Civil religion: what it is and why we need it

“From Holy Week to Spring Break” is the title of a presentation that I gave to the Kiwanis Club of Portland during Holy Week this year. The president of the club and two other members are friends at First Christian Church in Portland. In my blog on April 1, 2014, I posted a précis of the talk. Here is the full text of the presentation.

During my childhood and early adult years, two religious observances were widely held in communities all across America. Easter vacation was a four-day event, beginning with Good Friday and concluding on the following Monday. Schools were closed on those two days, and business and many retail establishments were closed on that Friday afternoon. This meant that families could count on a four-day holiday. Since going to their own church on Easter Sunday was still a major practice, most families ended up staying close to home despite the relaxation of their school and business schedules.

Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and concluding with Easter, was also widely recognized. Many churches used these days as times of special religious activities, which frequently included services of worship at noon or evening that were widely attended by people despite the fact that they were at work on those days.

During the years of my active adulthood, however, these religiously defined rituals of public life have been replaced. Holy Week and the Easter Vacation have morphed into Spring Break. It was easy enough for this change to occur because Holy Week-Easter vacation and spring break-spring fling have two things in common: In our part of the world they happen during the riotous rebirth of the natural world; and they provide a strongly anticipated break from the pattern of ordinary life.

One reason for the change from the religion-based festival to the nature-based celebration is technical. Schools need consistency in scheduling and they try to plan breaks to come at times in the year that are beneficial to the patterns of academic activity. Because the dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar and the vernal equinox, it fluctuates from year to year, falling anytime from March 22 to April 25.

With that kind of variation, it is difficult to plan academic calendars. This was true even in the Christian seminary where I taught for much of my career, and we were sympathetic to the religious events that these holy days commemorated. Read more. . .From Holy Week to Spring Break

 

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