celebrate the birthday of a fixed event as a moveable feast; And Then to make that a movable feast that nobody to locate for sure until some days after after it had passed.

The people in charge of choosing the timing of Easter created a system which the church was unable to calculate in advance with even acceptable accuracy until the time of the Venerable Bede (about 700 years AD) - and even then only by a tiny number elite scholars.

(Think about it - all of Christendom absolutely dependent on a handful of elite scholars. Is that really what Jesus would have wanted?)

This is because Easter depends on the Spring Equinox and the Full Moon (approximately; the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox...) - and there was no way of exactly predicting either Equinox or moon.

But nowadays - when we actually can calculate and predict these, the definition has been changed from the actual Spring Equinox to March 21 assumed-to-be the Equinox - despite that March 21st may or may not (as this year) be the date of the Equinox...

So, this week - the Equinox was on 20 March, Full Moon on the 21 March - which ought to mean that Easter was this Sunday coming (24 march) - but because the Equinox as been conventionally allocated to 21 March, Easter is delayed by another lunar month...

Actually, I cannot find any coherent and complete explanation as to why Easter this year still is not this weekend coming; because the Full Moon this week came just over an hour after the 21 March had already begun - so presumably there is another factor that has not been mentioned in the standard definition, and which I have failed to discover. Maybe the Equinox is declared to be at mid-day, or something?

(Should this kind of crazy calculation really be at the core of Christian practice? Is that really what Jesus would have wanted?)

Easter is - or rather was, because it hardly matters nowadays - erected-on nonsense. The Christian church built itself around nonsense.

And not just nonsense, but wicked nonsense - because it led to a great deal of trouble and strife; but that T&S did Not lead to a reconsideration of the false assumptions upon-which the nonsense had been constructed...

Again; behaviour typical of bureaucracy.

This whole business of Easter so typical of the workings of bureaucracy - e.g. to make something both mandatory and impossible - that it is very revealing. Although they could not do it - the churches were in practice nonetheless compelled to calculate Easter in advance; because (the choice was made, utterly without any scriptural mandate!) to precede the Feast of Easter by the most important fast of the year - Lent.

Because Lent was linked to Easter; the church was compelled exactly to predict the day of Easter - which could not be done.

Why such incoherence? Because bureaucracy is intrinsically totalitarian; and it is characteristic of totalitarianism to be dis-honest and anti-real. Bureaucracy is always lying and incompetent - and deals with the consequences by defining outcomes as true and necessary. In sum, bureaucracy makes a false reality; and insists that it is real. 

And the consequence were serious strife, dissent, conflict about the date of Easter; which went on for many hundreds of years - and indeed still continues; with the date of celebrating Easter being a significant cause of division in the Eastern Orthodox church.

I find this revealing about the workings of the early Christian church at the highest level. They were unable to make a coherent decision. This means that the decision must have been arrived at via the systematic distortions of group decision-making - which result from the breaking down of a problem into segments, each of which is subject either to a vote, or the need for unanimity.

The decision of an individual person may be wrong, but is seldom incoherent when that individual is compelled to be responsible for it; but the decision of a group can be almost anything; and often is a decision that no individual within the group would have preferred. The decision of a meeting of church leaders is binding, even when incoherent. Incoherent decisions may - for reasons of 'group dynamics' be in practice ineradicable; because the same group cannot be re-gathered, and a better decision may not achieve consent so wrongness stands.

And this is what we find.

All this tells me that Christianity - the physical body of the church - was already an incompetent bureaucracy even in its early history. Since the early church did make such an objectively appalling mess over Easter, which it regarded as the most important of all matters; the early church revealed itself as being deeply corrupted, and such a group should obviously Not be trusted over other decisions.

As usual with Christianity; any easy or external source of authority is closed-off - because incoherent and unwise. If we had any idea of relying on mere tradition, Easter explodes it (or ought to, if we honest). Anything less or other than a profound and personal discernment is self-refuting - or, it should be, if we take seriously what we are claiming.

No Christian can (or should) be relying upon any external source of authority for final arbitration - not the authority of The Church (now or at any presumed point in the past), no person, no text, no system of logic.

The necessary essence Must Be simple, in order that we can comprehend it in order that we may have faith - so simple that it must be directly knowable by a single act of comprehension. When the Christian church made Easter its central celebration, it advertised loudly its own corruption and unsuitability.

If we fail to hear; that is our own fault.


Karl said...

Every Sunday observance commemorates the Resurrection, so there's that.

By Act of Parliament, Easter in the United Kingdom shall be the Sunday nearest to the 12th of April, but before this comes into force, "regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body". Oh, well.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Any change we make now to the timing of Easter is about 2000 years too-late for the religion and irrelevant for anything else.

As a teacher, the c5 week variation in the timing of Easter creates havoc in terms of education. This was addressed some decades ago in Scotland, where the school terms and holidays were fixed without regard to Easter - obvious common hence, but not followed elsewhere.

However, the problems with education (and anything else in terms of modern functioning) are so much deeper and more important that those caused by floating Easter, that this kind of change will - here and now - make no difference to anything.

dearieme said...

I can remember the bleating of English students when university lectures began on Easter Monday. "Aw diddums" said classmates.

Anyway, a deeper point is that the whole thing is necessarily a fiasco because the date of passover was not determined by an astronomical algorithm. Because the Hebrew priests wanted to use "first fruits" they would just delay the festival if a hard winter had delayed the crops. So it's all baloney anyway.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Well, exactly. It does not make sense at any level. And that is a significant fact.

dearieme said...

Bureaucracy can do a passable job when it makes an arbitrary yet simple decision and then sticks to it: frexample, holding Xmas on December 25th. The moment it attempts something intricate, or attempts - even worse - to be an executive body, you get a shambles.

As a model of the early Christian Church I suppose we should look at the deliberations of a University departmental committee. Or am I being too cruel? And, if so, to which?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - As an example of the latter - a University of which I have knowledge decided to introduce a Semester system - the excuse being to attract shedloads of full-fee paying students from the USA, who could come for one semester.

Semesters were duly introduced; but delayed and offset from the US system by more than a month, rendering the change useless.

Also, Terms were Not abolished. The first Semester was interrupted by three weeks Christmas holiday with eleven teaching weeks before the break and one week after the break, and the exams delayed until January. And the second Semester was interrupted by a four week vacation.

(There was, however, no break between the Semesters; so teaching staff had to mark exams scripts and teach at the same time - cutting down marking time considerably - exacerbated by a trebling of student numbers at about the same time. The amount of time available for marking each script was reduced to Don't Ask.)

So now there were both Semesters And Terms, with all the disadvantages of each - and none of the advantages.

And of course, this farcical shambles has - apparently - been continued without change for about 15 years - so far.

Francis Berger said...

If it's any consolation, I have been privately marking Easter as "the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox" for a few years now. Then I "officially" celebrate when the movable feast day comes. My way of making the best of the absurdity concerning the calendaring of Easter.

dearieme said...

About the early Church, BC. Was the matter political, in the sense of being about competing with Judaism for the allegiance of Jews? In other words, was there a non-preposterous reason to connect Easter to Passover?

ChrisZ said...

Let me state up front that I fully agree with Dr. Charlton's observations about bureaucracy. Having witnessed modern church administration from the inside, I can attest that it's typically a joke: a mix of venality, vice, and plain stupidity. I see no reason to think the early church was otherwise.

However, surely an alternative explanation for the timing of Easter is that the method used, however perplexing, was the one originally employed by the apostles. Long before the festival days were formalized, the apostles must have regarded the whole Passion/Resurrection drama as lived experience. As they revisited the markers of each subsequent year in Jewish society--Passover, e.g.--it's then that they must have said amongst themselves, "Do you remember what we were doing just two Passovers ago?" And looking at it in this linear manner, they knew that if the world was marking Passover today, then the Sunday following would be the day Jesus rose.

The astronomical calculation was none of their concern--it was left to the surrounding society, the same way the date of Daylight Saving Time is something imposed from without, that we just assent to without any thought or question.

Of course, that kind of practical reckoning became a problem once Christianity broke from the Jewish setting, and as the church became formalized. That would have been the time to make a clean break with old habits. But I can only imagine that any practice with a known apostolic pedigree carried a lot of weight in the church's early centuries. Rather than disregard it, the church fathers tried to rationalize it--and that impulse proved futile (however respectful it was intended to be). We're still living with the consequences.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Have you ever read about the history of when Easter is celebrated, and the arguments that ensued in establishing it? It is so absurd as to be something right out of Monty Python. (And you thought university committees were bad.)