Two thousand years after his death, Christ is still huge. Bigger, in fact, than the Beatles.
But as much as I'd like to celebrate Easter with my brethren, I've never been drawn into the Christ narrative. This year, though, thanks to PEN Canada, the local branch of the worldwide organization that works to free imprisoned writers, I think I've found a way.
What most keeps me out of the Jesus fold is the whole "getting other people to do your suffering for you" part of Christianity. I believe people need to do their own suffering, seek their own redemption. I don't want to cooperate with a mythology that requires and therefore in some way condones and propagates the practices of torture and capital punishment. I'd rather not be saved that way, thank you.
Also, the powerful image of the martyr has had far too much play. The modern martyr is too often not a non-violent warrior, but a misguided missile, a martyr/murderer off to commit one more suicide/war crime, saving no one and killing many. No, the human sacrifice cult is not for me.
But there is one thing about the Christ story that does attract me. The poetry. Whatever else, the Sermon on the Mount is a beautiful, powerful piece of writing.
And that's why I think of PEN, because Christ was such a one as they would work to free. Because it was the poetry that got him in trouble. The original charge against him was blasphemy (same as Salman Rushdie, who, praise Allah, is still with us!). It was to silence that poetic blasphemy that Christ was arrested. The cross was the way, it was hoped, of shutting him up. PEN calls it Censorship by Killing.
Christ shared other agonies with modern-day free-speechers. He had no legal representation, no due process and was brutally tortured. So this Easter when I see Christ on the cross, I will think of him as a symbol of silenced writers. I will think of García Lorca, who was rifle-raped by his murderers not just because he was a great poet but because he was also gay.
I will think of the feminist Taslima Nasrin, who is currently under a fatwa for her brave writings against male tyranny in marriage in her native Bangladesh. She, like Christ, is charged with blasphemy - such "blasphemy" as this from her poem Happy Marriage: "so that if he wishes he can spit in my face / so that if he wishes he can rob me of my clothes / so that if he wishes he can slash my thigh with a dagger / so that if he wishes he can string me up and hang me."
Why should Taslima Nasrin have to die for her truths?
This year I will participate in the Easter spirit by rejoining PEN. Writers don't all have to die for their words. Thanks to PEN, some of them can be freed and live on and - who knows? - live to save others. Life. That is a good Easter egg. I want to see if I can help find that one.