America mirrors global godless trend

For years, we’ve heard how the world is much less religious than America, and that America is a bit of … 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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  • nanmac

    Thank god for atheists!

  • Paul Gibbons

    Roy – while the 16% number is interesting… the way these surveys are typically done means it under reports atheism…
    In Europe between 5 and 20 percent attend church. Not as many people will check the box ‘atheist’ because of historical, cultural, or emotional reasons. When i first checked it, i glanced over my shoulder surreptitiously!!!

    There is the historical, cultural Christian – who if asked questions such as ‘did God create the world’ or ‘is god omnipotent’ would quickly say no… so they reject almost all of the christian cannon – and don’t attend church – while checking the box…

    So, if a secular world is desirable, as i think it is, then we are in much better shape than Pew suggests AND the US while making progress is still an outlier.

    The more atheists who come out of the closet, the sooner it becomes safe for others to clam that position…

  • Davoud

    The key word is “neutral.” Atheism isn’t a negative position, but a neutral one that is held by rational, open-minded people everywhere. I’m open to believing some amazing things, given sufficient evidence. Darwinian evolution by random mutation and non-random selection over some four billion years is truly amazing to me, yet the evidence is overwhelming and I have to believe it. Let a deity present the tiniest shred of evidence for its existence and I’ll join the investigators. When it reveals itself unequivically (appearing out of thin air and changing this flat, stale water I’ve been sipping for hours into a nice Merlot would be a suggested starting point) then I’ll get serious. Until then, I’ll trust evidence and logic and good sense.

  • Stefan Kotzamanis

    As an Aussie, this pleases me greatly. Not because of my bias in being an avowed atheist, but more because of how behind America is in regards to religiosity when compared to the rest of the developed Western world. It is a truly bizarre, exceptional case in America, and is quite insane that a nation that emphasizes its rights to freedoms so vehemently can be so opposed to secularism.

    Anyway, unless some great tragedy occurs, I can’t see the world’s global trend in the decline of religiosity in reversing.

    I long for the drastic decline of the Tea Party/Radical Right, they are nothing but malign for US politics and society, and truly embarrass your great nation. Cannot wait for American to become as irreligious as Europe/Australia is.

  • Ranmore

    If the Repulican party wants any chance of electoral success in the coming years then a radical re-think will be necessary. Pandering to a diminishing pool of devout, religous conservatives will guarantee failure.

  • DavidJ9

    The GOP doesn’t even pander to those who paid attention to what Jesus taught. They only want the fire-and-brimstone fakes.

  • GordonHide1

    I think you have misunderstood the second survey. Just because people are religiously unafiliated doesn’t mean they are not religious. The number of atheists and agnostics in the US is still well short of numbers in other Western European type countries.

  • cs9243

    The “nones” in America will grow. The 20% of americans who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated, not all of them may be atheists,they may not belive in any organized religion Less religiosity is not a bad news
    Less religion,better for the country but not a good news for the Republicans.

  • itsthedax

    When you gain understanding of the natural world, you lose the need for a “god of the gaps” to explain natural phenomena. As we learn how religions simply don’t stand up to scrutiny or rational thought, we learn to depend on them less.

  • amelia45

    It seems to me that the mainstream religions have abandoned the modern world, rather than the modern world has abandoned religion. The world has changed – millions more people have more education, access to information and different viewpoints. And science has taught us much about the natural world that contradicts the Bible, perhaps the Koran, … I don’t know about other major religious writings and beliefs.

    While God remains eternal, our understanding of Him and of ourselves has changed. We need our religious thinkers to incorporate this new understanding and awareness into the belief systems of Catholicism, Christianity, Islam – and they are having a hard time doing it.

    I want faith back as a major part of most everyone’s life – that source for finding what is right and good. But, it has to deal with the real world of today – not the world of the past.

  • Rusty Yates

    Have you heard the good news about Jesus? – People are turning away from him in droves.

    This is wonderful news. So many social ills are connected to religion and religiosity. The US may have a chance of winning the Great Christian War on Education after all.

  • Rusty Yates

    We so thank you for leading the way with your stance on the Catholic Church. Hopefully we will follow your excellent example.

  • xexon

    Religion has always been a favorite tool of manipulation by the elite.

    This same formula still writes foreign policy for the United States in regards to the Middle East. Israel specifically. The zionists tapped into the conservative Christian jugular decades ago and have drained us as a nation ever since.

    “But it’s the holy land”.

    Well, that’s the whole selling point, isn’t it? Take that away, Israel is just another apartheid nation in need of a makeover.


  • nkri401

    And praise the lord!

  • dcrswm

    You say that, until Cthulhu shows up……

  • alltheroadrunnin

    The nice thing about getting rid of religions, gods, and all that stuff is that now we can take all of our cues from nature. There is no good or bad in nature, no “evil” as it were. Now, we can merely obey whatever strongmen come up with, for laws of behavior — like Hitler had his, Stalin had his, Pol Pot had his. Those ways are not much different than Spain’s Inquisition. Of couse, Spain’s Inquisition was 500 years ago, while Baal’s furnace for babies was 2,500 years ago.

    Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot’s ways were during my lifetime. One way or another, it doesn’t look like mankind has made any progress, except as Malthus predicted — numbers.

    Is there any argument? Let me hear it.

  • Sadetec

    Well as I’m sure you know, Hitler was a Catholic. (At least a nominal one, although I think the consensus is that he only maintained his links with the church because being on good relation with the Vatican was useful back in the 1930s, even if you had a huge army.)

    Anyway, on to the point…

    In fact both religious and non-religious regimes have committed atrocities over the ages. Typically the non-religious regimes have created a kind of proxy religion by forming a personality cult around a specific individual (Lenin, Kim Jong-il, etc.). What separates good and bad is not religiosity, but stable and effective democracy. Totalitarian regimes have a habit of going bad regardless of what gods they do or don’t subscribe to, only democracies have a good track record of not slaughtering their people.

    Democracy, of course, isn’t to be found in the pages of any Bible. Indeed one has to go back to polytheistic ancient Greece, with their myriad of gods and goddesses, to find its origins.

    What also benefits the populous is education — the statistics show (both in the USA and abroad) that the places with the highest levels of education are also the ones with the lowest crime rates. Of course high levels of education also correlate with low levels of religion — the more educated your population, the more secular they become. This is why some of the countries on Earth where you’re least likely to be the victim of serious crime are in the highly taxed, highly educated, highly secular parts of Europe. At the same time the most dangerous countries on Earth are those with the most powerful and most aggressive forms of religion.

    So, if you want to live a peaceful life, seek out somewhere with a stable democracy and high levels of education (and with it secularism); if you want to live a dangerous life, seek out somewhere with a lot of religion.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    Sadetec — Good try. Yes, the religious cult of leftism has highjacked democracy. That secular belief system is no different than a pope’s — feelings and good intentions, backed up by “statistics/dogmas.” Human nature is human nature, regardless of belief systems and politics. So far, the longest lasting democracy is the USA. Ancient Greece was 70 years, for ancient Rome’s 100 founding families, less than 200 years. Roman rule, when a republic or a dictatorship, was the most religious of all civilizations, even more so than the Islamic ones ever were or are today. Rome lasted 1,000 years under Paganism, another 1,000 years under Roman Catholic popes. That’s a record to beat, education or no. The idea is to be on top, or near it, whatever is going on. All the rest is academic utopianism.

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