Come On Up for The Rising

ქრისტე აღსდგა!”, my students proudly shriek. This annoys me.

I am a secularist. I don’t know that I’d go as far as a place like France or Turkey – I wouldn’t support banning religious garb in the public sphere, for instance – but I draw the line at anything that (even implicitly) requires me to take part in other peoples’ religions or rituals. This includes the call-and-response Georgian Easter greeting, which begins with the above exclamation which means “Christ has risen” and to which the customary response is “truly”. There is no way I am going to say that.

Georgian children have had no reason to question their parents’ religion, and I am not going to be the one to start them on that path. I am here to teach English, not to impose my beliefs about the metaphysical world, such as it is. I am also not going to affirm my belief in ressurection. As I recently explained, I have a strong personal objection to lying for the benefit of Georgians.

Unfortunately this leaves me at an impasse. The resolution usually involves me saying nothing, my students running to their coteacher to ask how to say “ქრისტე აღსდგა” in English then running back to me and mispronouncing “Christ has risen!” and me continuing to say nothing. Obviously this is less than ideal, but I honestly don’t want to get into it.

Now, I’m not one of these people who just goes around hating on holiday well-wishers. If someone wishes me a Happy Pi Day, I can appreciate the sentiment behind their well-wishing even if the celebration of pi is ridiculous in light of fact that the One True Circular Constant is tau. And anyway, there’s currently no delicious genre of food that is homonymous with tau, which means that until Vi Hart figures out what we should all be doing on the twenty-eighth of June we don’t really have much of a holiday to offer in competition. So pi day will suffice.

Similarly, Easter’s a good enough holiday in America. A magical bunny lays chocolate eggs somewhere in England and they’re shipped across the pond and consumed by millions of pre-diabetic children. There’s an Easter Egg hunt and fertility symbols and spring cleaning and a week off from school, and I ain’t mad at that. Even if you don’t believe that rabbits lay eggs, there’s a lot to enjoy in this holiday. In conclusion, I’d be content with “Happy Easter.”

If I’m being honest, as an adult I prefer passover. Tons of food, wine and song: my kind of shindig. Even if the songs are in Aramaic and Hebrew. BTW, the Hebrew language – now there’s ressurrection you can believe in. I think Georgians would like Passover; it’s like a supra, complete with four full-cup wine toasts (although they’re all to God, so that might get monotonous to Georgians… or not).

I’m getting sidetracked.

The point is, I can’t be the only one who gets uncomfortable when confronted with an assertion like “Christ has risen”, but doesn’t want to get into a religious argument with a ten-year-old. (Actually, I don’t want to get into a religious argument with an adult, either, and for exactly the same reason – I’m unlikely to encounter a line of reasoning I consider rational and cohesive, which means I will just end up needlessly frustrated). And as more and more foreigners come to Georgia, Georgians are eventually going to have to learn how to successfully interact with non-Christians – which includes learning not to make assumptions about what others believe.

I think this is important. I’ve gone on and on before about how Georgians, if they want to have truly successful interactions with foreigners, are going to have to reevaluate certain habits, including staring for days, treating women like property, dropping n-bombs, and letting their city streets become broken hazardous filthy garbage-infested stray dog warrens with cars taking up the whole sidewalk. I know these things give Georgia a certain rustic charm, but clearly the aspirational direction of Georgian society involves sharing Georgia’s beauty and wonderfulness with the world and reaping the associated economic benefits.

And while I don’t think that one week a year of invocations to a Messiah that the vast majority of the world does not believe actually rose from the dead is going to ruin Georgia’s tourism and foreign investment prospects, I do think that, as language teachers and cultural ambassadors, it is our duty to at least let Georgians know that when they say either “ქრისტე აღსდგა” or “Christ has risen” to foreigners, they are more likely than not creating a very awkward situation for their guests.

Part of teaching language is teaching when that langauge should be used. When dealing with a diverse international pool of potential visitors, the proper time to use “Christ has risen” is when you have already determined that the person in question is a Christian who takes the Bible literally – that is one who believes in the supernatural, rather than just the moral, aspects of what the Bible teaches.

In other words, almost never. Georgians should be keeping their “Christ has risen”s to themselves.

In one of my classes, I asked my coteacher to please explain to the students that, when talking to foreigners (in other words, when using English), “Christ has risen” is not an appropriate Easter greeting, and that they should just say “Happy Easter” instead. My coteacher did not oblige me and my students continued to shout “Christ has risen” and “ქრისტეაღსდგა!” in my face intermittently for the rest of the class.

This annoys me. Maybe next year I’ll put in for a few extra days of Easter vacation so I don’t have to deal with this situation, and just come back when the whole Easter spirit thing blows over.

Here’s a Rising I can get behind:

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16 Responses to Come On Up for The Rising

  1. The traditional English reply is, of course, “Yeah, sure.”

  2. Joe Vasicek says:

    I’m Mormon, so I didn’t personally have a problem with the whole “Christi aghsdga” thing, but when they asked me how to say it in English, I translated it as “Happy Easter.”

    While the majority of the world is certainly non-Christian, I think that globally, Christianity is far more prominent than Secularism. Africa is awash with Evangelicals, as well as certain parts of Asia, and in South and Central America Christianity is quite strong. Secularism is more prominent in developed societies, where the birthrate is low and the population is often in decline. The dichotomy here is between the global North and the global South, and quite often, it’s the North that sound provincial–the developed countries that are fantastically wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Even in the US, there’s a wide mix of Christianity and Secularism. So that’s something to keep in mind.

    • panoptical says:

      Christianity is more prominent than secularism, but not than the combination of atheism plus all religions that do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I am not a secularist because I am against Christianity, I am a secularist because it is not fair to the majority of the world’s population to set up social and political norms that vilify, exclude, or offend them.

  3. Mach says:

    Being an Atheist myself (or how cowards like to say it: Secularist (troll)) I’ve found a rather elegant solution to that. I just reply “გილოცავ” which is basically “Happy Easter” if used in this context, literally it’s a word of congratulating… can’t find the English word, but I’m sure you know what it means. Anyway firstly it’s a reply, so you don’t stand around with people waiting for you to answer. Secondly, the burden of keeping the conversation going (which will hopefully move away from the topic) is on the other person. It might be baffling to some, but by the time they figure out that is not what you are supposed to say in return, and how should they articulate that, it’s usually too late. For people who you are relatively close with, who would not hesitate to correct your ignorance and tell you that you should, in fact, reply “Truly!”, you could just come out and say that you should only reply that if you think that Christ has truly risen. Though I imagine all this would be a lot harder with schoolchildren, especially when you’re a foreigner.

  4. gnarbeghlavi says:

    GOD IS DEAD. SATAN LIVES.

  5. choppa481 says:

    I’m agnostic. So instead of actually replying I just said Happy Easter back to them. I honestly didn’t even know there was a reply of “truly” because every time they said it to me I just said Happy Easter back and then explained that’s what most Christian English speakers say on Easter. They seemed happy with that and I never got any blank looks. Heck, one day I had a class to myself so I taught them all the names of the days of Holy Week too. It is just information, I know it, and there is no reason for me not to teach them how to express their culture in a new language.

  6. Swiss_Olive says:

    @panoptical “…because it is not fair to the majority of the world’s population to set up social and political norms that vilify, exclude, or offend them.”
    While I am the last person to defend Christianity (or rather, the things some Christians did throughout history, individually and/or systematically), I don’t quite see how the Christian faith would be the only one to do that. Or are you saying everyone who is born into a religion/faith should constantly feel slightly guilty about it, lest they accidentally impose their values on someboy else? (Don’t people actually implicitly impose values on others, virtually all the time?)
    I was born into the Serbian Orthodox faith (but grew up in Switzerland) – and call myself agnostic/liberal/enlightened – and while there are many things I get annoyed about (superstitition, the general fundamental Christian thing etc), in the end, there are a couple traditions that don’t hurt anybody. Even I do the “Christ has risen!” – “Yes indeed!” thing with friends and family during Easter, and it feels more like a Monthy Python sketch to me than me or anybody else trying to “spread the faith”. (That would be enormously ridiculous.) But of course, I don’t know your situation – Georgians could be a lot more annoying than a couple of Serbian relatives and maybe you’ve had some bad experience prior with people rudely trying to proselytize you. So far, this didn’t happen to me, so maybe hence the difference in thinking.
    Point is, maybe your pupils are not trying to convert you and you should take it like the seasonal greeting it is and not get upset about it too much? (But maybe they are, so then I my point would be moot, of course.)
    And yes, I really enjoy your blog.

    • panoptical says:

      There’s no need to read any exotic interpretation into what I’m saying here. I don’t mean to imply any of those things.

      I am not upset about Christians telling me that Christ has risen. I am annoyed by it. I find it inconsiderate and somewhat offensive because it puts me in an awkward social situation. I am not saying that non-Christians do not do the same to other people in situations where they are the majority, I have just not lived in any countries that did not have a Christian majority. I am not saying that Christians should feel guilty for being Christian, I am saying that they should be aware that others do not share their beliefs and they should have the social grace not to put non-Christians in the awkward position of having to either profess or deny the truth of Christian metaphysical doctrine.

      And yes, several commentors here have suggested graceful ways out of this bind – to respond with “Happy Easter” or “Yeah, sure” might diffuse the situation in a way that would satisfy all parties – but, given that Georgians are so proud of their tradition of making guests feel welcome, they should at least know that saying “Christ has risen” detracts from that feeling of welcome for many people.

  7. Swiss_Olive says:

    I wasn’t trying to do exotic interpretations, I just suggested some explanations that seemed probable to me. Apparently they weren’t. Anyhow, I agree with you in general : )

  8. Amanda says:

    Wait a minute, the Easter Bunny lays his eggs in England!?!???

  9. Pingback: Easter, Religion, and my Georgian Family | Georgia On My Mind

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