Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloween

Photo Credit: PersonalCreations.com via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: PersonalCreations.com via Compfight cc

It’s this time of the year again when zealous Christians start posting about the evils of halloween and why “real” Christians ought not to celebrate it. Obviously these “real” Christians haven’t read enough history about it, else they would be fully aware that “halloween” is a Christian creation. More accurately, it was a pagan holiday hijacked and adopted by Christianity (much like Christmas and Easter).

The word “halloween” is a contraction of two words, hallow (meaning “holy”) and evening. The early Christians called it “All Hallows’ Evening” or “All Hallows’ Eve” — the night before All Hallows’ Day (what we now call All Saints’ Day). It was the beginning of a 3-day celebration commemorating the dead, the saints and martyrs, and the souls of faithful, deceased believers. So Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls Day are all tied together as Christian holidays.

Many scholars believe that halloween’s pagan origins came from a Gaelic tradition known as Samhain (pronounced as sah-win), which signaled the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. They believed that at this time, the boundaries between the spirit world and the physical world became thinner and that spirits, fairies, and souls of the dead would roam around. That is why on that evening, they would offer prayers of protection and leave offerings of food and drink outside their homes for these spirits to partake and be satisfied, and would thus leave them unharmed.

This belief gave rise to the tradition of “trick or treat” which started as early as the 16th century. People would go around different homes disguised as spirits or ghosts and they would be offered food. Those who failed to do so, or who did not welcome these impersonators, were seen to have bad luck. The custom later evolved when a group of boys began going around with blackened faces, threatening to do actual mischief to households that didn’t show them hospitality.

Christians began celebrating All Hallow’s Day in the 6th century CE, on May 13 — a date coinciding with the Roman festival of the dead called Lemuria. During the 9th Century, Pope Gregory IV officially changed the date to November 1, coinciding with many Germanic and Celtic feasts of the dead. It was thought to be more appropriate because as the beginning of winter, this was when plants “died” as well.

During the 12th century, it was an established tradition and part of the church’s liturgical calendar. People would bake “soul cakes” and give them to poor people who roamed different homes, taking the cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of the departed (at this point, my protestant readers will protest and say “but that’s not biblical,” nevertheless, that was the official belief at that point in time)

The custom of wearing disguises stemmed from the belief that halloween was the last day that the souls of the dead could take revenge on whoever wronged them in life, before they departed into another realm. So they were especially active on this night. So it was believed that wearing disguises would prevent these souls from recognizing the persons underneath, and that impersonating dead people would make these souls believe that they were fellow dead and would therefore leave them unharmed.

That then is a brief summary of the halloween tradition. And since it was created by Christianity, Christians calling it evil and satanic makes as much sense as them  calling Christmas or Easter evil and Satanic.

Have a happy Halloween. Boo!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Why Irreligion Needs A Voice

Photo Credit: bijoubaby via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: bijoubaby via Compfight cc

I had another interesting email exchange recently, this time with a woman who claims to have been from our church community before and has known me when I was a “cute little boy.” She probably saw fat little me running around playing hide-and-seek or tigsu (I have no idea what this game is called in English or even in Tagalog) in church countless times.

Anyway, she expressed a bit of surprise when she came across my articles and found out that I had abandoned Christianity. She shared that she herself still believed in doctrines like the Trinity but has stopped going to church 23 years ago, thinking that “every organized religion is a business” and that she would much rather communicate with God on her own.

I then replied that I also went through a phase where I shunned organized religion but still believed in much of the Christian doctrine. However, when I started unraveling the doctrine of exclusivity (“you go to eternal damnation if you don’t believe”) the other pieces started falling apart as well, and you have a very liberal form of Christianity that only works if you don’t take the bible literally as the word of God but maybe as a collection of writings from people trying to reach God — and falling short in so many ways — like an outdated map or guide book where you can still see some semblance of the landscape but it doesn’t contain a lot of the new roads or landmarks and you’ll have to figure those out for yourself.

She replied “Yes, I treat the bible as a history book. A compilation of people’s thoughts, opinions and life events. It cannot even possibly be precise when it has been translated and transcribed so many times, over so many years.  As Mao once said, religion is the opium of the masses. It is a do good and feel good thing for a lot of people.  If they find happiness and refuge in it, why not? Whatever floats each one’s boat will do.  As long as they stop questioning me why I no longer attend church.”

That last sentiment is what I would like to address right now. There is a group of unbelievers and even passive believers who do not like atheists posting about atheism, or expressing their unbelief or offending other people’s beliefs. If other people find comfort and happiness in their religion, why bother them at all? Why write against it? Why be an ass about it? This attitude is encapsulated in a meme that goes something like, “John is an atheist. John sees his friend post about religion. Instead of being a dick, John just ignores the post and continues scrolling down.” The idea is that if you make comments about religion, then you’re a dick.

I do not adhere to this kind of thinking.

While it is true that I find a number of atheist posts offensive and out of line, I also find a lot of them insightful and thought-provoking. In fact, the occasional offensive post can be very insightful. Perhaps instead of getting so riled up, one can calmly reflect and ask, “Why am I so offended by this?”

But notice the very last line of my friend’s reply, “As long as they stop questioning why I no longer attend church.” This is the crux of the issue and this is why I don’t think one should simply be silent in matters of religion in the name of not offending others — because they will never stop questioning you or judging you. They will never stop talking about how unbelievers (or those belonging to another religion) are damned to hell, or that atheists just want to be their own gods and are deliberate rebels, or that earthquakes and floods are signs of God’s wrath and judgement. Do they stop and think that this kind of talk would be offensive to non-believers? Of course not, and you continue to hear this sort of thing preached Sunday after Sunday.

I write against religion because irreligion needs a voice. I write against religion because I want religion to be irrelevant as far as public policy and political activities are concerned. Christianity has become so ingrained in the Filipino culture that one no longer thinks twice about them: saying Christian prayers in government ceremonies, for example — never mind that there are Muslims and other non-Christians in the audience; seeing Christian symbolisms and figures in government offices (crucifixes, Sto. Nino, Virgin Mary, etc.); shutting down whole streets and causing traffic jams because of religious fiestas and processions; demonizing evolution and teaching creationism in science classes; having special laws enacted in the name of religion (despite the constitutional clause on separation of church and state).

That religion has a free pass in doing these things offends me deeply, but I doubt if most of the religious would care. They would rather say that there is something wrong with me than admit that there are fundamental flaws in their doctrine. They would rather blame the heathen than question their sacrosanct beliefs.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Unequally Yoked

Photo Credit: ablebody via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ablebody via Compfight cc

Sam, one of my readers, sent this email in response to last week’s article:

—–

Hello Andy. I’m curious to know if your wife is also a non-believer. I’m in a similar situation. I met my girlfriend a five years ago and we were both believers back then. I was Roman Catholic and she was a born-again Christian. After about 2 years though, I started to become more rational and skeptical. I questioned everything. The more I read and researched, the less I saw the need or possibility of God.

I became a closet atheist, but some hints would leak out. I would question God and the church teachings, which my girlfriend noticed. Being a devout Christian, she tried to explain things to me as best she could. But the answers were not enough for me anymore. They were not satisfactory.

Finally, I admitted to her that I was an atheist. She was initially shocked and sad — mostly because she loves me too much and couldn’t bear the thought that I would not be with her in heaven. She broke up with me because she could not live with a boyfriend who was an atheist. I was so mad at her for replacing me with someone I thought was just an imaginary being. But things cooled down and after a few months, we got back together again. She said that she now had opened her mind about religion and different beliefs in the world, but she still keeps her faith until now.

We just have some sort of compromise between her faith and my unbelief. We try not to argue and belittle each other’s stand, which would only lead to resentment. But we try to discuss openly and civilly as well. I’m hoping for our relationship to be like yours. We’re learning to get along despite our differences.

—–

Hello Sam. Thanks for sharing. To answer your curiosity, no, my wife is not an unbeliever. Like your girlfriend, she still maintains her belief in God because of some personal experiences she has had, and I respect that. She is not religious though. She doesn’t go to church and practices more of a private sort of spirituality.

We did not go through your experience of breaking up or quarrelling seriously about it though. I guess this is because we both shared the same journey out of an exclusivist and conservative mindset into one that is more open, liberal and critical. We came to a point where we questioned the traditional beliefs we grew up with, found like-minded people but still within the Christian framework, and began to explore more. The difference was that she stayed there but I continued pushing the boundaries and finally broke through it.

Both of us understand each other’s position. We laugh and joke about it, but we don’t fight about it. The way she thinks is that there is no difference between her loving God and loving me. To love God is to love your neighbor, as Jesus said, and I am much more to her than a neighbor. And even when we were Christians, we came to a point where we seriously questioned the belief of a God who would decide a person’s eternal fate on the basis ONLY of one’s belief or non-belief in the salvific sacrifice of his son. Where is the justice in that? Yes, I know that theologians left and right will have a field day trying to explain that, and they have, and I have read and watched countless articles and talks about it. Yet, like you, I share the feeling that none of the explanations are satisfactory. And I simply followed what was the most reasonable course for me.

I am glad that you have decided to keep your relationship despite your differences. The pressure is quite strong in some Christian circles not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” as Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians. I don’t know if the particular denomination your girlfriend belongs to adheres to that belief and would pressure her not to be with you anymore, though it might be of interest to her that there are denominations that interpret that verse differently and don’t apply it to marriage. She might want to explore those views as well.

What I have found to be really important in our relationship is trust, as well as open and honest communication. I am glad that you are now able to discuss in a civil manner with each other. Keep at it. It is truly a wondrous thing when two people can set aside their biases and truly commit to one another in love.

After all, isn’t that what love is really all about?

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Sixteen

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

I have never proposed to my wife, at least not in the usual romantic fashion of kneeling, presenting an engagement ring, and asking “Will you marry me?” — a fact she still teases me about when we see those creative and innovative proposals on Youtube. “Why didn’t I get something like that?” she would say.

The reality of it was that I had always been an idealist about love. I didn’t believe in getting into relationships without seeing the endgame. So I didn’t get a girlfriend for the sake of having a girlfriend but I would go in thinking, “Is this the woman I want to marry someday?”

I was 18 and she was 17 when we officially became a couple and I proposed to her a week after that. I wrote her a letter, telling her that I fully intend to see this relationship all the way to marriage. I shared my plans of being a pastor or missionary one day and if she was okay with that, even if there wasn’t much money in it (at this point, I realize some of my freethinking friends would laugh at my naivete and point to Joel Osteen or the Manalos or to Davao’s own appointed son of God himself — but remember that I was an idealist and I was truly in it because I felt I was “called” by God. Besides, to generalize that the clergy is in it simply for the tax-free tithes is oversimplifying things and a disservice to the many pastors, priests and missionaries I know who are sincere about their vocation and are really not in it for the money).

Anyway, along with those plans, I shared with her this cute little anecdote I had heard about marriage being a three-way relationship between man, woman and God. Imagine a triangle with God at the top and both couples at the left and right points. If both ends move closer to God, then the distance between the couple will be closer, but if both go further from Him, then they will drift apart from each other as well. The geometry of it appealed to my mathematical self and I think it made me look quite godly and spiritual as well.

At the end of the letter, I asked her to think about this relationship (and pray about it), and if she was still okay with us being “us” (and if she felt it was God’s will) then we could go on, otherwise it was best to end it now while it was still early on and when we haven’t invested so much emotionally in it yet.

When she read it and told me that yes, she wanted to go on with the relationship, I took it to mean then that I had already proposed and that she had already said “Yes” and it was just a matter of setting the date. And that is why I didn’t have a fancy or formal proposal 6 years later. It was more like, “So, you think it’s time to get married next year? I think it’s best if we have it on this date so that we can do this and that,” and so on.

In the end, these things do not really matter that much. I don’t believe in gimmicky proposals or ostentatious weddings — I mean, yes, those are nice to have — but what really counts in a relationship is commitment, and your commitment to that commitment. It’s not even about that silly triangle. I have a number of atheist friends who are very committed to their spouses — that soundly debunks the kind of ignorant thinking that goes, “If you don’t believe in God, then what’s to stop you from murdering or raping or having adulterous relationships?”

Those who are mature stand by their word. They are responsible and committed human beings. Only the immature need big brother to always be watching them. And no, I’m not talking about age — many people who should be mature at their age are really just little kids in adult bodies — just look at our politicians and you will see a lot of them, like those involved in the recent Tuwad na Daan scandal.

I myself have been an unbeliever for about 5 years now but I fall more in love with my wife every passing second — not the starry-eyed infatuation most people think is love — but about knowing her vulnerabilities and insecurities, her weaknesses, her dark side, and loving her anyway — as she does with me. I have no need for a threesome. The bond we share is enough.

Tomorrow, we celebrate sixteen years of marriage, and I look forward to many more.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Tolerance and Self-Reflection

Photo Credit: Mostafa Abdel Samie via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Mostafa Abdel Samie via Compfight cc

“We find comfort among those who agree with us — growth among those who don’t.” –Frank A. Clark

Today I want to talk about tolerance and self-reflection.

Tolerance is easy to talk about but difficult to practice. After all, situations that require the most tolerance and understanding are usually tense or carry a lot of emotional weight. For example, when a car blocks your way at an intersection, even if the car in front of him is stuck, and your path was supposedly clear, it is hard to be tolerant. It is much easier to curse, to throw your middle finger, to go down and slap the other guy silly, to bash his brains out, to…oh I’m sorry, I got carried away. Let’s talk about something else.

I am a member of several online forums. Some of them are about religion (or the lack of it). Some are about politics and government. It is common to see a topic thread that starts out with an interesting thought degenerate quickly into name-calling, bashing and insulting replies. Much blood has been spilled on the supposed shallowness of AlDub compared to Heneral Luna, and why our country is in the sinkhole because more people watch the former than the latter (I prefer to use another “s” word in front of “hole” but this article is about tolerance, after all).

Then the bashers and defenders come out and there is this huge war that leads to much blocking and unfriending. There are also those who watch in the sidelines, not participating, but silently taking sides nonetheless. Amidst all the chaos, there are those precious few who try to see the best of both worlds, or at least rationally consider the other’s ideas.

A little tolerance paves the way for self-reflection, something those damned Jesuits (and I mean that in the most affectionate way) have hammered into me so deeply it would take a billion angels and demons working in tandem to dig it out. I am happy when I see others post meaningful syntheses of opposing ideas instead of adding to the hate and the anger, which does nothing but fuel more of the same.

A friend of mine made a comment that AlDub and Heneral Luna are not necessarily opposing genres and that one was necessarily dumb by enjoying the former but not the latter. Nor is one necessarily intelligent and patriotic by enjoying the latter but totally snubbing the former. They are different in nature, in objective and audience. One does not enjoy tea the same way one enjoys wine, but it is possible to enjoy both. A blogger named Dr. Pinky de Leon-Intal has even used the current craze to educate people about taxation and finance with her article, “AlDub and Philippine Tax Reform,” which I think is a great idea — using a popular phenomenon to get people to read what they normally wouldn’t read at all.

Of course, every idea has an exception and there are things one should never be tolerant about — ideas or practices that trample on others rights, corruption of public officials, degrading or abusive acts, and the like. The acts themselves must be condemned outright, but the people who commit those acts must also be understood instead of being condemned outright — to better understand what led them to think or act that way, and to see how the situation can be prevented or avoided next time.

Just because an idea makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because a person is irritating or annoying doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a point. Sometimes, one needs to push beyond the discomfort in order to find growth and learning.

A little tolerance and self-reflection can go a long way.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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