To Halloween or not to Halloween

Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday established from a tradition dating back to colonial America, and July 4th is the day we celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, I think I could make a case for Halloween being the most-celebrated holiday in the US.  Certainly it is looked forward to with much excitement and costume-planning by adults and children; even pets get dressed up.  Stores make a mint selling large amounts of candy as well as costumes.  People decorate their lawns and homes with elaborate, usually creepy, decorations; haunted houses and trails abound; costume parties are a given.

I don’t remember Halloween being all that special to me as a Jewish child growing up in Brooklyn, nor how young I was when I was allowed to dress up and trick or treat in my neighborhood.  I remember as an adolescent doing “Trick or Treat for UNICEF.”  The holidays that were most important to me were the Jewish ones, celebrating the miraculous intervention of God in the lives of my ancestors, reminding me that God was still a very present Being in my life, and just being really fun family times.

When two of my children were young, we allowed them to dress up and trick or treat in our neighborhood in Dayton, OH.  The costumes were usually made by the kids themselves and not very elaborate.  In those days, kids could still get homemade cookies or treats from the neighbors without fear of malicious damage, and we limited our kids on where they could go and how much candy they could eat.

When I became a Christian and started to look at the origins of Halloween, my views on celebrating this holiday changed. A friend of mine, who’d been involved in the occult before she became a Christian, was aware of the background of Halloween as a day celebrated by satanists, witches, and other occult groups, a holiday celebrating death and the macabre.  When my husband and I decided not to celebrate Halloween, we were in a very distinct minority.  Initially, to avoid the constant ringing of the doorbell, we’d leave the house early in the evening on the designated “Beggar’s Night” and return when it was over.  After a while, people realized we were not participating and just stopped coming by, so we just hung out at home as on any other night of the school year.

We have plenty of friends and family members who do celebrate Halloween – some of our own now-grown kids do – but we have never tried to preach to them or belittle them for their choice to do so.  When a child I know shows me a costume, I  admire it, but I still don’t take part in Halloween parties, Harvest parties, or any other celebration of this day.  I usually don’t express my opinion on this unless asked, but a recent article posted on FaceBook by a friend seemed to demand a response.   The Christian author offered three choices for Christians on Halloween: to avoid the holiday, to celebrate the holiday, and to redeem the holiday.  Somehow, those Christians who choose to avoid celebrating Halloween are often chastised – I’ve heard sermons preached about it – as if, by not engaging the culture in this area, we are not truly being ambassadors for Christ, not really being “in the world yet not of it.”  Kind of reminds me of when we home schooled our children, or had our home births; people would make offensively defensive remarks to us, as if by our own personal choices, we were condemning theirs, though that was never the case.  We would share our reasons, engage in discussion, and move on.

It’s been so long since I’ve done the research that I don’t remember the details of all the reasons not to observe the holiday of Halloween.  The article I mentioned gave some of the background – the Druids, the pagan worship, the involvement of the Catholic Church – and I won’t go into much of it.  You can always check it out on your own.  I just have several points I’d like to make.  Whether you agree with me or not, that is fine.  Just expressing my opinion (which is getting increasingly hard to do in this country)…

First, no matter how you try to dress up the holiday – pun intended – with Disney character costumes, Biblical people costumes, Reformation leader costumes, or just very cute, original, and well-made costumes, you cannot really get away from the fact that the basic thing about Halloween is its scare factor.  Halloween is all about being scared….because it is all about ghosts, witches, demons, and, to quote Yoda, “the Dark side.”  Whatever lightness and fun you may feel at a harvest party or when taking your kids trick or treating in your neighborhood is not the same lightness and fun that is exhibited in decorations, movies, and the general Halloween atmosphere: it is SCARY.  Personally, I don’t see the value in deliberately choosing to be scared, whether or not you think the scary things are real, but demons and witches ARE real, and they are not people-friendly; they serve a master whose goal is to corrupt and destroy people.  Thankfully, we serve a Master who is greater than theirs, and I don’t feel that I honor Him by celebrating His enemy’s holiday.

Second, I disagree with the opinion that you have to participate in the holiday in order to engage people in a dialogue about Christ.  I know people who choose to do this, and that may work for them, but it hasn’t for me.  I need to stand up for what I believe to be true and to be willing to politely and kindly explain my views to anyone who asks me.  “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” ( I Peter 3:15 ) To draw a parallel between the pagan animal sacrifices to their gods, and the rituals instigated to deter demons on All Hallows’ Eve, and the Jewish animal sacrifices ordained by and offered to Elohim is clearly to miss the point….. I would not participate in other pagan rituals, nor will I in this one, no matter how it has been sanitized. There is no equivalence between worshipping gods and worshipping God.

Years ago, when our kids were young and we were living in Dayton, OH, we knew another family who chose not to celebrate Halloween.  One year, though, they decided that they would have a Halloween party for the neighborhood kids, hoping to reach some of them for Christ.  No one came.  Finally, they called us and asked us if they could just come over and hang out with us. While we were together….noshing, chatting, playing games….they mentioned a neighbor who was really struggling, becoming conscious of her sinfulness but unable to move from bondage to freedom.  We ended up spending time in fervent prayer for her, and that night, she received the Lord as her Savior.  That was probably my most memorable Halloween, because, instead of trying to be part of something we could not condone, we engaged in spiritual battle against the forces of darkness and won a victory.  That was redemption – not of the holiday – but despite the holiday.

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Ayn Rand Revisited: Some Observations

The book jacket of Atlas Shrugged has this quote from Ayn Rand: “To all the readers who discovered The Fountainhead and asked me many questions about the wider application of its ideas, I want to say that I am answering these questions in the present novel, and that The Fountainhead was only an overture to Atlas Shrugged.  I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist.  That this book has been written-and published-is my proof that they do.”

A less objective defense of a philosophy would be hard to find, and for a philosophy she called “Objectivism,” it is a ludicrous statement.  I don’t claim to present anything objective here; just my own – subjective – views of her ideas as described in these two books.  That I write, and that I publish a blog, is no proof of anything, except that I can.

I first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged years ago.  Like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged offered a chillingly prophetic view of the future, but I didn’t really like her characters.  I just dismissed her books from mind until her name started popping up frequently within the last year, so I decided to read the books again. Living today in a society which has succumbed to a great extent to the laziness, mediocrity, and cronyism she described made me appreciate the accuracy of her depiction of such a society.  However, I believe that the basic assumptions she makes are not accurate, and I still find her characters to be two-dimensional.

Everyone looks for a hero to worship.  In Ayn Rand’s books, the heroes are like Nazi Germany’s Ubermenschen; they see themselves as so far above the common man that they become their own justification for their actions.  Not content with actions, however, even though they claim that these actions are more important than words,  philosophical speeches abound…..I had to skip over much of John Galt’s message to the populace because it went on… and on… and on.  The idea is that these few people really live up to their potential as human beings, while everyone else just exists or is a parasite.  These people are the dreamers who work to make their dreams reality, usually with little help from any one else, the artists and architects whose vision of the future shakes off the clinging tendrils of the outmoded past, the inventors, producers, engineers, and manufacturers who create, produce, manufacture, and run those material things that underpin a technological society and lead it to higher levels of growth and productivity.  Yes, they are hard workers, singleminded, driven workers.  They are brilliant overachievers who accomplish great things.  They believe that they should enjoy the fruits of their labor and not be required to share it.  They are happy to be considered selfish, because they believe that their self-interest produces good.

The philosophy teacher and mentor of the hero in Atlas Shrugged tells Dagny:

“All work is an act of philosophy.  And when men will learn to consider productive work – and that which is its source – as the standard of their moral values, they will reach that state of perfection which is the birthright they lost…The source of work?  Man’s mind, Miss Taggart, man’s reasoning mind.” (p 738)

John Galt, the hero, takes up the subject, expounding on it:

“…the man of the mind….was the man of extravagant energy – and reckless generosity – who knew that stagnation is not man’s fate, that impotence is not his nature, that the ingenuity of his mine is his noblest and most joyous power – and in service to that love of existence he was alone to feel, he went on working, working at any price, working for his despoilers, for his jailers, for his torturers, paying with his life for the privilege of saving theirs…..The tragic joke of human history is that on any of the altars men erected, it was always man whom they immolated and the animal whom they enshrined.  It was always the animal’s attributes, not man’s, that humanity worshipped:  the idol of instinct and the idol of force – the mystics and the kings…” (p 739)

He goes on to add that the mystics’ claim that feelings were superior to reason enabled them to enslave people to blind obedience, while the kings, desiring power to control men’s bodies, ruled by conquest.  Both, he says, were united against the mind.

Touting reason as the highest of human abilities and exalting the singleminded work ethic to the level of a god, Rand, against all reason, denies that only the greatest reason of all, exhibiting the most creative acts of work, could produce people capable of reasoning and working.  Only the greatest intelligence could produce man, a being whose “state of perfection” is a lost “birthright.”  Only one whose own “extravagant energy” and “reckless generosity” was in existence first could have created man in his own image to possess these qualities.  How is it reasonable to believe that man, Ayn Rand’s god, so infinitely complex and beautiful, could be the product of mindless evolution?  Rand wants to claim the high place man occupies in creation without acknowledging the creator who made him and put him there.  Neither does she understand that it was man’s own selfishness, his worship of himself, that led him to take the steps away from the only one to whom rightful obedience is due, steps leading to the debased condition of humanity that she observes so well.

John Galt states that he hates Robin Hood and everything he stands for.  He sees him as one who robs from the deserving, productive rich to give to the undeserving, parasitic poor.  In the stories I read, Robin took from the parasitic, corrupt rich to return to the helpless poor that which had been unjustly taken from them.  Obviously we have different interpretations of the Robin Hood legends.  Yet one of Galt’s best friends becomes a pirate to use violence for his own idea of income redistribution. It is not the violence that is a problem for Galt; it is the way it is used, and that, it seems to me, is not objective at all.  Furthermore, when a train wreck kills many people due to negligence and mismanagement, the glimpses of some of the people on the train before the crash make it seem like Rand deems them deserving of death, as a punishment, not just a consequence, of unproductive behavior.

Speaking of violence, the relationships between the heroes and heroines is often a violent one.  In The Fountainhead,  Howard Roark rapes Dominique.  In most of the sexual relationships – and each heroine has three separate involvements – sex is a means by which the hero demonstrates his conquest of the heroine; it is often violent and a means to humiliate a woman who is seen as a strong and worthy opponent.  Yet each of her heroines, Dominique and Dagny, must suffer and grow before they can come up to the level of their men.  All of this makes me wonder what exactly Ayn Rand thought about women.  I found this description telling:

“On the slopes around them, the tall, dark pyramids of firs stood immovably straight, in masculine simplicity, like sculpture reduced to an essential form, and they clashed with the complex, feminine, over detailed lace-work of the birch leaves trembling in the sun.” (p 704)

It seems to me that she perceives the feminine as something of less value than the masculine.
Her heroines, like her heroes, are tall and thin, almost masculine.  They engage in battles of wills and resources, competing against men.  The mothers of the characters are either dead or interferingly obnoxious.  There is only one mother portrayed positively, as are her children, who are growing up free from the constraints of a corrupted society.  The most important creative act of life, the birthing and raising of children, is not a part of any of the main characters’ lives.  They want to make their mark on the world producing material things, but don’t seem to realize that even those will fade and be destroyed.  The only lasting legacy humans can have on this earth is their children and their children’s children…..souls that will live on when the material is gone.  Children are the supreme production of the human race.  It is interesting to me that children, and a healthy family unit, are largely missing from these books.  I suspect because, in that family unit, the theories of objectivism break down.  Parenting is impossible without the willingness to make and accept sacrifices.  A healthy family unit, the basis of a healthy society, cannot exist on the basis of these philosophical statements:

“Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live-”

“Pride is the recognition that you are your own highest value,” and

the “symbol of all relationships among such men [“men who neither make sacrifices nor accept them”], the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader.” (pp 1020-1022)

Ayn Rand had some very accurate descriptions of the political situation in the world today, but her basic understanding of humanity and creation was, I believe, flawed.

“To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument – is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality.” (p 1023)

This situation IS a reality for many in this world, as radical Islam and terrorists are forcing people to make this choice.  Yet what gives people the courage to stand up for the truth, to retain control of their minds, and accept death rather than give in, in most cases is not the objectivist philosophy, but rather their faith.  Faith in the God who created us and gave us value, faith in the moral universe he gave to us, and faith in the one Man who sacrificed all for those willing to accept that sacrifice.  I’m sorry that Ayn Rand did not have this faith; she might have attained to the happiness she sought had she worshipped God rather than man.

Note:  Quotations are taken from the 35th Anniversary Edition, hardback, of Atlas Shrugged, Dutton, 1992.