Monday, April 1, 2013

Correctionception... the Easter/Ishtar issue

What happens when someone tries to correct an issue and ends up making quite a fool of themselves in doing so? You have to correct the correction and end up with a correctionception. (PS: that's a joke. Unlike a bunch of others on the internet, I know inception doesn't mean a dream within a dream, so don't correct me on that).

Anyways, this article tries to correct an internet meme about Easter being originally a celebration of Ishtar. In doing so it fails in multiple ways. My corrections will be in red letters, as I am the designated prophet here, bitches!

Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely bananas, it’s people spreading misinformation via social media under the guise of “educating”. There is that, yes, but there's another thing that drives me bananas... it's those who take it so seriously they write a giant ass piece calling everyone idiots just because they hit "share" to it without a thought. Know why? Because clicking share on something doesn't dictate that person's self worth. I've had to deal with this little fact here recently myself, and I've seen people torn down and declared entirely useless over a single tweet. Are you going to engage in such a thing? Of course you are... let's attack Richard Dawkins in three... I’ve seen this happen in several ways – through infographics that twist data in ways that support a conclusion that is ultimately false, or else through “meaningful” quotes falsely attributed to various celebrities, two... or by cobbling together a few actual facts with statements that are patently untrue to create something that seems plausible on the surface but is, in fact, one... full of crap.
Yesterday, the official Facebook page of (noted misogynist and eugenicsenthusiast) Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science shared thefollowing image to their 637,000 fans:

The links provided are instances of people who absolutely lambasted both PZ Myers and, vicariously, Richard Dawkins, over an instance where SkepChick acted as though a proposition of interest by a man is somehow absolutely assault  or at least worthy of raking said person over the coals in public. How dare you show interest! And of course, ever since then people have absolutely decided everything Dawkins ever did is entirely useless and he can just die in a fire. Because that's intelligent.

And here's my issue with that as a gay man. The idea that showing interest, merely showing attraction, is somehow an absolute assault and should never be done, kinda goes hand in hand with the thing that gay men have suffered on multiple occasions. Know how many gay men have been beaten or even killed, where the defense (often allowed) is simply that he came onto the guy? If you're telling me that merely making a polite proposition of interest is somehow worthy of this kind of rage, you're justifying gay bashing as well. I'm sorry, but you are. And that's why I am on the side of PZ and Dawkins in this issue. Seriously, the correct response is Thank you, and maybe a no thanks. Not to assault the person on blogs and shame them all over the place for the mere sin of having an interest in you. If I wanted that kind of guilt trip I'd be a believer and go to church. Seriously!

Anyways, here's the meme they're correcting...
Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific
Neither Reasonable Nor Scientific

Naturally, their fans lapped this shit up; after all, this is the kind of thing they absolutely live for. We live for? Flatter yourselves much? No, we live for living. We laugh at people who try to tell us not to because it'll get us to hell. And I'm sick of seeing us raked over the coals for it, or calling us just as bad when the religious world have had centuries of being unchallenged. So this is inaccurate... fine. But you know what else is incredibly inaccurate? Only a thousand-page document of inaccuracies called the Bible, which is also a meme. So... you know... we've got a long ways to go before we're even close to being called just as bad, don't you think? Religious people! Being hypocritical! And crazy! And wrong! The 2,000+ comments were chock-full of smug remarks about how naïve and stupid Christians were, accompanied by pats on the back for all the atheists who smart enough to see through all the religious bullshit and understand how the evil church had slyly appropriated all kinds of pagan traditions. And those were tiny little comments. Your entire post is just one long smug remark about how naïve and stupid people are who simply clicked "share" on a graphic. Protest much methinks?
And you know what? That’s fine, I guess. I’m all for questioning religion and examining the sociological, historical and anthropological reasons that help explain the hows and whys of our lives today. I’m actually super fascinated by that kind of stuff, even if I do think that there’s a way to discuss it without making yourself sound smarter and more enlightened than the people around you. Oh good, then if we have your blessings...
But you guys? The image above is rife with misinformation. RIFE, I say.

Or not. Do tell...
Let’s start from the top:
This is Ishtar …
Okay, great. So far things are fairly accurate. The relief pictured here, known as the Burney Relief (also called the Queen of the Night relief) is widely considered to be an Ancient Babylonian representation of Ishtar (although some scholars believe that the woman depicted might be Lilitu or Ereshkigal). This relief is currently housed in the British Museum in London, but originates from southern Iraq and is nearly 4,000 years old.
… pronounced Easter.
Actually, in modern English we pronounce it the way it looks. A case could be made for pronouncing it Eesh-tar, but I have yet to come across a credible source that gives the original pronunciation as Easter. And this is its one inaccuracy. But this goddess is represented in several instances. Ishtar is actually known biblically as Ahtoreth (the one where they dance around a pole) whose worship is condemned nine different times in scripture. It's actually an easy mistake to make. Ishtar... Eashtar... Oestar... Easter... see? So as far as inaccuracies go, it's hardly anywhere near as bad as saying things like the eye is irreducably complex and proves God exists. Or that buttsex will get you eternity in hell.
Easter is originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex.
Ishtar was the goddess of love, war and sex. These days, thanks to Herodotus, she is especially associated with sacred prostitution* (also known as temple prostitution), which, in the religions of the Ancient Near East, allegedly took on the form of every woman having to, at some point in her life, go to the temple of Ishtar and have sex with the first stranger who offered her money. Once a woman entered the temple of Ishtar for the purpose of sacred prostitution, she was not allowed to leave until she’d done the deed. I can’t imagine that sacred prostitution sex was ever very good sex, but hey, what do I know? Probably some people were pretty into it – I mean, if you can imagine it, someone’s made porn about it, right?
Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that, yes, Ishtar was associated with fertility and sex. However, her symbols were the lion, the gate and the eight-pointed star; I can’t find any evidence of eggs or rabbits symbolically belonging to her. And Easter has nothing to do with her.

Thus begins the problem. Ishtar is a pantheon equivalent of the goddesses you're about to mention, and is why this error was made. 
Most scholars believe that Easter gets its name from Eostre or Ostara**, a Germanic pagan goddess. English and German are two of the very few languages that use some variation of the word Easter (or, in German, Ostern) as a name for this holiday. Most other European languages use one form or another of the Latin name for Easter, Pascha, which is derived from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning Passover.

And they too are related to the same Ashtoreth.
In the Christian Bible, Jesus returned to Jerusalem from his forty days in the desert just before Passover. In fact, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus was killed on the day before the first night of Passover, at the time when lambs were traditionally slaughtered for the Passover feast (because Jesus was the Lamb of God, etc. – SYMBOLISM, Y’ALL). There are a few differing accounts of when Jesus actually died, but most Christian texts, philosophers and scholars agree that it was around the time of Passover. Easter is still celebrated the week after Passover, which is why it’s a different day each year, because the Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar.

Yes, this is true as well, but doesn't really point out inaccuracies. It's just you rambling to look like you're so much smarter than everyone else.
Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?).
Actually, according to Jacob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, which he wrote after journeying across Germany and recording its oral mythological traditions, the idea of resurrection was part and parcel of celebrating the goddess Ostara:

Yep. Which, incidentally, is proposed as a huge part of the reason Christian resurrection was moved to this part of the liturgical year, even though several signs in the scripture suggest otherwise. But hey... nitpicking.
OstaraEástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.”
Spring is a sort of resurrection after all, with the land coming back to life after lying dead and bare during the winter months. To say that ancient peoples thought otherwise is foolish, naïve and downright uninformed. Many, many pagan celebrations centre around the return of light and the rebirth of the land; these ideas are not new themes in the slightest.

So yes, it was. And that's why this holiday far outdates Christianity. 
And yes, rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols, and they are, in fact, associated with Eostre.
Ostara by Johannes Gehrts
Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.
Hey! Guess what language Constantine, the Roman Emperor, spoke? Not English, that’s for sure! In fact, when he was alive, English didn’t even exist yet. He would have spoken Latin, so would likely have referred to Easter as Pascha.

A point that doesn't even seem to be relevant. So what? English not existing yet doesn't really say anything against this point.
But at its roots Easter (which is pronounced Ishtar) was all about celebrating fertility and sex.
Look. Here’s the thing. Our Western Easter traditions incorporate a lot of elements from a bunch of different religious backgrounds. You can’t really say that it’s just about resurrection, or just about spring, or just about fertility and sex. You can’t pick one thread out of a tapestry and say, “Hey, now thisparticular strand is what this tapestry’s really about.” It doesn’t work that way; very few things in life do.

And nobody said that it did. What the meme tries to say is that this holiday outdates Christianity and doesn't belong to just Christians.
The fact is that the Ancient Romans were smart when it came to conquering. In their pagan days, they would absorb gods and goddesses from every religion they encountered into their own pantheon; when the Roman Empire became Christian, the Roman Catholic Church continued to do the same thing, in a manner of speaking.
And do you know why that worked so well? Because adaptability is a really, really good trait to have in terms of survival of the fittest (something I wish the present-day Catholic Church would remember). Scratch the surface of just about any Christian holiday, and you’ll find pagan elements, if not a downright pagan theme, underneath.

Yes, and...?
Know what else? Most Christians know this. Or, at least, most of the Christians that I’m friends with (which is, admittedly, a fairly small sampling). They know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th, and they know that there were never any actual snakes in Ireland, and they know that rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols. But they don’t care, because they realize that religions evolve and change and that that’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing. The fact that many Christian saints are just re-imagined pagan gods and goddesses doesn’t alter their faith one iota; because faith isn’t about reason or sense, it’s about belief.

Bullshit. Many Christians do not know. I will not argue if it's most or not. The point is that there are many loud-spoken ones who absolutely insist He is the reason for the season, and blah blah blah. This is why people try to point out, even erroneously as this meme has done, that their holidays are not original to them and are hardly a good reason to shove Jesus in our face even more as though these holidays are evidence. To even suggest that it's a good thing to conquer outwards and forcibly steal traditions is absurd. The harm it has done on communities is well established in the writings of history. 
Look, go ahead and debate religion. Okay. Go ahead and tell Christians why what they believe is wrong. Not really what this was, but okay. That’s totally fine and, in fact, I encourage it. How nice of you. A little debate and critical thinking are good for everyone. But do it intelligently. Like you just did? By acting like a fact-spouting show-off not realizing how irrelevant most of your drivel is? Get to know the Bible, so you actually know what you’re disagreeing with when you form an argument. It's amazing  how often religious people tell us what you just said... that we need to know the Bible. What an assumption you just made! And did this meme have anything to do with the bible? No. It did not. Again, why the hell did you feel the need to say this? Brush up on your theology so that you can explain why it’s so wrong. The point of atheism is that all theology has failed to give us any reason to believe any such deity exists. We don't need to brush up on theology to know there is no evidence and that all theology is really manmade drivel too. And have some compassion, for Christ’s sake – be polite and respectful when you enter into a debate, even when the person you’re debating with loses their cool. And you're saying this because.... why? At what point did this meme do any such thing? You want to prove that you’re better, more enlightened than Christians? Not really, no. That whole do unto others thing is another Christian idea that we don't really feel the need to live by, because WE'RE NOT CHRISTIANS!!! Great, do it by remaining rational and level-headed in the face of someone who’s willing to stoop to personal attacks. Like you just did, in a very lengthy post, towards all people who clicked like or shared something on Facebook? To behave otherwise is to be just as bad as the people you’re debating. And there you have it... the just as bad argument that makes you the stupidest kid in class today. I knew it was coming.
Anyway, I hope you guys have a fantastic long weekend, no matter how you spend it. If your holiday involves chocolate, then I hope you enjoy that. If not, just enjoy the extra day or two off work and the (hopefully) warm weather. No matter what you believe in, I think that we can all agree that the end of winter and the rebirth of spring is worth celebrating.
And also? Richard Dawkins? You need to fact-check yourself before you fact-wreck yourself. Spreading this kind of misinformation to your foundation’s 637,000 fans is just plain irresponsible, especially coming from someone like you. Get with the program, buddy. He clicked share on something. That's all. 
ETA: The post now seems to be removed from The Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Science and Reason’s FB page. Thanks Richard! 

He probably did that after clicking share. Clicking share is a quick sort of thing. Researching it takes a moment. Deleting also takes a moment. I click share on things all the time because I'm out and want to look at it later. My point is how silly it is that you're using this to completely eradicate him as a person. Are you fucking kidding me? And in the article's footnotes comes the silliest mistake of all:
**The first written reference we have for Eostre dates back to the 7th century AD and can be found in Venerable Bede’s Temporum Ratione, in a passage explaining that April was often referred to as Eostremonth:
“Eosturmonath” has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month.

The first written record of Eostre is not really relevant as this doesn't mention Eostre. It does mention Ishtar, who is also known as Ashtoreth, and that is mentioned in Old Testament, and that's considerably older than the 7th century AD (or CE to us silly, stupid, just as bad nonbelievers). She was the mother of Baal, who is also frequently condemned biblically, although that's silly. Because biblically God is often referred to El, and El is a god of the same pantheon as Baal. His father in fact. And Baal was El's favored son, whom he in fact gave his throne to. But of course all these gods were condemned with monotheism became the in thing, and the fact El was a Canaanite god was completely pushed under the rug. Go figure.

How they celebrated Ashtoreth isn't that different than how we celebrate Easter. Maybe not with eggs, but with Maypoles and with a celebration of the resurrection of nature from the cold of winter. So in reality, nothing here is that big of an error. Later Eostre (so similar you'd think it was passed down in language from Ishtar? Hmmm?) seemed to be celebrated in a festival with eggs and stuff. Like you said, it's never simple. And if that's the case, there's almost no reason to really make this big of a shit over FAIRYTALES!

And that's the point. It's all fairy tales. And none of it original to Christianity. My goodness, but didn't you get your titties in a twist over nothing! Just saying. Others are thankfully pointing it out, but the majority of the posts are people salivating over the post and congratulating themselves on how much smarter they are than those stupid people who clicked share on that meme (and isn't that just as bad and ironic... don't you think?) Here are a couple of notable exceptions, however:

The link Valerie shared is here: