Record of meeting, 8 April 2009

We met on 8 April at David Lambourn’s house. Present were David Belcher, John Challenor, Paul Graham, George Gregg, John Howard, David Lambourn, Andrew Teverson and Stephen Williams (welcome to George and Andrew) with apologies from Sara Clethero and Simon Mapp.

Stephen Williams and David Belcher gave brief updates on the national conference in July and on the more local “roadshow” being planned for the autumn. We then moved on to our planned topic for the evening: “Easter”.

We noted the prevalence of spring festivals in most religions and cultures of the northern hemisphere, even if Christianity got it at second-hand from Passover. Ideas of renewal, new life and fresh beginnings resonate with the time of year, while the Christian and Jewish stories express an added force as their narratives begin with the experience of death and despair before the eventual triumph. They have a dramatic quality which is picked up in the theatricality of their celebrations (and not just in the purely religious rituals – a secular event like the Good Friday performance of the St Matthew Passion has a sense of occasion about it).

We pondered the variable date of Easter. It defies our customary calendar by being tied to lunar cycles; it is in that sense out of our control and demands that we be humble in embracing the experience of renewal and regeneration.

The power of the Easter/Passover/etc stories is their ability to move from the particular to a universalisation of human suffering and the hope of the new. But does that mean that they are available only to “believers”? From a SoF perspective we would want to celebrate and own these myths as the products of human creativity meeting human needs and aspirations but the structures for marking the season are largely in the control of institutions wedded to supernaturalism (less obviously perhaps in the case of Passover where Judaism can exist independently of belief). The supernatural is highly valued by those who believe in it and can be personally beneficial and therapeutic (although also serving to justify evil actions) but the potential of “Easter” is lost if it cannot be shared without dogma. Only art and music have made that a possibility; we ended back with Bach and an exuberant recording of one of his Easter cantatas (BWV 66).

We had referred at times during the discussion to the history underlying the Easter story and to David Boulton’s book Who on Earth Was Jesus?. David Belcher, who is currently reading it, offered to introduce it at our next meeting with the help of anyone else who may have read it by then. Offer accepted!

As previously arranged that meeting will be on Wednesday 20 May 2009 at 1930 at David Lambourn’s house, 28 Frederick Road, Edgbaston. The meeting after that will be on Wednesday 8 July.