Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Death to Halloween! (Very Scary!)

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 October 2018

It is that time of year again when Orthodox and some other Christian writers attempt to warn people about the evils of Halloween. They assert—and I have done no less in my much younger days—that Halloween is a pagan holiday, and thus everyone who participates in its celebrations by default participates in the ancient Gaelic harvest festival called Samhain (“summer’s end”). As I grew older I saw that the people who dress up as princesses and Marvel super heroes have about as much to do with devil worship (for this is often the claim) as people who send each other Christmas cards or Easter candy have to do with worshiping Jesus Christ. This is all that I will say about it, and it may be a topic for another time. For myself, I still do not see any need to celebrate Halloween any more than I do the Chinese New Year, the Parinirvana Day, Eid-al-Adha, or Yom Kippur. But I am no longer interested in writing pseudo-pious articles linking my neighbors’ children to devil worshipers for merely dressing up in costumes any more than I am interested in condemning Russian Orthodox Christians for making (and partaking of!) pancakes on Maslenista, since pancakes are an ancient pagan symbol of the cult of the Sun (round, yellow, hot—reminds of anything?).

However, the grinches of Halloween (of whom I am chief) just might see the death of it after all. And no, it is not our fiery blog posts and inspirational sermons that are killing the evil practice of carving pumpkins and exchanging miniature candy bars. No, the butcher of Halloween is the modern phenomenon of super-sensitivity and hyper-offendedness. It is insensitive to dress up as a princess because this is a class misappropriation and may offend real princesses. Likewise, one should not dress up as a prince or a knight, unless the same is in fact a prince or a knight. No more Count Dracula costumes—they may be insensitive towards ethnic Transylvanians and persons bearing the noble title of count. Definitely, no Cowboys or Indians—for very obvious reasons. The Little Mermaid costume may offend persons with sirenomelia. A pirate costume is insensitive to people who have been victims of real pirates. (And it may also offend Somali-Americans due to the Western stereotyping of Somali pirates in the MSM.) Certainly, no more skeletons, zombies, or any other costume with reference to injury or death, because they may trigger traumatic experiences in some people. And no, no more children dressed as teddy bears, cats, or any other animal—speciesism and misappropriation! No more black capes. Period. They offend Orthodox clergy. Obviously, nothing sexy due to the abomination of objectification! No more nurses, nuns, witches, firemen, or clowns. I should not have to go on; the pious reader will understand the principle by which any costume is inappropriate unless worn by the very actual person it pretends to portray.

Halloween decorations are no less harmful in our culture. Heads carved out of pumpkins risk offending people who are sensitive to all of the recent beheadings committed by Islamic terrorists. Fake hanging corpses are unacceptable because they trigger the historical trauma of lynching. Spiders and spider webs are offensive to people with arachnophobia; and the fake RIP tombstones are insensitive to those who recently lost their loved ones. No more scarecrows in the yard, because they may scare people who are scared of scarecrows. There simply is not a single piece of Halloween decoration that is not insensitive or outright offensive to someone!

It is very possible that in our lifetime, the greeting “Happy Halloween!” will finally be replaced with the neutral “Happy holidays!” and everyone will walk around dressed strictly as themselves, exchanging carrot and celery sticks. (Candies are offensive to people without dental insurance and may be a conspiracy of the dental lobby.) Perhaps then, Orthodox bloggers with stop writing about the horrors of Halloween and focus instead on the memory of the Evangelist Luke or Saint Joseph of Volotsk, whose memory we celebrate on October 31 (those on the new calendar will have a pick of several of the Seventy Disciples.)

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#MeToo Two

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 October 2018

As the Kavanaugh saga unfolds (he has not yet been confirmed as of the moment of this writing), a few more thoughts and observations can be added to my previous post which is quickly becoming outdated. (Alas! Such is the nature of social commentary—it becomes outdated almost before it can be posted.) Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends have been enlisted in the battle on both sides, false accusers have come forward and have been debunked, and someone even volunteered to take the blame for the assault on Christine Blasey by claiming that it was he, not Brett Kavanaugh, who attempted the assault in 1982. Of course, if true, this will be an accusation against Christine Ford for making a false accusation against Brett Kavanaugh. This nesting-doll-style carousel appears to follow the pattern on the first #MeToo-er, Asia Argento, who accused Harvey Weinstein, was then herself accused by another actor, who was then himself accused by an ex-girlfriend… “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19) And while it is best not to comment on the substance of the allegations, since most of us know nothing of this matter that our favorite website of network did not tell us, a couple of thoughts do come to mind.

It is interesting that our society has divided into those who believe Christine Ford and those who believe Brett Kavanaugh. I always thought that matters of faith and belief are reserved for the realm of religion. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Since when have Ford and Kavanaugh become prophets to be believed, or their testimonies become foundations of faith? Of course, it is understood that 36 years later there is little-to-none direct evidence (at least, none that could not be easily challenged). But the problem with turning to religious concepts of belief is that for the faithful, direct evidence is never very important. If it can be shown, for example, that the percentage of pilgrims who receive healing by visiting a holy relic, an icon, or a shrine is much smaller than the normal placebo effect in most medical trials, this would not affect the faith of the pilgrims or the spiritual significance of the relic or a shrine. Those are simply two different realms, different dimensions of human experience. It now appears that Ford and Kavanaugh have become objects of pseudo-religious fervor that cares little about objective reality and operates in the realm of subjective pseudo-spiritual experience. Ford and Kavanaugh are no longer relevant as persons; they have become banners in a war of sexes, placeholders in a pro- and anti-abortion debate, or something entirely different. Whatever it is, it may be helpful to recognize that this new social reality has acquired a religious dimension and as such is immune to logic, reason, or common sense.

Another curiosity is the absolute lack of a very important conversation. A 15-year-old girl drinking at a party with 17-year-old boys who are already, in her own words, “stumbling drunks”—is there a teachable moment here? No, I do not want to “blame the victim.” The 15-year-old Christine Blasey was not to blame for whatever happened, nor was she expected to have perfect judgment at that age, especially after drinking. No 15- (or17-) year-old can be expected to have perfect judgment. Unlike our politicians or the media, as a Christian minister, I may be able to (maybe not—we’ll see) get away with saying that this is another lesson that parents can teach their children. “Do not tolerate abuse”—yes. “Speak up”—yes. But also, if you are 15 and invited to a drinking party with 17-year-olds—don’t go. If you accidentally find yourself at a drinking party with 17-year-olds, and they are becoming “stumbling drunks”—call your parents. Yes, even if they get upset. It is better to be grounded for a month than to deal with PTSD for the next 36 years. I think that every parent who has a daughter knows what I am saying here. Perhaps, it is time to revisit a more traditional and old-fashioned approach to parenting, when 15-year-old girls and 17-year-old boys do not attend a party without some adult supervision. If you are a 17-year-old boy, and your friends are drinking, ask the 15-year-old girl if she would like you to walk her home or call her parents. I want to reiterate that this comment is in no way to blame Christine Blasey for getting groped or to excuse the behavior of her assailant. This is not at all a comment about blame but about basic safety. I may feel that I have a God-given right to stroll through any dark alley in South Chicago at 2 a.m., and that no one should ever blame me for doing so. Basic safety concerns, however, will prevent me from enjoying this God-given (and constitutional) right of mine without an overwhelmingly compelling reason. Some things are just common sense. Is this defeatist, and should we be demanding a brave new world in which a 2 a.m. stroll through a dark alley is just a walk in the park? I do not think so. It is good to envision a world without the flu, and it is also good to exercise prudence and prevention until such a world is achieved. It is good to “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” but it is also good to be fully aware of the Augustinian “but not yet” corrupting each and every one of us. This conversation may be as important for girls and boys as the one about consent, responsibility, and respect for one another.

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