The prevailing wind is a westerly. That’s why we get so much muck blown over from the USA. The current bit of muck is Halloween. This was never popularly observed until comparatively recently and in one sense it epitomises our infantilisation. It demonstrates the truth of G.K. Chesterton’s remark: “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.” It says much about the sort of society we are when, instead of celebrating All Saints’ Day on 1st November, we keep Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) the night before.
Some Roman Catholics and many Evangelical Christians become very exercised by this celebration of Halloween and warn that it can lead to the worship and glorification of evil. I suppose in a few extreme cases it could, but the real purpose of this “festival” is to make a lot of money out of it by selling masks, costumes and other such tat – as with that other fatuity, Fathers’ Day.
It’s gormless – but no more gormless than the countless celebrations of gormlessness that we go in for these days in our dumbed-down junk culture. For instance, this morning there was a serious discussion between supposed adults on The Today Programme about emojis – those silly faces and doodles which people append to their communications on the varieties of antisocial media. Particularly puerile was the fact that they were talking about designing emojis for older people. So there was one with bingo numbers for eyes and another with a reprimanding stare. is that what oldies do, then: get their heads down in the bingo hall and look up again to scowl at their neighbours?
Our infantilisation is now surely complete.
But there is something nasty about even a pretend celebration of the dark powers – whether you believe that devils exist or not. What certainly exists – and exists very powerfully – is the human imagination. And it is but a short step from pretend to reality – as we notice when violent images watched on TV stir up some people to go out and commit violence in real life. Only last week, a teenage girl was so distressed by a horror series she watched on TV that she did away with herself.
Why can’t people get it into their head that mental events are real?
St Augustine taught that psychological reality is spiritual reality and moral reality. He said that, if you want to acquire a particular virtue – say kindness – you should pretend that you have this virtue already. Try doing little acts of kindness and you will gradually become a kind person: in the same way that (given a fair wind) you will be able to play the piano if you practise for long enough. Augustine, the master psychologist, actually said, “You must become a hypocrite.” Hypocrite is the old Greek word for an actor.
Be careful which parts you act out then. Choose warily the stuff you want to pretend or to practise.
Be careful what you wish for – you might get it!