Therefore, my beloved...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12
When you're a kid, it's easy to get excited about the holidays. American icons like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are easy to accept and adapt into our culture, because they're fun. We all know they're make believe, and are happy to play along to make our kids (and let's be honest, ourselves) happy. But many of our holidays stem from complicated concepts and traditions born out of a need for community and safety.
Because at it's core, humanity has always believed that there is something out there in the dark, and that we need someone or something to protect us.
Christianity + Culture
In Christianity, there has always been a struggle to maintain a balance between protecting the purity of the faith, and adapting to the culture of the day. The earliest example of this balance is probably the holidays we celebrate. The two biggest Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter, were adapted from important and popular Pagan celebrations. Most Christians know at least a little about the mixed history of our holidays and don't have any problems celebrating in the traditional American way. However, there are some who absolutely will not mix secular icons into their sacred holidays.
Easter was a big deal in the small country church I grew up in. Every year, we had a huge and fantastic egg hunt (with REAL eggs...none of this plastic stuff) and we were even visited by the Easter Bunny. My mother loved Halloween and we always celebrated with trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, and all the spooky trimmings. Christmas was no different. Santa was all over our house, and he always attended the Christmas Eve service at our church to hand out presents to the children.
Even though I fully indulged in each holiday much like the other kids, I was also taught about Jesus, God, angels, the Devil, and how they were all involved in our seasonal celebrations. The Easter Bunny brings you chocolate eggs and that's good, but Jesus brings you salvation and that's better.
These concepts never really confused me as a child. I understood what was for fun, and what was serious business. I never believed in Santa Claus, but always believed in Jesus. I've been told that I'm an old soul, and maybe that's a big part of why I've been able to sort out my thoughts and navigate my feelings the way I do. But looking back on it, I can see how some of these ideas could have been challenging to my little brain. The crazy holiday soup that we've crafted can be hard to navigate, especially for kids.
In the Easter segment of the horror anthology Holidays, one little girl's fear and confusion about diverse symbols cause her to encounter a distorted and horrific combination of faith and tradition.
Now, I'm sure that many Christians would be made VERY uncomfortable by this particular 11 minutes of film. It's weird, it's scary, and could be accused of being a little blasphemous. On the other hand, non-believers may choose to interpret it as a harsh (and accurate) critique of religion in general. But I see that the true meaning of this story lies somewhere in the middle. It's not so much a cautionary tale about faith as it is a warning against blind belief. Let's get into it, shall we?
The Jesus Bunny
We are introduced to this story in a little girls bedroom the night before Easter. Her mom is tucking her in, and explaining the wonderful treats that will be waiting for her when she wakes up. And so the trouble begins perhaps not with the girl, but with the mother. The girl asks her mother to explain the differences between the Easter Bunny coming with treats and "the man coming back from the dead". Her mother gives a short explanation and basically sums it up with "that's different". The girl has a troubled mindset that is absolutely not put at ease when her questions aren't met with fuller answers.
The girl is afraid of the Easter Bunny, and what his coming might mean for her. She views him not as a benevolent gift-bearer, but an intruder. And this is where we begin to see just how unstable her young thoughts are.
"But what if I'm awake when he comes? But what if he's here? What if I see him? How does he get in the house?"
As she tries to work it all out, the confusion deepens. She doesn't understand how the Easter Bunny and Jesus occupy the same territory. She doesn't understand that the Easter Bunny is good and safe. She doesn't understand why her mom isn't freaked out by it all. She just doesn't understand. And in the midst of this great fear and confusion, a freakish amalgamation is born. The Jesus Bunny.
The girl gets up for a glass of water and encounters this monster crouching right in the middle of her living room in the middle of the night. He's a combination of the Easter Bunny and the crucified Christ, complete with long ears, patchy fur, a crown of thorns and a huge gash in his side. Holy moly. All the holes in her understanding have added up to one terrifying embodiment of good intensions gone wrong.
And here we arrive at the deep-beating heart of the situation. Like many children, this girl is presented with the faith of her family at a young age. There's nothing strange or crazy about that. However, in this particular instance, the large and complicated themes that accompany our religious beliefs are ultimately very damaging. The threat of this damage is very real when religion is followed without proper context, independent discovery and commitment.
When blind religion takes the place of true faith and understanding, a perverse and insidious monster is waiting to be born. It's waiting to confirm our fears and control our lives.
Although she is visibly terrified, the girl does speak to the Jesus Bunny. I would like to say that she faces him, and realizes he's an evil replication of something pure and loving. I would like to say that she comes out the other side with more understanding. BUT, that's just not what happens. The Jesus Bunny speaks to her.
"Now that you have seen me, it is your turn. You must take my place."
He feeds the girl a small Easter egg, mimicking communion, and she takes it without question. She doesn't even try to resist. She knows this thing standing in front of her is a monster, and she knows that it probably doesn't have good things in mind. But the girl does what the Jesus Bunny says, and she is ultimately transformed into a copy of this creature, no doubt destined to do the same thing to another vulnerable child a little further down the road.
Fear + Trembling
I would venture to say that anyone raised in a religious atmosphere has their own version of the Jesus Bunny lurking in the shadows. We each have a unique set of experiences and understanding that influence the way we see God and interpret religion. Because of this, it's probably impossible to have an entirely pure and correct understanding of our faith and the true nature of God.
However, it IS possible to seek truth and draw our own conclusions when it comes to religion. Not only is it possible, but it is necessary. Our faith is a deeply personal and important relationship that has the power to shape our lives (and those around us) for better or for worse. We have a responsibility to struggle with our own questions and doubts, and find some clarity in spite of the confusion.
So, the next time you reach for a peep or a beloved chocolate bunny, take it as reminder to check the dark corners of your own mind, and beware of the Jesus Bunny.
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 1 John 4:18
Happy Easter, friends....
Banner image | Crucifixion, Gabriël Metsu
Holidays can currently be viewed on Netflix.