When the religious and secular don't mix

Comment

November 07, 1999|By Mike Burns

COULD IT BE that all the hullabaloo over a live portrayal of the passion of Jesus in a Westminster Halloween parade last week was more about some people's discomfiture with the injection of religion into a secular festival?

Surely, it could not be the obviously artificial blood of Jesus upon the cross that disturbed the tender sensibilities of the small crowd that witnessed the annual American Legion parade down Main Street.

For the surfeit of gore and mutilation and other assorted horrors has become an accepted part of the usual Halloween pageantry.

Freddy Kruger's menacing, sanguine claws are just a part of the fun. Don't take it seriously. Devils, witches and ghouls portrayed by youngsters with loving attention to detail are no reason for concern. But portrayal of the crucifixion -- how ghastly!

The other way around

It's not uncommon for religious observances to become transmogrified into secular celebrations. It was at one time the other way around, with nascent religions usurping established festivals to ease the transition of converts and appease the rest of society.

Sometimes the day before a religious holiday became the secular celebration.

So All Hallows' Eve, the day before All Saints (or Hallows) Day in the Christian calendar, becomes a secular Halloween, borrowing from ancient Celtic and German new year festivals.

So does Mardi Gras, the day before Lent and weeks of self-sacrifice, become a secular baccanal for many without the religious significance for Ash Wednesday, which follows.

Getting back to the parade, it's clear that the event organizers need to clarify the rules for entries and to require some advance registration.

There's no reason for the event to cause an uproar on public streets. If anything is deemed inappropriate, it should be kept out of the parade. Everyone can live with this type of "control" for what has always been a popular town event.

So too should the First Assembly of God church rethink its manner of participation in the parade. The crucifixion float did nothing to persuade others of its beliefs. Criticism came from other Christians, who don't share the perspective of First Assembly members.

Even worse, the church inadvertently cheapened its testimony of faith by portraying the gruesome scene in a Halloween parade, mixing the spiritual with the secular. There's nothing of religious courage or conviction in that ill-considered presentation. It is the unportrayed events before and after the crucifixion that give meaning of that event to believers.

I may have walked too far down the road of lay theology here, but the blending, or apparent conflict, of religious and secular holidays is something that troubles many of us.

Several years ago, I attended an All Saints service at the church of my mother, who had died just days before. The event recalled other such services attended with her, honoring the passage of old friends to the Christian promises of the hereafter.

It was obviously an emotional experience but it was also an observance that helped to heal the pain of communicants who had lost family and friends in the past year. That is the purpose, to recognize those who have died (saints) in the faith and to give assurances to those loved ones left behind.

And as we left for the church, the children were still arguing about the booty of candy they had collected the night before, dressing in silly costumes and chuckling about scaring (?) the neighbors.

The two occasions could exist side by side in our household. It was understood that one did not erase the basis for the other.

We've seen the rise in importance of these religious-based secular occasions in the public schools.

Halloween has become a major event in the elementary school calendar, with costume parades and classroom parties and the liberal dispensing of sugar treats. It has seemingly eclipsed Thanksgiving in the preparation and observance, at least in the lower grades.

St. went elsewhere

St. Valentine's Day, another holiday of Christian origin, is also much honored in elementary schools without any reference to the source.

It's an occasion for youngsters to practice their handwriting, to get their own mail, to practice the manners of complimenting others. And it's yet another excuse to share lots of those too-sweet candy treats.

But these celebrations don't trespass upon the religious origins of the occasions. That's as it should be. In the Halloween parade, as in the parade of life.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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