(Photo: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner)
Easter is a time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, fulfilling centuries of prophecy about the Messiah. It is a holiday known for also featuring secular components like Easter eggs, candy, egg hunts, and the Easter bunny. Some of these traditions derive from pagan observances dating back to the Roman Empire, which some find troubling.
Thomas Burke, dean of Humanities at Hillsdale College and a professor of philosophy and religion, however, believes that it is acceptable for Christians to partake in rituals during Easter that may have pagan roots.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Burke explained that given that these secular Easter traditions "no longer have those pagan associations and meanings," they are "perfectly legitimate for Christians."
"Insofar as such practices and symbols now represent Christ, they are perfectly legitimate for Christians. Christians should feel comfortable in their efforts to claim the world for Christ," said Burke.
"That's the mission of the Church, not simply to save individuals, but to redeem peoples and cultures as much as possible – not through force, of course, but by means of preaching and practicing the gospel of Christ."
Burke added that "once people do become Christians, they should not leave the world to paganism."
In recent years, much has been made about various attributes of Easter having pagan origins. Heather McDougall of The Guardian wrote in 2010 that "All the fun things about Easter are pagan."
"Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures," wrote McDougall. "Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it."
McDoughall also noted that there have been other resurrection myths, like those regarding the Egyptian god Horus and the Sumerian goddess Inanna.
Burke acknowledges the other resurrection myths in ancient religions but stressed to CP that Christianity holds a distinctive difference.
"For Christians, however, the death and resurrection of Christ is not a myth about a god, but the historical death of a Jewish man," said Burke. "That man, Jesus of Nazareth, according to Christian belief, is also the incarnation of the Second Person of the Triune God, but still a real flesh and blood man."
Regarding the matter, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry directed CP to one of their online articles. Matt Slick of CARM wrote that concerns over adoption of formerly pagan practices into Christian tradition for Easter were part of a "genetic fallacy."
"The genetic fallacy says that if the origin of something is bad, then what comes from it cannot be trusted and should be avoided," wrote Slick. "It is like saying you cannot trust the directions that were given to you by someone who was a thief. His being a thief does not mean his directions are bad."
Ultimately, Burke told CP that he saw these efforts of taking pagan symbols and using them in Christian worship as "a Christianizing of the culture."
"The early church celebrated Christian events on the same day as pagan holidays in order to give a Christian alternative to pagan celebrations which were often an endemic part of the culture," said Burke.
"Christians could then continue to hold these holidays, but now with a Christian message and meaning."