October 13, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Too bad we can’t blame fate in today’s world for what happens to us

Cynthia DewesIf we are superstitious, this day may be pretty scary. Friday the 13th has a bad reputation as we see in the popular culture. There’s a movie by that name, and many references to the evil things that can happen on this day.

We don’t want black cats crossing our paths, and we dare not walk under a ladder. We knock on wood and turn around three times mumbling some incantation or other. We expect disasters to occur on this day, like auto accidents or unexpected falls or bad report cards. We are especially superstitious when we’re kids, partly because it’s so delicious to feel terrified.

Besides that, kids have no real power over what happens to them. Of course, they can make bad decisions, like defying Mom’s orders. Or they may hurt themselves because of their small size or physical weakness. Unlike adults, they really can’t be held responsible for the bad things that may happen.

The idea of superstition is based on the notion that our lives are determined by fate. We are destined to become this or that, or to suffer painful events. Or, happily, we may be meant for wealth and power and living well. It all depends upon an outside mysterious force over which we have no control.

Thus, if we’re superstitious, we’re denying free will and the Christian concept of existence. Instead of understanding that God is in charge and that God has made us in his image and given us the use of free will, we must be slaves to some whimsical determination of our fates. All we can do is to hope for the best.

Now, it might be convenient to believe that in the end we are not responsible for world events. In this scenario, it wasn’t greed or indifference to human suffering that caused slave owners to fight a civil war trying to maintain their “property,” but what they were destined to do. Or it wasn’t a warped condemnation of the Jews and the desire for world domination that inspired the Nazis, just what they were meant to do.

Some Middle Eastern religious groups seem to rely on fate as a reason for their behavior. And this may account for much of our conflict with them, since it’s the opposite of free will. Still, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about events like those, because our abilities to control them are limited. But we can use free will in our daily lives to reach for the good. We are indeed responsible for what we do and say, even if we can’t always reign in our selfish thoughts.

We can zip our lip when we feel like saying something nasty to our spouse, because it’s not their fault anyway. We’re just tired and crabby. Or we can be patient with a terrible two or teen, trying to remember what it was like to be that age. On the other side, we can be kind to an irascible old person when we realize that we may be in their shoes one day.

So when Halloween arrives, we can do all the scary stuff and enjoy it. We can entertain ghosts and witches and Draculas and big spiders, admiring their costumes and filling their bags with candy. We can put on eerie music and whip up witches brew in the punch bowl.

And we can do all this, not because it was our fate to do so, but because God gave us the free will to enjoy it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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