For the most part, my Facebook friends are a pretty awesome group of people. The majority of them are atheists and skeptics, and they tend to be really good about fact checking and demanding sources. But for some reason, all of that gets thrown out the window as soon as the topic is religion, suddenly it’s okay to hit that “share” button without even the quickest of fact checks.

So this week, I’ve been seeing a few of these This is Ishtar: Pronounced “Easter” memes posted pretty much every day.

Ishtar Easter

No, guys. No. Just quit it, okay?

The issue in this instance is, of course, that Ishtar has nothing to do with Easter. As The Daily Beast points out, the linguistic argument is simply false. “Easter” is a germanic word, used exclusively (as far as I know) in English and German (where it’s called Ostern). Back to The Daily Beast: “The Greeks and Romans called it Pascha, which is why Easter is Pasqua in Italian, Pascua in Spanish, and Paques in French.  How exactly did the name of a Canaanite fertility goddess skip all the way to England from the Middle East without stopping in Rome or Byzantium?”

So where does the name “Easter” come from? Well, it may come from a Pagan goddess, the Germanic Eostre. The month that roughly correlates to April is recorded as having been named after her, so it makes sense that a major celebration being held during that time would pick up the name. (Of course, even this interpretation is a little problematic. Cultural shifts are rarely noticed and recorded while they are happening, and those who are trying to piece together the timelines and influences after the fact are just as prone to error and bias as anyone else.)

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the Ishtar graphic or the origins of Easter, The Belle Jar blog has a pretty good post covering the basics.

Here’s the thing, guys: I know that dudes like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris (who wrote in The End of Faith that Isis was a “the goddess of fertility, [who] sports an impressive pair of cow horns”) and others have a certain status in the atheist movement, and that it’s tempting to assume that people who make their careers out of debating religion might actually know a little bit about that of which they speak. Thing is, they don’t. They really don’t. They may have facts and figures about modern expressions of religion, or blasphemy laws, or the teaching of Creationism in classrooms, but these are men who don’t give two flips about theology. They are not spending their time learning about mythology or the history of religious belief.

So just because the Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Science and Reason’s FB page posts some little “gotcha” graphic doesn’t mean it’s true. So please, please don’t repost it without using a little of that skepticism you’re so proud of. Thanks!

EDIT: Tom Verenna has a good post up about the Ishtar meme as well. Go read it!

 

*There’s a much larger discussion to be had about the accusation of Christianity “stealing” from other religions, and what that really means both in a historical context and as it is applicable to modern theology and practice. But let’s just stick to one topic at a time.