Survivors’ Guilt

By DeusExMacintosh

Happy torture-your-sky-fairy-to-death Day

I’m blogging about Easter again, sorry. This time spurred by an online conversation between friends about the appropriateness or not of being wished “Happy Easter” on Good Friday. Classicists of the world, wrack off – yes I DO know the entire event was probably lifted from pre-existing pagan rites of spring, but for the purposes of this post I’m limiting my gaze to the Christian concept of Easter. More learned figures from my own tradition will also have to bear with my amateur’s perspective as like 90% of the population I’m just working with what I’ve inherited and only partially remembered.

Easter is in fact a period which traditionally covers four days over a weekend in April. “The Passion” covers the full event from a nice boozy meal out with friends, through falling asleep in the local park and getting arrested, beaten up and framed by the local plods, public execution, being buried (and dead for a while) then coming back to life a day or so later.

I *think* (and will stand corrected by m’learned commenters) that Good Friday is the crucifixion, Easter Saturday is the death of self and of hope/potential whilst Easter Sunday is the resurrection, hence the over abundance of eggs symbolising new life – not just in the physical sense for JC but in the spiritual sense of those of us whose inherited karmic tab just got picked up by somebody else, which is what we celebrate on Easter Monday. With a barbeque. (This may not actually be compulsory but having grown up in Australia it’s hard to be sure…)

Thus wishing someone “Happy Easter” on Good Friday is a bit like turning up to the house with casserole and cabernet ready for the wake while the family is still trying to sit Shiva. A small point admittedly, but a socially significant one.

Easter won’t get happy until Sunday. Yes, Jesus was a zombie. We CAN justly celebrate this, the literally torturous lead-up possibly less so, though atheists like SL may differ with me on this. But at the same time, any joy we may feel is naturally tainted by the natural psychological reaction of survivors’ guilt. Guilt that someone else suffered unjustly whilst we escaped scot-free. It raises deep, personal questions. Why them? Why US?! Could it happen again? Does any natural happiness we go on to feel in the hours, days and years afterwards somehow mean we’re being ungrateful and saying “sucked-in” to those who didn’t make it every time they’re allowed to slip from the forefront of memory?

As human beings, we manage these feelings of guilt with anniversaries – the celebrations you have when you’re not having a celebration, but need to remember something, if only so you don’t ever forget. I was inspired to think in this manner when I stumbled across Jonathan Jones’ piece in The Guardian newspaper on The Meaning of 9/11’s Most Controversial Photo and about its re-emergence after the Magnum photographer responsible (Thomas Hoepker) had initially decided not to release it.

For now, I’ll just wish everyone “Happy Easter for Sunday” to you and your families.

Do enjoy the barbeque.

Young people sunbathe as NY burns on 9/11


  1. bodijelen
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    I do not accept your saying Jesus was a zombie.
    He was a workers’ union leader, for Chrissake.
    He’d be right there among Wall Street protesters, if he were here today.

  2. Tim Mulligan
    Posted April 7, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I found a grammatical error! [Giddy grammarian.] 😉

  3. Posted April 7, 2012 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    You seem to be confusing me with SL, Tim (who actually cares about that kind of thing).

    [email protected]: in the sense of a revived corpse rather than “a tall mixed drink consisting of several kinds of rum, liqueur and fruit juice” or other interpretation of zombie. Actually for our atheist readers, drinking Zombies may be THE best way to celebrate the free public holidays you’re getting on the back of all us believers.

  4. Posted April 7, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Not in Scotland. The Scots have managed to combine their pathological fondness for hard work with the rather ‘selective’ Roman law approach to public holidays.

    So I had a full day’s work today.

  5. kvd
    Posted April 7, 2012 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    The nav link to the preceding post is entitled “I always feel like, somebody’s watching me…”

    Perhaps that’s where the guilt comes from. Or from the missing comma after ‘feel’?

  6. Posted April 7, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Oh dear, I’m one of the clueless who wished people happy Easter on Good Friday. But I thought the death in and of itself was something to be celebrated because it was only through this that people’s sins were washed away? After all the symbol for the religion is the instrument of death, so surely part of it is celebrating the death? I say this as a non-religious person who is curious. Even though I went to a Methodist school for 3 years, somehow very little percolated through.

  7. Posted April 7, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Ah, Easter. The secular celebration of gluttony. It goes well with the celebrations of lust, pride, wraith, greed, envy and of course all public holidays are all really about sloth.

  8. Posted April 7, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Good Friday is my favourite day of the year precisely because it is (or at least is meant to be) so sombre. It’s kind of like a very deep breath in because the sombreroism (ok, I know that’s not the word) comes with the expectation of the subsequent exhalation of celebration of Easter proper.

    I don’t believe the religion at all any more, but I can still respond to the emotional (yes, even spiritual) journey. Perhaps because I don’t believe in the happy ending, it’s the penitential prelude which resonates more for me.

    I rather regret that GF has lost the character it had in my childhood of being a day when almost everything was closed and the streets were quiet.

  9. Posted April 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Funniest moment: watching a Jewish friend wish a Catholic friend ‘Happy Good Friday’ and having a Pagan friend point out, ‘ah, happy for me, but not for her. She has to wait until Sunday.’

    Religious diversity, totes…

  10. Posted April 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    But I thought the death in and of itself was something to be celebrated because it was only through this that people’s sins were washed away? After all the symbol for the religion is the instrument of death, so surely part of it is celebrating the death?

    No, it’s a bit more like Yom Kippur. You pause to pay your respects… and THEN go eat or perhaps more like Passover in that you celebrate surviving but not the fact that others are dying outside.

    The cross is really complex historically and theologically and actually came quite late. Original early christian symbol was the fish but may have suffered from being associated with the jewish/christian followers of James the Just (brother of Jesus) who lost out to Paul having been murdered by the Sanhedrin.

    I think the crucifix was medieval (and will stand corrected if Lorenzo advises otherwise). Different bits of the Christian message have been emphasised at different times. For early Christians it was the “fisher of men” aspect which valued those rejected by the status obsessed pagan civilisation around them.

    When it became the established religion of that same empire it changed. The cross of Constantine (first Christian Emperor), who apparently saw it in a vision prior to battle (he’d also previously had a vision of Apollo and Victory announcing a long and successful reign) was in fact the chi-rho, that funky XP thingy rather than the later crucifix that was at the heart of the Celtic christian cross (plus sign within a circle). My amateur understanding is that what we now recognise as the Catholic crucifix (with body hanging from standard cross) emerged at the time when the suffering of Jesus as the ‘price’ paid on our behalf, was considered most important (this had become emotionally useful to the community at a time when it was being persecuted by the pagan state and was quite clever. Your suffering being used to make you a better Christian, rather than putting you off the whole thing. I think it actually turned up a lot later than this but was a useful reminder of that time – we were on the bottom, now we’re on top, nyah nyah na-nyah nyah…)

    With the protestant reformation the empty cross was a deliberate choice to visually reject this aspect of Catholic theology and establish the miracle of resurrection as the most important bit of the message.

    I quite like early Christian history and watching as the theology all ‘shakes out’ in roman and then early christian society. I’d like to learn more about it.

  11. derrida derider
    Posted April 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, the italian-looking dead jew on a stick bit was mostly a medieval thing.

    And I too – despite my strong view that religion is mostly an objectively evil thing in the world – like early xtian history. That fascinating interplay of imperial politics, philosophy, demagoguery and old fashioned tribalism, all played very much for keeps.

  12. John BENNETT
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    @9, marcellous. I am no longer religious, but I sadly miss the seasons and celebrations of the classic Church of England upbringing I had.

    As Marcellous has said, Good Friday was a special day – Lent was in full swing with its various sub- celebrations and observances. Shrove Tuesday was over, with its special meaning. I never did quite find out the special meaning of Shrove Tuesday, but the pancakes with sugar and lemon juice were great.

    Good Friday was full of silence and absolute quiet. It was a deeply reflective day (something I really do not do now), and I really thought about Jesus that day.

    I have not been into a gambling den (leagues club) for many years but I believe the poker machines are stopped for a couple of hours on Good Friday.

    I miss the companionship of the congregation, and the mystery and fun of it all. But most of all, I miss the seasons.

    Today, I can barely celebrate the United Nations GENDERLESS WATER SUPPLIES FOR THE WORLD WEEK.

  13. Posted April 8, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I read that attaching miscreants to a ‘cross’ was the most common form of execution used by the Romans. After the defeat of Spartacus [I think] the victorious general crucified one prisoner every mile all the way from the tip of the ‘boot’ to Rome. If you were looking for a symbol to remind Christian adherents of their founder’s sacrifice, it seems sensible to show the probable way it would have been endured, had it in fact taken place, which is moot.

  14. Posted April 8, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Not quite, but Cassius crucified many thousands of them along the Via Appia (the main trunk route between Rome and Naples).

    Crucifixion was but one example (among many) of the Roman fondness for extreme cruelty in executions. To be fair, the proclivity for public cruelty didn’t really start to ebb away in Europe until the Enlightenment, something Pinker discusses with greater clarity and accuracy than any writer I’ve encountered. Other countries were slower, but followed Europe’s lead, largely for the same reasons. Parts of the Islamic world are the last holdouts on public cruelty; even the remaining communist states (North Korea, Cuba) have stopped public executions.

    Also: JC wasn’t crucified for claiming to be the Messiah or the Son of God. The latter was part of standard Jewish rhetoric at the time, and the former was a claim that had to be made in order to be amenable (by fellow Jews) to proof or disproof.

    No, the Romans (like us) were not fond of public order offences. Even now, someone who enters a major religious precinct that is (a) crowded with people celebrating a major festival (b) has limited escape routes (c) is packed with sacrificial animals and then (d) starts upending furniture, (e) beating people up – with a weapon and (f) stampeding the animals is going to go down for a good long stretch.

    In that list, you’ve got (to use the Scots law terms, which are much closer to the Roman conceptions) (a) reckless endangerment (b) malicious mischief (c) aggravated assault and (d) breach of the peace.

    In a pre-enlightenment civilisation, while JC may have been fairly middle-class — the imagery in his teachings indicates familiarity with both business concepts (compound interest in the parable of the talents, for example) and reasonable erudition (allowed to speak in the local synagogue) — he wasn’t a citizen or local to the Jerusalem district. He was also living an itinerant lifestyle (despite possessing a perfectly useful trade). No wonder he was in a lot of shit with the authorities.

    Because — even allowing for the differences the Enlightenment has wrought in our society — you would be in a great deal of shit with the authorities for behaving like that now.

    [I realise there’s a great deal of Bultmann in that summary, but he did the most research into sorting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to working out exactly what the historical Jesus did and did not do or say].

  15. Posted April 8, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Early Christians lived with actual crucifixions, the cross sufficed. Also, it was the rose-from-the-dead bit which impressed them.

    Medievals tended to focus more on the suffering: how wicked folk were that God Himself had to send His Son to atone for our sins. The Stations of the Cross, the focus on Jesus’ suffering, is very medieval.

    And yes, the Protestant Reformation was very much about rejecting what they saw as Catholic ‘idolatry’ and getting back to the Good News.

  16. kae
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink


    I thought he was crucified because the crowd screamed for Barabbas.

  17. Posted April 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] On celebrating vices, the Church fought and long (and ultimately losing) struggle with the knightly class over tournaments, which the Church saw as a celebration of all sorts of vices. It would refuse burial in consecrated ground for those killed in tournaments.

    But the knightly class loved them and, through sheer bloody-minded persistence, wore the Church down. Once the Church gave in, tournaments got seriously elaborate. There are some parallels with merchants, and the Church’s own financial needs, wearing away at the bans on usury.

    One of the striking differences between medieval society and Roman society is, in the latter, slaves and prisoners fought and died for the entertainment of the citizens while, in the former, the ruling elite risked life and limb in public displays of prowess for the masses. So, in Rome, the bottom died for the entertainment of the masses while, in medieval Christendom, the elite risked death in similar public displays. (The last monarch killed in a tournament was Henri II of France.) There is a serious change in sensibility underlying that, even though both were displays of violence.

  18. Posted April 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes, while there were upper-class Romans who participated in the gladiatorial games (including Commodus, the ludi-obsessed son of Marcus Aurelius), it was always considered terribly non-U to do so. The same rule applied to acting; the people with the high status in Roman society were the playwrights (theatre) and scriptwriters (for the pantomime). Actors were considered ventriloquists’ dummies, and their performances often likened to moving at the behest of an individual who had his or her hand up the performer’s arse. The puppeteer, of course, was the writer.

    This attitude passed into the Scottish Enlightenment, and informs Adam Smith’s discussion (in Wealth of Nations) where he’s trying to work out why actors get paid so much money. In the end he reasons that it’s a form of ‘humiliation compensation’, since actors have to be whatever the writer thinks they ought to be. That’s an attitude any Roman with even a grade-school education would have understood.

    Kae: the ‘Barabbas’ story is a much later encrustation.

  19. kae
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Blast, you mean my bible story knowledge is kaput?


    Can’t trust anyone these days.

  20. Movius
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    The cross would also be a good way of pointing out Jesus’ apparent humanity (and human death) to any loitering docetist believers in Ghost Jesus

  21. Jacques Chester
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    In a pre-enlightenment civilisation, while JC may have been fairly middle-class — the imagery in his teachings indicates familiarity with both business concepts (compound interest in the parable of the talents, for example) and reasonable erudition (allowed to speak in the local synagogue) — he wasn’t a citizen or local to the Jerusalem district. He was also living an itinerant lifestyle (despite possessing a perfectly useful trade). No wonder he was in a lot of shit with the authorities.

    I often refer to Jesus as the prototypal hippes. He wanders around unemployed, goes to parties, has a small group of followers, preaches love and gets in trouble with the law. Oh, and according to the pictures in my illustrated children’s bible, he wore sandles. It all fits.

  22. Jacques Chester
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink


  23. Ripples
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I just wish people a nice Easter and leave it at that. I guess it’s my way of trying to not upset those who believe with my evil nonbelief (I live in one of Queensland’s Bible Belts) while retaining my position on the idea.
    Government encouraged events such as Easter and X-mas are always my difficult time as an atheist as I tend to be overwhelmed with references to the event.
    I say government encouraged as the Government declares them official holidays. I often wonder if it would be a widely celebrated and remembered event if it weren’t a long weekend. The question that springs to mind is if there would be less interest where celebrating Good Friday required the celebrating party to take personal time from their work to be involved.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *