Where is God in suffering?

God and Japan’s Suffering YOMIURI SHIMBUN AP Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara apologized Tuesday for earlier comments in which he explained … Continued

The craziness around Halloween is hard to ignore and as with anything “sacred,” be it a day, a story, an object — it has multiple meanings. These days, as with so much in our polarized public culture, each meaning has its own advocates who ardently believe they have the whole truth.

There are our religious fundamentalists who oppose Halloween because of its pagan origins and occult and satanic symbols and believe the holiday undermines Christian values with its embrace of devils, demons, and goblins. Just as seriously, there are Wiccans who oppose Halloween for its offense to real witches by promoting stereotypes of wicked witches. (Opposition to fun often makes strange bed fellows.)

There are traditionalist Jews and members of other faiths who oppose Halloween because it is a Christian holiday — All Saints Day. There are our simplicity folks who oppose Halloween because they see it as another construction of Madison Avenue that has turned one more holiday into a commercialized ($5 billion) consumption experience. There are our concerned parents who oppose Halloween because of its increasing tolerance of violent images and vandalism.

There are serious Christians who reject the ghost, ghouls, witches, and vampires of Halloween and instead emphasize the Christian tradition of honoring all saints known and unknown. And then there is the majority of parents and children who simply enjoy the candy and costumes, the pranks and trick and treating, and the carved pumpkins and haunted houses of Halloween.

So, not surprisingly, depending on who one is and to what community one belongs and one’s psychological predisposition, Halloween is indeed many things. It is harmless fun or anti-Christian, anti-Jewish or anti-Wiccan, amusingly scary, chillingly violent or crassly consumerist. It is all of these as well as a Saint Fest, a day to honor the dead, a harvest festival, and a psychological release as, around us, nature “dies” for the winter and the day darkens earlier and earlier.

It seems to me that the cultural and spiritual energy surrounding Halloween is directly related to this multiplicity of meanings. (My wisdom tradition teaches that, contrary to conventional understanding, something is sacred not because it has only one specific meaning but because it has indeterminate and inexhaustible meaning.)

In other words, there is a partial truth to each of these meanings and rather than simply dismiss the meaning or meanings we feel are silly or wrong or even dangerous we might try to incorporate some insight or aspect of that meaning, however small, into our take on Halloween.

Personally, I grew up attending a Jewish parochial school that strongly discouraged any participation in Halloween festivities. But my parents, with a bit of reluctance, and quite a bit of pleading from me and my five brothers, treated Halloween as a secular day and permitted us to dress up and go trick or treating with emphasis on the treating rather than the tricking.

But we were reminded that Halloween was not a Jewish holiday and as age appropriate actually learned a little about the origins of the holiday and where we as Jews differed. And there were also some interesting additions to our celebration. Costumes were home-made, not purchased, and there were no hatchet in the head costumes. For every one piece of candy we got to keep we had to give away one piece. (We started with the non-kosher candy!)

And of course there was UNICEF — our celebrating and candy gathering were connected to giving to the less fortunate. One might say that we had fun without the fear and the frenzy — a kind of fun that transcended different faiths and backgrounds — in which our present joy superseded a pagan past, candy trumped creed, and treats trumped theology.

Be Safe and Happy Halloween!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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  • Secular

    This notion that, this is some kind of (un)holy retribution is not only laughable, but is actually disgusting. What would this “DOG” (sorry my dyslexia get better of me), being if all the Japanese were good x’tian folk? Would he have prevented it? So to prevent natural disaster all we have to become is x’tian, or moslem, jewish, or hindu folk. But then Wouldn’t these disasters strike again and again becauel not all are going to be of the obly right kind. Do these disasters spare any faith in their wake? No they don’t. All these morons need a hole in their heads to get rid of the cobwebs. By the way the laws of nature can be violated at will, as long as everyone lives a pious x’tian life i guess.

  • loveandpeace

    Shintaro is a right-wing politician, just like what we have in US. Hence the comment….

  • YEAL9

    Is not the OT and Torah filled with such godly retributions i.e. the great flood, the Red Sea massacre, the “angelic” slaying of the Egyptian first born, the destruction of Jericho, to name a few? So Rabbi Hirschfield where is your condemnation of such biblical stupidity.?

  • davivman

    I know the press likes to jump all over comments like one mentioned above by Gov. Shintaro Ishihara or the one mentioned by Pat Robertson during the Haiti tragety, However, I think that very few people actually agree with these kinds of statements. I also wonder to what degree the media shares responsibility when the propogate these statements by giving coverage to offensive comments that are not really newsworthy.

  • jonswitzer

    Community suffers when spirituality is merely personal as opposed to collective…and that includes both guilt, love and hope.

  • Sajanas

    Do the people that don’t die from a disaster think that they are somehow spared from death? Do they think that some sort of divine protection will follow them around forever? Everyone’s gotta go sometime, and I find it insulting that people claim that those lost in a disaster like this were somehow not worthy because they kept some arbitrary set of rules. As if those who follow Christianity, Buddhism, or whatever are somehow exempt from the grave.
    Frankly the world is cruel enough without everyone being gigantic jerks to one another.

  • jonswitzer

    The Biblical perspective is that God punishes nations collectively for their refusal to do what is right (i.e. not care for the poor and outcast, worship false gods, sexual immorality etc.). As such, everyone has a responsibility to speak up. If the “prophet” is rejected then the Lord protects the prophet and allows punishment to come to the nation, which likely will hit some people worse than others. The goal is to rebuke humanity for doing wrong (i.e. not care for the poor, orphan and widow, greed, etc.). The idea is that those who admit they have acted based on greed or selfishness are granted forgiveness. Those who refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong. They are given what they also wanted, an eternity without God. So, the question is who is the jerk? The one who refuses to admit his selfish behavior, or the one who tells him he needs to change (i.e. stop destroying the planet due to greed and power). For example, who will have the courage to tell the leaders of Haiti to stop being so corrupt? Someone should say something…if we don’t have the courage, should we be upset if God chooses to act?

  • jonswitzer

    Don’t you also argue that a good God should not allow evil? How then would recorded instances of God NOT allowing evil (i.e. the Israelites being oppressed injustly) not simply answer your question of whether or not God would act? On the one hand you don’t want a God who acts? On the other hand you blame Him for not acting? In both cases you see this as proof that God is not good and does not exist. All roads lead to atheism in your world. I’m not sure if you call this rational or not.

  • jonswitzer

    Your disgust is heard loud and clear by the 90% of the world that disagrees with you. Thank you for registering it. Please understand that for most of us, the question of what God is actually like (Buddhist conceptions of nirvana, Moslem conceptions of “submission”, Judao-Christian conceptions of a God interested in mutual relationship based on integrity and faithfulness…) these discussions are very nuanced and as such make easy straw men for those inclined to have a “knock-down” session. So, have at it. Let us know if you show an inclination to nuanced discussion of what a just God would loook like.

  • lepidopteryx

    So when God punishes a group of people for not taking care of the poor, he kills the poor along with the folks who refused to help them?
    Using that logic, if a person goes to prison as punishment for a rape, then the victim ought to have to serve the same sentence.

  • Sajanas

    Ah jonswitzer, this is exactly the sort of attitude that I find to be so jerky.

    How many children died in Hati and Japan, that didn’t cause anyone any harm? How is selfishness and greed related to an earthquake that sweeps away huge sections of the coast? Why would we not see Stock Exchange specific earthquakes?

    All people like you do is make the victims feel bad, and obligated to so some sort of spiritual rigmarole that has never, ever helped anyone from dying. Christchurch in New Zealand was demolished by an earthquake, its cathedral demolished, with people inside of it. I know you’d rather have a world with cause and effect based on a person’s righteousness, but surely you must see how ridiculous it is to explain the deaths of those who disagree with you as punishment or warnings and the deaths of those you agree with as a test of faith.

  • YEAL9

    If there were a god, he/she/it and/or spirit would not tolerate the stupidity of Beck thereby proving there is no god. Ditto for all others who consider natural disasters as being the work of some god.

    Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this chaotic, stochastic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in five billion years with the burn out of the Sun and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the vagaries of its local star.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    where’s god in suffering?

    that’s a trick question. it implies things about god for which we have no evidence. for reasons of personal preference/desire, most define god as all-powerful, and all-loving, but given tsunamis, birth defects, and disco music, an evil and/or impotent god is more likely. and an even more likely reason we have to make excuses for god in the face of disasters/tragedy is because man is the creator of god. all the vexing questions about “god’s mysterious ways” and so forth instantly vanish if you look at it that way.