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Columnists

Appropriate faith

Agnostics anonymous

After the disastrous trip Prime Minister Netanyahu had to the US, it probably came as small consolation to him to read that President Obama has seen fit to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover). Obama held the first White House seder meal in 2009, and apparently means to maintain the tradition.

Despite the confused mutterings of Republicans who see him as an Islamist-Communist infiltrator, Obama remains distinctly Christian. But he is one of a growing number of Christians who now observe the Jews' ritual celebration. This peculiar trend seems to be prompted by a wish to learn about the Judaic roots of 'Easter.'

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The symbolism and practices of Easter are adapted from those of Pesach. The institution of the Eucharist 'meal' springs from Jesus' words at the Last Supper, his final Passover meal. The abstentions of Lent echo the Jewish abjuring of chametz in the month of Pesach. The historical symbolism of the unleavened bread and lamb-bone of the Jewish ritual meal are transfigured into symbols of Christian salvation.

Historically speaking, this heavy Christian borrowing from the Hebrew festival was a tactical move. The aim was to lend some of the religious solemnity of Pesach to the disreputably pagan 'Easter.' Little is known about the goddess Eostra to whom the Anglo-Saxons paid homage in the spring; as with most pagan customs all we have to go on is the Christian historians' grim allusions to carnal rites, celebrations of fecundity, and other unseemly goings-on - in this case featuring an attendant crowd of hares (the frisky companions of Venus and Roman satyrs) and eggs.

That early Christians managed to make Easter their own is testimony to the religion's gift for absorption and assimilation. Christianity has grown by grafting itself onto existing cultural practices. It still does today: one of its superficially baffling characteristics is its need to try to recreate popular culture in its own image. Thus, where there is rock music, there must also be Christian Rock. Hollywood is aped by the Christian movie industry, specialising in such stuff as the Left Behind films. Meanwhile, on the internet we find 'Gospelr' (Christian Twitter), 'Faithout' (Christian Facebook), and 'ChristianTube™' (no prizes).

Christians doing this are following in the grand tradition of their religion. The genius of the faith is for taking existing culture and regurgitating it in semi-digested form. Just remember that if your rites of spring are going to combine a Passover of bitter herbs, unleavened bread and salt water with Paschal lamb, hot cross buns and a Maltesers egg, then you should stock up on the Gaviscon first.