Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween proselytizers and German trick or treaters...

Bill and I weren't expecting a huge Halloween turnout last night.  Halloween is catching on in Germany, but trick or treating is still kind of unusual here.  We did have two boys dressed as ghouls stop by and say "Süßes oder saures", which is German for "sweet or sour".  I imagine if we stay in Germany next year, there could be more German Halloween-goers at our door.  I knew we'd have at least one visit, though, so we were prepared.  Last time we lived in Germany, we didn't have candy on Halloween because we didn't know people celebrated it here.  I know in some villages where there are a lot of Americans, trick or treating is a lot more common and interesting.

We spent the evening listening to my Halloween mix and drinking beer.  I happened to stop by a Facebook group dedicated to the local community where someone complained that her daughter, age 14, had been handed religious tracts along with her candy.  Naturally, that turned into a big shitstorm.  Since I was fortified with some beer, I decided to contribute to it myself.

It's no secret that the military is chock full of religious people.  Most of them are Christians, but you can find people of most any philosophical stripe serving, except for maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses.  On the other hand, I do have a cousin who was a JW and had been in the Air Force.  I think he was a JW while he was serving, too.

Anyway, someone on one of the installations was handing out religious verses with candy and someone got upset about it.  The whole thing turned into a big debate, with a disturbing number of people saying that the religious tracts were "no big deal" and those who were offended by them were being petty and could simply throw them away.  I agree that throwing them away is a solution.  In fact, if I had kids, that's what I probably would have done.  On the other hand, I can also see why people get upset when religious folks target kids on Halloween.  For one thing, it's not like kids are competent when it comes to religion.  They basically know what they are taught by their parents and maybe their peers.  So handing them a piece of candy with a Bible verse on it will probably not impress them much.  Religion is not what motivates or interests most little kids.

However, religion pushers probably WILL upset some parents, who don't want their kids influenced by other peoples' religious propaganda.  Moreover, many religious folks don't seem to understand that what they are doing is offensive to those who don't happen to be Christians.  Indeed, I doubt a lot of them would appreciate it if atheists started handing out candy with little slips of paper on them that said "God doesn't exist" or "Religion is for the feeble minded" or "Jesus is not my sky daddy".  Granted, these are blatantly offensive examples and not all Bible verses are truly offensive, at least not in my opinion.  Of course, my opinion probably only matters to me.

I related Bill's experience of resigning from the LDS church (though I didn't specify that it was the LDS church).  At the time, we lived in military housing.  Church people were not allowed to go door to door there, and for good reason.  The government is not supposed to be in the business of endorsing religion.  If you are on US government controlled property, you shouldn't have to worry about being harassed by religious folks, especially in your own home.  It was a comfort that church people were forbidden from bothering us-- though it didn't stop one guy from coming over to talk to Bill about the church (actually, he talked to me because Bill was out of town).  While Stuttgart is in Germany, the four military installations are still controlled by the US government.  There are all kinds of people with all kinds of religious beliefs.  It's not appropriate for people to be promoting religion on a government installation.

As the discussion escalated, I asked why people felt it was appropriate to give children religious propaganda.  Why not engage adults who are more competent about such matters and can actually make major decisions like what their religious beliefs are?  Why target kids?  Most of them either don't care about your message or likely won't be able to understand it.

And we know why kids get targeted... because most kids are impressionable and most parents want to do right by them.  What parent would be offended by the word of God being passed to their little darlings on Halloween?  And what if one or two kids do happen to be swayed by a religious tract?

The truth is, some of those people whose kids were proselytized probably won't be offended or care about the tracts.  And some of those people will care very much about it, perhaps precisely because targeting children with religious messages is an underhanded thing to do.  My opinion is that Halloween is supposed to be fun.  Kids dress up and go door to door for candy.  Yes, you are giving them candy for free, but you certainly don't have to do that.  If you can't pass out candy without also passing out religious bullshit, don't participate.

My comment about religious propaganda upset one guy and he sent me a private message on Facebook, inviting me to discuss philosophy with him.  Then he asked why I was offended by something I don't believe.  I noticed he also addressed me in the group.  He probably sent the PM when I didn't immediately respond because I was preparing for bed.  This guy assumed that I am a parent and said it was "my responsibility" to raise my kids right... and then he brought up AFN and all the inappropriate stuff on it.  And then he made the erroneous assumption that I'm an atheist.  I'm sure to a religious person who doesn't share his beliefs, I have a one way ticket to Hell.  He feels he either needs to school me, shame me, or save me somehow.  

I am NOT an atheist.  I am not a particularly devout Christian, but I was raised Christian and, at this point, still have a belief in God.  But I think my religious beliefs are personal.  Even if I didn't feel that way, I'd still think there was a time and a place to promote religion...  and Halloween night is not one of those times or places.  That's just my opinion.  I know others disagree and maybe that's why not having kids may be a blessing.


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