Easter Tears: Stop Crying Over Zombie Jesus

Easter season is upon us, and I am up to my ears once again in stories about people being moved by various prayers and songs and readings of the Passion last weekend. While I respect that it’s the central story to Christianity, the way in which people react to it tends to get on my nerves after a while.

Yes, it’s part of their canonical story that Jesus kicked the bucket to save people from their sins. I know. And I know the story of the crucifixion. It is indeed gruesome. But for those of you who have been practicing Christians for all or most of your lives, why are you crying over this and obsessing over the details of how this character was tortured again, for what may be the twentieth, thirtieth, or fiftieth time? Aren’t you sick and tired of this story by now?

From my time as a Catholic, I’ve learned there are several reasons people typically give for this emotional experience in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. Some people say that the reason they’re still moved is that it’s the power of the Holy Spirit moving through them, and that they’re having a spiritual experience. Or, they’ll say they’re just feeling deeply for Jesus, who suffered all those horrible injuries. The latter group sometimes even has a bit of a guilt complex, feeling that every sin they’ve committed contributed somehow to Jesus’ suffering.

The thing that bothers me about all of these explanations though, is that while I’d accept the “feeling bad for Jesus” one once or twice, there are people who experience these emotions every Easter. I know this because I saw my parents go through it every year, and because once I hit a certain age during my years as a Catholic, it started happening to me too. Catholics will talk about these experiences in a very convincing way because they truly believe they’re having a spiritual moment, but don’t be fooled by this. In my experience, practicing Catholics aren’t surprised by this experience; they know it’s likely to happen. They don’t go to mass on Holy Thursday and Good Friday thinking, “gee, this is just like every other mass.” They come to church craving a religious experience.

These pre-Easter tears are almost an addiction to them. I’d compare it to the strange addiction Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club develops. For those of you who don’t know, he becomes addicted to attending support groups for various ailments he doesn’t have, where he always winds up hugging strangers and crying. That character comes back to these support groups again and again despite not truly having a reason to be there. Many Christians do something very similar. They come back every year subconsciously craving that nice feeling they get when they cry their tears for Jesus: that surge of dopamine rewarding them for participating in a community ritual, for joining others as they do something they’ve been conditioned to believe is good, something that will bring them closer to their supposedly loving, tortured savior figure.

The religious experience in this situation is comparable to the crowd-inspired emotions that I experienced during the Steubenville retreat. You’re experiencing the emotions of the people around you to an extent. As social animals, humans tend to mirror each other’s emotions as a way to relate better and bond. But it goes deeper than that. At these events, you are also acting out the emotions you want to feel. In your mind, these people around you are very religious, and you will fit in better if you act like them. They’re all thinking the same thing too, because of the grandiose expectations religious people have for this time of year, so what you get is this collective hive mind of crazy Jesus love. Better yet, it’s rewarding for everyone present, because you can feel good about yourself for being spiritual like everybody else. If you cried during the reading of the Passion, you were one of the cool kids.

Sometimes it’s subconscious, but sometimes it isn’t. I used to sit in church for hours on end praying and contemplating during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday masses. I used to go to stations of the cross and TRY to feel sorry for Jesus. It really seemed like the right thing to do was to feel something while reflecting on his injuries. As an atheist though, I know I was just playing into the group think that comes with organized religion. It’s all designed to play with our natural yearning to belong, to fit in, to be special. In a religious community, you’re special when your savior is connecting with you on an individual level. It’s literally a “fake it till you make it” situation.

 

Thoughts on this? Ever cry at Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Vigil masses or services? What’s your personal explanation for why that experience happened the way that it did? All opinions are welcome (religious people too!) Just be respectful to others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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6 thoughts on “Easter Tears: Stop Crying Over Zombie Jesus

  1. I remember seeing The Passion for the first time and feeling such horrible weight. That same weight came back time and again on weekend services when I’d go to the alter to confess or pray. I often think back, now that I’ve left Christianity, about worship more than anything. The “Spirit” moving through me, pushing me to raise my hands in surrender of go to my knees in humility. And you’re right. It was what I wanted to feel. Even if it was subconscious, I wanted the surrender. My wife and I actually moved to a different state because the worship there helped us “feel god” better. I listened to specific pastors because they made me feel convicted or spurred me on. It’s amazing how the Christian community seeks the things that will specifically do what they “need” most, whether it be conviction or spirit movement of some other kind. Ultimately I think it is because when you have a god at the core of your beliefs who is so utterly barbaric and masochistic, you end up needing to feel such painful emotions yourself. It’s also the reason why Christians push so hard (read:segregation, bigotry,etc) politically in America. They need to create spaces where the rest of civility pushes back and they (Christians) can then feel “persecuted for their faith.”

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    • Wow, moving to another state for a church is quite the leap. That affects so many aspects of your life–your work, your friends, how close you are to family. It shows how all-consuming religion can be in a person’s life if you’d uproot yourself for it. Your point about Christianity pushing in politics makes a lot of sense. It does feed their narrative in the end. I think some of it is also due to people not being willing to take a step back and look at what they’re proposing from a secular perspective. It’s very difficult to take off the God Goggles. My favorite question to ask my parents when they’re suggesting some new legislation that would support Christianity is, “How would you feel if Muslims tried to pass the same thing but for Islam?” They tend to shrug it off but it does result in a bit of a shudder so I feel like it’s at least chipping away.

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  2. I sometimes cry at Mass, but not at times when it’s “expected”. It just happens once in a while. It didn’t happen at Holy Thursday or Good Friday this year.

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  3. This is also a really interesting time for those of us who deal with depression or similar things. Yeah, it’s about Jesus dying in our place, but I would still get thoughts like, “Why would he die for a terrible, wicked, sinful person like me?” Tearing myself down like that wasn’t helpful. Where you said, ” I used to go to stations of the cross and TRY to feel sorry for Jesus. ” made me think of Communion. Even when I was a Christian, I had a very hard time getting into the mindset that everyone else was in. I would mainly think about juice and crackers/bread. When I would try to think about the crucifixion, I would never get the same emotional response that other people seem to be getting. To others it was serious, but to me, it always felt like snack time. When I was a Christian, I felt bad about it.

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    • Excellent point about depression! I hadn’t thought much about how this plays into mental health but what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. This flies in the face of some of the people I knew growing up, who seemed to believe certain teenage companions of mine back in high school just needed Jesus to solve their mental health issues, never understanding that maybe for them, religion was filtered through their low self-esteem just like other aspects of their lives and didn’t offer them anything different. As for “snack time,” I have to admit, the pastor at my family’s church uses this super sweet red wine and even as a kid I always wanted more. It’s a bit hard to be religious when you want to wolf down communion.

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