Reality and Fiction, Part 1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.
- 1 John 3:1-3
When I began typing, the clock was ticking, and the countdown had begun. A big, furry spider guarded access to the candy as the small herds of superheroes and princesses, ghosts and goblins, prepared to make their annual trek around the neighborhood. Oh, the excitement and anticipation…! Halloween has never been my favorite holiday, but neither has it particularly bothered me. What could possibly be cuter than a bunch of children dressed up as their favorite character ringing the doorbell and trying to remember what they are supposed to say to get candy? In most cases, moms and dads in the background calling for “please” and “thank you” from the dragons and mermaids.
This is the first of two blogs on “Reality and Fiction.” Here, I want us to think about the trivialization of matters of great substance and import while investing heavily in the superficial and meaningless. Over the last fifty to sixty years, Christians have been taught that it is impolite to foist one’s faith on others, and objectivity should reign in the public square. Realistically, we could push that date back further if we take into consideration the intellectualization of Christian faith in civil religion. The melding of American patriotism and Christian belief laid the foundation for the secularization of Christian life.
As we now know, the objectivity of secular ideas is anything but objective. The ideas that arise from human minds closed to our Creator are deeply flawed without hope of authentic understanding, for we cannot see anything clearly unless we see in the light of Christ. Only when we are answerable to God for the ideas and order of our lives do we possess sufficient humility to make a positive difference in the world. While human beings possess the faculty of reasoning, albeit in varying degrees, wisdom useful for human flourishing requires virtue born of the awareness of our profound and irrevocable limitations. Because we’ve been trained not to share our faith, our minds and the minds of our children and grandchildren have been trained for knowledge not of God.
Let’s look again at Halloween. Halloween was fun when it was for little kids. There is nothing inherently evil in children’s costuming to visit neighbors and gather candy. The origins of Halloween are a little more suspect, arising from the pagan celebration of Samhain. Briefly, celebrating the harvest as the dark season began, the Celtic festival of Samhain brought the whole village together around a huge fire. To protect them from otherworldly creatures seeking to steal souls, offerings were placed around the village and/or in front of the home. The Halloween of today mimics otherworldly beings by dressing in costumes, and the candy collected around the neighborhood echoes the protective offerings of centuries past. (As with all religious traditions, Samhain is more complex than described here.)
Some have suggested that the Church created All Saints Day, November 1, in response to Halloween. The suggestion has some merit, at least in the timing of the day in western Christianity, but from very early on – long before Christianity reached the Celts – the Church remembered and commemorated the saints. Unlike Samhain, Christians hold that the barrier between the “otherworldly” Kingdom of God and the physical realm was destroyed when Jesus rose from the dead. We are already participating in the “other world” that encompasses our world and living in the communion of saints.
Evidently, Halloween has ceased to be innocuous fun for children. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans spent over $12 billion on Halloween this year, and a significant portion of that was for adults not children, for alcohol not candy. Barbie was all the rage in costumes, but most of the Barbie-wear is wholly inappropriate for little girls. I’d say there are a very limited number of places some of those costumes can be worn, but increasingly, we are learning that almost nothing is considered too personal or too vulgar in public.
Turning from Halloween, let’s consider Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the Nativity, the birth of the Son of God to the Virgin Mary. Born in the lowliest of circumstances to an unlikely young woman, the immortal Word of God that spoke creation into existence comingled with mortal human flesh in the backwoods of the Roman Empire. Although appearing utterly inconsequential, Jesus’ birth was the event that began turning the trajectory of the whole of human history toward a new life and destiny. God entered into history, and by the time He ascended into heaven, He had inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth.
The $12 billion spent on Halloween pales before the expected $275 billion that Americans will spend on Christmas. That figure does not count gifts to the family but is the tally for seasonal foods and decorations, including more than 20 million live Christmas trees. Statistics vary slightly, but the NRF tracks consumer spending trends and reports how much we spend on what (not to be confused with personal credit card tracking). That our holidays are measured by retailers reveals a great deal about us.
We’ve turned a pagan Celtic religious rite into a childhood tradition then made it exaggerated adult entertainment that too often has a great deal in common with the original Samhain – excepting the farmer’s labor. In much the same manner, the Nativity of our Savior was as unremarkable in antiquity as it is hidden beneath commercialization and extravagant spending today.
A life invested in the pursuit of the trivial diminishes our humanity. Excessive or unnecessary consumption gives the illusion of meaning to our lives but bears shriveled fruit that quickly dies. The rich substance of our humanity, the image of God in every person, is exchanged for entertainment. This is the fiction we are living out in the western world. We laugh and preen as we consume, accepting the lie that more will eventually be enough.
Behind Halloween and Christmas lie very real religious commitments. In the United States, modern versions of Celtic religiosity are on the rise, and Christianity is in decline. Driven by sales and the very human need to escape through amusement, we play with that which we do not understand and risk that which we do not recognize within ourselves. When we have the sense that life is meaningless, nothing is wrong with anything we do. Nothing can be wrong because we’ve accepted that religious sentiment is just that – sentiment and not reality.
I am not opposed to Halloween or Christmas trees, but I am wholly opposed to the manner in which these traditions mimic reality and distract us with fiction. Perhaps the greatest lie told today is that the highest human aspiration is personal happiness. Human beings are more than our momentary wants and wishes, and when we live only to be happy in this moment, inevitably, we will be disappointed. The endless pursuit of happiness feeds selfishness and self-absorption without ever feeding the soul. What greater deception can there be than the barrage of voices telling us we are fleeting specks of life that should take everything we can get while we have the chance? It is the movement of the woman in the Garden when she reached out and took the forbidden fruit while surrounded by the abundance God provided.
Human beings are so much more than the banal superficiality advertised to us on television, in endless emails, and flashing relentlessly on every device we own. We cannot now see what we shall be one day, but we can live in Christ enough to know truth and receive joy. Likewise, we cannot continue to ignore the lies that deceive and destroy.
Fiction is an escape, and everyone needs escapes that refresh the imagination while resting the mind. But living in fiction quickly becomes a nightmare because reality cannot be changed. We have a Savior Who can redeem what we have done to what is real, but we cannot exchange reality for fiction however much we wish we could. That is the topic for the next blog – the deceptions that bring death.
This week, remember who you are. Seek purity of heart in all that you do, so that Christ will be seen in you. Love lavishly as a reflection of the love the Father has lavished on you. Walk in this life as the child of God that you are.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau