Beyond Bunnies and Jelly Bellies: USA Today Explores True Meaning of Easter

Usually at Easter time the media are flooding the airwaves with all sorts of reports determined to debunk Christianity.  Artists line up to desecrate religious symbols in the name of free speech and “art.”  Atheists are on call to enlighten Christians on why the Easter story is simply a nice story. 

So it was a pleasant surprise to open the March 20 USA Today Life section to find a piece on the true meaning of Easter, the Christian celebration of, “Jesus' atonement for [Christians'] sins and the promise of eternal life in his[sic] resurrection.”           

In a thoughtful article entitled “Is Sin Dead?” reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman explored the changing definitions of sin and why, as a result, some people, even Christians, don't grasp the full significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Sin is not dead.  Grossman cites an Ellison Research study finding that 87 percent of American adults believe sin exists, with sin defined as “something that is almost always considered wrong, particularly from a religious or moral perspective.” 

But there's no mention of God in Ellison's definition.  Even Webster's dictionary defines sin as “an offense, especially against God” and “a weakened state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God.”

According to Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, “We tend to view sin not as God views it, but how we view it.”  Many Biblical scholars might view Ellison's approach as the very essence of sin.

Grossman asked several prominent Christians for their definitions of sin. She quoted Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Even some people who say sin is real still steer by a compass of 'moral pragmatics,' not a bright line of absolute truth.”

Tim Keller, preacher and author of The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, blamed the definition shift on self-centeredness.  He stated, “Individually it means, 'I live for myself, for my own glory and happiness, and I'll work for your happiness if it helps me.'” 

Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, stated his definition of sin: “anything contrary to God's will.”

Theology professor Michael Horton from the Westminster Seminary in Escondido told Grossman, “we mix up happiness and holiness and God is no longer the reference point.” Horton also said, “People have to see themselves as sinners – ultimately alienated from God and unable to save themselves for Christ's [death and resurrection] to be essential.” 

Grossman did include the obligatory atheist statement in the piece about Easter being a story “of redemption and rebirth,” but she did not give them a platform to denounce the tenets of Christianity.  She even acknowledged that “the rise of secular culture also is exerting an influence” on the changing definition of sin.  Barry Kosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture at Trinity College, thinks “secular people still believe there's sin,” but stated, “secularism is situational without fundamental, universal rules.  Explanations are kosher.  Mitigating circumstances, too.”

Grossman noted that Joel Osteen, a well-known evangelist and best-selling author, fails to discuss sin in his televised sermons and his books, leading Horton to call Osteen's preaching, “moral therapy.  It's changing your lifestyle to receive God's favor.  It's not heaven in the hereafter but happiness here and now.” 

An article discussing definitions of sin and speaking of God as a higher power could easily have become a springboard for atheists to attack Christianity.  Instead, Grossman let Christian leaders say what needed to be said.  Other media outlets should take notes from this article.  Religion can be handled fairly, and dare we say, even respectfully by mainstream media. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center